Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Horse and Dragon Brewing Company - Fort Collins, Colorado

It's just gone 8am when I arrive at the small, out-of-town industrial estate in Fort Collins, Colorado that's home to the Horse and Dragon Brewing Company. When I enter the sizable warehouse that contains the brewery the air is already filled with the heady scent of wet grain. Head Brewer, or more accurately, sole brewer Linsey Cornish is in a state that she'll remain in for the entire brew day, a blur, fizzing with energy, always doing at least two jobs at once and never showing any sign of slowing down. She's already begun mashing in todays brew which will hopefully end up as a transatlantic fusion of a British ESB and an American IPA.

Tim and Carol Cochran spent a good few years planning Horse and Dragon which finally opened in May 2014. Fittingly, this also happened to be the year of the horse. How does a new brewery stand out in a town with as rich a craft brewing history as Fort Collins, that's home to the giants of New Belgium and Odell Brewing? Well their first masterstroke was in employing Cornish. She cut her teeth at Odell where she was a production brewer for over four years. The second was spending plenty of time planning to create a brewery that at only eight months old already feels like part of this Front Range town's fixtures and fittings. This is a brewery that appears to have hit the ground running, much the same as Cornish runs from task to task on the brewery floor.

As Linsey busies herself with monitoring the mash and grinding up coffee grounds for a cold brew infusion that will become an integral part of Sad Panda coffee stout, I try and make myself useful. I'm handed several large bags of palletized hops which I begin weighing out. First a few handfuls of dank Columbus pellets for bittering. I then open a bag of Northern Brewer, a hop that Linsey feels is underused by many brewers but a variety she's turned to when highly sought after Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic varieties are unavailable. Even in pellet form it has a heady, earthy aroma with notes of ripe mango and pineapple. I'm actually surprised that it gets overlooked in favour of other varieties. Then it's time to measure out some Chinook, Willamette and some fantastically pungent Cascade that immerses the room in rich grapefruit scented fog.

Much of brewing is about waiting and as our wort recirculates before being run into the twenty barrel kettle we retire to the tap room at the front of the building. Where the brewery itself is a cavernously large space I imagine many British startup brewers would kill for, the tap room is a cosy, low lit bar that's already a popular destination for locals. I imagine that it must've been a tough decision to leave a well established brewer like Odell but Cornish seems quite relaxed about her choice. Being able to brew her own recipes and stamp her own identity on Horse and Dragon's beers is clearly her main reasoning for this. She usually clocks up around 60 hours a week in the brewery. Currently She brews twice a week with the rest of the time spent ordering supplies, kegging and of course, doing lots of cleaning. 

The influence of the training Cornish received at Odell is clear from my first taste of Picnic Rock Pale Ale. It has all of the clean flavours and pinpoint balance you'd expect from her former employers beers. There's a satisfying cereal malt flavour that's joined by juicy mango flesh and then lemon zest in the finish. However despite any similarities you may draw to Fort Collins' oldest craft brewery it ends there as, very importantly, Horse and Dragon's brews already have a clear identity of their own. The 25:200 IPL is my kind of beer, a huge pungent grapefruit aroma with a resinous, citrus bitterness on the palate and a morishly clean and dry finish. The Scottish Tradesman coconut porter takes me by surprise, I'm halfway through the glass of this indulgent dark beer that's mellowed by toasted coconut before I'm informed it sits at an ABV of 9.5%. It tastes around half of that, I'm seriously impressed. 

I'm even more impressed to learn that some of this beer is sat inside a rum barrel that's not so inconspicuously tucked away at the back of the brewery. There's a desire for innovation here as well as consistency and in this part of the world, with such a rich brewing culture, there simply has to be. Sage Adweisse, a crisp and tart Berliner Weisse is further evidence of this, a new beer that's not quite dialled in but definitely a sign that things are going in the right direction.

