Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 20th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Five Points Brewing Company - Pale 4.4%
20th December 2014

Five days to go!

And so inevitably after Black Friday, once the hangovers from the night before have worn off, comes mad-spending Saturday. Apparently today is the single biggest spending day of the year and I admit that I had to join the merry (!) throng of happy shoppers up and down the land trying desperately to remember if Aunty Ellen is a size six or seven in a slipper or whether George has already got the latest Script CD. Undecided on both issues we get them both vouchers and let them sort it out for themselves in the New Year sales.

I went to Stratford in east London this afternoon, or more specifically Westfield shopping centre, and mixed it up with the best of them. Thankfully I knew roughly what I wanted and where I wanted to to go, but it was still busy, why would I expect anything less, and I took me a full fifteen minutes walk from one end to the other.

Fortunately a saviour was at hand, an oasis of calm in amongst the chaos of sharp elbows, indecisive choosers and meandering shopping bags, and that haven was Tap East. 

I do like Tap East, even though it can be a bit pricey, but as a bit of a treat and by heaven you need to treat yourself when you're Christmas shopping, it does have some beers that you don't see elsewhere. Now you may recall that on Day Eight of this calendar I extolled the virtues of a Christmas shopping bolt hole and today Tap East fit the bill nicely, but particularly because it happens to have a host of seasonal specials at this time of year. I used it as such last year, and drank Thornbridge Raven, Magic Rock High Wire and De Ranke Pere Noel to help me through, but this time when scanning the taps my eyes immediately fell on Anchor's Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (Our Special Ale) 2014. 

I can't recall ever having seen this on tap in the UK before, although I'm sure it has been, and I became more than a little excited having only discussed this beer in my Beer Advent only two days ago as I'm as big a fan of the concept and the execution as I am of the beer itself. I already have a bottle of this years vintage stashed away but I simply couldn't resist it. 

Now, I normally wouldn't do a mini review of one beer before the main event, however, with it's flavours of burnt sugar and oodles of toffee caramel it has a real depth of flavour that belies it's initially thin mouth feel and I have to say that it's probably the best recipe for some years. Grab a bottle if you can or, if you're able then get yourself over to Tap East and sample something a little bit special this Christmas and get your celebrations under way the Anchor way.

And now, before today's beer I have to give you the answers to yesterdays questions. How did you get on?

1. Weihnachtsbier

2. Bieres de Noel

3. Avec les Bons Voeux

4. Wassail

5. God Jul

They were a bit tough weren't they? Perhaps a little too tough as there were no correct answers, so without further ado it's time for the beer.

The Five Points Brewing Company from the heart of Hackney in east London, and not a million miles away from where I was shopping earlier on, only brewed their first batch in March 2013 but have gained a reputation for clean flavoured, great tasting beer. I reviewed their Red Rye Ale as part of my Beers of London Series back in the June of that year and closed by saying that they would be a brewery to look out for and I was most definitely right, so let's open that bottle.

Pouring a hazy golden amber with a thin off white head, this beer has a simply dazzling aroma full of peach juice, mango, grapefruit peel and a twist of lemon and lime zest and a faint underlying crisp bread maltiness, it's juicy with a capital 'J'. Cheeky and bubbly over the tongue it makes you smack your lips with pleasure as it's sharp bitterness unleashes a wave of pine accented citrus fruits with peach and satsuma juice, mango and grapefruit, all mixed in with little caramel which lowers it's intensity but makes it more balanced and ultimately a better ber for that. The finish is fruity a gooey, like a soft citrus fudge, smooth and delicious and the best thing is that it lasts for absolutely ages. I have had this beer many many times and it has never ceased to delight me, and while it may not be a Christmas beer it sure is a cracker.

This superb beer it is the last of the beers from my Ales By Mail Advent Calendar that isn't a Christmas one, it's seasonal brews form here on in, you have been warned.

Talking of warnings we have that christmas cracker joke coming up in a minute, but first it's time for today's questions:

1. The family-owned brewery Brouwerij Lindemans of Vlezenbeek, Belgium is famous for which kind of beer.

2. Which brewery, today a science centre and college as well has crowned the Nahrberg Hill since 725 AD, and claims to be the world's oldest?

