Chocolate, coffee and beer #2

Greenwich brewers Meantime have made a name for themselves with a range of award-winning bottled beers. As they brew a coffee beer, a chocolate beer and stouts/porters offering both flavours, they may be able to offer me all I'm looking for. But can they deliver?

First off was London Stout. Knowing this is brewed without roasted malts, I was expecting a smooth beer but this was silken to the point of offering no resistance. And little in the way of flavour, too. A little washy vanilla, a drop or three of americano. Perhaps I shouldn't have followed the Meantime tasting notes and chilled the beer as the subtlety felt frozen out of it. In fairness, there was some cocoa powder itching around the edges towards the end, but it developed too late for my liking. By no means a bad bottle but underwhelming.

Could the chocolate beer excite me more? Now, I've tried this before and, frankly, found it to be a superb after-dinner beer. This bottle poured with a thick head like a cappuchino gone wrong. Certainly a sweet aroma - my wife thought it too banana-esque - whereas I thought more of hot chocolate bubbling on the stove, on the point of curdling. The flavour had two chocolates fighting against each other, one sweet and creamy - almost cloying - alongside a dusky darker tang (cooking chocolate?) like a bar only recently snapped.

On the palate, those chocolate flavours are tempered by a bittering coffee shot. Consistant carbonation means that a swift flick of the wrist reactivates the head into a slowly disappearing pillow of coffee froth. This could be a car-crash, but Meantime have produced a bitter-cream beer that deserves the awards and shouldn't be denigrated as a novelty flavoured ale.

The London Porter is a longtime favourite of mine, so it would be rude not to crack open a bottle. And a fine looking bottle it is, too; champagne bottled with cork closure. And it's chock full of malts, coffee crema tussling with spent charcoal and brooding dark chocolate. That first sip - OK, first gulp - brings bitter chocolate and an assured hop astringency. There's some slight caramel before the sweeping coffee and chocolate crescendo. Damn, I love this beer.

I tried the Coffee Porter on cask recently and liked it. I rated the same beer bottled (then just called Coffee) and wasn't too impressed. Time to try the bottle again, then; now billed as Coffee Porter and rejigged with - I think - less coffee than before. Well, there's certainly a better balance, with pronounced coffee notes on the nose and more deep-set roasted chocolate flavours than before. The coffee cushion is sat on by a fat chocolate arse, an indentation of itching beans remains in the mouth. I'm impressed by this - clearly the recipe has changed and Meantime have achieved a balance that's enviable where these flavours are involved.

I'm impressed overall by these Meantime beers. London Porter has always been a fave beer and was an enjoyable glug. The Chocolate beer was still as good as I remembered it and one that I'd gladly buy in for Christmas and try to bring beer-sceptics I know over to the dark malty side. And the Coffee Porter was a surprise - a vast improvement on the previous bottled version and even better than the cask version. Only the London Stout disappointed - I may have to give it another go.

All this beer gave me an appetite for chocolate, so I raided the war chest for some single origin bars. Thorntons are currently selling a selection so I gave them a go.

Papua New Guinea is a 35% solids milk chocolate described as 'exotic and aromatic'. Very vanilla with a little lemon. Fairly good for a milk chocolate but could be cloying in any more than a sampler bar.

Ecuador edges to 40% solids and is billed as 'fruity and floral'. Sounds like a good golden ale! This bar offered more caramel and quite a keen citric vein. A bit nondescript - still rich but no killer flavour for me.

Mexico sees the step up to dark chocolate with 66% solids. This was described as 'fruity and herbal'; I got oranges, lemons again, all mixed in a surprisingly creamy finish. Just a hint of licorice on the nose.

Sao Tome steps up the solids to 70% in a 'fruity and bittersweet' bar. I like the bitterness here, still an underlying fruit feel but the thicker chocolate feel starts to stick to you teeth. The feel gets softer in the mouth and ends up being a pleasingly well balanced chocolate that I could have more of.

Last bar is Tanzania, 75% solids described as 'bitter and intense'. Well, I demand a recount. Decent aroma, strong chocolate with a little vanilla. The astringent taste is there, but it needs working round your mouth to release it at the end of a rather oily palate.

