Nomadic Blogging and Brewing

Image: Kristina B

I think most beer bloggers would accept that their writing or photography is cyclical, to varying degrees.  Themes and ideas are revisited but are not necessarily repetitions.  Within a new blog post or article it is common practice to reference similar material, like-minded or conflicting, to give context and as a way of documenting and archiving developments in a particular topic of interest.  I’m finding that when I consider writing a blog post, I can choose a current talking point, or I can review a topic that either I or someone else has previously commented on.  It can of course be both of these things.  One other option is to write collaboratively or to guest blog with another blogger, something I tried in 2011 and will be looking to expand on this year.

As a homebrewer and someone who harbours serious aspirations to be involved in the brewing industry, I mostly revisit ideas involving brewing, kind of an appraisal of my brewing activity, a ‘where am I now’ and ‘where do I see myself in five years time’ type exercise.  I feel it’s important to do this every so often regardless of the subject, to renew focus or to change direction.

As it is the beginning of a new year and having read that yesterday is the day of the year that people are most likely to look online for a new job, I found myself thinking things over.  I know how easy it is to switch jobs to freshen things up a little, I’m lucky enough to be able to do this If I choose to.  Having said that, I don’t look at this in the same way as I did five years ago.  I no longer take my employment for granted and see little point in starting a new job that is essentially the same as the last.  So if I had the opportunity or the resources to take brewing a step further I’d take it.  I’ve looked at my options when it comes to brewing, not in as much detail as would be needed if I was about to do it tomorrow, but know that there are three options available to me: 1). Find a job with an existing brewery, 2). start a brewery, or 3). brew professionally using someone elses brewery.  There is of course a fourth option to carry on homebrewing, enjoy it for what it is and stick to the day job.

Cuckoo brewing is basically a practice whereby a brewer pays to use spare capacity at someone elses brewery.  A shining example of this approach being Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and his marvelous Mikkeller beers, I also regard him, along with a more local example in Revolutions Brewing Co, as my main inspiration in looking to progress from kitchen brewing.  Will Hawkes recently wrote about Bjergsø as The Gypsy Brewer and Intelligent Life magazine – the lifestyle publication from the Economist – have written a piece in their Jan/Feb 2012 edition: “Move over, Carlsberg: the gypsy brewers are coming“.  I need to explore this business model and brew plenty more beer at home before proclaiming this is where I’m heading, but it’s certainly an interesting approach.   I’ll revisit this again on my blog in six months time and try and keep my goal in sight.

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Laggards and Lighthouse Customers

While drinking an excellent bottle of Fullers Bengal Lancer this weekend and tweeting thanks to the people who had suggested it to me, it dawned on me that I couldn’t genuinely recommend a beer to anyone.  Of course I could tell them that I had tried a beer and enjoyed it, what they do with that information is up to them, but that would be almost always second-hand information.  Someone else, maybe months or years ago was the first to try the beer, they told someone else, posted it on their social media application, blogged about it, wrote a piece for a newspaper and so on.  See also food, fashion, music, film, the arts etc.

…diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social systemEverett Rogers

I’m not saying my role in this is pointless, but I think having realised that my part to play is just a cog in the ongoing game of Chinese whispers I’m comfortable with it.  I’m not a pioneer, I’m one of the settlers that follow the trail blazers.  In the same way that I shaped my musical tastes through my brothers vinyl collection, or was told how funny The Day Today or Father Ted is.  I can think of loads of examples and for each one I’m months, sometimes years behind the early adopters.  By the way, I don’t suck everything up, I also have an opinion and a brain [see: no Grolsch bottle tops on my Hi-Tec 4×4 trainers back in the late 1980’s].  I believe the same goes for drinking ‘craft’ beer and I think it’s fair to say that I make the majority of my purchases based on someone else’s experience and their appraisal.  More often than not these will be people whose opinions I respect so I have no problem in taking their word for it.  A risky strategy at times and I do sometimes wonder what they saw in a beer, but a strategy that certainly narrows the field. They take the risk, trying prototypes, letting us know when the brewer finally nailed the recipe and can be rewarded by getting to be ‘the first’ or the ‘trend setter’, but on the flip side they also find the pitfalls and must resent wasting their money at times.  So, while I’m playing safe [as usual], I’m not the guy with a Betamax in the attic which is sitting on a stack of Laserdiscs, nor do I have a case of some insipid dishwater and excuse for beer next to the out-of-date tonic water in the garage.  I’m a Laggard.  So keep up the good work guys, I’m counting on you!

