Thursday, 31 May 2012

4 dark beers and DownDIPA/Eurovision

Sometimes the joy of beer is in sharing.  The best case scenario is to share the beer experience in 'real time' either with friends in the pub, or via the medium of off-licence, at home (also with friends).

However, for someone like me with burgeoningly anti-social habits, the Internet offers a remarkably pain free way of sharing good beer experiences, with some complete strangers/friends who feel obliged to read your blog.

Here is a quick resume of my most recent 'good' beer experience.  Actually, I'll give you my two most recent best experiences... how's that for a BOGOF?

i) 19th May AKA Champions League Final.

This evening saw four dark beers stashed in the fridge, and supped whilst Chelsea put Munich away on penalties.  In fact, because I'm rather a slow drinker, this session probably lasted until well after the Chelsea fans had downed their last stein of Augustiner Helles in Munchen.

Things kicked off with Buxton Imperial Black IPA, an absolutely belting beast.  Hoppy, ashy, smooth with licorice and good, clean earth.  From that high point, it was a tough ask to top it.

But Magic Rock Dark Arts had a good stab at living up to Buxton's err blazing trail.  Dark Arts is une grande Stout: chiseled blocks of graphite, bobbing in a sea of blended hop and sweetness.

Next up a Brewdog Dogma - an example of the style which is known as a Scotch Ale.  What exactly is a Scotch Ale Dan?  Did the style originate in Scotland presumably, Dan? Err, well yes, but it's been popularised by our US craft-brewing cousins.  Dogma is everything which I profess to be err not necessarily enamoured with: thick, sweet, extremely malty, with not much hops.  But, this was very delicious; exceptionally smooth and compelling.  Another winner.  But hang on, could it be that I'm deliberately lauding a Brewdog beer, because I'm so delighted that they are opening a new bar in Birmingham?  Perhaps subconsciously.  But honestly the beer was great.  Great news about Brewdog opening a bar in Birmingham, by the way.  Can't wait until August.

Fourth and [thankfully*] last of the evening, was a Bristol Beer Factory Raspberry Stout.  Now this was plainly a nice beer, but I'm afraid my tastebuds were shot by this point.  In fact my sense of reason had wandered down Hagley Road some time previously.**  It didn't hit the heights of the others.

* With ABVs of 7.5%, 6%, 7.4% and 7.7% respectively, I was at full capacity.
** Please see above sentence and try to pay more attention.

Buxton won the night.

ii) 26th May AKA Eurovision

Oh yes - Eurovision.  But oh, not just Eurovision, also DownDIPA, the Campaign for Really Good Beer's celebration of Double India Pale Ales.

Not quite as socially unacceptable as the evening detailed above, this night saw the consumption of three beers of 7.2%, 9% and 4.9% content.

First up was Ageless, a very tasty hopfiend from Redwillow.  This was more of a single IPA, rather than a double, but that's missing the point; the point being that it was a very tasty, hoppy, orange rock and parma violet accented beer.

Then came a genuine DIPA - Summer Wine Maelstrom.  For those who need to know, Summer Wine are a really very good UK 'craft' brewery from Holmfirth (yes, the place where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine). Maelstrom was thin, sticky and packed with very bitter, oily alcoholic menace. Excellent.

At that point I was sensible (for once) and opted out of any further DIPAs.  I had a Dunkelweizen instead.  Maisels Weisse Dunkel in fact.  Yes, it suffered in comparison with the two previous beers, lacking their hoppy, high content flavour.  But it was nice to relieve some happy Germanic memories of Summer's gone by.  More proof that this Summer will be the 'Second Summer of German beer' (which I will explain another time, but basically means that I am aiming to drink lots of delicious German beers this Summer, in some futile attempt to regain my fast fading heyday).

Any way, the Maisels was smooth, nutty and full of frothy sweetness.  One day soon I might tell you my top ten Dunkelweizens***

Eurovision is obviously a hoot, and the beer was equally good.  Here's to the next DownDIPA.

*** If you are particularly naughty.      


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Ideal Birmingham Pub Crawl, or is it Beer Crawl?