3. The Brasserie Dubuisson Freres of Belgium, dating back to 1769 brews a seasonal ale called Scaldis Noel in the USA, What is it called in Europe?

4. I reviewed Hardknott's first Christmas beer in an earlier post, but in which county is the brewery based?

5. The Hartwell Brewery of Finland brews it's beer using the icy waters of the Tornio River in the Lapland wilderness but can you name their best best selling brand?

A mixed bunch there, but I hope you're able to get them.

Go on, cheat a bit and look up the answers online, it is Christmas after all.

And now.

To finish.

That joke.

How did Darth Vader know what Luke Skywalker had got him for Christmas?

Because he felt his presents (presence)!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 19th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Wold Top Brewery - Wold Top Bitter 3.7%
19th December 2014

And so we've made it to Black Friday. 

The last Friday before Christmas is traditionally the busiest party night of the year as thousands of people who have been working hard all year start their two week Christmas break. Teachers have released their classroom charges back to their own families for the holidays, factories close down for their winter slumber and their workers spill out into towns and cities to join insurance brokers, lawyers, secretaries, and other office workers who are ready to let their hair down for the first time since their summer holidays. They'll be no work on Monday so they have two whole weeks to hope that their colleagues (and bosses) forget how disgracefully they behaved.

For many of us though, myself included, it will be business as usual on Monday and for most of the next fortnight, but despite this there's one rule that I always stick too, one exception that I make every year. I never go to the pub after two o'clock in the afternoon on Black Friday.

Black Friday evening isn't for me, and I'm not being snobbish, aloof or condescending by writing that, it just isn't my night.

I know I'm old and even old-fashioned but when I go out for a drink I want to enjoy it. The beer, the company and the surroundings all have to be conducive to me having a great evening, and on Black Friday they just aren't I'm afraid. 

I popped into my local J D Wetherspoon, the Blue Boar in Billericay, for a quick pint at lunchtime today at around ten to one this afternoon and it was surprisingly quiet. I took my beer, which if you've seen my Untappd check in or twitter post you'll know that I didn't enjoy it much, took a seat near the bar and watched and waited. At two minutes to one it started, a trickle at first, and then suddenly it was a flood and soon, a mere ten minutes after I had walked straight up to the empty bar it was six deep, with loud voices and even louder Christmas jumpers filling the space. I forced my pint of 'twiggy wood varnish' down my throat and left them to it.

I don't want to use the phrase 'amateur drinkers', I prefer to call them 'occasional pub users' and they are very welcome to it as I'm not a killjoy by any means, and if you are one of them I sincerely hope you have a wonderful evening I really do, it's just that I won't be there to enjoy it with you. 

You might be thinking that this is a quite a negative post and not in keeping with spirit of the season but I assure you it isn't. Everyone deserves to have a great time at Christmas, it's my favourite time of the year but also one that I work hardest, and work hard and play hard has always been my motto, but this evening I will be drinking at home. Well, I have got work tomorrow.

Before I move on to today's beer, I need to give you the answers to yesterdays quiz questions. They are:

1. Kolsch

2. Dusseldorf

3. Santa Paws and Hoppy Christmas

4. San Francisco

5. 2010

I had two sets of correct answers today, and quite a few good guesses to some of them, but today's winner, just pipping super quizzer Andy Parker to the post by a matter of minutes today was Richard Hargreaves, better know on twitter as the Adlington Beer Circle. He has supported this calendar blog from day one and his website is well worth a look if you like combining a good walk with a decent pint.

And so it's time for today's beer. 

I have a good feeling about the Wold Top Brewery, and part of it has to do with the fact that this picture of their tasty Shepherd's Watch won me a six bottles of fantastic Carlsberg (yes you read that correctly) beer last Christmas:
Based in Wold Newton near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Wold Top Bitter is their flagship beer and also their best seller. I'm looking forward to getting that bottle open.