The 1st Headingley Ale Festival

I think it is apparent that folk don’t need much of an excuse to celebrate beer.  The choice available to us is greater than ever before, with specialist beer shops, online retailers and supermarkets catering for all tastes.  We drink at home, at parties and get-togethers and we know our way to the nearest pub.  We even make time to travel distance to visit reputable drinking establishments.  If that wasn’t enough, we also attend festivals to make sure we haven’t missed out on great beer, new and old.

Leigh Linley recently interviewed the organiser of the 1st Headingley Ale Festival, Ruth Edwards, for the Culture Vulture.  You can read the preview and take a look at the beer list here.

I went along to the debut Festival on Friday 9th December to take some photos and write a piece for Travels with Beer, which you can read here.

Food and Beer Matching

Image from The Good Stuff

Food and beer, beer and food, there are plenty of eating establisments that are trail blazing, add to that a fair few people talking about matching the two and I reckon a lot more with a watchful eye on the developments to see how far this will go.  I’m open to the idea and have dabbled with tasting a few beers alongside some different cheeses and have to say it is a lot of fun and a useful learning exercise for someone looking to hone their taste buds.  (To the cynics: I do appreciate beer drunk on its own, oh and wine too!).

I have been trying my best to keep track of the recent coverage and have also taken a look back to see what went before.  I’m not saying that this all started in 2008, but as this is when the trail becomes warm, then I’ll follow it from there.

28th May 2008  the Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog introduces Will Beckett their “Beer Guerrilla: a man on a mission to set the great British public free from boring beers” with his first article ‘Drinking Habits: pint of the unusual looking at apathetic beer choices.  Will’s mission to spread the word of good beer appears to have been decommissioned on or around 6th January 2009 having suppressed his fire through September and December 2008 including articles on ‘Beer with Gordon Ramsay and low cost alcohol.

Image from River Cottage

Jan 2009 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a busy chap tirelessly campaigning for food issues in-line with his foodie passions, but he does occasionally cook with beer and notably worked alongside Hall and Woodhouse brewery (Badger Brewery) to develop River Cottage Stinger organic Ale.  This was his beer made with stinging nettles and Hugh says that it goes well with “summer barbeques and winter roasts“, a beer for all seasons perhaps!

Jan-Feb 2009 Oz and James ‘Drink to Britain’ series heroically journeyed the length and breadth of our fair land drinking as they went, and while they didn’t get into the food matching they did a sterling job of raising the profile of beer in general with visits to several breweries, including Saltaire, Prospect and BrewDog.

As far as I can tell from the internet, things were a little quiet for the next year or so, with Nov 2010 seeing Jamie Oliver‘s Magazine Issue 14 includes a drink recipe for a Beer Cocktail – Lambs Wool  which features Kernel Centennial IPA.  Nov-Dec 2010 Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s excellent ‘The Trip’ saw Steve commissioned by the food supplement of a Sunday newspaper to review half a dozen restaurants, with Rob along for the ride.  Sadly they were wine-centric,  but did visit The Angel at Hetton (which is well worth a visit) where they enjoyed a breakfast! so no beer there then!  Maybe the next series?

