Shackleton’s Antarctic whisky raided. Not by me, honest!

Shackleton_whisky-bottle_small

A quick update here, by way of test posting simultaneously to thenightar.posterous.com and www.antarcticodyssey.wordpress.com.

I wrote a while ago on the Antarctica blog, about discovery of the Antarctic explorer Shackleton’s whisky stash from the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907. Now the crate has been carefully thawed out, it seems one of the bottles is missing. It wasn’t me; we weren’t in that part of Antarctica. However, the labels are fairly well preserved, and reveal the whisky to be a Chas. Mackinlay & Co. bottling called Rare Old Highland Malt.

White and Mackay, the present owners of the Chas. Mackinlay brand, plan to take small samples from the century-old bottles and reproduce the whisky. Richard Paterson (aka The Nose), who is master blender at W&M, on his blog says, once conservation is complete and samples taken, the crate of eleven bottles will be returned to Antarctica.

I would love to get my hands on the new bottling and take it down there to sample.

Great British Beer Festival. Part 2: Quote/unquote

Heard in conversations from the Great British Beer Festival, Earl's Court, London 2010.

"Would you like to try some dry-hopped stomach acid?" @markdredge
(Probably best if this beer remain nameless.)

"That smells a bit poofy." – John, ex-RAF friend of @ronwel.
While sampling Thornbridge Jaipur – Wasn't even the Craven Silk!

"Er… are you Malt-Jerry?" – Jeff Evans.
At 'Beer a Day' book signing; rumbled after I had been reminiscing (again) about whisky judging with Michael Jackson.

"Shut UP!" – Unknown young woman to me at the US beer stand, when I admitted my age.
It might have been a compliment, but it's what Jeff Evans ought to have said to me (see above).

"Oh, I used to get called 'Liam Gallagher' all the time in Pentonville." – 'Jason', when comparing celebrity doppelgangers with me. Whatever you say, Jason…

"Here, have this; I feel really bad." Bloke who queue jumped me at the US beer fridge hands me a ??10 note. For the record, I bought three Odell brewery beers: 90 Shilling, IPA and St Lupulin.

And a couple of Tweets:
@FullersTony I learned my lesson! Already bagged my Brewer's Reserve No. 2. Lovely and well belies its 7.7% ABV.
@Maltjerry haha! In that case it definitely belies its actual ABV of 8.2%!!

Great British Beer Festival, Part 1: The American Dream

About four years ago, I had a conversation with an English friend about beer. You know, one of those chats about great pubs and lovely new beers we had tried. I was talking about some American craft beers I’d tasted recently, and by way of a nonchalant aside, I let slip that I though the USA was the most exciting brewing nation on the planet at the moment. I don’t think I was taking notes at the time, but if I had been they would probably show evidence of rapidly spat-out mouthful of London Pride.

It wasn’t a joke and I was right. Now, it’s hard to escape the influence of American craft beers – even in the highest bastion of British real ale: the Great British Beer Festival. There’s a bar at the festival: Bières Sans Frontières, which has, for as long as I can remember, had all manner of great Czech and German beer, and also a growing number of lovely beers from across the pond. This year’s offering is twice as big as last year, with two very long rows of casks, from the familiar (Sierra Nevada) to the less well-known (High and Mighty). This is where I’d add a picture, but I must have been drooling too much to think of getting the camera out.

As last year’s festival, the selection ran out very quickly, I thought it wise to devote most of my first visit to GBBF 2010 to sampling America. I surveyed the bright yellow labels on the casks, but unlike a twitcher in search of a rare wood warbler blown over the Atlantic in a freak storm, it seemed like the storm had blown me in the opposite direction. I began to feel a bit sorry for the rest of the festival. It’s not easy going from Smuttynose Big A, a 7.7% ABV IPA from New Hampshire to Otley O, a 4-point-something golden ale from Pontypridd). Not that Ponty’s finest is inferior, but you can buy it readily(-ish) here, and well, it’s like eating a poached scallop after prime rib of beef with a chipotle glaze.

There is a fair smattering of imperial porters and double IPAs at high ABV percentages, but not all are overwhelming. I started with Stone Levitation with Simcoe hops, at a very manageable 4.4%. An obvious attempt by Stone brewery to make an American version of a British cask ale. Masterly it was too, and a great way to start the festival. It would have been wise perhaps, to try the Stone Levitation against Hopping Mad from the Durham brewery or Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, two British beers doffing a baseball cap to the US craft brewing scene; especially as Jaipur won Gold in its category (Strong Bitter) in the festival competition.

Thornbridge from Bakewell, Derbyshire, make some wonderful beers, and there are others that want do something to push the UK beer scene forward: Marble, Otley, and of course, BrewDog. And not just the UK; it seems every new brewery from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads knows the way to Amarillo (a hop variety popular with craft brewers). But it’s not just about throwing in bucketloads of American hops, welcome though that is to this hop-head, we need more established British Brewers to join the likes of Fullers in their more adventurous moments. In their Brewer’s Reserve Number 2, they have produced a big hitter of their own: a barrel aged 8.2% version of their Vintage ale. Not to be missed.

I’m very wary of Brits appropriating baseball metaphor, but here I think it is appropriate; I’d love to see our own brewers step up to the plate and show off our own “noble hops”: East Kent Goldings in spades, Goldings and Bramling Cross bursting the barrels. If there is now a corner of Earl’s Court that is forever USA, at least in August, let’s see if the UK can do it our way too.

Now, I’m off for Session 2 to see if UK breweries are already catching up. I might be out of date. I hope so.