It pours a mid amber / bronze colour with a thin white head and a soft malty aroma with hints of mango, honey, candied nuts and bread pudding. Light but with a decent level of carbonation that fizzes around the edge of the tongue, there isn't a great deal of flavour here initially I'm sorry to say, it's quite thin and watery, but it is clean tasting and with it's raisin and honey notes it starts to taste considerably darker and fuller as it goes down the glass, and I'm picking up a little of that bread pudding maltiness too. The finish is bitter, dry and crisp, light but with definite echoes of chocolate malt and crushed almonds, and it lasts a long long time. It has to be said that this is a very easy drinking beer as it doesn't challenge the palate at all, but there is a bit more too it than I first thought. I can see why this is there best selling beer too as it has everything that you would want from a session bitter, tasty with a long lasting flavour that builds as you drink it, and a clean crisp finish that I could certainly see myself having a few of if I was out for the evening. It's not bad at all.

Well that was considerably better than I first anticipated, so whilst I go and find where the number 20 is on my Ales By Male Advent Calendar is ready for tomorrow, here are today's quiz questions:

1. What is the name of the Christmas beer style that is a Bavarian speciality?

2. Similarly, what do the French call their strong beers that are brewed in October ready for December consumption?

3. What is name of the Brasserie Dupont beer, a Christmas treat, that was originally brewed and offered to their most loyal customers?

4. Which seasonal drinking salute, meaning "be you healthy" in Old English, can also refer to a hot mulled punch served at Yuletide/

5. Which Christmas beer from Norwegian brewers Nogne O and brewed with Chinook, Columbus and Centennial hops, is one of the highest rated Winter Warmers according to various beer reviewing sites?

I think they're a bit tougher today, perhaps prompting you to do a little research and that's something that I positively encourage as you'll never know what you'll discover. But before you go off to do that I'll leave you with the Christmas cracker joke.

Yesterday's one met with universal disapproval, down on the previous day (according to my Beer O'Clock Show rating) so that shows that I'm doing something right at least!

So without further ado, here is today's gem.

Hold on to your sides people!

Why did the Christmas doughnut seller retire?

He was fed up with the hole business!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 18th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Cotleigh Brewery - Red Nose Reinbeer Christmas Ale 4.5%
18th December 2014

One week to go my friends, that's seven days, one hundred and sixty eight hours, ten thousand and eighty minutes, or even six hundred and four thousand eight hundred seconds if you are so inclined.

The eighteenth of December is a particularly significant day in beer, especially if you are an American, as it was on this day in 1917 that Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Prohibition Of Liquor. Section one of this amendment reads as follows:

"After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subjuect to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This was finally ratified on January 16th, 1919, and was not repealed until December 5th 1933, so raise a glass that you live right here right now and can buy and drink beer without fear of prosecution.

Prohibition was of course responsible for the closure of many of the smaller breweries in the USA, and those that survived were gobbled up by larger breweries eager to expand and consolidate their position. This situation remained fairly unchanged until the mid 1960s when Frederick 'Fritz' Maytag III purchased the failing Anchor Brewing Company and helped kick-start a revolution.

You may well ask why on earth have I mentioned Anchor in this piece about prohibition and Christmas, well the simple answer is that I recently saw something that the brewery tweeted that I shared on twitter. It was quite early in the morning and I thought it merited another mention here in case you missed it.

Every year since 1975 Anchor Brewing have brewed a distinctive Christmas beer called Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Each year the recipe is unique as is the label artwork which always a tree, mostly Christmas trees but not always. This year is the fortieth year that the beer has been brewed and to commemorate this Anchor have put the labels up on their website in chronological order. This is a beer that I look out for every year, and have had all but one of the last eleven, it really is a Christmas treat. I'll end today's introduction with a link to the website, and you can view all those labels and see what you've been missing right here.

Hopefully that's made you feel a little more Christmassy, I know it has me, so while I've got you feeling suitably festive here the answers to yesterday's quiz questions:

1. Pierre Celis

2. Bock

3. Brasserie du Bocq

4. The Munich Oktoberfest

5. Berliner Weisse

I hope you got those, I got all the answers, excluding the one to question three from various people, but no-one got more than two right so I'm afraid it's another rollover.

Today's beer is, as the more observant of you would have spotted, Cotleigh Brewery's Red Nose Reinbeer. As usual when I want to let you know at little bit more detail about a beer or brewery I will scan the internet to find out some beery nuggets to pass on to you, and this case was no different. The Cotleigh Brewery site lets you know that this beer is brewed using 'Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops' but it was this review from Denis Borodin's (@1pumplane) blog from his 2013 Christmas Advent Calendar that really caught my eye. So while you enjoy that I'll go and get the beer from my 2014 Ales By Mail Advent Calendar.