June 2011 Things started to move forward when Hardknott Brewery’s Dave Bailey started a campaign suggesting to the BBC that Saturday Kitchen should give fair representation to beer and maybe to act as a platform to take beer and food appreciation to the next level in terms of its TV coverage.  While there has been little progress with this campaign in terms of actual airtime for beer on Saturday Kitchen, I’d say it has been the catalyst in us seeing an increased level of interest in the wider media.  8th July 2011 Will Hawkes writes a blog Independent’s online Notebook section and featured Dave Bailey’s campaign.  5th August 2011 Chris Mercer Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog followed suit and offered a comprehensive run-down on wine vs beer and did a nice job of playing devils advocate.  While mentioning chefs Tim Anderson and Ferran Adria and discussing the wider debate, he also gave some column space to the Hardknott Saturday Kitchen campaign.

19th August 2011 Des De Moor appeared on a  One Show montage after briefing them on the resurgence of the brewing industry and recommending some beers for their item on food matching.  What followed, in my opinion, was a calamitous studio review of beer with food, closing with Jay Rayner making it clear that he prefers wine, a wasted opportunity (but nothing to do with Des at this point, although if they were to try this again maybe they should get him into the studio).

November 2011 sees a flurry of activity:

Image from Leeds Brewery

I’m told that Jamie Oliver’s kitchen/set had a bottle of Kernel Beer in the background, and while this is just grasping at straws I’m hopeful that beer is in Jamie’s cheffing consciousness.  Oh look, it is!  1st Nov ‘Jamie’s Great Britain’ C4 series sees him spend a day with the Leeds Brewery most likely looking at their brewing operation before sampling the beer and food on offer at the Midnight Bell.  As with other chef’s if you Google beer and their name, you get similar hits – beef and ale stew, ginger beer, beer can chicken, beer battered fish.

4th Nov James Hall article in The Telegraph on East Yorkshire Pub named best in UK .  I wasn’t the only one to express my disbelief that the entire spread was devoted to their undoubtedly outstanding food, but not one mention of beer unless you include a reference to ale in their pie.  Just an oversight perhaps? ahem.

5th Nov Saturday Kitchen‘s recipe for Braised Beef Cheeks.  The wine expert (not Jolly Olly on this occasion) took their usual stroll around the supermarket and actually stopped to point out a bottle of Theakston Old Peculier as a food match possibility, but went on to choose a red wine.

7th-10th Nov Brooklyn Brewery‘s Brewmaster and editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, Garrett Oliver, hosts a series of beer tastings and dinners throughout the UK, including events at Oxford Brookes University, The National Brewery Centre, Port Street Bar and The Cross-Keys.

Image from Thornbridge Brewery FB

11th Nov BBC1 Nigel Slater‘s ‘Simple Cooking’ saw Nigel, Tom (the Wild Boar Man (from Thornbridge Hall) and Jim Harrison (Thornbridge Brewery) cook a Wild Boar burger, with Boar fed with grain from the brewery, along with Jaipur Tempura vegetables.

11th Nov Will Hawkes in the Independent online showing that beer and food matching is gaining recognition.

18th Nov Will Hawkes published once again but this time in both the online and the paper editions, letting us know all about the editor behind The Oxford Companion to Beer, his recent promotional tour and a big thumbs up to beer and cheese matching.

If you have read this and think you might like to give this a go, then look no further than books from Garrett Oliver (Brewmaster’s Table) and Fiona Beckett (An Appetite for Ale).  Of course, if you want to dabble without the financial outlay then check out The Good Stuff, Eating isn’t Cheating, The Beer Prole, Gastroturf and CAMRA (sorry to anyone that I’ve missed).  Keep up the good work one and all!

Please feel free to make comments with anything I’ve missed and I’ll update the post.  Thanks.

Heineken Shmeineken

I’m always on the prowl for a good reason to blog my splene and sometimes it is easy to see the worst in a situation, event or even a product.  In the dawning of a new age for beer in the UK and the enlightnement of the masses, we tend to focus on the underdog.  We champion their cause with good intention until we are hoarse, but in the same breath we often feel the need to have a quick pop at those who stand for a perceived opposition (sometimes with justification of course).  Only three days ago I spotted a Twitter hash-tag and quickly learnt that as part of the monthly Brookston Beer Bulletin’s ‘The Session’, or maybe better known as Beer Blogging Friday, bloggers are invited to write and share their thoughts on a dedicated topic.  Octobers host is Reuben Gray (The Tale of the Ale) and his theme for week 56 is “Thanks to the Big Boys“, which asks us to “… acknowledge the positive aspects of the big, multinational brewers that we so often admonish and criticize“.