Interesting to have these chocs, but to be honest they all felt a little samey. Tanzania's bitter edge was as average as Papua New Guinea's vanillaness. I enjoyed yomping through the range but wish one of them had been knockout. As it is, I feel like I have a little bit of chocolate sick in my tummy.

Time for bed. (Burp).

Thanks to beermerchants for the beers. All photos (c) Meantime Brewing.


Ratebeer fixed!

Stumbling across the internet last night (I know, I really ought to put it back in its cabinet after I've finished playing with it) I found that was live again. Seems that there may be downtime as new procedures are put into place which require reboots so here's hoping that any future interruptions are intentional.

It's like the return of that well-loved re-soled slipper that the dog ran off with but soon returned, with no teeth marks in it or anything.

Picture of cute puppy available if you click to read more...


Ratebeer down again

Posted by Joe T on Beer Advocate:

hi gang, the security team saw the threat tonight while they conducting diagnostics. their move was to continue diagnostics in a safe environment by taking the site down and starting tomorrow morning. This operation is a top to bottom approach by the best specialists I could find. They plan on attacking this as a team first thing tomorrow morning.

The plan this time is a prompt relaunch with guaranteed work.

Thank you to everyone in the community for coming together to bring us back. As we approach 2009, people are talking about change. This was the mantra of RateBeer and Beer Advocate many many years ago and things in the beer world were very different. We are now seeing the fruits of our early labors and the many positive changes in the beer industry we'd hoped for so long ago. These changes have only come about because of people like you all, whose passion has made for monumental worldwide change.

I'm grateful many of you -- some without even a RateBeer account -- have pitched in to help us continue our work. Thank you, Todd, for helping us out. While we've had our superficial differences in the past, deep down we've known we're all in this together.

Thanks for showing what a strong family of committed people we are. It's this kind of spirit that has been instrumental in the success of craft beer and the spirit that keeps me fighting for the cause.



Major bummer - here's hoping the last experience has made the rb team able to bounce back faster and stronger this time. (no more to read btw, not even a picture of a dirty old man...)


Ratebeer: Sorted!

After all their recent security troubles, it's good to see Ratebeer back up and running again. Kudos to Joe Tucker and the admins for having the balls to take the site down and get the necessary work done. It's like having a comfy slipper back, re-soled. There may be a few ongoing issues - some cnut has obviously taken a dislike to the site - but we shall overcome. And rate, rate, rate on!

Don't bother clicking 'Read more!'. There isn't anything else to see.

WHAT DID I JUST SAY!! You wouldn't be told, would you? FECK OFF!


Bottled Up: England v Germany

A night in front of the gogglebox and the footie's on. Engerland back in Germany for the first time since *that* night in Munich 2001. I'm expecting the game to be as friendly as a ticker expecting scoops but getting Greene King. But never mind the dummkopfs; let our multi-millionaires close down Klose and I'll get on with settling another score. I'll pick a German beer and an English beer at random out of my cellar and drink one in each half. Back of the net or straight down the sink?

Let's kick off with the German entry - Jever Dark. I've been keen on 'normal' Jever for years and so was keen to try the dark side when I saw this bottle in Beers of Europe. Well, the beer made more of an impression in the first ten minutes than the German team did. Bready malts, damp stables, a gentle carbonation delivers a washy caramel that's tempered by a surprisingly slight sweetflower finish. Not had too many Schwarzbiers so didn't really know what to expect. It feels a little messy, no clear direction on the palate, though not as bad as the German defence as the keeper goes flapping and Upson's leg grows another twelve inches to stick the ball into the old onion bag.


The Dark does start to grow on me. So do fungal diseases, so not necessarily a good thing. That latent sweetness starts to fade and a sour lick lingers in the still-thin body. Not bad and certainly session-able.

Half-time so it's time for a five-minute queue for a python-siphon and another queue for a bratwurst & turnip pie. Except I'm not actually at the game.... so it's back off to the cellar. And some half-time musings:

- do the Germans look at the flash advertising boards and wonder what a Pukka Pie is?
- why do footballers need Recaro seats in the dugout?
- Scott Carson: why?