The brew day carries on apace and it's time to add the hops to our now boiling wort. The pellets fizz and explode as they hit the surface of the water each releasing its characteristic aromas as it does. We retire back to the bar for pizza and Horse and Dragons highly accomplished IPA, arguably there's no better food pairing, especially on a brew day. Even at lunch Cornish is dashing back to check the boil every few minutes, summoning me when it's time for the next hop addition. Once the boil is finished and it's stood for a few minutes after the aroma hops have been added, it's time to run the beer into the fermenter. Here I witness Cornish pitch yeast in line with the wort as it leaves the heat exchanger which she does using a modified keg to contain her yeast. She tells me that this gets fermentation started quicker, I'd never seen this done before but I sure took her word for it. 

As Linsey begins to clean down and I've helped dig the mash tun out to the best of my abilities the brew day draws to a close. The tap room is already filling up with locals enjoying a few beers and we're barely into the early afternoon, on a Monday too. You might not think it possible for a town the size of Fort Collins to sustain as many breweries as it currently does but somehow each manages to retain its own audience and, most importantly, a strong sense of identity. Somehow though, it feels to me that Horse and Dragon won't always be content with being just a local brewery and that they have bigger plans in store. Perhaps Cornish will one day have a whole team of brewers assisting her but I imagine that even then, she'll still be whizzing around the brewery, brimming with energy.

Horse and Dragon Brewing Company can be found at 124 Racquette Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado. The tap room is open from 12 until 6 daily, I strongly suggest you swing by. **EDIT** Originally I had incorrectly stated that Sage Adweisse was brewed with Sage, this is not true, Sage is in fact Linsay's lovely dog which this beer is named after.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The 2014 Golden Post Awards

This year Chris Hall has suggested that as well as handing out Golden Pint awards to our favourite beers and breweries that we also take a closer look at the efforts of beer bloggers and writers. This is a great idea because good writing that manages to inform, educate and entertain deserves to be celebrated and I sincerely hope this is something that builds impetus year on year. These were tough choices to make but after much deliberation these are the pieces of writing (and videos) that I enjoyed the most this year.

·         Best History Post
Winner: Boak and Bailey - Where the Boddies is Buried

Rather guiltily, I don't read a lot of beer history writing. My poor excuse is that I spend all my time and energy on where beer is now and where it is going. However I found this piece by Boak and Bailey on the history of Boddington's Manchester Bitter both scintillating and fascinating. You'll never look at a pint of Boddie's in the same light again.

·         Best Impassioned Rant/Op-Ed
Winner: Richard Taylor, The Beercast - Brewmeister - The Shame of British Brewing
Runners Up: Chris Hall - Designed to be Human, Mark Johnson (Beer Compurgation), Everything Wrong with Beer at this Moment  

It would have been impossible to give this award to anyone else. Richard's piece on the unscrupulous activities at Scotland's Brewmeister wasn't just blogging, this was genuine A-grade journalism. It captured the focus of the beer world at large and, most importantly, made the brewery in question change the way they went about their business. Without it I wouldn't have had the confidence to write a couple of pieces that I published this year. A special mention must go to Chris Hall for his concise deconstruction of the awful 'There's a Beer for That' campaign and Mark Johnson, for telling us how it really is. 

·         Best Pub Post
Winner: Chris Hall - The Golden Tiger
Runner Up: Adrian Tierney-Jones - Beer with a View

In what was an incredibly tough category to pick a winner, it was Chris Hall's piece on the Golden Tiger (U Zlatého Tygra) in Prague that transported me to a place where I swear I could almost taste those endless glasses of Pilsner. Runner up Adrian Tierney-Jones penned several great pub pieces this year and this is just one example of yet more writing that makes you feel like you're right there with him. 