It pours a deep dark ruby red, very dark actually but it's definitely red, and head is a rich creamy beige. There isn't much aroma jumping out of this glass and I have to get in really close to detect anything at all, but quite unexpectedly I'm picking up an aroma that most closely resembles a spicy Belgian golden ale, muted and with a hint of chocolate but I am intrigued. It's quite full over the tongue with a gentle prickle of carbonation and the taste is rather sour, like a really soft Flanders Red, with dark berry fruits and and a modicum of chocolate, but it is really really toned down as the the volume switch is barely on and this is a real shame. It's certainly drinkable but I'm having to work hard to pull these flavours out and that's not really what I want from a beer. The finish is like a very malty bread pudding but again it's terribly understated although it is quite tasty. I have to admit to being a little disappointed with this beer and it's all because of it's lack of presence, it doesn't really get going at all and that ultimately makes me feel a little cheated.

So while I go and soak the label off this bottle, I'll let give you today's quiz questions.

1. What is the generic term for the moderately hopped, pale, dry, and often cloudy beer brewed in and around the city of Cologne?

2. And staying with German beer ... which German city was originally home to Altbier brewing?

3. What are the names of the two festive brews that BrewDog is offering in its online shop this Christmas?

4. Which is currently the only United States city to have its own Mikkeller Bar?

5. Since the year 2000, the Goose Island Brewery (now owned by AB-InBev) have brewed a Christmas Ale in all except one of the succeeding years. Which one?

I'm hoping they aren't too difficult and I'm looking forward to some correct answers this evening. As always I wish you the best of luck.

And so, once more it's time for that cracker joke.

Are you ready?


Because here it is:

What do Santa's little helpers learn in nursery school?

The Elfabet!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 17th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Tap It Brewing Company - Pale Ale 6.0%
17th December 2014

One week to Christmas Eve and I wonder what you'll be doing one week from today.

Will you, like me, be going to work wishing you were at home because you still have a million and one other things that you could be doing, but nevertheless you'll still make your way to the pub when you've finished because it would be wrong not to. Maybe you'll be at home franticly wrapping presents, baking mince pies and checking that the turkey is defrosting, a bustling hive of activity helped along by the occasional glass or two of beer, or perhaps you like (!) to leave your shopping to the last minute, enjoying the final pre-Christmas gift buying crush. If that it you though, I do have one question: What on earth were you thinking!?!!

You could of course be incredibly organised, entertaining friends and enjoying the build up to the Big Day, and if this is you then I applaud your planning and judgement skills. I expect that you might have even have sorted out which beer you'll be having and when, and if you have then you certainly won't be alone.

The excellent Beer O'Clock Show podcast will be running their now annual #!2BeersOfXmas again this year encouraging you to pick a beer of your own for a day for twelve days and sharing it by either writing your own blog, leaving a comment on their blog, or just posting it on twitter and/or instagram using the #12BeersOfChristmas and #cheersguys hash tags. The official start day for this is this Saturday the 20th December, however I will be joining in from Christmas Day for twelve days as these posts will take me right up to there. The beauty of this venture is though that you can actually join in whenever you want on any day you want, sharing your beers and experiences of them for others to enjoy.

Online beer club Beer Bods have also got in on the act this year with their 12 Beer Bods Of Christmas beer case. Unlike the Beer O'clock Show they have a selection of twelve beers that you don't know about in advance, but they reveal one each numbered day and are doing a short video that is up on their website to introduce it. If you want to get in on the act for this one though I'm afraid you're a little late as not only did it start on the 13th December but I am reliably informed that it is now sold out. I'm sure if it's a success however that they will do it again next year so you might want to look out for that.

Whatever beer you have over Christmas though do try to make sure it's a good one as there is no substitute for quality, and in this season of excess remember that one memorable beer beats a whole case full of mediocre ones. I hope you'll share your beers on social media or perhaps on Untappd because I'm a (red) nosey so and so I do like to see what everyone else is drinking. I suppose there's only thing to add here, before I move on to the next part of this blog then and that is "Cheers!".