Second half is underway; two changes for England, three for Germany and one for me. The curiously efficient German makes way for a feisty near-Mancunian, Robinson's Ginger Tom. This could be a great strike partnership, the muscular Old Tom paired with the biting Fentiman's Ginger Ale. From the kick-off, there's a great aroma spilling around the kitchen - not the Terry Butcheresque brutality of Marble Ginger but a level of Bobby Moore-like pace and control. And there's plenty going on around the palate - and then on the pitch. Bent's just had an open net and fallen over at the surprising sight of it. Then Terry and Carson seemed to be pulled together by magnets in their shorts, so allowing Helmes to perform that typical shabby German football trick of scoring a goal just after we should have had one.


If only we had the depth of Ginger Tom. That spice starts as subtle as a Wright-Philips shot shaving the post. Those alcohol-strewn fruits of Old are still knocking around, ginger washing around them. Stealthy carbonation keeps whipping that firm malty base round your gums, warm spice lingering until... those lush fruits curl in again like Downing's finest as Captain Courageous inserts the ball firmly beyond the last German.


This is a seriously good beer. It's as impressive as Chocolate Tom was disappointing. The Old Tom in the mix never feels neutered, if anything the gingerness lifts those plump autumnal flavours. Two things I know for sure; I will be buying more of this if I can find it in Sainsburys and this has got to be made available on cask. I'd even go to Stockport for it, as no-one by now will remember 1989 and the fancy-dress clown who caused a near-riot in McDonalds by promising all the kids free Happy Meals if they went up to the counter and shouted "I HAVE VD!!"

No need for extra time. The results are clear enough - the Germans were one-dimensional whereas the English had that touch of class. Ginger Tom takes the tie for Engerland. Though I fear they may have a stiffer test if they ever get drawn against Mikkel's Danish all-stars...


Chocolate, coffee and beer #1

Winter's on the way and my tastebuds crave cacao and Coffea arabica. There's a number of beers that have chocolate or coffee flavours to them. And plenty that would go well with a slab or two of Hotel Chocolat's finest. So, let's kick off the chocolate-coffee trip with a swift trip round Derby on a wet Sunday.

Breakfast at the Babington Arms kicks the day off. And what finer accompaniment to a plate of bacon and eggs than a half of, er, Robinson's Chocolate Tom? To be fair, I finished breakfast first. This beer promised a lot, although I'd have liked to see a full-blooded 8% Old Tom with chocolate flavours rather than this watered-down version. Truth be told, it was a poor compromise; none of the juicy autumnal fruits of the barley wine, too much of a drinking chocolate cloy.

Decent coffee was called for and Grand Cafe Caruso know how to make it. Espresso that's short, strong and hot. Cappuccino that's the proper three thirds of coffee, milk and foam. I'll take either/or, the former for the quick hit, the latter for the slow burn over a crossword or two. Next stop was to pick up a collection of single origin chocolate bars from Thorntons - I'll be trying those out later this month alongside a range of beer styles.

Then it was more-beer time. The Brunswick offered its usual Sunday lunchtime entertainment of landlord Graham relieving regular Lou of a few quid courtesy of another ill-advised wager. But the two new beers were mediocre - sorry, Graham - so I moved on next door. And what a result awaited at the Alex - Dark Star Espresso. Here was an effortless beer, ridiculously easy drinking given the clearly defined coffee flavour. Lifted by Challenger with a solid roasted base, I'd have been more than happy to take another one of these. This could have been a bitter mess, but the coffee levels work wonders for me.

A couple of undemanding beers followed at the Smithfield (Millstone Royal Oak) and the Royal Standard (Moorhouse Pendle Witches Brew). Frankly, I only popped into the pubs as it was slapping it down with rain. I needed a good coffechoc beer to get me back on track, so chanced my arm at Derby's other Spoons.

The Standing Order is one one those that looks great inside (huge high ceilinged former bank) but usually has an undemanding beer range. Not today, though - the bar was bristling with ten guests as part of the autumn festival. And there at the end was Meantime Coffee Porter. There'd been a deal of debate about the beer on Scoopgen, some finding it thin, others revelling in its depth. I was glad to find it in fine form with sustained bitter coffee and a robust roast note. In comparison to the Dark Star - a close second.

Glad to have tried these two beers on cask. There are plenty of bottles in the war chest and a variety of chocolates on their way. Next post on this topic will look at some of those bottles.


Bottled Up: Brewdog Punk IPA

The Portman Group, the drinks industry's humour-bypassed regulatory body, have provisionally upheld their decision to force the removal of three Brewdog beers from retailer's shelves due to the 'aggressive marketing' used by the brewer.