As my ever so subtle post title proclaims, I have chosen Heineken N.V. (including their many subsiduaries) for my brewing ‘Big Boy’.  Without being sidetracked, as I often am when writing, my earliest memory of Heineken the brand, was about 18 years ago when my dad would buy some tinnies in for christmas, a special treat if you will.  It was the old style can and ring pull of course and we enjoyed sharing the beer while watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or whatever was on the box.  At that point in time I thought that Heineken was just one beer.  Since that time I have had no reason to look any further into their brand.  They have continued to grow to become the global force they represent today and have absorbed many breweries and brewery groups during thei steady progression.  However, it is not the well-known beverage in the green can and bottle as the reason for chosing Heineken as my brewing big boy, but more for a couple of its portfolio offerings.

I have to be admit that I am conflicted about writing this post, but in the spirit of this blogging theme I’ll try my very best to see the positives.   You may already be aware but Heineken N.V.  and the Bayerische BrauHolding AG (BBH) signed an agreement and set up a joint venture company.  Through this partnership Heineken acquired a minority stake in two German groups of breweries and undertook the exportation of Paulaner Weiss beer worldwide.  The venture group hold 50% of Paulaner Brauerei.  It is for this reason, the export of the beer and not the shareholding, that I am grateful to this corporation.  On the one hand I could round on Heineken and say “why not leave breweries like Paulaner be”, but on the other, had they left Paulaner alone then it is likely that I would be unable to nip down to my local off-licence and buy a bottle to enjoy at home.  Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier is a firm favourite of mine.

While researching this post and reading into Heineken’s global reach, I was also more than a little suprised to learn that they also provide me with a French favourite of mine in Pelforth Brune.  It turns out Heineken International bought Français de Brasserie in 1988, the brewery that produces the Pelforth brand.  I have enjoyed this beer while on holiday in France and more recently being able to find it in a couple of the great beer shops in the UK (see my links page).  Thanks to Leigh at ‘The Good Stuff’ for the photo, see his review and food pairing here.

Heineken N.V. claim to be a global business with a sensitivity for harnessing local produce and retaining their culture and integrity.  Well, as a consumer of at least two great beers that I loved before I learnt of their bed-partner, I have had time to reflect and concluded that the beer is good and their branding certainly remains true, despite it reaching my hand via a beast of the brewing world.

I must say I have enjoyed being part of The Session (cheers Reuben) and I look forward to next months with great anticipation.  Thanks for reading.

Beer and Chocolate


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Biere Belge D'artisans

There is a lot of radio chatter at the moment surrounding what appears to be the ‘new wine’ (only joking Leigh!), no not the new wine, just beer in its own right.  Not only beer, but beer and food, see The Good Stuff and Called to the Bar for some recent insight into this.  I’m interested in both of these culinary components and whole heartedly agree that there should be more food and beer pairing happening, although I have also met a skeptic, my wife, who cannot comprehend how anyone could drink a pint of fizzy beer with each course of their meal.  For the sake of marital relations and also as an ulterior motive for generally championing my rampant interest in all things beer, I refrained from a forehead-slap, although I did think of doing it and that made me feel better.  I went on to explain that there are many different styles of beer and that not all beer is fizzy and served in a pint glass.  She humoured me by listening with one ear while using the other to stay tuned to The Great British Bake-Off on the beeb.  My tired brain caught up with itself and realised that I could demonstrate my ramblings and disappeared off to the kitchen (and to the beer fridge – yes a dedicated beer fridge *smiley face*).  I wasn’t in the room anymore to confirm this, but I think she was glad that I’d gone.  Without asking (rock n roll) I pre-heated the oven and swiped the box of Gü Chocolate Soufflé‘s from the fridge.  I know these aren’t the real thing, but neither am I the kind of guy who can knock up a soufflé on demand.  So the puddings were in the oven and I reached for the bottle of beer I knew would come in handy some day.  Today!