So while you're all off to compile or check (twice) your Christmas beer list, here are the answers to yesterdays questions;

1. St Joseph's Abbey

2. Finland

3. Ken Grossman

4. Lager

5. Teku

There were no five out of fives yesterday I'm afraid so it's another rollover. How will you get on today? The questions are a bit further down, but before all that it's time for today's beer.

The Tap it Brewing Co. is another Californian brewery whose beers have been brought over to the UK by Ales By Mail. Interestingly this beer doesn't appear on their website or even Beer Advocate so it's a bit of an anomaly. Their website is also a bit sketchy on the brewery history front, although I gather that it is family owned, so without further ado I grab the beer and pop it open.

Pouring a pale amber yellow with a thin white head it has a gentle fruity aroma tantalisingly offering the promise of mango, pear and pine but there's also a touch of salinity in there that I find a little odd and I'm wondering if this will be reflected in the taste. It has quite a full mouth feel with a good hit from the carbonation and it immediately explodes like a juicy water balloon filled with mango, lychee and pear juice with a twist of lime and a few drops of pine sap, but this also makes it seem a little sweet, perhaps too cloyingly so for my palate, and I've got the salinity again. This hint of salty water is nagging away at me, so much so that it pushes the other flavours aside in my mind and I'm afraid is spoiling it for me a little. The finish is fully of lime zest, mango and peach juice that feels a little oily, like someone has wrung the remains of a bag of  Simcoe hops into a glass. If you're a hop head and you don't mind your beer a little sweet then I'm sure that you're going to love it, but I'm sorry to say that it isn't doing it for me which is a bit of a shame however I would like to taste more of their beer as these guys certainly know how to brew.

While I'm still struggling with my decision on that beer then, here are today's questions which have a distinctly continental flavour:

1. Who is credited with reviving the witbier style of beer based on the Belgian tradition of using coriander and orange peel at the Hoegaarden brewery?

2.  Which rch and malty dark lager style was originally brewed in the winter in the German town of Einbeck to be consumed by fasting monks as a good source of nourishment?

3. Which Belgian brewery, established in 1858 in the town of Purnode-Yvoir owns the brands Blanche de Namur, Gauloise and St Benoit?

4. "O'zapft is!" is the cry heard when the first barrel is tapped at which world renowned beer festival?

5. Which top fermented, sour and highly carbonated low alcohol wheat beer is typically served in a bowl shaped glass and with the addition of either 'Himbersirup' or 'Waldmeistersirup' in it's native city?

Not the easiest set but I'm sure you're up to it with a little thought and/or research so give it a go.

And so, as always, it is time once more for the inevitable conclusion of my Beer Advent Calendar post.

The moment I know you've all be dreading.

Here is today's cringeworthy Christmas cracker joke.

Which Christmas carol is most commonly heard in the desert?

O camel ye faithful!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 16th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Camden Town Brewery - Camden Pils 4.6%
16th December 2014

Today is the three hundred and fiftieth day of the year, and the 16th December 1653 was the date that Christmas almost ended as that was the day the Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. Actually I made that last bit up, well  part of it anyway as, even though Oliver Cromwell did indeed become Lord Protector on this day three hundred and sixty one years ago, Parliament had already passed an Act forbidding Christmas celebrations in 1644. 

I was looking on the internet for a beer fact for today but all that I could find was that in 2010 the Discovery Channel aired an episode of 'Brew Master' where Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione brewed a batch of 'Chateau Jiahu' a beer based on a 9000 year old recipe using fragments of pottery jars recovered from a village in central China, and travelled to Egypt to bring back to life beer from one of the earliest situations. I tried to link to that episode but it's protected by copyright, however you can buy the DVD for the whole series should you wish, and have a Region 1 compatible player. 

I've been looking on the internet a lot recently trying to find some inspiration for my blog during Advent and one thing that has amazed me is the amount of beer events there are on any given day in the United States. Seriously have a look, there's an incredible amount going on, from brewery open days to beer festivals, from talks on brewing to beer launches to bottle shares, everything you can think of. Admittedly the US is a big place but I'm sure you could find something nearby, but wouldn't it be great if there were activity of this level in the UK. Well my friends, the good new is there is, sort of, but where on earth would you find out about it?

