Three Beers: October 16

A trio to ponder.

Since taking delivery of a butt-load of award-fancying beer two weeks ago, I’ve found myself at a couple of events which firmly favoured quantity over quality in the beer stakes: a stag-do and a Sunday League football team awards night.

I’m not the laddiest, but suffice to say, we were not sipping Cantillon Gueuze with cautious restraint.

And, fun as those get togethers were, I was looking forward to getting back to having a normal drink. One which didn’t involve intentional liver destruction.

So, here are three efforts from the awards lot.

Hoepfner Jubelbier

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A Hoepfner Jubelbier

German beers have a strange power over me. That distinctive malt and caramel flavour, normally joined by spice, banana and clove, with plenty of fizz, sends me back to drizzly nights on the cobbles in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and all points between.

This festive Märzen is not the best example you’ll ever find – it verges on over-sweet – but it does the job, with all the aforementioned Teutonic tendencies on display.

I’d recommend it, but if you can get any Schneider Weisse, go for that instead.

Boon Mariage Parfait Kriek (2015)

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This was one that I’d earmarked for a special occasion, like Christmas or a birthday. Turned out the special occasion was after a crap day at work.

Bloody worked though, didn’t it.

For starters, it’s hard not to enjoy a drink that starts with twisting off a champagne-style cork. Then, you remember that Boon crush everything they touch and their Kriek is no different.

It’s dark, tart, sour, fruity, a little dry and beautifully balanced.

If I had to choose a Boon to drink, especially as a treat, I’d pluck for the Geuze Black Label, which proved a knockout a couple of weeks back. But if you prefer your funk toned down, this is a worthy replacement.

Which makes it sound like I’m calling it the Jamiroquai of beer, but I’m not.

Abdij Averbode

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Averbode Abdij beer and its glass.

99 times out of 100 I drink the beer for the beer. But then there’s that time where it’s for the glass.

(I’d argue that impulse is peak beer geekdom, but that’s for another post.)

This was one of those moments. The Averbode beauty pictured is my favourite, and it was yet to meet the Abbey beer it was made for.

It all looked the part – the beer fit the glass like an old pair of slippers – but it’s a blonde abbey beer, and that’s what it tastes like.

That is to say, very nice, but nothing new. Crisp, spicy, boozy, with dried fruits and a reasonably crisp finish.

What happens to the World Beer Awards leftovers?

They are the undrunken.

Every August, The World Beer Awards are held in London.

How it happens: breweries send in beers; portly men with little beards and questionable personal hygiene gather in a room in London; they taste the beers and pick the winners; they go home alone.

But  what happens to all the leftovers?

The answer, bizarrely, is that much of it ends up with charities. They are given hundreds of bottles of beer and given permission to do with them what they wish.

Then, vultures like me move in.

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I’ve just taken in a delivery of around 50 beers from the awards after a donation to the brilliant Break charity, and am in the process of figuring out just what I’ve got.

There are beers from Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, Hong Kong, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Spain, Italy, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. They are in bottles and cans, with caps, swing tops and corks.

Fans of Belgian beers would be on familiar ground, with Kasteel, Delirium, Affligem, Averbode and Straffe Hendrik present.

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This Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock came with a little plastic horse. Sweet.

But being the World Beer Awards, these breweries aren’t farting around with their basic styles. They’re bringing their bobby dazzlers.

If you get a Rodenbach, it’s a Grand Cru. If it’s Troubadour Magma, it’s the special edition, triple-spiked brett. Straffe Hendrik – quadrupel it. Boon. Geuze. Mariage. Parfait. Even Mahou tried to pull the wool over by chucking in their god-awful but different-for-them Barrica.

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I’ve not tasted them all yet, but one obvious observation is that not one of the craft beer zeitgeist bothered entering.

You’d be surprised to see the entry list swimming with super-fresh hoppy IPAs that wouldn’t be at their best for the judges, but it’s telling that not a saison nor a stout or sour from a Wild Beer, Little Earth Project or Buxton is involved.

