Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard


Beers Of London Series
73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard 3.8%

The Cronx are London brewery number 44 to feature in this series so far and one I have been trying to source beer from for a while without success, either just missing their beer on at pubs around town or finding that some shops have sold out. I really should have made the trek down to Croydon to source some locally but I found that even though I planned to make the journey on a good few occasions I found myself thwarted by circumstances beyond my control. Well maybe not completely beyond my control but enough to side-track me and keep me from my destination.

The Cronx Brewery were formed in 2011 when Mark Russell, a wholesaler of alcoholic drinks, met Simon Dale, a regulatory advisor for an asset management company in the City, and found they were both having a similar thought, that of establishing a new brewery in Croydon, the first since Page and Overton closed its doors for the last time in 1954. After some test brews, much planning and finding some commercial premises, their brewery equipment was delivered on 10th July 2012, they brewed for the first time on 18th July 2012 (coincidentally my birthday), with their first beer on sale in the pubs of Croydon on Wednesday 8th August 2012 (also coincidentally my wedding anniversary).

They have five permanent beers in their range, Standard - which is the beer I have here, Kotchin - a blonde ale brewed with Cascade, Nektar - a Pale Ale brewed with Polish Marynka hops, Entire - a traditional Porter, and Mad Ass Entire - a not-so-traditional Porter brewed with smoked chilli peppers from the Mad-Ass Chilli Sauce Co Ltd, as well as Single Hop Series, seasonal beers, specials and the occasional one-off. This particular beer I picked up from my good friends at Ales By Mail who have helped me out with a good many of the beers in this series.

The Standard pours a beautiful brown/orange akin to varnished rosewood, crowned with a dense and creamy beige head and it takes that creaminess with it as it passes over the tongue but with the addition of good prickle of carbonation that isn't at all apologetic and adds to the enjoyment of the taste. The aroma is full of sweet chocolate fudge with a little lactic bite that brings out some gooey dried papaya, syrup covered dates and rich suet pudding flavours, in fact the more it warms, the more it evolves in that respect with snatches of thyme and toffee apple in the mix as well. As you may expect with a beer of this low abv however it doesn't translate this aromatic complexity into the taste but it does bring a bitterness that balances very well with flavours of sweet caramel, fruity but understated date and raisin, and rather pleasingly some of that sticky stodgy suet pudding flavour I detected earlier. The finish too is rounded and long lasting with all those muted creamy pudding flavours coating the mouth and leaving a sherry-like resonance.

To be perfectly honest I really wasn't expecting this beer to be quite so good as it is. I must confess that when I picked up a bottle of 'Standard' then I thought I would be drinking a twiggy brown bitter much as you might find in any honest hostelry up and down the country, brewed by brewers sticking to time honoured recipes. Drinkable certainly but not remarkable. This is however, anything but standard, and actually their website describes it thus, but being the sceptic (or indeed cynic) that I am I tend to discount such frippery. On this occasion I was very very wrong and this is a very very good beer. I'll certainly be looking out for more beers from the Cronx to drink soon, and I suggest that you do too if you haven't already.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin


Beers Of London Series
72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin 4.0%

A Head In A Hat is a curious name for a brewery. Who's head? Who's hat? What type of hat is it? Is it a dis-embodied head found in a hat, pertaining to some local legend perhaps?

The answer is actually quite simple.

A Head In A Hat is really half a brewery, that is it comprises one half of the brewery at The Florence brew pub in Herne Hill, right on the edge of Brockwell park. The Florence has it's own range of beers, brewed and sold in the pub itself and for exclusive use within the Capital Pub Group of pubs. Peter Haydon, author of 'An Inebriated History Of Britain', former Society Of Independent Brewers (SIBA) General Secretary who had a spell working on the ground floor at Meantime Brewery, discovered he had unused capacity on the kit he was using at The Florence and decided to set up something separate from the main brewery to brew recreations of Old London Beers and take full advantage of that surplus. As he favours hats, and can usually be found wearing one, A Head In A Hat seemed a logical name to choose for this venture, and so came to be.

With beer names such as Trilby (a 3.5% dinner ale), Topper (a 4.8% India Porter brewed to Barclay Perkins recipe from 1805)  and Capper (a 3.8% session Pale) you can see where it all ties together rather nicely, and even the non-hat-related beer names such as Beekeeper and Camembeer have a gentleman suitably 'chapeau'd' in a related hat (beekeeping hat with veil and beret respectively) on the pump clip. There's even a beer called Titfer which, to the un-initiated is rhyming slang for hat, tit-for-tat = hat.

The beer that I've chosen to taste here, Gin, is an idea that Peter Haydon had had for a beer for some time according to the description on the website. Brewed with botanicals, which of course feature juniper, taken directly from the still at the City Of London Distillery, and hopped with Bramling Cross it is styled as "a fruity, golden ale where the various gin fruits and spices make a distinct but subtle impression."