The most obvious waty to find out about what's happening is to keep an eye on twitter. Follow the breweries nearby, and look who they interact with and maybe follow them too. In my experience you often see many of the same faces at these events, and the buzz tends to build a week or so before so look at what others are discussing. December, June and August are when a lot of these events seem to bunch together, often two or three on the same night in London so keep your eyes peeled.

The various CAMRA branches publish their own magazines or newsletters usually either monthly or seasonally and these can be picked up at local cask ale pubs, or even viewed online as many have their own websites. CAMRA's own monthly publication, What's Brewing, also carries listings for these branches events too.

If you live in Edinburgh, you would have been fortunate to be able to peruse The Beer Cast, Edinburgh's beer website, which publishes listings every Sunday for the week ahead. I used it myself a couple of months ago when I was up there for a week and managed to get to a Meet The Brewer event (Stringers at Holyrood 9A) and pick up on the remnants of a Bad Seed tap takeover at the Hanging Bat. London, or more exactly @CarsmileSteve has got in on the act recently with the London Beer Diary, a similar listings site where you can find out what is happening in the capital.

I hope I've highlighted some of the ways that you can find out what is going on in your area here, but if you have any other suggestions then please leave them in the comments section. Also if you're still not sure if you want to be involved or attend one of the events you've found then I urge you to go along and find out. It is my experience that beer people are the best people, but you don't need to take my word for it, come along and see for yourself.

Before you go searching for somewhere to rush out to though, here are the answers to yesterdays quiz questions:

1. Freeminer

2. Molson Coors

3. Horndean Special Bitter

4. Bishop Nick

5. Best Bitter Beer ( although it's sometimes referred to as ' Big Boys Beer')

There were no correct answers yesterday, so the prize of being mentioned rolls over to today, but before those questions, here is today's beer.

I wrote a little about the history of Camden Town Brewery in my Beers of London Series when I reviewed Camden Pale Ale back in April 2013, and it's a brewery I've covered again and again, reviewing Pete vs. The World and most recently their India Hells Lager just last month. We were given a bottle of this beer at one of the IHL events and I was very impressed, so I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with it tonight.

Pouring a hazy golden yellow, it is unfiltered after all, and with a soft white head it has the beautiful citrus aroma of lemon and lime overlaid with some mango bite and a hint of white pepper spiciness. It moves softly over the tongue too with a tug of carbonation on the tip of the tongue heralding a sharp bitterness coming predominantly from lime zest and white pepper accented curacao orange juice flavours with flood the mouth and then fade quickly to wonderful finish. This tickles your tongue like a light lemon zest popping candy before it swiftly becomes an echo of arid lemony air. I like this beer a lot, as it has the softness of a plilsner with some delicious fruity, but still classicly dry peppery notes. This in itself is a fairly new beer from Camden Town, and if you like their beer then you're going to love it, so go and get yourself some. 

So after that tasty treat from my Ales By Mail Advent calendar, I'll give you today's questions.

1. What is the name of the Trappist brewery that opened USA in 2013?

2. Despite it's medicinal pun, Koff Winter Porter is a true Baltic Porter, evoking the 19th Century tradition of an Imperial Stout, but in which country is the brewery?

3. Who is the owner and founder of the Sierra Nevada Brewery?

4. Which common style of beer derives it's name from the German word for 'storage'?

5. What is the name of the glass designed by Italian brewer Teo Musso in order to best showcase Italian beer?

I hope they're not too tough, best of luck with those, but now it's time for today's corny Christmas cracker joke.

I'm going to keep it traditional today, I hope you it makes you groan.

What do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees/


Monday, 15 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 15th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Salopian Brewery - Holly Bush 5.5%
15th December 2014

So we're nearly there, but not so nearly that it's heads down and eyes focussed on the prize, we all have our Christmas rituals, things we like to do and things we have to do this time of year. Maybe you like to go to a pantomime, visit a particular set of friends or relatives, and of course there are the inevitable Christmas parties.