PictureA few months back I bought a mixed case of La Rulles Belgian beers from Ales by Mail.  As far as I am aware Ales by Mail are still the sole UK distributor of these beers.  The case included bottles of La Rulles Blonde (7%), Brune (6.5%), Triple (8.4%), Estivale (5.2%) and two bottles of Jean Chris Numero 1 (6.0%).  It was the Jean Chris Numero 1 that I knew I was going to pair with this pudding and hopefully demonstrate the beauty of beer and food to my wife.  She likes chocolate and she doesn’t hate beer, so I knew I had a chance of proving a point.  The Jean Chris Numero 1 was a collaboratively brewed at the Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles along with Christophe Gillard, the owner of Miorge Mihoublon a bottle shop in Arlon (Belgium), and his friend Jean who is a local chocolatier, based in Habay-La-Neuve (also Belgium).  Jean created three praline chocolates designed to go with the beer, sadly I had to settle for a chocolate pudding, but was confident that it would still be a tasty match.The beer is a 6% Belgian Pale Ale, non filtered, non pasteurised and bottle conditioned.  It’s made with Pale Malt – Munich and single hopped with Amarillo to a pleasant 40 EBU (released in 75cl bottles).

Picture  So, the puddings were out of the oven  and the beer poured into two tulip glasses, I was proud to be showcasing the beer and my novice ability to match the two together.  I re-entered the front room and presented them to my wife, who turned to me and said; “I’ve just brushed my teeth so won’t have any this time”.  I masked my frustration and fought back a tear and decided the best thing to do was to eat both puddings and drink all of the beer myself.  Imagine if I had prepared one pudding and poured one glass of beer for myself, she’d have wanted some then! Unbelievable!  Anyway, the chocolate soufflé and Jean Chris Numero 1 where a brilliant match.  There was no fight between the fruit and bitterness of the beer and the sweetness of the chocolate.   Puddings finished, I still had a glass of beer left in the bottle so poured that to drink on its own.  It still poured the same deep gold and had a bready, citrus aroma, but it was now, without the chocolate to accompany, that I realised how sour the beer was, sour in a good way of course, but to my relatively unconditioned palate to the likes of Belgian lambics and gueuzes this was probably a good introduction to what you might expect from the real lip-puckering deal!

Thanks for reading.

If you have read this and used my links to the excellent blogs on food and beer and still doubt the power of this pairing, then check out some more recent examples of genius at work:
Check out  Eating isn’t Cheating for regular food and beer pairings and also recent media activities involving David Bailey of Hardknott (re: Saturday Kitchen) and Des de Moor’s valiant effort to assist BBC’s the One Show, although they could have used his input a little less sparingly!  Also, Raising the Bar and Gastroturf provide details on their International IPA Day Feast at the Dean Swift, London.

CAMRA: To be or not to be?

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Disclaimer: This is not a post for postings sake. This is not an attempt to have a cheap pop at an organisation I know next to nothing about. This is a post to elaborate on recent discussions with like minded beer folk.  Ultimately this is a post which will document a thought process.The subject header of this discussion is slightly misleading as the post does not intend to question the existence of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), as there is no doubt that decisive activists past and continued advocates present  make CAMRA a key player in the continuing rise and success of Real Ale.   The subject of this discussion is based purely on a personal dilemma; should I take membership in CAMRA?  Hardly a dilemma in real-terms given the types of hard-hitting decisions people make on a daily basis, but more a dilemma in the context of personal interest.

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On first appraisal I looked upon this question as a matter of; “do I want to spend £20 on this membership?”.  As a result of my Yorkshire-tight-fistedness I have not parted with my cash yet.  Reason being that I have managed to convince myself that £20 would be better spent in a pub or in a bottle shop.  That’s correct, my twisted rhetoric has me believe that buying beer is the only way to support the thing that I love.  However, as my beer career has developed, I have being increasingly aware of CAMRA as both an organisation and as a topic of conversation and or heated debate.