My guess? The established breweries still crave the kudos of a WBA sticker on their bottle. The craft breweries couldn’t give a toss.

  • I’ll drink a few of these over the coming weeks, then let you know how it went.

Three Beers: October 2

Can’t beat the classics.

Craft beer is all about the ‘new’. Pushing boundaries, bending conventions, breaking barriers.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the classics. That’s what I’ve been doing this week, with the help of a bumper order of Belgian and German beauties from Beers of Europe.

Here are three gifts that keep on giving.

Schneider Weisse Tap 5 Meine Hopfenweisse

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My experience of German beers is of class and refinement, with recipes honed over hundreds of years, dialled in to perfection.

But this hopfenweisse takes no prisoners, with more of the feel of a craft beer than I’d expected. It’s unapologetically huge, and a little rough round the edges.

It’s basically a double wheat beer, with the mouthfeel, hops and bitterness you’re now seeing in DIPAs, but with a huge sweetness and the banana, cloves and malt you get in a hefeweizen.

That sweetness can be a little overwhelming, with a 1-2 of peach and pineapple, and tons of stone fruit.

But if you want to go big, this is big.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen

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This beer looks ancient and tastes like smoked ham. Which is to say it’s an acquired taste.

A classic rauchbier, with a bit of sweetness and lots of malt against subtle smoke, Schlenkerla and peanuts are made for each other. If I could photoshop a Tinder page where they are a match, I would, just to prove it to you.

A reminder that you don’t need to hunt down weird and wonderful new craft beers to find unusual styles.

Boon Oude Geuze Black Label

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Picking out all the flavours in this beer would be like cracking the Enigma code. Every mouthfeel gives up something new – peach, tropical fruits, lemon, pepper, grapefruit, thyme, apple.

It’s tart, fizzy and dry with kaleidoscopic funk and is basically a bit fancy. I cracked a bottle for my birthday, and I suggest you do too.

 

Adnams collaborate with Cigar City

Beer from bromance.

This blog isn’t about news, but it doesn’t hurt to share this one: Adnams has made a collaboration beer with Cigar City.

Called Two Bays Oaked Pale Ale*, the marketing spiel says the link up is about ‘sharing coastal roots’ – Sole Bay in Suffolk and Tampa Bay in Florida.

But it’s probably more about a bromance between two brewers – Fergus Fitzgerald from Adnams and Cigar City’s magnificently named Wayne Wambles – who met at a Philadelphia brewing conference.

You can see the thinking – Adnams get some kudos, and Cigar City some UK exposure beyond the beer nerd crowd.

Whatever the reason, it’s another boost for brewing in East Anglia. It’s a region that has top quality products (Norfolk is Maris Otter country), some beautiful countryside, a whopping coastline and some stunning cities and towns. But it’s as cool as a Morris dancing, Conservative party-supporting, Lighthouse Family fan.

But, with the incoming Duration, newcomers like Ampersand Brew Co and now a seriously, genuine, David Bowie in shades, cool brewery like Cigar City working with a local brewer best known for solid ales and good quality gin, there could be hip at the end of the tunnel.

Two Bays Oaked Pale Ale

*The beer is a 4.4% abv oaked pale ale, brewed with pale ale malts and oats and hopped with Citra, Cashmere, Lemondrop, Enigma and Calypso. It has distinctive flavours of toasted oak, vanilla and coconut, balanced by fruity aromas of gooseberry.

 

Where to buy craft beer in Norwich (and beyond)

Drinking at home? Here’s where to get your stash.

I’ve written previously about some of the wonderful places to drink in Norwich.

But unless you’re pulling down some serious bunce – or just have a disregard for the way the economy is headed – chances are you’ll have to do at least some of your drinking at home.

And in a lot of ways, drinking at home can be better. The glass is always clean, the beer is always the right temperature, and the loo is comfortingly within reach.

Here are some places in Norwich and further afield to buy a decent beer.