Given the pubs that Birmingham has, what would be the best achievable pub crawl?

More specifically, since I prioritise beer over surroundings/decor/atmos etc, what would be the ideal beer crawl in Brum?

Here's an imagined (but rooted in reality) attempt.

Starting slightly north of the centre, I'm kicking off with a pint of Oakham Citra in the Bartons Arms.  This is a double whammy, as the pub is a beautifully restored Victorian gem, with lovely tiles; and... it's owned by Oakham, who are one of my favourite/the best breweries in the country.  Citra is a deliciously crisp, hoppy and piquantly fruity beer, with a tickle across the tongue. Lip-smackingly moreish.

Next, a short bus ride away from the Bartons is the Bull - a small, homely, genuine old pub in the Gun Quarter.  Here, I'd probably plump for an Acorn Barnsley Bitter, which seems to be consistently available.  The comforting genuineness of the bitter, would echo the surroundings nicely.

Next I'd swing up to the Jewellery Quarter, to tick off the Lord Clifden, Brown Lion, Rose Villa Tavern, the Drop Forge and Red Lion (in that order).  In those pubs I'd hope to be able to sample [halves obviously] of Bathams (in the Clifdo), Complete Muppetry or Jewellery Porter (in the Brown), Thornbridge Kipling (in the RVT), a Malvern Hills Black Pear (in the Forge), and finally a Purity Mad Goose (in the Red).  Why those beers?  Well, because they are, respectively: i) a pleasure to drink and should always be sampled when available, which it usually is at the Clifdo and Red Lion; ii) the best of Two Towers' current range; iii) Bitters 'n' Twisted pubs usually carry Thornbridge beers, and they are always good; iv) usually on offer around Brum, and a pleasant Golden ale; and v) the best of Purity's 3 ubiquitous Golden ales.

A detour would be required to get to the Black Eagle, and once there, I'd hope for a Brewdog Trashy Blonde.

Heading back to the centre, I'd hope for a pint of Moor Somerland Gold in the Shakespeare [Summer Row], then an Otley Thai-Bo at the Old Contemptibles.  2 x Nicholsons' pubs, with 2 x of the better breweries on their Spring ale roster.

On the homeward stretch, I'd swing by the Old Joint Stock and umm and arr about whether to have a Chiswick Bitter (toasty and tart), a Bengal Lancer (quite hoppy) or a London Porter (rich and roasty).  The Porter would probably win.

In the nearby Wellington, the rotating ales make it difficult to pin down a guaranteed choice, but Wye Valley HPA IS always on, so that would 'do' me.

In the Post Office Vaults there are lots of bottles that I KNOW will be in the fridge on any given day, and a good number of them would tempt me on EVERY given day.  On current form, I think I would have to plump for a De Molen Amerikaans, which has the best aroma EVER.  However, having chosen Amerikaans, I would obviously have to live with NOT having chosen Rodenbach Grand Cru or Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze - but those are the kind of tough choices I make every day.

Before the final leg, I'd head to the Victoria and certainly sample a Thornbridge Jaipur if possible. 

Final 2 stops would be in Digbeth.  First up the Lamp Tavern, where I would hope to sample an Everards Tiger, which is not only a delicious Bitter, but also a small taste of home.  And then the Anchor, which has a retinue of ales which rotate at a similar speed to the Wellington: therefore I would cross my finger and hope to sample a Gargoyles Citra or a Steel City Vane Tempest.

After that I would be fit to drop.

But what conclusions can we draw from this imagined crawl?  Well, firstly that the sort of breweries guaranteed to be available on any given day, in our best pubs, are not really members of the burgeoning 'Craft Beer' scene.  My ideal Brum pub crawl would not allow me to sample Summer Wine, Magic Rock or Buxton.  But, on the positive side, it would allow me to sample some nice Golden ales.  Lots of Golden ales.  Mainly Golden ales in fact.  Golden ales seem to be doing rather well in Birmingham.

The other conclusion, is a rather more obvious one, and that is that Birmingham has lots of lovely drinking venues.  Rather more than you might imagine in fact.  And perhaps more than we realise - which is a sign of improvement is it not?   