My children had their after-school club party tonight, games were played and apparently much food was consumed, and they had to be picked up at a certain time in order to be brought home. My wife is a teacher, and it's her school play tonight so she has the car, so as it was up to me to collect them. Having an hour or so to kill before I needed to be there I took a walk down to The Olde Dog Inn in Herongate, Essex, the pub that I consider my local.

The Olde Dog isn't the closest pub to my house, I pass three others on my way there, however due to it's well kept cask beer selection it's a pub I've frequented for more than a quarter of a century. I used to travel to it on special occasions when I used to live in Barking, but for the last sixteen years I've been able to walk there in around forty-five minutes. We've taken our children there as they were growing up and over the years we've developed a good relationship we some of the longer standing staff. It feels relaxed, never threatening, a real home from home and we like it a lot.

Getting there involves a walk down some country lanes, but when I round the corner and see it's lights ablaze it always puts a smile of my face as I know a warm welcome awaits me. It's an old building, parts of it dating from the early sixteenth century, and with its exposed beams and open fires it looks it, but not in a shabby way as it's always well kept, tidy and spotless, but rather in a well loved and cared-for way. Pump clips from bye-gone breweries and bye-gone beers (we're talking twenty or so years, not centuries here) adorn the ceilings and there are just the right amount of other nick-nacks around to promote interest without making it look cluttered.

Tonight I only had time for a quick pint, so I took my glass of Dark Star Winter Meltdown and went and sat by the fire, the heat driving the chill from my bones and flushing my place pink in the process. As I sat there enjoying my drink it suddenly struck me how incredibly lucky I was to have a place such as this within such close proximity, and I also felt a little guilty. It would be ever so easy, particularly at this time of year with all the attractions and distraction, to miss out on nipping in to your local pub because you're too busy with this, that and everything else to find the time to do so. Had I done so tonight I would have missed out on an experience to treasure, one of life's true pleasures, and I'm very happy that I didn't. So if you've got a few hours to spare early one evening this week I urge you to call in to your local, I'm positive you won't regret it.

Now I feel all warm and cosy inside I'm off to get today's beer from my Ales By Mail Advent Calendar box, and set up a suitably festive picture. Whilst I do that here are the answers to yesterday's quiz questions.

1. Porter

2. 60, 70, 80 and 90

3. Joseph Holt

4. Boddingtons

5. St Peters, Suffolk

Congratulations go to Michael McGrorty who was straight back at me with the correct answers almost as soon as I posted my blog. Well done matey, some good knowledge there, but now we turn to the beer, and I have to admit I'm rather looking forward to this one.

Salopian brewery, based in Shropshire from whence it takes its name, have quietly been doing their thing since 1995, but my goodness they certainly do it well. Starting out in an old dairy building on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, I first came across them when I visited that city two years later and was pleasantly surprised to find a UK regional brewery producing a wheat beer and a smoked beer. Over the last couple of years they have started to gain reputation amongst discerning drinkers for the quality of their beer and readiness to adapt to modern styles. I haven't had this beer before so I think it's time I opened the bottle. 

It pours a murky ruby red colour with a soft creamy-looking off-white head and an incredibly fruity pine-edged aroma encompassing figs, dates, cherries and raspberries, all topped with a twist of lime zest. Prickly and slightly vinous over the tongue it unleashes a beautiful wave of cherry and raspberry caramel, thick and delicious, but this dries very quickly via some of the lime zest I detected in the aroma, until all of a sudden all that's left is the remnants of all those gorgeous flavours, and thankfully this lasts a long long time. This is a beer that is very up front in that all the good stuff happens right at the beginning, however there is no downside to this as all the flavours are so satisfying it's well worth the ride. It's simply wonderful.

So as I finish another cracking Salopian beer, here are today's quiz questions:

1. Name the brewery established in 1992 deep in the Royal Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, whose name refers to a local iron mine opened by two Oxfordshire bankers.

2. Which US brewery giant owns the Toby Bitter, Bass and Worthington brands?

3. The late lamented George Gale & Company brewery, closed by Fullers in 2006, used to brew a beer called HSB, but what did HSB stand for? 

4. And talking of brewery closures, Ridley's Brewery was bought and closed by Greene King in 2005, but has since been resurrected by the then Chairman's son. What is the new brewery called?

