Saison: from Belgian Farmhouse to London Fields Eastside

At the risk – or perhaps hope – of achieving notoriety in Private Eye’s Neophiliacs column, I declare that saison is the new black IPA. I am not saying that to knock it or anyone who brews saison. I love the stuff. Which was why I was delighted to be invited to London Fields Brewery for the launch of the latest in their Bootlegger Series: Eastside Saison.

Eastside Saison signage London Fields Brewery

Eastside Saison. It’s from Lond Fields’ east side.

Over the past year or so, “saison” beers have exploded their presence like overprimed bottles of homebrew. Craft brewers have been cranking up their imaginations to produce a new variants of a beer style with its origins in the Belgian farmhouse of bygone eras. And why shouldn’t modern brewers be creative? When it comes to style, saison is the bebop of beer: based on a few sketchy ideas, the whole comes together with some firecracking improvisation.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there is nothing fixed about a saison: it is a moveable feast*. Nobody can be certain what those ancient farmhouse beers tasted like. Brewed in winter for slaking the thirsts of summer farm labourers, each farm brewing their own one-off batch. As craft as you like, it’s no wonder so many brewers want to try their hand.  I was very keen to taste the London Fields interpretation. Continue reading

Swift Half: IPA is Dead Edition 2. HBC (Can it save the Aussies?)

BrewDog IPA is Dead II: HBC 6.7%

11 Aug. Sunday afternoon, Ashes test in the balance, and here I am giving this new Australian hop sort a go. The batch number on the label says “071”, but this translates to the second round of IPA is Dead, BrewDog doing one hop variety per IPA.

The best-before date is gone by 5 months 13-03-2013. How would this humulus lupulus survive more than a year in the bottle? Fair dingo, or howler?

BrewDog IPA is Dead:2 single-hop IPA series second batch with Challenger, Motueka, Galaxy, and HBC hop varietals.

IPA is Dead, Batch 2: Challenger, Motueka, Galaxy, and HBC

The nose is fresh. At least, unoxidised (no wet paper/cardboard smells). There is some hop aroma of citrus, but it’s quite shy. Maybe a touch of autumn leaves.
Like the other beers in the batch, the beer feels quite big and chewy, and here, the travel-sweet juiciness of the hop shows up. There are crisp, summery and tangy flavours alongside a good balancing malt sweetness. It’s deeper, more rounded than the Punk IPA.

Memory tells me it is not as bitter as when fresh, and not astringent at all. Have I said that about all of the batch 2 a year on?

Orange-citrus has characterised the hops in Edition 2, but this is the orangiest. Would you forgive me for pairing this with griddled duck breasts? Too 70s? How about herby roasted lamb rack? Or just sitting in the garden listening to Test Match special hoping for a decent second innings lead.

From: Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Type: Single-hop varietal India Pale Ale, bottle. Source: BrewDog online.

Previously: IPA is Dead II: Motueka, IPA is Dead II: Galaxy, and IPA is Dead II Challenger
The original IPA is Dead tasting at The Euston Tap, February 2011

Swift Half: IPA is Dead Edition 2. An Old-world Challenger

 BrewDog IPA is Dead II: Challenger 6.7%

A perfectly normal summer Sunday afternoon, 22  July as England take a 2-0 lead in the Ashes. And what more appropriate hop variety could you wish for at today than good-old English Challenger?
BrewDog IPA is Dead:2 single-hop IPA series second batch with Challenger, Motueka, Galaxy, and HBC hop varietals.

IPA is Dead, Batch 2: Challenger, Motueka, Galaxy, and HBC

In Edition 1 of IPA is Dead, BrewDog threw in Bramling X as the old-world type. This time, they’ve gone for a more traditional variety used widely in British beers (Fuller’s ESB and London Pride), but not often as a single-hop varietal (that I know of). I liked the BrewDog take in Edition 2 a year (and more) ago. How would age wither it?