·         Best Palate Post
Winner: Sarah Warman, Hop Topic - Stone Brewing Enjoy By 08.16.14

Explaining how a beer looks, smells and tastes can be an arduous task, especially if you want to be both engaging and informative. With her short, snappy videos Sarah Warman manages to convey this in less than three minutes and often makes you laugh out loud in the process. More established video bloggers could learn a thing or two from Sarah, mainly, to edit their damn videos. Narrowly missing out here is Chris Hall, again with a tremendous piece about a beer style that is defining the London Craft Brewing Scene and Justin Mason, who fell in love with a best bitter and wrote about it beautifully. 

·         Best Beer Travel Post
Winner: Michael Kiser, Good Beer Hunting - Hill Farmstead Brewery - Sisyphus Sits Upon His Rock
Runners Up: Breandán Kearney, Belgian Smaak - How Mescan Brewery Crafts Belgian Beers on the Slopes of Croagh Patrick, Adrian Tierney-Jones - In the US for the First Time

When Michel Kiser published this, quite frankly, immaculate piece on Vermont's Hill Farmstead Brewery I realised how much harder I had to work to take my own blog further. Kiser is simply on another level and every other blogger needs to take a long hard look at what he's doing and take it on board. He combines photography and words is like no other and the image of a tired, soaking wet Shaun Hill that Kiser shows us is truly evocative. If it wasn't for this then Breandán Kearney would have won hands down for his wonderful piece on Ireland's Mescan Brewery. I've also picked a great piece by Adrian Tierney-Jones as a runner up, purely because it rings so true with experiences of my own.

·         Funniest Post
Winner: Per Steinar, The Evening Brews - April Fools - Kernel Rebranding
Runner Up: Craig Heap - A Return to Rapture, Cardiff's First Underwater Bar

I'm not normally one for April Fools pranks but this post from Per at the Evening Brews was a brilliant poke at the beer industry at large. While we all know that The Kernel would never sell out to 'the man' and re-brand in the way suggested here it's quite believable that other breweries would willingly do so. A superbly written and enjoyable piece. I also really enjoyed Craig Heaps fantastical, Bioshock referencing post, just watch out for those Splicers. 

·         Open Category - Best Audio/Video Post
Winner: Jonny Garrett, The Craft Beer Channel - Glastonbury - Converting the Masses to Craft Beer

When it comes to communicating about beer I feel that you can't do it better than with the written word but then, as a writer, I would say that. It's important not to forget all the other mediums people are using to express their thoughts about our favourite drink be it by video, photography or podcasts. With the Craft Beer Channel Jonny Garrett has created something that's both accessible to newcomers and entertaining for those with an already established interest. This video of Jonny forcing cans on unsuspecting festival goers was one of my favourites. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The 2014 Golden Pint Awards

Once again it's that difficult time of the year when I have to pick the things in beer that fall into the exclusive category of 'best'. This year has been a whirlwind that has totally encompassed all of my free time but I've willingly and, most importantly, happily immersed myself in it. Perhaps the defining part of my 2014 in beer has been learning to love subtlety in beer, particularly in delicate yet detailed lagers and pilsners. It goes without saying that this has been another incredible twelve months for beer. Without further ado, here are my Golden Pints.

·         Best UK Cask Beer
Winner: Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job
Runners Up: Brodie's Bethnal Green Bitter, Marble Dobber   

In a year that, relatively, I've drank very little cask beer this collaboration between Rooster's of Yorkshire and Italy's Birrifico Italiano was the only one that compelled me to head home and immediately write about it. Floral, zesty and in perfect condition at the Three Compasses in Hornsey, North London. In a word, beautiful. 

·         Best UK Keg Beer 
Winner: Buxton Axe Edge
Runners Up: Beavertown Gamma Ray, Pressure Drop Pale Fire  

So good was the the glass of Axe Edge I supped at Brewdog Shoreditch a few months ago that I drank it within minutes and immediately ordered another, then another. Buxton have come on in leaps and bounds this year and this is, without question, the best beer they brew. 