I haven't come across any UK breweries having brewed a similar beer before, but a quick look around the internet threw up a couple of similar examples from the US which are worth a mention I think. Firstly the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. brewed an 8.0% beer in 2010 called Bathtub Gin, similarly with a mix of botanicals including juniper, orris root, angelica root, grains of paradise and citrus peel but interestingly no hops, it takes it's title from the Phish song of the same name. Similarly Delaware brewers Dogfish Head brewed the 5.0% Dirty Fermentini with BeerAdvocate founders Jason and Todd Alstrom based around the idea of a Dry Martini beer complete with an olive, which were used in the brewing process alongside suitable botanicals and whole-leaf Cascade hops as a one-off for the Boston Extreme Beer Fest in 2012. Sadly neither of these beers are no longer brewed but it would have been rather nice I fancy to sit sipping these beers in the sunshine on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Back to the beer in question. It pours an orange/light brown colour with a bright white head, and if you can imagine a combination of both Amber Ale and English Pale Ale then you won't be too far off. It's fair to say that the aroma is quite unlike any other beer that I have ever sniffed before with dandelion, honey, orange zest, white pepper, lemon and of course whole juniper berries, it is slightly spicy, enticingly fruity and rather delicious on the nose, albeit with a slightly medicinal element. Smooth, dry and with a faint prickle of carbonation over the tongue, white pepper is immediately apparent, adding a little heat before lemon peel (not zest) and honey flavours sneak in, but they too are soon overtaken with that unmistakable juniper berry dry, slightly sour taste with maybe a crack of black pepper enhancing the sensation. The finish dries out nicely, as you might hope for in a beer styled in this manner, with a peppery and fruity flourish rounding it off nicely before it completely disappears.

I'm guessing that this may well be a beer that divides opinion and if the taste of gin isn't to your liking then you may not find it pleasant at all. I picked this bottle up at Utobeer a week or so ago and one of the chaps there, someone who professed his dislike for gin to me, described it as one of the most disgusting beers he had ever tasted. How could I refuse a recommendation like that? - so I immediately purchased one. I'm very pleased to say that I made the right decision, in my opinion, and I would have missed out on a unique, but most definitely tasty beer. I was indeed sceptical but this beer turned out to be all it promised, and more besides. Lovely stuff.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Beers Of London Series 71. Beavertown/Jameson - Ger'onimo!


Beers Of London Series
71. Beavertown / Jameson - Ger'onimo! 9.0%

Wood.

Hard. Sturdy. Versatile. Renewable. American white oak growing tall. Hewn. Cleaved. It takes on a new life as a barrel. Charred on the inside. Filled with bourbon it sits and waits. Two years pass, maybe more. It is emptied and sold. A sea voyage. Examined, it is filled again, this time with Irish whiskey. Three years pass. It is emptied, repaired and soon refilled. The cycle repeats, filled and emptied until it is twenty years since it was a tree. Chosen, it is removed and voyages again, this time by car, across the sea again but not as far as before. It is filled with beer, an Imperial stout. Again it waits, but only two months until is emptied again. What next?

I was kindly invited to attend the launch of 'Ger'onimo!', brewed by Beavertown Brewery in collaboration with Jameson Irish Whiskey, an Imperial stout aged in eighteen year old whiskey barrels, last night, and it was quite an evening. I arrived at Dukes Brew & Que just after six which was a little early but I found a place at the bar, grabbed a Gamma Ray and was happy enough talking to the staff about the upcoming evening and the beer itself. The place began to fill up with beer writers, bloggers and others in the industry, and with both beer and conversation flowing (although not the Ger'onimo!, that was to come later) we were soon asked to take our seats for the meal.

Logan Plant, Beavertown's founder and brewer, welcomed us as the food started to arrive. The first course was a pulled-pork slider flashed with Jameson Irish Whiskey, apricot-glazed baby-back ribs, cote de boeuf and deep-fried pickled shiitakes and gherkins with a garlic remoulade. The Jameson's Reserve whiskey we were served with itworked wonderfully with the pork adding some lovely spicy notes to the fatty meat, whilst the Beavertown Quelle Saison that was also served brought the beef to life, and the mushroom and the sauce were simply sublime.

Before the next course, an eighteen hour smoked molasses-glazed Northern Irish grass-fed beef rib served with pickles and coleslaw, Logan spoke about the beer before introducing Ger Buckley Jameson's Master Cooper, the beer is named in his honour, who spoke about the barrels and the maturation process and of working with Logan on the project. This was when the Ger'onimo! itself was served, of which more later, with the flavours working particularly well with the glaze on the rib. Their was also another tot of Jameson's which was rather nice and it was interesting comparing the relative flavours of both beer and spirit as they warmed with both taking on some caramel and chocolate notes. I have to confess that I got a little carried away at this point, thrusting both whiskey and beer towards the nose of everyone who crossed my path although thankfully everyone took it in good humour taking a sniff and a sip at my behest and commenting. Thank you and sorry if you were one of those.