Picture My beer background, in brief, is that I am foremost a homebrewer who is slowly finding his way in what appears to be a vast choice of beer (and I use the word ‘beer’ as a way to describe all barley, hop, water and yeast based beverages).  I would also like to believe that I am yet to ‘pledge an allegiance’ to either side of what, on occasions, appears to be reduced to a playground spat where you are forced to pick your gang and not stray too far from it for fear of wedgies, Chinese-burns or even a purple-nurple!  One side of this spat seems to be CAMRA and the other side being those who see most beers as ‘Real’ and do not feel that the storage receptacle; be it cask, keg or bottle; or the locality in which the ingredients were sourced and the beer brewed as being relevant when acknowledging these beers as Good.  Mark Dredge has written about this in more detail and in more specific terms of a beer Bloggerati – see Pencil and Spoon.  Leigh Linley explores a little further about Cask vs Keg vs Bottle vs Can here – see The Good Stuff.

To be fair to all concerned, there are also a large – if not the largest, group of apathetic drinkers of beer who could be in either of the groups described above.  Subdivision of this group sees those that are aware of the debate and choose not to be get involved; and  those who are blissfully unaware that the circus is in town.  While this is a topic of debate in itself, it is my belief that it is this group of apathetic beer drinkers that hold the key to the success of good beer triumphing over bad* (*mass produced accountants beer).  First and foremost I consider myself to be in this group and am desperately looking to those with the power to tell me where I should be concentrating my efforts to champion good beer.  It is also only fair and proper to clarify that there are also divisions of opinion or liberalism and conservatism (if I may use such emotive and political terms) within CAMRA and the Blogeratti… i.e. there are CAMRA members who are staunch traditionalists in their vision for Real Ale and there are those who are open to beer evolution; as there are also Bloggers who love cask beer and whole-heartedly support CAMRA; and of course Bloggers who do not see the value in embracing CAMRA for what it is, and for what it could be given the time and potential to change.

And breathe! …

Getting back to my point; “do I want to be a member of CAMRA?”.  Well lets look at my case.  I find myself to be a lover of good beer; I brew beer in a way that I consider to be true to the drink; I blog about beer and yet I find myself without a sense of belonging due to the conflicting rhetoric bombarding my tiny mind (might I add – this sense of belonging is not important to everyone).  So it seems to me that there is only one course of action and that is to add membership to CAMRA to the above list.  After all, how do I learn and hope to understand all of the aspects of my hobby and passion? and how can I decide whether I can be actively involved in CAMRA if I haven’t even tried its membership?  I did gauge opinion from fellow Tweeters and got a range of answers and suggestions that only support my opinion that division among lovers of good beer is neither use nor ornament.  So, while I may not fully understand the politics, and I am hoping for some feedback on what I know is not an entirely facts based blog post, I feel that I need to stop my silo thinking where beer is concerned and think more in terms of supporting anything that will push good beer closer to and eventually past global bland beers as the everyday choice available to the consumer.  “By definition will this bring our beloved Craft Beer in-line with everything we despise about mind-numbing global produce”? I hear you say… well yes, but only by definition, they may well eventually be global brands, but I know which global brands I’d rather see lined up in front of me when I walk into any pub in the UK.

*Roll credits and hopeful music*

Now for that bit at the end of documentaries where you learn what happened next………..

“Five minutes after producing this blog post, David became a fully paid member of CAMRA and he plans to review this annually.  He still plans to enjoy beer from the keg and from the bottle and plans to blog-it-up on a regular basis”.

P.s. Thanks to @OkellsAles @BeersIveKnown @BenCorkhill @GroveBri @Abarth50010 @Tuff86 @PeteBrownBeer for replying to, or contributing to the debate re: my original Tweet on this topic.