·         Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runners Up: Siren Ratchet Saison, Fourpure Pils

It would've been an easy decision to choose Beavertown's Gamma Ray as my favourite British bottled or canned beer before IHL came along and threw a spanner in the works. I've tried but I simply cannot choose between them, so Camden and Beavertown will have to fight amongst themselves for this award. 

·         Best Overseas Draught Beer
Winner: Cantillon Fou' Foune 
Runners Up: Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus, Westbrook Gose

In what should be a fiercely contested category the decision was as easy as a Sunday morning. Although Cantillon's revered apricot lambic is better known for being served from a bottle I was lucky enough to drink it on draught on two separate occasions when it was released this autumn. It simply blew most other beers away. 
·         Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Galway Bay Of Foam and Fury Double IPA
Runners Up: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, New Belgium Le Terroir

My summer trip to Dublin for this years European Beer Bloggers Conference was a revelation. I was blown away by the passion and enthusiasm of the burgeoning Irish craft beer scene and the beer itself, well there are some exceptional things happening just across the Irish Sea. This beer from Galway Bay is better than most IPA's being brewed right now to the point where it's genuinely one of the best examples of the style in the world. 

·         Best Collaboration Brew
Winner: Camden Town Brewery/The Kernel Gentlemen's Agreement
Runner Up: Hallertau/Epic/Liberty (Four Horsemen) Hopocaplyse, Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job

At first, I struggled to remember the collaboration brews that really hit home this year but when I remember this effort between Camden and The Kernel it was another easy decision to make. A blend rather than a brew, Gentlemen's Agreement combined Camden's lemon and bergamot infused Wit with The Kernel's tart Berliner weisse, London Sour. The resulting beer was breathtaking but what was more impressive was seeing two breweries, who go about their business so very differently, working together in complete harmony to create something brilliant. 

·         Best Overall Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager

I have drank more Gamma Ray than any other beer this year by a significant margin and that's because it's the best beer being brewed in the UK right now. Well, it was until Camden Town launched India Hells Lager at the end of the year. Both of these beers are immaculate and beautiful to the point when I still burst out with laughter every time I drink either of them.
·         Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runner Up: Brewdog/Weihenstephan India Pale Weizen, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Moralité

The three giant orange letters on the front of a can of IHL tell you immediately what you're getting and it really leaps of the bottle shop shelf. Look deeper though and the pagan imagery that purposefully features four British animals worshipping the 'Good Lord Lager' tells a story as well as selling you a can of beer. This is art in the form of a beer can. 
·         Best UK Brewery
Winner: Buxton Brewery
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery

Despite both Camden and Beavertown rocking my world this year I'd actually already decided on my brewery of the year several weeks ago. They've been prolific with their output, they've experimented and pushed their boundaries but still managed to keep their core beers dialled in and available almost all of the time. Their rebranding is slick and Colin Stronge is without doubt one of the country's finest brewers. I've been blown away by what Buxton have achieved this year and the best thing is, I think that they're going to get even better. 
·         Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Brasserie Cantillon
Runners Up: Hallertau Brewery, Firestone Walker

I've not been a Cantillon drinker for all that long, relatively speaking, but thankfully it didn't take me a great deal of time to become a huge fan of their beers. This year however was the year that Cantillon beers, for me, ceased to taste complex and tongue twisting and became nuanced and beautifully constructed. It was perhaps on Zwanze Day at the Kernel Brewery when I realised that Cantillon genuinely do things that other breweries can only dream about. I hope its expansion is finished soon because I can see its beers quickly becoming more exclusive and expensive with each passing day. 

·         Best New Brewery Opening 2014
Winner: Runaway Brewery
Runner Up: Hammerton Brewery

Admittedly, until I was invited to visit the Runaway Brewery on a recent tour of Manchester it wasn't on my radar. What I found was the incredibly modest and hard working Mark Welsby, brewing clean, tasty and accomplished beers that will be enjoyed by beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. Keep a close eye on this one, I'm expecting great things.   