ABV Store Norwich

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Norwich Market is the oldest fixed market in the country, and has undergone something of a revolution in the last year, with the addition of a cluster of foodie stalls and an associated increase in beards per capita. Holding up the liquid end of the deal is the ABV Store.

Perched on the edge nearest the Guildhall (opposite Tesco Metro) and run by two very nice gents, Dan and Matthew, the stall stocks most of the big names from the UK and Europe, and a smattering of beers from across the pond. I’ve picked up beers from To Øl, Cloudwater, Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Omnipollo, Buxton, Wild Beer and elsewhere.

With the supermarkets muscling in on craft beer, the stall has the very simple goal of stocking beers you can’t easily find elsewhere, and it does it very well.

Brewdog Norwich

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An obvious but necessary inclusion, Brewdog has a very decent bottle shop.

I find it a little pricier than most other places (I’ve accidentally waved goodbye to £50 there more than once) but it stocks a lot of rare beers, lots of good imports, and of course the whole Brewdog range. There’s also a bunch of merch, growlers, glasses and even the odd homebrew ingredient.

Beers of Europe

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First up, Beers of Europe is not in Norwich. It’s in King’s Lynn, a 45 minute drive through the wilds of Norfolk.

However, it is the shit.

This beer hangar has been stuffed to the gunwales with the finest beverages from around the globe for over a decade, with Belgian, US, German, Swedish, Danish, French and all manner of other nationalities on show.

Ambling by the steel shelves while gradually filling your trolley with rare and exotic finds is a giddy experience for a beer nerd, like a cross between Hamleys and safari.

They also do very nice things.

Beautiful Beers

This is getting ridiculous now. Beautiful Beers isn’t even in Norfolk. It’s in Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk.

Geography aside, this place – run by the marvellous Rene van der Oort – is a gem.

If his name wasn’t a giveaway, Rene is Belgian and knows a thing or two about his homeland’s most magnificent export and stocks a rainbow of wonder – golden, brown, red, white, brown, lambic, Trappist, Abbey, sour, fruit, dubbel, tripel, dark, light.

He also does a good trade in craft beers and real ales, and it’s a top place for gift sets and glasses.

Brexit looks to have put the kibosh on him opening a store in Norwich, but the original store is worth the trip.

 

What happened at Beavertown Extravaganza ’17?

Why the whinging at craft beer’s Woodstock?

It’s fair to say that the Beavertown Extravaganza had more buzz than a pissed-off wasp. Craft beer’s Woodstock had every band, playing all their hits, and even some new classics. Trillium, Other Half, Omnipollo, Three Floyds, New Belgium, Mikkeller, Cloudwater and 65 more beasts of brewing were in town.

I went on the Friday and had a blast.

Crowds at Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

But it’s also fair to say that not everyone was happy by the end of it, while many – including the organisers – were delighted.

The issue was, for some, a lack of beer. Indeed, by around 7pm, a lot of places were not serving (Trillium, Other Half and Cloudwater for starters), and many of those who were still serving were offering up beers of a more, I think it’s fair to say, acquired taste. IPAs were mostly long gone, while sours, stouts, saisons and ciders were plentiful.

Having paid £55 a ticket with promises of all the beer you can drink, many were upset with what they saw as a raw deal. Here are some relevant tweets, with drunken typos for good measure:

I’d rogered plenty of top quality beer by around 8pm, so I wasn’t too bothered.

And Beavertown were similarly relaxed. This pair of tweets sums up their no-nonsense approach to dealing with whingers:

The debate here is an interesting one. As many have already said, anyone who has been to a beer festival of any kind before knows that certain beers are popular, and kick early. Consequently, breweries ration certain beers so they have enough for multiple days.

It was also pretty obvious what was going to happen. From minute one, the queues for Trillium, Other Half and, initially, Omnipollo, were 15 minutes long. Unless they had Jesus doing the 100ml pours – instead of just lots of people who looked like him – they were going to run out.