The final course was homemade pecan pie with vanilla ice cream and a salted caramel sauce made with Jameson's Irish whiskey, again served with the whiskey, but this time the beer was a rare cask-conditioned version of Beavertown's Smog Rocket smoked porter. I didn't think that the beer worked with the pie, although the whiskey undoubtedly did, but it really came into it's own after I had finished with the porter's thick chocolate notes singing and benefitting from the conditioning process with a deliciously bitter flourish at the end and was a great way to end a fabulous meal.

Ger'onimo came about when Logan overhead two men from Jameson talking whilst enjoying a beer in Dukes. Further enquiry and much communication later he went over to Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, and with the help of Ger, chose five from the 1.2 million barrels that Jameson's have to bring back and age a new Imperial stout in. The beer itself is made with roasted barley, jaggery, an unrefined sugar made with concentrated date, cane juice and palm sap, molasses and lots of dark sugar. Chinook hops, and lots of them are used and their flavour gives it a little resinous buzz. Logan was as courteous as ever, answering my questions patiently and with that great passion and excitement that he has whenever I have met him. I also managed to talk at length to Ger himself about a great many things including travelling, speaking in public and football, and when I mentioned that I was a Manchester United fan (it's a long story) he produced his phone and began flicking through it before showing me a picture of him and Roy Keane together. He was delighted with the beer describing it as both "Immense" and "Amazing" as well as "a beer for the connoisseur". Ger is a fifth generation cooper and sadly the last of his line as he has two daughters and neither of them wish to follow in their father's footsteps, although one of them does work at Jameson's with
him. He had bought some charred barrel staves over from Ireland with him and these were passed around and sniffed and scratched at as they revealed an aroma of both sweetness and burnt wood.

The beer itself pours thick and brown, dark, dark brown like used and rusted engine oil, with the smallest ring of light brown bubbles the only thing resembling a head. I immediately thought of Beavertown's two previous barrel-aged beers when I initially encountered it, however swirling it around in the glass it brought forth hints of boozy thick soy sauce, liquorice and good cocoa-heavy dark chocolate milkshake with a slightly sweet almost honey caramel note. Thick, viscous and glossy over the tongue it bursts with chocolate flavour, some bitter some milky, and there's a background of burnt wood and vanilla, although not too much, before back comes the chocolate, laced copiously throughout with the whiskey, almost like a caramel reduction of it, but mixed into a malty dark chocolate milkshake of a drink that rewards savouring, warming and sipping as you discover new flavours and aromas emerging from the oily liquid. The finish is long and again has lots of those lightly vanilla and chocolate notes but this time in the form of some bitter chocolate shavings held in a more milky chocolate suspension, it really is a wonderful beer.

Released next week and limited to three thousand bottles, this is a beer savour. I'd recommend buying a couple if your budget will allow, one to drink now and one to put away for a year or maybe more just to see how those flavours develop and soften. I need to disclose that I was given a bottle to take away as well as some beautiful pictures of the beer and the distillery and that the evening itself was provided by Beavertown and Dukes, and even perhaps being swept along in the moment at the time on reflection today I still feel the beer was very very good indeed, as I have found Beavertown beers to be. In fact I'll be going to Dukes again on the 22nd of this month when I take my wife there for lunch on her birthday which I'm really looking forward to.

To get you in the mood for the beer you might enjoy this short video produced by exposure for Jameson Irish Whiskey and Beavertown: Ger'onimo! video

On a light note, as we were getting ready to leave Mark Dredge pointed out Logan's father, Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, getting into a taxi with one of the wooden staves that Ger had brought over and given to him. I wonder if he was going to use it to build a 'Staveway To Heaven'?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sixpoint beers in cans for JD Wetherspoon


Sixpoint  Brewery
Canned Beers For JDWetherspoon
The Crisp 5.2% Sweet Action 5.4% Bengali Tiger 6.4%

Last week I got an e-mail from Eddie Gershon, Public Relations for JDWetherspoon, with a press release concerning a range of three canned beers from Sixpoint Brewery that would shortly available in their pub chain. It also stated that they would be sending me the three beers to enjoy by 28th February, and on that day they duly arrived as promised. I'm quite a fan of beer in cans, well good beer in cans at any rate, and wrote a piece on them just over a year ago which you can read here should you care too, which was a time when there was very little available in the UK. How times change.

Sixpoint Brewery, as you may be aware, is a brewery situated in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, in 2004, and takes it's name and symbol from the six-pointed 'Bierstern' or 'Brauerstern' (Beer Star or Brewers Star) which was used in Germany both the tapping of beer and the Brewers Guild. Andrew Bronstein and Shane Welch it's founders who both grew up in and around New York itself, met as classmates at the University of Wisconsin, and set themselves up in a former filing cabinet manufacturing factory site with Bronstein providing most of the capital and Welch, a keen homebrewer, providing the recipes. They first started canning their beers in 2011, with The Crisp, Sweet Action, Bengali Tiger and a fourth beer, Righteous Ale, being the first to come in this particular packaging.