·         Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runners Up: North Bar, The Marble Arch

It gives me great pleasure to give this award to what has rapidly become my favourite bar in London. Whether it's for a quiet afternoon beer and a cheeseboard or a lively Friday night session, Mother Kelly's always has the perfect vibe for the occasion. Well worth going out of your way to pay a visit.  
·         Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runner Up: The Hop and Berry, Bundobust

It's hard to believe that Mother Kelly's only opened this year but, it did, so I really can't give this award to anyone else. A special mention must go to the wonderful Bundobust in Leeds that would've had this category wrapped up if it were not for Mother Kelly's existence.
·         Beer Festival of the Year
Winner: The Independent Manchester Beer Convention
Runners Up: The London Craft Beer Festival, Winter Brew Fest

Perhaps the easiest decision to make out of each of these categories, there really is no other beer festival quite like IndyManBeerCon. It has inspired and will continue to inspire a completely new wave of similar festivals around the UK. A true festival, in every sense of the word. 
·         Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Waitrose

I don't buy beer from the supermarket, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by a raft of great off licences. If I did, however, then I'd surely shop at Waitrose because its selection is not only varied but well chosen. 
·         Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Bottledog

When Brewdog decided to open their own bottle shop you knew it would be something special and Bottledog on Grey's Inn Road near Kings Cross has not disappointed. Next year will see a spate of of Bottledog's begin to pop up across the country putting more great beer into the hands of yet more people.    

·         Online Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beermerchants
Due to the rise of the specialist beer shop in London I'm buying less and less beer online but Beermerchants delivered a level of service to me this year that I won't forget in a hurry. A friendly phone call within minutes of me posting a tweet of a broken bottle was an example of going above and beyond the call of customer service. A shining example of how things should be done. 

·         Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Boak and Bailey - Brew Britannia

When I reviewed this must read, award winning book from Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey I described it as 'the most important book about beer in the last ten years.' I stand by this, if you haven't read it yet, go and buy yourself a copy right this moment.    

·         Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Good Beer Hunting
Runners Up: The Beer Diary/Chris Hall Beer, Belgian Smaak

When I first came across Michael Kiser's wonderfully constructed piece on Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont I was moved to the point where I realised I needed to raise my game. Kiser is the only blogger producing content that is both as well captured and constructed as the beer we write about. As creators of great content about beer we all need to take a long, hard look at Good Beer Hunting and then try and do better as this guy is way ahead of the curve.   

·         Best Beer App
Winner: Fiz - The Brewery Management Game
Runner Up: Untappd

The hours I spent joyously tapping away at my iPhone playing this wonderful brewery simulation game at the beginning of the year will not be forgotten in a hurry. Informative and entertaining, Fiz was one of the best video games I played over the last twelve months and the fact it was about making beer made it all the sweeter.  

·         Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Winner: Chris Hall
Runner up: David Bishop (Broadfordbrewer)

It is incredibly self indulgent to give this award to Chris because he's a close friend but his tweets genuinely brighten my day. Witty, humorous, informative and questioning of things he thinks are amiss, It's no wonder he has almost 3000 followers. I often think that if I hadn't have decided to start writing about beer in 2012 then we'd have probably never met. Ain't beer great.  
·         Best Brewery Website/Social media
Winner: Brewdog
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery  

No other brewery in the world does social media quite like Brewdog, they engage their customers as if they were their friends. I can't see any other brewery winning this award for a long time if they just keep on doing what they do. 

I can see next years selections being even more difficult than they were this year but I can't wait to get started. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, here's to a fantastic 2015.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Creating the Juicy Banger

It's early on a cold, bright December morning and I'm stood on Hackney's Broadway market, a long black from Climpson and Sons clutched in one hand and a bacon sarnie in the other. Here I'm joined by fellow beer writer Chris Hall, Jonny Garrett who produces the Craft Beer Channel and Sofia De Crescentiis of Camden Town Brewery. Today, the four of us are going to brew a beer and we're at the market to buy one of the key ingredients, grapefruit. 