Buxton x Omnipollo
A glass of Buxton x Omnipollo Original Raspberry Meringue Ice Cream Pie held up by a drinker at Beavertown Extravaganza 2017.

Having said that, the difference with BeaverEx was the upfront payment. Most festivals are £3 to £10 on the door, and then pay as you go. But with BeaverEx, people had more of a sense of entitlement. Many will have been tempted in – rightly or wrongly – by the promise of beers that they would otherwise be unable to drink without a holiday. The many brilliant US breweries were clearly the stars of the show. When those breweries shut up shop 2 or 3 hours before closing time, there was understandable consternation.

It also appears that, on the Friday night at least, there were very few breweries serving at all by 9pm, and those that were had queues and the aforementioned ‘niche’ beers. At your average beer festival, this might happen on the 3rd or fifth day, but not on the first. It seems on the Saturday this was rectified by Beavertown, with kegs of Neck Oil and Gamma Ray brought in to plug the gaps. Which does seem to be an admission that Friday’s situation wasn’t ideal.

All in all, for the first run, the event was a massive success. It’s bloody hard organising anything this big, with such a dedicated, demanding customer base. It also says a lot about the craft beer crowd in the UK – and elsewhere. I’m probably not the first to notice that when most people say they like craft beer, what they really mean is that they like IPA, and DIPA at a push. You only had to look at the short queues for Jester King throughout the day – serving up world class sours and mixed fermentation beers – and the moaning about a supposed surfeit of non-IPAs later in the evening to see there’s some truth to it.

Ultimately, the main feeling I’ve taken away from Beavertown’s Extravaganza 2017 is one of excitement. If they can do this well first time round, then it will only get better. See you next year.

Beavertown Routemaster
A converted Routemaster bus at Beavertown Extravaganza 2017.

My BeaverEx highlights:

  1. Stillwater Artisanal Wavvy DIPA. Sultry.
  2. The cubanos I had before drinking had even begun.
  3. Slim Pickens’ pineapple cider.
  4. New Belgium’s Fat Tire. Biscuity goodness.
  5. The real star of the show – the little glass.
  6. The free merch. Sierra Nevada key-ring bottle openers.

Three Beers: September 5

I drink beer and then tell you about it.

Last week, the IPA dominated Three Beers. So – while I enjoy a juicy hop-grenade as much as the next drinker – this week I’m mixing it up. To quote Sleaford Mods, I don’t want to put my dog on a string.

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Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour

This beer tastes exactly like tzatziki.

I could leave it there, but it would be a bit of an injustice to just how much this kettle sour tastes like tzatziki. Mint, cucumber and even a creamy, yoghurty mouthfeel are all there. Yet it looks and fizzes exactly like beer. It’s like one of those hypnotism tricks where someone convinces you that you’re eating an apple, when you’re actually biting into an onion. I half expected Derren Brown to bowl in and start telling me he’s mindfucked me.

If you like tzatziki, you should drink this.

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Stillwater Artisanal Big Bunny

This shouted out from the board at Brewdog Norwich and didn’t disappoint.

Maybe it’s because I’m a big whoopsy, but sometimes I find big stouts (this is 8%) too boozy, and often astringent.

But this was nothing of the sort, with lots of chocolate, malt, coffee and creaminess in harmony. It also has tons of umami – the flavour profile that I think helps stouts smash other beers out of the park in terms of pure taste. It was like a dash of fish sauce had been added, in a good way.

A beauty for dessert.

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Nene Valley Brewery Bitter and Orange

A collaboration between Nene Valley and Gonzos Tea Room in Norwich for the city’s craft beer week, this beer is nothing but different.

Built around angostura bitters, it’s a spicy and citrussy IPA which didn’t quite work for me. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting drink, which has to be the point of an experimental collaboration, and it was technically on point with lovely carbonation. I just don’t like marmalade – I have the same issue with Fourpure’s Juicebox – and this tastes a lot like marmalade.