JD Wetherspoon first featured Sixpoint beer when brewers Jan Matysiak and Heather McReynolds travelled over to Adnams to brew Bengali Tiger with brewer Belinda Jennings at the Southwold Brewery. This seven hop monster, it's brewed with Centennial, Galaxy, Cascade, Columbus, Chinook, Magnum and Simcoe in case you're wondering, was part of Wetherspoons 'American Craft Brewers Showcase' and was received rather well, with my Untappd notes mentioning pine, toffee, lime banana and grapefruit. Righteous Ale was on the bar at Wetherspoons pubs in January when Jan Matysiak came over to Adnams again, this time with Shane Welch to brew this rye-based beer, although it uses a fair variety of malts I'm told, along with Columbus, Cascade and Chinook hops.

Onto the beers themselves. I've decided to drink them in ascending order of abv, starting with the lager as I think this will enable me to appreciate them without my palate getting too much of a bashing.

The Crisp, a pilsner-style lager, pours a pale yellow with a pure white fluffy head and the aroma of grassy dry lime and the merest hint of watermelon, making it seem both dry and sweetly juicy at the same time. Soft and smooth with a mousse-like feel in the mouth, a rolling bitterness starts at the back of the throat before coming all the way back to the tip of the tongue with a crisp (hence the name) grassy weak orange squash flavour that isn't gassy at all and leaves a pleasant if short-lived aftertaste. It's smoothness is impressive, there's nothing harsh here and it's very easy drinking, and while it's not blow-your-socks-off stunning it's certainly better than the vast majority of tasteless fizzy lagers available.



Described as 'part ale, part wheat, part cream ale' in the marketing-speak press release that came with the cans, Sweet Action pours a deep hazy orange colour with an off-white head that while initially lively collapses just as quickly so pour carefully. The aroma is heavy with sharp zesty grapefruit with a touch of lime and sappy pine but surprisingly, and possibly due to the combination of styles it professes to be, it's not the palate-puckering punisher that I was expecting. Instead it's smooth with a little prickle from the carbonation over the tongue and creamy caramel and orange cream flavours coming to the fore, interwoven with an undercurrent of the pine and grapefruit I detected in the aroma. The finish has echoes of those flavours lasting a long time and I much prefer this beer to The Crisp for the simple reason that it bring a lot more flavour to the party. Granted it's a completely different animal but to my taste I prefer something that is a noisier beer as opposed the whispering lager that might be a little too understated.

The third offering is the Bengali Tiger, a beer that I've previously had the cask-conditioned version of as I mentioned earlier. It pours a colour akin to those light brown pencils you might receive in a pack from a well-meaning relative when you were a child, with perhaps a slightly deeper orange hue, and an off-white head similar to that of the Sweet Action. The aroma of this beer is thick with damp sappy pine, bitter and a touch bready, but there's some juicy orange jelly sweets soaked in satsuma and grapefruit and a twist of lime zest. This is bitter from the outset and makes it's presence felt in the roof of the mouth which is where it fades to in the finish. There's lashings of fudge, toffee, grapefruit and orange barley with a little of that banana and lime that I picked up in the cask version, however it's all a little messy and mixed up with the bitterness over-powering those lovely gooey sweet flavours, cutting through them and roughly moving them aside. The finish is better, especially when the bitterness fades allowing those citrus-tinged caramel flavours to settle before they too disappear, but for my money I much prefer the Sweet Action with it's clever nuances.

So that's all three, and although they aren't perhaps the best canned beers from the US that you could pick up they're certainly more than good enough to satisfy your smooth pilsner craving or give you enough of hop hit to make you smile should you be in range of a Wetherspoons or Lloyds No.1. As for price, I'm informed that they will retail for £2.89 each and are included in the 'two for £5' offer which seems a reasonable enough price, and they will be available from March the 5th, which is this upcoming Wednesday as I write. I'm not the only one who received these beers and if you'd like to read a different view then my good friend Nate (@NateDawg27) published his take on them earlier today which you can read here should you wish.

It's good to see a US brewer putting it's canned beer in a major UK pub chain, and from what I gather from hints that they dropped on twitter recently Sixpoint have much more planned. It doesn't seem that long ago that I used to look open-mouthed at pictures that friends from the US posted on social media of row upon row of cans of craft beer on supermarket shelves wondering if that would ever be the case here, but with Camden Town canning their Hells lager and Beavertown to follow suit with Gamma Ray and Black Betty to come later this year, then perhaps we're a little closer to that happening on this side of the Atlantic than I thought.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Cardboard Stupid - More Box Than Beer #beerylongreads


Cardboard stupid
More Box Than Beer

A blog about cardboard, are you serious?
Isn't your blog called 'Get Beer. Drink Beer', not 'Get Box. Write About Box', where's the beer element?

Cardboard, a heavy duty paper in all its forms, from the box your latest online order came in to the handy beer mat you scribbled that telephone number on in a hurry has had a long association with beer and our drinking habits, but there won't be  any writing about the 'cardboard' off-flavour caused by oxidation. In fact there will be no beer reviewed in this post at all.