The beer smells good. Perhaps a touch of oxidation, but the hops smell fresh: bright, orange oil aromas. Sweet malt, as I have come to expect from these IPA is Dead beers, but a good, balancing bitterness that lingers to the finish. A bit of the old-English marmalade about it – so familiar to me from Fullers beers.

The aged BrewDog has lost a touch of vibrancy, maybe, but still a damn fine beer and lovely use of hops. Would be great with the lamb steaks we’re having for dinner: the deep fruit oil to go with the sweetness of the meat. But having survived 14 months in my beer cupboard this ain’t gonna last another 14 minutes.

From: Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Type: Single-hop varietal India Pale Ale, bottle. Source: BrewDog online.

Next up: IPA is Dead II. HBC: Can it Save the Aussies?
Previously: IPA is Dead II. Motueka and IPA is Dead II: Galaxy
The original IPA is Dead tasting at The Euston Tap, February 2011

 

Meantime Brewing and a new/old London Porter for Burns Night via Bamberg

If pale and extremely hoppy beers have been the belles of the beer ball for last couple of years, perhaps 2013 is the year that malt strikes back. If so, Meantime Brewing have started us off in the right direction with a collaboration beer: a Weyermann Porter. The nature of such limited editions is, by the time you read this, it will all be gone. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Greenwich Union pub tell you so I can tell you what it was like and how good it was with food.

Collaborating breweries, limited edition bottlings and one-off beers are quite the thing these days, on the craft beer scene. But this is one of the more unusual ones with Greenwich’s finest (only?) brewery collaborating with the German speciality maltsters Weyermann to make a London porter with all-German malts, brewed in Germany.

Meantime_collab_london_porter_med

OK, so before the EU gets on my back perhaps “London-style” porter. But yes, Meantime brewer Rod Jones packed his Lederhosen, last Autumn, went to Germany, and to the Bavarian city of Bamberg, to boot. Now things start to make a bit of sense; Bamberg is famous for its Rauchbiers, “smoked beers”, and porter – the second-most mythologised and misunderstood beer style (all porter used to be a bit smoky. Maybe…)

What followed him back from Bavaria, after several months of maturation, (the beer, that is. Rod Jones? same as ever) was a dark, velvety beer with a nod to chocolatey sweetness and a whiff of bonfire smoke. A beer of 8.5% ABV, too. Not that you could tell.

Rod Jones was at pains to point out what the beer didn’t taste of. As well as the absence of alcohol burn, there was an absence of the bitter, roasted and coffee flavours often associated with very dark beers. This, he explained, was down to the art of the maltster, and I would say, the craft of the brewer to showcase the malts: a blend of pale ale malt, two types of caramelised malt, chocolate wheat malt, with the final 5% of the mix coming from Bamberg’s famous beechwood-smoked malt.

Maltjerry bids for an entry into Pseud’s Corner
There were nibbles – substantial ones, sitting tantalisingly on the table as Rod told of standing in the freezing cold as they tasted the newly-matured porter last November, the only one present in Lederhosen, realising he’d been hoodwinked by his hosts. I felt somewhat sheepish, too, as I tucked into the food, but I had to see if this was beer made for food. Food that was getting cold. If that was rude, it was in the cause of research.

Toasted sourdough bread with hummus, deep-fried white fish goujons, thick-cut chips, samples of charcuterie, and…

“I thought it went particularly well with the pork meatloaf en croute”, I said cringing somewhat as I spoke the words.

“Oh, the slices of jumbo sausage roll, you mean?” responded my table companion. Luckily, the Greenwich Union bar was too dimly lit to reveal my blushes. I was right though, it was a very good pairing. Not a usual one for porter, but the smoke gives it an edge and the sweetness balanced by restrained hopping with East Kent Goldings goes with the herby richness of the sausagemeat.

It was no surprise that the rich malt and restrained smokiness of the beer also fitted the charcuterie very well. The light carbonation lifting the fat. Which it also did on the goujons. Porter and seafood is an old combination. This fish wasn’t as overwhelmed as with some porters. The less harshly-roasted dark malts at play, perhaps.