In the style of Tony Hart, why not come up with you own imaginary pub crawl, using this ever improving Birmingham Pub Guide via Google Maps?

Monday, 14 May 2012

A typical day in the life of Mediocre Beer Adventures

In the period between Christmas and the end of March, I had quite a bit of annual leave to use up, and not much to do with it.  Or rather not much money to do anything with it.

Consequently the long empty hours between delivering and collecting child from nursery, used to stretch like an overextended elastic band.  I noticed that my beer obsessed days were starting to take on a familiar pattern, centred on beer, but not allowing for the actual consumption of it.

For a spoonful of mirth, here is the make-up of a typical day:

7.30 Get up.
8.30 Deliver child to nursery
9.30 Drink first of today's 28 cups of tea, which will become progressively less satisfying
9.45 Turn on computer, log into Twitter to read lots of tweets from a) people who are hungover, b) brewers who are starting work and c) bloggers with posts that sound more interesting than mine
10.00 Check Wellington beer board to see what beers are on
10.05 Log into Mediocre Beer Adventures to see how many people read that article I posted at 11.45 last night.
10.06 Realise that no one read that article I posted at 11.45 last night.
10.07 Retweet my own tweet - the one advertising my latest blog article (the one I posted at 11.45 last night)
10.20 Spend an hour replying to other people's conversation starting tweets, only for them to not start a conversation with me
11.20 Realise it's nearly lunchtime and start thinking about going to the pub this afternoon.
11.25 Check the West Midlands Travel website, in an attempt to calculate travel times between pubs
12.25 Crumpets
13.00 Make a new Google map, showing planned pub crawl
14.00 Check Wellington beer board to see what beers are on
14.05 Tweet new Google map
14.10 Cross reference new Google map with West Midlands Travel website to check whether pub crawl is 'do-able'
15.00 Realise it is now too late to do pub crawl.
15.05 Check Wellington beer board to see what beers are on
15.10 Check the West Midlands Travel website to see whether it would be possible to get to Stirchley Wines, before picking up child
15.30 Realise it isn't possible
15.40 Crumpets
16.00 Notice that Countdown has started, feel physically sick that the day has passed me by
16.05 Read more tweets from beer fans around the world, make a pledge to make better use of tomorrow
16.30 Consider popping into local Ember Inn, on the off chance that a decent beer is on
16.35 Don't bother
16.40 Check Wellington beer board to see what beers are on - realise that a great beer has just come on, but realise that by the time I can now visit (tomorrow) it will have finished
17.00 Check the West Midlands Travel website to see whether it would be possible to go to Handsworth to hunt for East European beers, prior to collecting child (knowing full well it isn't going to be possible) 
17.05. Confirm that it isn't possible
17.20 Collect child
18.20 Start reading tweets from people reporting the great beers they are sampling in a variety of great pubs
19.20 Frozen pizza
20.00 Start writing a blog post, before realising I have done nothing worth blogging about
20.30 Stop writing a blog post
21.00 Examine beer cupboard to plan evening's drinking. Have a cup of tea whilst deciding what to have first
23.00 Start first beer, having consumed 4 further cups of tea whilst prevaricating.
23.30 Realise that there is insufficient time to drink any more beers, as child delivery tomorrow morning will require clearheadedness.
00.00 Watch Family Guy - the same episode which was on yesterday
00.30 Go to bed.

And repeat the next day.  

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Blazing Sadlers (apols for that terrible pun)

Last night, during my monthly pub jaunt with work pals, we ventured outside of Birmingham city limits into the Black Country, and paid a visit to the brewery tap of Sadlers.

The Windsor Castle in Lye, is a smart pub which mixes country style dining decor, with some modern gastro features, which are reflected in the food options available.  But enough about food, cos it was the beer what brought us here.

In Birmingham, a brewery tap is almost unheard of, but in the Black Country there is a rich sprinkling of such venues.  The Windsor Castle is certainly one of the best, because Sadlers are really pumping out some quality beers at the moment.  I'd previously not paid much attention to this local company, but around a year ago, on my first ever visit to the Windsor Castle, I sampled Hop Bomb, which totally opened my eyes.  Hop Bomb is a rich, citrussy, spikily hopped beer (duh), which is packed with the aroma and favour of US hops.  It wasn't just me who's nose was pricked up by Hop Bomb - it garnered some very good reviews on Ratebeer, following it's appearance at GBBF. 