And it's not the history of the cardboard box either.

The first cardboard beer mats were produced in Germany in 1880 by the Friedrich Horn printing company and was manufactured as cheaper alternative to the felt mats that drinkers were placing over their glasses to prevent insects and other debris from falling into the beer. Germany it must be remembered has a tradition of outdoor beer gardens which developed in the kingdom of Bavaria in the early 19th century and the danger of leaves, twigs or other undesirable objects falling into their Dunkel, a dark lager, was more than a 'Trinker' want to spoil their beer and their appreciation of the gardens. The first mats were just that, plain without any printing on them and it wasn't until 1900 that printing first appeared. Initially simply displaying the manufacturers name, they soon carried simple designs with plants and particularly flowers being popular, reflecting and mirroring the surroundings.
Bartenders also started marking them to keep a tally, or tab, of the amount of beer that a drinker had consumed. It wasn't long before advertising started appearing on them, with all sorts of products, services and establishments appearing on them, and not necessarily beer related either. With the potential to reach consumers whilst in a relaxed environment it is unsurprising that they caught on quickly in many other countries, especially in the US with its large emigrant German population where they are commonly referred to as coasters, however the advent of prohibition in 1920 curbed there growth in popularity somewhat.

The earliest known to be produced by a brewery in the UK were made in 1922 by Watney & Co., and advertised their Pale Ale and Reid's Special Stout, however it is thought that some were produced before this date but were only for the export market.

There is, if you are interested in such things, a British Beermat Collectors Society formed in 1960 by English 'Tegestologist' Cris Walsh, and I was surprised to discover that the first Presidents of the society were none other that Morecombe and Wise. Pictures of them looking through beer mats and using them in an amusing way are also shown, however they do link to this video from British Pathe showing them 'collecting' and is well worth a view.

It's fair to that they really started to take off and become more popular in pubs from the late 1960s onwards, and I remember from my early drinking days seeing them on almost every table or surface it was possible to put beer down on, protecting the woodwork as well as providing advertising for the brewery concerned and whilst they can still be found, often in great number if you look a the tables festooned with them at Beer Festivals for example, in this age where we are bombarded with advertising during our every waking moment they don't seem to be as common as I recall.

I have acquired a fair few myself over the years even picking a few up at Craft Beer Rising this past weekend, and while I'd say I'm not an avid collector it's surprising looking through the ones them just how many I have. I've picked out a few of my favourites at the top of  this post, some old breweries with a few newer ones mixed in. The bring to mind beers I had from long ago, and pubs I've visited. Take a little time to have a look at them before I move on with my cardboard exploration as I think they are a thing of beauty. You may not agree but I find them a tangible link to those beers of the past, I can almost taste them.

Another familiar use of card in the public house is the playing card. The origins of the playing card go back to Imperial China sometime around the Ninth Century where they were playing with them alongside such games as dominos and mah-jong. Paper itself is generally agreed to have been invented in the year 105 AD where historical records show that the invention was reported by an official of the Imperial Court, Ts'ai Lun to the Emperor himself. Within three hundred years early examples were being used in India, Persia and Egypt, and it is believed that it was from trade with Egypt that they spread first to Southern Europe, and then onwards, sometime around the early Fourteenth Century.

The first cards were made by hand and therefore expensive to produce, however as paper production and printing techniques improved during the 1300s they became accessible to all classes by the end of the century and as the inn or tavern was the common meeting place, aside from the church of course, they caught on rather quickly. The increase in gambling along with drink proved a mixture that it was feared would cause a rise in immorality and both the church and state frequently intervened in order to curb their influence, and in fact the first English reference to playing cards was to them being banned by Parliamentary decree in 1462. Henry VIII, a king noted for being ostentatious and gambling, it recorded that he lost over £3250 on cards over two years, considered banning them as he feared that they were distracting his bowmen from training.

In 1682 Charles I granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards which still exists today, and stopped the import of French playing cards to protect trade. He also imposed a tax of sixpence per deck, with the Ace Of Clubs being withheld by Customs until the tax was paid. This was strictly enforced and remained on the statute books until 1862, and there is even a recorded case of 1805 where a Richard Hardy of London was sentenced to death for forging the Ace Of Spades.

Early card games included Maw which is a basic trump and trick winning game for money, said to be a favourite of James VI of Scotland, One And Thirty and Bone Ace, both early ancestors of Black Jack, and Ruff And Honours, a team game which has some similarities with Bridge.

My wife is quite a keen playing card collector and over the years we have acquired quite a few packs manufactured for breweries or specific beers because, as with beer mats as I mentioned above, an opportunity to advertise on something used in an establishment where the product is available is an opportunity too good to miss. The earliest of these also seem to appear around the same time as the beer mat sometime towards the end of the Nineteenth Century and contain a mix of both product placement and information.