The basic concept for this beer was Sofia's, her 'eureka' beer, as she describes it, was a grapefruit IPA she tried in her native Canada several years ago. The idea for this brew day started as a slightly drunken conversation at The Hop and Berry in Islington, we wanted to brew the kind of beer we love, a tremendously clean-yet-bitter American style IPA but we wanted it to be more than this. Earlier this year Chris ably described the beer style that is defining the evolution of the London beer scene, the Juicy Banger. We wanted this beer to be a combination of the all the things that make IPA our favourite drink, bitter, juicy and bursting with intense fruit flavours but there was one problem; none of us really knew what we were doing.

So, armed with a carrier bag full of grapefruit we headed to Camden Town Brewery where Sofia had kindly arranged for us to brew on their pilot kit for the day. Sensibly, she'd also employed the services of one of its brewers, Pete Brown (no, not that Pete Brown) who was there to act as our guide while still letting us control the concept and direction of the brew. We mingled about in the cold for a while, slurping away on coffee while Pete set up the kit and brought the water or 'liquor' for the mash up to temperature in the hot liquor tank. He then sent us into the main brewhouse to measure out the grain we would soon be mashing in with. We were using predominantly pale barley malt with just a dash of victory malt which would give us a hint of amber colour and a small amount of non-fermentable sugar which should help improve the beers mouthfeel and balance out its bitterness.

Soon it was time to mash in which is probably my favourite part of the brewing process, if only for the fantastic smell produced when hot liquor meets milled grain. Once we'd finished the mash under Pete's watchful eye we retired to the bar to discuss the hop profile we wanted to give this beer. Sofia brought us all a glass of Camden Ink Stout and we made the tough decision of selecting our hop bill. Pete had sensibly steered us in the direction of using Magnum hops for a clean bitterness that didn't have too much of an overall influence on the flavour of the beer. Citra was an obvious choice, what better to use in a grapefruit IPA than a hop that brings with it intense flavours of pithy citrus fruit. We decided on Amarillo for flavour as we felt that the juicy, orange quality it has would compliment the grapefruit nicely. Finally we chose an addition of Centennial for both flavour and aroma, we hoped this would add a grassy, zesty lemon note to our beer.

A large amount of our hops were to be added at the very end of the boil or, to paraphrase The Human Torch, at 'flameout' in order to preserve the maximum amount of flavour and aroma. This is also when we'd be adding our grapefruit zest which we were currently busy removing from the fruit. Using the fruit itself would produce too much tartness in the beer but the zest would add the booming citrus aroma we were seeking. After our zesting session and a spot of lunch it was all hands on deck as it was time to boil our beer. 

Tasting the unfermented wort before the hops are added is a real treat. The rich, sugary solution that will soon be devoured by yeast cells is both delicious and fortitude inducing, especially on a freezing cold outdoor brew day. There was a reason for us being outside though, we'd set the pilot kit up by the bar so that people could wander up and talk to us about what we were doing. It's quite something to visit a bar and drink excellent beer with your friends but to see it being made while you do so is just one of the many reasons why Camden Town's brewery bar is one of my favourite places to have a beer.

The boil progressed without a hitch and I got on with the arduous process of digging out and cleaning the mash tun, while Jonny scrubbed down our fermentation vessel. After an hour of boiling the heat was cut and we added our last addition of Citra, Centennial and the grapefruit zest. The smell at this point was quite remarkable, the hops themselves seemed to fill the air with a dank, green fog and we were enveloped by an explosion of grapefruit zest. After a few more minutes we ran our beer through a heat exchanger to cool it down to a temperature that would keep our yeast happy. We tasted the newly hopped wort, it was zingy, fruity and tooth enamel strippingly bitter. There was plenty of sweetness in there and after Pete had measured the beer in a hydrometer to check its gravity it looked like we were going to have a beer of about 7% ABV on our hands. 