What was surprising was the combination with hummus and sourdough toast. I suspect the slightly burnt edges were picking up the dark malts and smoke again.

Although we can never know what the old-style porters that were all the rage in 19th-century London really tasted like, I doubt they had the refinement of this modern version. They just didn’t have the technical control of today’s maltsters.

Of course, the march of hops will continue in 2013, but this particular malt-forward collaboraton shows another way. I hope more brewers follow.

Meantime Brewing Company: about the Weyermann Porter

The Greenwich Union pub You might be lucky and find some Weyermann Porter, if not there’s Saison de Nuit and of course, the “standard” but also lovely London Porter.

The history of Weyermann speciality malts

Part 2 of So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

I don’t do resolutions, and I didn’t in 2012. Charlie Brooker doesn’t think it’s cool and neither do I. In fact I wrote about not doing resolutions in Part 1 of “So, 2012: Was it Maltier?” in which I looked at my post: “Wishes for a Maltier 2012” and checked how true the first three wishes came.

Here are the remaining three wishes, with the original comment indented followed by what became of them:

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle

“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

Wish fulfilment score: 5/10.
Somewhat improved visibility of methods and ingredients. Or perhaps I’m just not buying the type of beer that caused my ire any more. I think this is pretty much essential for craft kegged beers, so people know it’s not Double Diamond. I haven’t seen that.

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers

When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops…

Wish fulfilment score: 6/10 (but jury still out).
Supermarkets still mostly beige with the occasional pink fleck. But really, buy from specialist shops, online or retail, support your local brewery shop. What I’d really like to know is, did people, did you buy more for independent retailers, people like:

Beer Merchants Buy a mixed case in the Januar sales
Ales By Mail Buy Moor beer
Beer Ritz Buy Wild beer
Master of Malt Buy some whisky samples
The Whisky Shop Buy some whiskies of the world
Royal Mile Whiskies Guide to Burns Night
My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

There are loads, so no excuse not to.

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, (2011) and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Wish fulfilment score: 9/10 for media, 4/10 for me and written media.
Ignoring the blindness of Saturday Kitchen, TV and radio covered more beer and more beer and food together than I can previously remember. Jamie Oliver continues to support beer. Dan Saladino’s piece for BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, which I wrote about in “The Day the BBC went beer”, won a Beer Writers’ award, which recognition was very nice to see.

I gave some beer dinners and will continue to do so, but I didn’t write as much about beer and food for The Nightjar as I’d hoped. Beer and food writing is still very patchy, both in terms of quantity and quality. Either cooks don’t know enough about beer or (with a couple of exceptions) the beer writers don’t have the depth of knowledge of food.

Was 2012 a Maltier year?

Yes! Can we do better in 2013? What do we really want to see (or make happen)? Don’t tell Charlie!

So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

Following Charlie (Guardian scourge of the resolution) Brooker, as I was, at the beginning of 2012, I didn’t make predictions, but rather “6 wishes for a maltier 2012”. What happened?

Here’s the original list:
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs
2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs
3. Think big, drink small
4. Breweries and distillers: tell us what’s in the bottle
5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers
6. More food and beer together

As we head off into the wild, known-unknown that is 2013, did the wishes come true?
 
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs

(Text from original post indented)

Especially pubs serving food. OK, most of the point of a British pub is to drink the fine draft beers. Increasing the range of bottled beers will allow a pub to serve a much greater diversity of styles to suit the dishes they serve. Take a leaf out of Leeds Brewery/The Midnight Bell collaboration, as seen in my post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain programme on Channel 4. And pubs: offer beers you can’t get in the supermarket. You’ll be able to charge more. And while I’m on that subject…

Wish-fulfilment score: 2/10.
Outside of the Euston Taps, Casks, and Crafts of this world, I haven’t seen a great deal of change. With the exception of Fullers pubs, where they have taken to often stocking bottled versions of Black Cab Stout and 1845. The point remaining that a diverse range of bottled beers would suit a pub with a halfway-decent food side. I strongly suspect there is margin to be made, here.