5. The Arkell brewery of Swindon used to brew a 3B beer, but what did those three B's stand for?

Quite a tough one today but I'm sure you're up to it, and now, because it's late and I don't want to hang around here's that dreaded Christmas cracker joke;

Why is it getting harder to buy Advent calendars?

Because their days are numbered

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 14th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Riley's Brewing Co - India Pale Ale 7.5%
14th December 2014

It's Sunday 14th December so only ten days to go to the big one now. It's also International Monkey Day apparently, who knew?

As it's a Sunday, traditionally a day of rest, I thought I'd do something a little different. Instead of writing today I feel that something a little easier on the eye is in order, so I've been flicking through my scrap books of beer labels and picking out some of my favourites. How many do you remember?

An eclectic mix I'm sure you'll agree. Some of the oldest are twenty years old would you believe, but there's also a few from last year in there just for good measure. Who would have thought that Shepherd Neame had so many different labels for their Christmas Ale, and I'm glad that they revived that tradition last year. I've spent a fun hour or so going through them all, and there are about a hundred more that I could have put in as I'm quite a fan of Christmas beer in all it's various guises.

So while I feel all nostalgic I'll give you the answers to yesterdays questions.

1. Black Sheep Brewery

2. Palmers

3. Wild Beer Co.

4. Jeffrey Hudson Bitter

5. A steam engine

I hope you got those. Clayton Chisholm managed three out of the five and as, unusually, his was the only response he gets the glory. Well done mate.

Today's beer from my Ales By Mail Advent Calendar is by Riley's Brewing Co., located in Madera, California and quite a rare thing to see in the UK. The brewery, founded in 2011, started out as a hobby for three unemployed friends meeting in Daniel Riley's garage for barbecues and beer. They started home brewing as more and more friends started to come over until eventually, after a puppy they should have been watching got loose in the house whilst Daniel's wife was out and she promptly banned them from the garage. Fortunately Daniel also owned a 12,000 square foot steel rental building so he and his two friends, Daniel Musso and Joe Holland, decided to open a brewery there, building everything, kettles, fermenters, pressure tanks, from scratch and by hand. There core beers Sancha, Wildcat, Vixen, Siren and Cougar may have a couple of dubious names, and labels to match, but they have had some rather good reviews. I have had their Double IPA at a recent Ales by Mail tasting event, with my Untappd check-in describing it as "nothing special, but not bad", so I'm hoping for something a little better today.

It pours a golden amber with a thin but nicely carbonated off-white head, and an incredible aroma of pineapple in syrup, mango, lime zest and surprisingly a hint of those banana sweets that have no banana in them at all. Thin and rather watery with a decent prickle of carbonation over the tongue, there's pine and pineapple, melon and satsuma, it's absolutely stuffed with sharp citrus flavour, maybe it little bit too sharp around the edges of the tongue, but it cannot be denied, this is one juicy beer, The finish is a touch oily and it doesn't dry out as you might expect but instead fades gently away with a flash of white pepper spiciness at the back of the tongue before those citrus flavours come back, most noticeably in the nose, and linger for some time. This is the kind of beer that improves the more you drink it, becoming more intense with every sip, it's certainly more than "not bad" it's definitely very good.

So, as I savour the last of this beer, here are today's quiz questions:

1. Old Freddy Walker from the Moor Beer Company in Somerset, won the CAMRA's 'Supreme Winter Beer' title in 2004, but what style of beer is it?

2. Reflecting ale taxation, Scottish ale was often graded using the old shilling currency to denote whether it was light, heavy, export or strong, but what were the four denominations?

3. Which Manchester brewery, established in 1849, uses the line 'For those who know bitter' to advertise it's beers?

4. Staying in the same city as the question above, which beer was called the 'Cream of Manchester'?

5. Which brewery uses a distinct shape bottle for it's beers, a faithful copy of a 1770s design by Thomas Gerald of Philadelphia?

And so, after a slightly more relaxed post than usual, here it is.

That groan-inducing Christmas cracker joke you (probably haven't) been waiting for;

What do you call someone who is afraid of being stuck in a chimney with a bag of presents?

A santaclaustrophobic !