It was a long, exhausting and extremely enjoyable day, even despite the fact that at one point Sofia set her coat on fire (brew safe, kids) and now it was time to retire to the bar and reward ourselves for our efforts. Our yeast was pitched and the FV was sealed, once it's finished fermenting it'll get dry-hopped with more Citra and Centennial to really get the aroma singing. We've brewed enough for about two kegs worth of beer and we'll be attempting to drink the lot at the tapping party on January the 9th. It's open to everyone so please join us at the Camden Town Brewery bar to taste the Juicy Banger, in all its glory. 

Thanks to Sofia, Pete and all the guys at Camden Town Brewery for letting us come and play with their kit. Below is a video Jonny shot of our brew day, please excuse his silliness.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Oddbins Count Three Four

It's refreshing that off licence chain Oddbins has not only embraced craft beer but also totally gets it. It's the fastest growing part of their business and with ambitious expansion plans already in the pipeline the retailer is going to put a lot more great beer into peoples hands. Their active involvement in beer doesn't stop there though, last Christmas they collaborated on a Christmas beer called 'Oddbins No. 1' with the East London Brewery. In the summer they brewed again, this time with Compass Brewery of Oxfordshire to produce a smoked Kölsch which I really enjoyed. Both were fine examples of how a business more known for its wine is keeping pace with the rapidly moving world of beer.

Recently Oddbins have been collaborating again, not once but twice, producing a pair of India pale ales. Oddbins No. 3 is a joint effort with Livingston's Alechemy whose beers are a common site in the chains Scottish stores. It pours a deep, coffee brown with a faint ruby red tinge emanating from around the edge of the glass. The nose is a simple combination of tart raspberries and liquorice, both of which shine through on the palate. The finish reminds me of the taste of burnt coffee grounds and the lingering bitterness is ever so slightly astringent. This is a true black IPA and a decent one at that, there are better being brewed in the UK such as Thornbridge's Wild Raven or Beavertown's Black Betty but neither sit at this more sessionable 5% ABV. It's a good beer but probably not one that I'd personally go back to.

The next collaboration, imaginatively titled Oddbins No. 4 is a white IPA brewed at the Moncada Brewery in West London. A white IPA is part India pale ale and part wheat beer, in this case a Belgian style wit. This pale gold beer has a subtle nose of banana and bubblegum. On the palate these delicate, ester led flavours are followed by a sharp, pithy lemon bitterness that lingers at the back of the throat and is pleasingly drying. This beer is resolutely crying out for a beautifully cooked fillet of sea bass and creamed parsnips. It's the best of the two and I'd quite happily drink this again.

I was very kindly sent these beers for free but I don't think that this has influenced my opinion of them. Both beers are available now from your local Oddbins.   

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hop Burns and Black, Peckham

Nestled by Goose Green in Peckham Rye along the East Dulwich road lies Hop Burns and Black, London's latest specialist beer seller. Kiwi ex-pats Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams know and love their beer but they also have a serious penchant for hot sauce and great tunes. It was via this trifecta of passions that Hop Burns and Black was born. 

The walls of this modest retail space are lined with shelves stacked high with beer both local and from much further afield. Peckham is ably represented by its own Brick Brewery, just half a mile away from the store. Its range extends to beers from as far afield as Jen and Glenn's native New Zealand, with hard-to-find brews from the likes of Tuatara and Yeastie Boys. There's plenty of familiar favourites such as Fourpure, Thornbridge and Buxton here too as well as a good selection of American imports from Sierra Nevada and Flying Dog, to name just a few. There's also plenty of fridge space packed with more beer as well as cider and wine and tucked away at the back of the store is an admirable selection of German and Belgian brews. If that wasn't enough there's also a counter-pressure growler, sorry, flagon filler offering three rotating draught beers to take away. It's quite possible you'll leave with much more beer than you actually intended to buy.