2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs

What do you mean the Chancellor already did? Leave the ordinary stuff alone. but make good cask and craft keg reassuringly expensive, to recall an old campaign. Well, a bit dearer, anyway. What do you mean people will just stay at home and pay supermarket prices? What do people pay for a bottle of Becks in a pub, £3.50?  That’s like seven quid a pint. For Becks. Don’t even get me started on wine. Stand up for being the premium products they are. I’d much rather more money went to the great small breweries we have in the UK. Excellence should be rewarded.

Wish fulfilment score: Match abandoned.
In the wake of the campaign to abolish the beer duty escalator, and the rate of closure of pubs, this is a hard one to reconcile. I am still persuaded that good, modern beer costs more to make, and therefore should cost more to the customer. The problem being how to attract customers to pubs in the first place what with unfair competition from Supermarkets.

3. Think big, drink small

When it comes to the bigger beers, pints are for wimps. Yes, that’s right; it’s halves that are for the daring. And thirds are for superheroes. Don’t chicken out and have a pint for your man/womanhood. Your brain, liver, and palate will thank you for that half of ESB. You can then “afford” a snifter of Magic Rock Human Cannonball. If only pubs and bars had more third pint glasses…

Wish fulfilment score: 8/10.
I, largely, kept my side of the bargain. But have two-third pint and thirds caught on? Not really. Aside from BrewDog bars, where they are very good at serving measures appropriate to the beer strength and style. I still get into conversations where someone remarks how “strong” a 5.7% beer is. It is if you’re drinking 6 pints! (And I’m not doing that!)

Come back tomorrow for Part 2.

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar 2012: all windows in one post

Every day for the whole of Advent, I created my own “calendar”, in which each post represented a window, opened to reveal a beer or whisky that made an impression on me during 2012. Posterous’ limitations loomed large but committing to an entry a day was, for me at least, a lot of fun and very fruitful.

Resize_of_advent-calendar-3_sm

Here is the complete list, starting 1 December, linked to the posts.

  1. Summer Wine Brewery Rouge Hop
  2. Compass Box Hedonism
  3. Sharp’s Connoisseurs Choice Honey Spice Triple
  4. Meantime Friesian Pilsener
  5. Magic Rock Clown Juice
  6. Greene King 5x
  7. Thornbridge Tzara
  8. Highland Park Thor /18 year-old
  9. Stone Escondidian 15th anniversary
  10. Hibiki 12
    At which point I hit upon the idea of doing proper headlines.
  11. Stouts: Bristol-fashion
    Bristol Beer Factory 12 Stouts of Christmas
  12. Sweden makes Oktoberfest modern
    Mohawk Unfliltered October
  13. Transported to a Swedish Summer forest
    Mackmyra Special 09 Wild Raspberry
  14. Bishops got me drinking cans
    Ska Modus Hoperandi
  15. Driven to Abstraktion
    BrewDog Abstrakt series
  16. An Epiphany before Christmas
    Oppigårds Coast to Coast
  17. An English Beer from a different Kitchen
    Wadworth Beer Kitchen Wheat Beer
  18. Toasting the Higgs boson
    Hardknott Queboid
  19. The pub with Moor Beer
    So’ Hop/Queens Arms
  20. Buried treasure in IKEA
    Glenmorangie Finealta
  21. Hell’s Bells: a statement of intent
    Camden Town Unfiltered Hells
  22. Christmas Present and Christmas Past
    Great Divide Hibernation 2011/2012
  23. The best cask ale of Summer?
    Fullers Wild River
  24. Prince usurped by Empire
    Harvey’s Imperial Double Stout
  25. Christmas Day: From me to you, inspired by New Year’s Eve 2011

 

Christmas Day. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Raise a glass

Christmas Day: Fra: Maltjerry Til: Y’all. x%ABV
From: Surrey, England. Type: Double Imperial, non-chill-filtered Christmas Wishes. Source: The Nightjar.