Unfortunately we don't have any of those early packs in the collection, but I have managed to pick up a few packs of games on cards which are different from the standard decks. The first was 'The Famous Red Lion' which bills itself as 'the classic game of British Pub Signs', with players try to get rid of their pub sign pictured cards by linking and matching them to each other. Then I came across 'Pubcrawler - The Pub-themed Card Game' in Oxford in which players take a virtual tour of 'iconic' pubs of historic Oxford via the medium of the humble playing card, taking drinks via drinking cards whilst all the time avoiding the danger cards such as 'Punting Mishap' or 'Dodgy Kebab'. I am unaware as to whether there are other version besides the Oxford ones available but as I am rather familiar with the city, my sister-in-law lives in nearby Bicester, I found this both amusing and informative particularly as it contains a rather useful map of Oxford and the pubs featured. However, it is the most recent acquisition, simply entitled 'Beer Cards - Belgium Series' which have caused the most delight. We picked these up in Bruges last summer and essentially a 'Top Trumps' inspired game featuring such beers as Duvel, Duchesse De Bourgogne, Orval, Pauwel Kwak and Oude Geuze Oud Beersel alongside Leffe blond, Hoegaarden and Stella Artois competing in categories such as Malt, Hops, Aroma, Flavour and Balance. Each card features a short piece about the brewery with some special foil-like cards and even 'ghost' where there stats are only revealed by the application of body heat. It's great fun to play and was a great game to play with the children while relaxing in some of the many many excellent drinking establishments that Bruges had to offer, and they still find their way into our bag for weekends away.

While we're on the subject of card games I'll just mention 'The World Of Beer' game that I came across online a while ago, and finally bought just after Christmas when the price dropped considerably. Dating from 2005, it is a 'Trivial Pursuit' style game with a board and two levels of questions: Barflies - based on beer and brewing with an entertaining edge, and Beer Geeks - questions on the history and craft of brewing. Players score points by answering questions correctly or performing tasks such as flipping beer mats or even buying a beer for the other player. The game, as you would imagine from the last task, is designed to be played in pubs however it works just a well at home (pouring, fetching or opening beer instead) and carries its own disclaimer that the brewing industry moves on rapidly as we all know, and if cards don't apply then just discard it and pick another. Examples of questions, which can be overly wordy and have an obvious US bent range from:
(Bar Flies) The Californian brewery Ale Smith of San Diego brews Trappist-inspired beers such as Stumblin' Monk and Horny Devil. But which European country is home to all 6 certified Trappist Abbey breweries - Ireland, Belgium, or the Vatican?
To those a little tougher:
(Beer Geeks) The Big Time Brewery is a popular brewpub in Seattle, USA. Among their speciality brews are Beam Me Up Scottish Ale and Slam Dunkel Weizenbock, which uses an American hop variety called Mount Hood. Which originally Bavarian hop variety does it derive from?
If you can look past its flaws there's a reasonably good game in there. As I write Amazon have one left in stock so if you're quick you might just grab it.

Trading cards, collectable cards made from thick often high grade card stock are descended from the trade cards that were first produced in the mid-Eighteenth Century to advertise products, much in the same way as a calling card would be presented at a household to announce a visitor. In the late Victorian era the Allen and Ginter Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia USA and slightly later, the British tobacco firm W.D. & H.O.Wills began inserting these in cigarette packets to protect the contents. As well as advertising, images from the natural world, historical scenes and sports were placed in them with the aim of encouraging the smoker to purchase more packets in order to collect the set. These cards became very popular, with cards appearing in packs of tea as well as bubble gum, however it was only when when the Topps Company started inserting cards based on popular films and television in the early 1950s shows that they really took off. Nowadays trading cards come without the stick of gum and can feature original artwork, autographs, costumes and even actual pieces of historical documents and can command many thousands of pounds for a single desirable card. I have to confess to being a trading card collector since I first came across the Topps Star Wars set in 1977 and have a few sets featuring a variety of subjects, and although I no longer actively pursue or purchase them I still retain an interest.

The earliest beer trade cards appeared in the USA around the mid-Nineteenth Century and strangely mainly feature children in period costume holding beer or in some instances crying over beer they have spilled. I looked a little further into this and found that most early colonial families brewed their own beer which was drunk by the whole family and these cards were produced to advertise the commercially available products that were becoming more widely available. Children were widely used to advertise all sorts of products so beer was just another one to appeal to the consumer. Surprisingly there aren't many trading card sets devoted specifically to beer and those that do were produced by the in the 1990s by large rival American brewers Miller and Coors in order to promote their product and focus on their early history and advertising, and can be seen as a direct response to the growing craft beer movement in the US as a gentle reminder that these breweries have a long lineage dating back many many years. Heritage produced a limited edition numbered set focussing on beer cans in 1993 however there aren't any other sets that I can find until in 2013 Craft Beer Cards produced a small run set focussing on US craft beer brewers in comic-book style artwork in comic-book style situations. Unfortunately for me they won't ship them to the UK so I can't add them to my collection of breweriana.