The layout is not dissimilar to BrewDog's Bottledog which opened on Gray's Inn Road earlier this year. The vibe is more relaxed though, with a turntable spinning out groove laden tunes and a laid back attitude to sampling. You could quite easily spend much longer here than you normally would in a bottle shop. If that's not enough to convince you to hang around then the scotch eggs from Pig and Hay will more than likely change your mind, especially when slathered in one of the many hot sauces on offer. Spice heads like myself will be pleased to know that there's a whole shelf of Sriracha, in case you're running low, as well as plenty more sauces you've never heard of waiting to singe your tastebuds. The 'black' refers to vinyl and if you've still money in your wallet by the end of your trip then there's a stack of records to finger through at your leisure. 

Hop Burns and Black will provide a further injection of passion, enthusiasm and great beer into a rapidly developing South London beer scene. Jen and Glenn have plenty of plans for the space so keep your eye out for tastings and other events in the near future. Those that live north of the river shouldn't be put off by the location, it's easily accessible via a bus from Peckham Rye or Brixton stations or short walk from East Dulwich. It's also only a few doors down from the excellent Flying Pig so there's another excuse for you if you're considering the journey south, I can certainly assure you it's worth it.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Christmas Book Pile

Recently, I've been sent a few books that I've been asked to review. While for the most part I've enjoyed reading them I felt that none of them were aimed directly at beer lovers like myself and so, by proxy, none of you that enjoy reading this blog. Then it hit me, these books would be ideal for beer geeks, like ourselves, seeking gifts for friends and family on the fringes of booze. If, like me, you'll be forcing your love of the drink on those around you over the holiday season then these might make for ideal stocking stuffers. 

Drink London from Euan Ferguson is an immaculately presented guide to London's best bars and it's compact enough to fit comfortably in the front pocket of your Kånken. It journeys from cocktail speakeasies to wine bars and dedicates a healthy portion of its pages to beer houses, both in the 'traditional' and 'craft' sense. It even goes so far as to include some of the best brewery tap rooms. The real highlight though is the wonderful photography throughout which really ties this book together.

Together, drink writers Tom Sandham and Ben McFarland form the Thinking Drinkers which is also the title of their latest book. Thinking Drinkers describes itself as 'the enlightened imbibers guide to alcohol' when in truth, those rare imbibers that have genuinely found enlightenment will find little between these pages that they don't already know. This is another list book that veers off onto the next subject before the one they're discussing really gets interesting. What I did like was as well as covering more fashionable drinks such as beer, whisky and gin it also goes into tequila, rum and even sherry but again only really scratches the surface of each subject. The humour is quite 'laddish' and it think this would appeal to the younger drinker who is just discovering what they like. It's also the first and only book I've seen that juxtaposes Pliny the Elder next to Chiswick Bitter, quite the achievement in itself.

Finally we have Artisan Drinks from seasoned food writer Lindy Wildsmith. There's only a fleeting mention of beer here where Wildsmith recreates a Woodforde's recipe but other than a few pages on home brewing that's it for the ale. Artisan Drinks is a nice collection of recipes for both interesting sounding alcoholic and *gasp* soft drinks for people who have a lot more time on their hands than the rest of us. Someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen or throws a lot of parties and get-togethers would probably enjoy attempting to recreate many of these recipes. A special mention must go to the excellent photography from Kevin Summers which really brings the recipes in this coffee table style hardback to life.  

So there we have it, if you're short on gift ideas for the booze-curious this Christmas, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at these three books. If, however, you are looking for something wholly focused on beer for someone who is just getting into it then I'd highly recommend the excellent Let Me Tell You About Beer by Melissa Cole. For the beer history buff in your life you will do no better than the award winning Brew Britannia by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey and for the craft beer enthusiast why not check out Craft Beer World by Mark Dredge. 

These books were sent to me by the publishers to review although I don't think that this has influenced my opinion of them. They're all available now but before you jump on Amazon why not pop down to your local independent bookseller first.