The Christmas Day window is not directly about “Fra:… Til:..” but it is inspired by its name and the gloriously off-kilter brewing that is Mikkeller. Fra, Til. which is Danish for “From, To:..” with the label designed as though on a Christmas gift. This is a dark winter ale, and the first beer I drank in 2012, cracked at midnight.

Mikkeller_fra_til_2011

I didn’t want to single out one beer or whisky for special treatment today; everything I’ve listed during Advent is here because I thought it was brilliant or contributed to a great beer moment or whisky mood.

Just a quick mention for some that didn’t quite make it to the Advent Calendar but which really could have: Compass Box: Spice Tree, Evil Twin Yin (and Yang), Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown (perhaps the best name of the year), Sazerac 18 year-old 2011, Mikkeller Jackie Brown, Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 4, Ardbeg Galileo…

Good beer and whisky is even better when sharing the occasion with friends. And on Christmas Day, the magic is that whatever you’re drinking, it doesn’t count to your monthly recommended units*.

Cheers! Malty Christmas and a Hoppy New Year!

* Perhaps

Christmas Eve. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Prince usurped by Empire

Christmas Eve: Harveys, Imperial Extra Double Stout. 9% ABV
From: Sussex, England. Type: Russian Imperial Stout, bottle. Source: Harveys online shop

Christmas Eve: Julafton in Sweden, Julaftan in Norway, and Julaften in Denmark, where inspiration for the choice for today should surely have come, as Harvey’s Prince of Denmark was crowned “Supreme Champion” at the International Beer Challenge in London, in September.

Except, I’m choosing another in Harvey’s royal family: the Imperial Extra Double Stout. Fine though the Prince is, and as much as I respect the judges – indeed, I was lucky enough to be one of the judges, this year, as far as I’m concerned, the Imperial strikes black gold. Indeed, it won a gold medal too.

8304843336_cd34711d68_q

You might expect the Prince to be the wilder, more rebellious beer, but you’d be wrong. Whether you think 9% ABV warrants an “Extra” and a “Double” in its name as well as the “Imperial”, it’s a rich, intense and demanding beer.

Demanding of your attention with its pitch-like consistency and colour, its sweet – no, sour – no, sweet-and-salty flavour, and its aromas of cocoa and coffee. Wild and slightly sour, from what tastes like barrel-aging and rebellious in its very existence: Russian Imperial stouts all but died out in Britain. A beer fit for any Christmas celebration, whatever day it is.

Harvey’s online beer empire (where you can also find Prince of Denmark)
International Beer Challenge list of winners 2012

23rd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: The best cask ale of the Summer?

23rd December: Fullers, Wild River. 4.5% ABV
From: London, England. Type: American-style pale ale, cask. Source: The Kings Arms, Guildford

“Fantastic beer!” I thought as I took my first sip, sitting outside my newly-discovered, reachable-by-bus Fullers pub, on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the last day of June. A perfect beer storm of right beer choice meeting a beer in perfect condition.

Like just about every other beer drinker not stuck the 1970s, I am enamoured of American hops. I love their bright, fruity, zesty aromas and the citrussy/resinous/tropical twang they give to beers. I love them most for completely exploding the range of flavours available to beerkind.

Fullers_wild-river-logoBeer_garden_cloud_sq

Float on

It’s by no means new for Fullers to brew with American hops, but it’s the first time that I’m aware of that London’s only remaining large brewer has made a cask beer in an overtly modern American-style. Wild River? I suppose there are plenty of those where those hops came from.

But Fullers being Fullers, and thoroughly British, Wild River is no mere aping of a west coast APA; it is a cask ale: balanced and refreshing, complex and subtle, moreish and satisfying. It reminds me what the fuss is about cask-conditioned beer ale. (If only they could all be served this well.) It’s full of those American hops, but not brashly so.

The best cask ale of the summer? I thought it was easily the best cask ale from a major brewery I’d had all year. And at this, the back end of 2012, I see no reason to change my mind.