I could continue with the uses of cardboard in relation to beer, box packaging for instance whether it be for single beers, carriers or cases are all areas of interest for both aesthetic and historical reasons, is another area that is worth exploring if one wishes to look into the way beer has been presented and promoted and often reflects attitudes and fashions of the time, but I fear that I may have exhausted the attention span of the reader at this point. I have been toying with the idea of writing an article that could tie together some of the more obscure and arguably mundane areas of beer history and some of the more unusual ways that beer has been both promoted and celebrated within popular culture and I hope that I have achieved that here, or perhaps piqued your interest to look further or at least differently at some of the things I have presented. I'd loved to know what you think and embrace your comments and hope that you could share any other examples with me that you might have.

Much of the information featured here has come from various sites and sources. I found Thirstys.co.uk and the British Beer Mat Collectors Society a great help when researching beer mats, and House Of Playing Cards and Trad Games when looking into playing card history. The games and pictures in this post are my own.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Beers Of London Series 70. Meantime - Union Lager


Beers Of London Series
70. Meantime - Union Lager 4.9%

Just over a week ago when I wrote about Meantime's Barbados Rum Barrel Aged Greenwich Ale I mentioned that I would be going to the re-launch of their Union Lager, and last Tuesday I found myself at The Ship in Wandsworth to do just that.

Union Lager was first produced in April 2000 and was the beer that Meantime used as their debut offering, and gives it's name to the Greenwich Union pub that was opened the following year. It is a Viennese-style lager which the BJCP Style Guidelines describe as a 'light reddish amber to copper colour' with a characteristic 'soft, elegant maltiness that dries out in the finish to avoid becoming sweet although 'European versions tend to be sweeter' than their American counterparts. The Union Lager was the also the first beer that Sainsbury's used for their 'Taste The Difference' range, all of which were brewed by Meantime. I tried to establish when it fell out of production without success although I gather it was still being bottled in 2011 with the keg version possibly disappearing a few years earlier. It was brought back briefly in June 2013 under the name 'Mr Hyde' as a trial and proved so popular that it was decided to establish it as a limited edition seasonal brew, the first of 2014.

It was the first time that I'd visited The Ship as Wandsworth is a bit of a trek from where I live in Essex, but I was rather impressed by the pub itself and the welcome I received there. Situated next to the River Thames and a short walk from Wandsworth Town station, it has been a public house since 1786. Part of the Young's estate, although the beer now comes a little further than it used to since the Ram Brewery closed in 2006, it has one of the longest maintained contracts with Meantime hence it being the choice of venue for the re-launch. The cask beer is all Young's and I had a rather decent and very drinkable if uninspiring pint of the London Gold when I arrived. The food provided throughout the tasting was very good however with carpaccio of beef and horseradish on a peppered rosti and braised ox cheek on a cauliflower cream being particular highlights, and all of which went very nicely with the beer itself.

The Union Lager is very true to the Vienna Lager style it emulates being a reddish amber with a lightly sweet, slightly malty and dry aroma. The mouthfeel is also refreshingly light and smooth and this is carried into the taste where the maltiness is realised with a muscavado sugar sweetness and a hint of roastiness at the back leading to a dry finish as it dries to a delightfully faint dark brown sugary biscuit conclusion. I should also declare that all the beer and food with the exception of the London Gold was provided by free of charge by Meantime however my drinking companions, fellow blogger Paul Bailey and beer historian and writer Martyn Cornell, were all in agreement that this was a very nice beer indeed and a welcome return as it joins the two other lagers, Meantime Pilsner and London Lager, temporarily in the portfolio.

It was a very good and enjoyable evening with good beer and good food in good company, and the employees of Meantime and Hope And Glory being both attentive and informative and it got me thinking about some of the other beers that Meantime produced for Sainsbury's and what labels I have. The 'Vienna style Amber Lager' shown at the top of this review is indeed the same beer as the Union Lager and is also, as you would expect, the first Meantime label I have in scrap books I've collected of beer labels over the years. Looking through further I came across quite a few more of those early beers and wonder if Meantime will revisit these in the not too distant future. For pure indulgence I have decided to show them below for the simple reason that I found them interesting and they brought back memories of the beers.


I'd rather like to see both of these two. Kolsch is a style of beer that I really enjoy and I was intrigued to discover that the Meantime employees were taken to Cologne for their Beer Sommelier training and repeatedly drank this style from the various breweries there, picking out the nuances of each until they could differentiate between them. As for the Bavarian Wheat I can only assume that this is what became Meantime Wheat. It's also interesting to note that these two labels, along with the Vienna style at the top, are the only three I have on which Alastair Hook himself appears, although the reason for him being there or why he was subsequently removed is one I have been unable to ascertain.


I'm afraid to say that I don't remember too much about this beer at all but the change of label design leaves you in no doubt as too what the ingredients are.