Since that sample I have sought out Sadlers beers where-ever possible, and for their part the brewery seems to have realised the pulling power of quality hops.

The beers sampled last night were:

Red House - a slightly vinuous Mild

Sprung - a delciously light and airy spring Golden

Jacks Pale Ale (AKA JPA) - another well hopped light Golden ale

Worcester Sorcerer - a hard nosed traditional pale Bitter

Thin Ice - a Witbeer accented lemony Golden

Mud City Stout - a strong Stout and favourite of Sadlers' fan @mrdavidj

Magic Miles - a hoppy seasonal Mild

and finally

Red IPA - an amber, berry tinged, thickly hopped beast

One beer I was disappointed to miss out on was their new Double IPA - Dr Hardwicke's, as the pub was between barrels while I was there.  But hey ho, the very fact that a smallish, regional microbrewery is now brewing an 8.5% 85-minute hopped beer such as this is massively encouraging - even a year ago such a thing would be unthinkable.  Progress is moving faster than I even realise.

Anyway, the Windsor Castle is a very impressive and very clean pub.  Anywhere that offers 8 or 9 handpulled beers from one high quality brewery is surely somewhere that should be on everyone's list of 'must visit' pubs?

Yet another reason to visit the Black Country and somewhere that can easily be programmed into a pub crawl encompassing the Bull and Bladder (Bathams' home at Brierley Hill) the Duke William (Craddocks' home in Stourbridge), the Hawne Tavern and the marvellous Waggon and Horses (both in Halesowen).  In many ways, the Black Country puts Birmingham to shame.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Highest Form of Beer? (An attempted Beerage)

When you don't blog for over a week, there is always the danger that one will lose the essential thrust, the purposeful desire.  Here then is a sketched discussion, as a means to stimulate the creative juices once more.

I was sipping a sour beer this evening in the Post Office Vaults, a Petrus Aged Pale to be precise.  It was delicious, but then again all "Sour Ales" are, aren't they?  And if indeed this is the case, are Sour Ales an inherently prestigious style of beer, a style which is automatically enjoyed by beer fans because of their provenance and heritage?  Perhaps, in order to obtain status within the beer drinking fraternity, appreciation of the more 'refined' beer styles is a sort of marker on the path to enlightenment, a bit like moving along Scientology's Bridge to Total Freedom or whatever.

Now this is an interesting discussion in itself, but what I really wanted to have a bash at here, was a sort of rough outline of where some beer types might feature in a hierarchy of styles.  If the average lager lout thinks John Smiths Extra Smooth has too much flavour, then Lager must be lower than John Smiths according to a/the/my theory of beer appreciation.  But then again, even lager fans recognise higher forms of lager - Becks or Peroni, as opposed to Carling or Stella Fosters.  The status quo is constantly rocked by trying new beers.   All beer fans have gateway beers - beers which perhaps move them a notch up the beer hierarchy.  For my part, I tried Hoegaarden and it made me want more flavour.  Later I tried Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and it opened my eyes to new hops.  See what is happening here?  One's palette is developing and this leads to appreciation of styles which are seen as 'better'.  But what is the prescribed/recommended consensual route up the ladder?  And what's at the top.

Using my general observations and with an eye on the Ratebeer rankings, here then is my peerage, or, if you will, my beerage.

(n.b. levels are indicated by numbers, with most prestigious at the top, duh.  Styles which are of roughly equal standing, stand next to each other, duh).

So how does that look?  An initial examination for sure, but does it strike a note of sanity, or is it complete cobblers?

p.s. If someone could put this into a Powerpoint style organisational chart, I'm sure this idea could be presented in a much more illuminating way.

p.p.s. Someone (maybe lots of people) have probably had this same discussion, many times before.  A cursory Google search didn't reveal these discussions, but if they do exist, and I have subconciously pinched these ideas, then I apologise.