 

I can only think that the plain style of this label was to make it fit in with the rest of Sainsbury's Organic range however I'm afraid it has made the beer rather forgettable, which is a shame as it sounds rather nice from the description.

 
Now this is a beer that I'd really like to see again so if your reading this Meantime then I hope you can take a hint.
 



This is the first incarnation of the Raspberry Wheat beer that I could find and it has remained permanently on the range ever since.


This is the first wholly Meantime label that I have and is a dark lager and not the Chocolate Porter as you might expect. It is brewed with 'chocolate' malts, and label says it has gentle chocolate and vanilla flavours too. I only wish I could remember.


Here's another beer I'd like to see again, particularly as I remember it being rather good indeed.

 
The final label here is the last of the 'Taste The Difference' range I have. As you can see the design is simpler and with a definite focus on the raspberries making it more like a dessert that than a beer, a kind of upside-down raspberry panna cotta, which I think is rather clever marketing.
 
If anyone has any other labels that they'd like to share from this period for Meantime, particularly if there's any from the 'Taste The Difference' range that I've missed then I'd like to see them. Look out for the Union Lager though, it's rather good, and remember that you're drinking a little bit of Meantime history as you do so.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Beers of London Series 69. Hop Stuff - Renegade IPA


Beers Of London Series
69. Hop Stuff - Renegade IPA 5.6%

I first heard about Hop Stuff brewery towards the end of last year as I was compiling my own personal list of London Breweries so that I could keep up to date with who was open, who had closed, and who was rumoured to be starting up. It was, and continues to be, a very exciting time to be drinking in London with changes happening on an almost daily basis. In fact two of the breweries already featured in this series (Brupond and The Botanist) are no more, but with many more opening the list just continues to grow. I didn't actually get around to publishing my list, however if you'd like to keep up with what's happening on the London beer scene you could do a lot worse than visit Beer Guide London or download Will Hawkes Craft Beer London app for your smartphone, or indeed by the book that goes with it. Well  known beer writer Des De Moor also has a London Breweries page although this is a little out of date however these are all valuable sources of information with twitter being the most up to date (try London Beer Guide, London Beers or New Beer In London) and even I have been known to cover it on occasion.

Hop Stuff brewery was the dream, and now reality of James Yeomans who moved into the Woolwich area in March of 2013. He already had a love of craft beer but noticed that there was a dearth of it in his immediate area and after some thought gave up his job in banking and seized the opportunity he saw before him. He is incredibly proud of the history of the area his brewery is in and uses the cannon symbolism on his bottle label to encompass this. He informs me that there is no connection to Arsenal football club who share the cannon as their emblem and have the nickname 'the Gunners' as they also started 'South Of The River' before migrating North, with rugby being more to his liking. Armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosives research were all carried out at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich until the Ministry Of Defence moved out in 1994, and James sees the brewery as being the next stage in the history of the area.

Originally from Oakham in Rutland he has great admiration for the Grainstore Brewery and their brewpub there, and is particularly delighted by their recent expansion. Further afield he cites Sam Calagione as a role model with regard to the challenges of starting and growing a successful brewery with a focus on consistency of product, something that James is particularly passionate about. Plans for the short term are to maximise the current building's capacity as he is rapidly gaining a reputation for producing good consistent quality beer locally, something he is keenly aware that some small brewers struggle to do.

The current range consists of four beers, Fusilier, a classic English bitter, Pale, a crisp golden ale with a grassy citrus flavour, Gunners Porter, a 7.4% example of the style that I'll be reviewing soon, and Renegade IPA, the beer I'm writing about tonight. He has plans to add a saison to the portfolio in March and plans it to be a Spring beer through and through, although he won't give too much away at present.

As an additional note, I'm reviewing this beer in conjunction with the Beer O'Clock Show podcast who are featuring this beer as their first of Season 4 which I've linked to here. In fact it was Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show who gave me the introduction to James for which I am most grateful. I recommend that you follow them on twitter and download the podcasts, I find them both entertaining and informative.

Time for me to drink the beer. It pours a beautifully deep sunset orange with a thin, lightly carbonated white head and the aroma of passion fruit, lime and freshly peeled oranges, with maybe the slightest notion of desiccated coconut. Initially smooth over the tongue, the carbonation kicks in hard at the back of throat with an explosion of juicy nectarine, tangerine juice and a drop of grapefruit like a cannon shell detonating with a burst of citrus, both bitter and succulent at the same time. It disappears a little thinly into the finish a little quickly after that but nevertheless all those fruity acerbic flavours resonate wonderfully here, quite distinct and without the harsh dryness that often accompanies beers of this style.
This isn't a showy beer. It does indeed have a bitter kick up front but when all that wonderful fruit slides over the tongue it tames it rather nicely, soothing into its long lasting conclusion.

I sincerely hope that you get the chance to taste this beer soon. Perhaps you'll read this review or listen to the Beer O'Clock Show podcast as you drink it, however with James's determination and high production values I'm sure it won't be too long before you get the chance to drink it.