The complaints begger belief. Hop Rocker is marketed with the phrases “nourishing foodstuff” and “Magic is still there to be extracted”; the Portman panel said that implies the drink could enhance mental and physical capabilities. Er, WTF??? Rip Tide, being a “twisted merciless stout” – is associated in their eyes with antisocial behaviour. And one of my favourite beers, Punk IPA, which is described on the small print of the back label as an “aggressive beer”... Portman say that the use of the word aggression “is more likely to be seen applying to the drinker rather than the drink”. FFS.

This was supposed to be a blog about a great bottle of beer. But now it's got far, far more important things to say. You want to know the truth about Punk IPA and Brewdog? Can you handle the truth?

I can tell you all about Punk IPA. About Punk IPA chilled in the freezer for 45 minutes. Or Punk IPA cooled in the cellar. Or Punk IPA straight off the shelf. Punk IPA with fish and chips. Punk IPA takes the edge off. Punk IPA drops me a mental gear. Punk IPA makes me wanna Photoshop.

It's one of those IPAs that actually tastes of something. I'm a lover of Thornbridge Jaipur as well, but Punk is subtly different; a duskier colour, sweeter malts, aromas more fruit bowl than citric cocktail. As it's stocked in the Asda superstore I happen to walk past on my way home every day, it's become a bottle I keep a regular stock of. Indeed, I bought a dozen bottles last week to hand out around my colleagues in a moment of pure beer evangelism/altruism. It goes with fish & chips better than my usual bottle of swirly-handed Sauvignon Blanc from M&S and knocks the harshness off a chilli con carne.

And for a brewery that's only been in production for eighteen months they have a reputation for innovation and quality that exceeds many established brewers. Beer bloggers declare their love for it. The brewers are rightly proud of it. It's a high quality product sold to a discerning customer base. So, what's Portman's beef?

To be honest, they seem to act like a third-quality firewall. Words used in marketing - in the small print on the back of a bottle - are being taken wholly out of context and deeemed to be offensive or inciting. I'd love to know how many complaints have been made about Brewdog. And how many complaints have been made about supermarkets actively marketing cut price canned beers. I'd pick apart all the logic and language faults made by Portman in relation to the Brewdog case but Brewdog have already done this is the most eloquent fashion.

Let's let the Portman Group know what we think. Mail to You may want to call their guy in charge of complaints about beer marketing, David Poley, on 020 7907 3702. And show some solidarity on the Brewdog blog.

As for whether the brewer ought to change their wording - I'd be tempted to ship 'Censored' stickers to retailers and generate more debate, but that's a cost that Brewdog could probably do without. And where will all those 'inappropriate' bottles end up? Perhaps the USA or mainland Europe, who don't sem to have the problems that Portman have.

All beer lovers need to kick up a stink and raise the profile of this pointless ruling. The Portman Group cannot be allowed to bully more microbrewers in this way. I am appealing to any Code of Conduct signatories to make it clear to Portman that enough is enough. The key word is responsibility - that responsibility works both ways. Brewdog are not encouraging irresponsible drinking; Portman ought to take responsibility for their heavy-handed and short-sighted approach to policing the code.

And if you're reading, you buyers for Asda and Tesco - if you're happy to mass-discount cheap cans, where's the problem in stocking Punk?

This is thin-end-of-the-wedge, beer lovers. Don't let Portman ruin this industry.


Relaxing with a beer

It's Friday and there's nothing I like to do more than kick back with a cold one. Even if it smudges my lippie.

I don't usually lounge around in full make-up. Honest. But today is Children In Need day and I've donned my old slap to raise a bit of cash for the kids.So, to everyone who sponsored me to dress up at work today to me and to anyone who's doing whatever they can for CiN, cheers to you all.


Toper Talk: CAMRA Man

I am a CAMRA member. Albeit only for economic reasons (cheap or free entry to beer festivals). There's often been a perception that CAMRA members are bearded sandal wearers who could bore for Britain about malt gristing. So, in the week that my mate Mark was called up t'committee in his local area, I began to wonder how close I am to that pervasive member stereotype. Let's look at a sterling example of one, courtesy of Half Man Half Biscuit. Am a really a 'CAMRA Man'?

Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics in bold, my responses below.

C.A.M.R.A Man (3:08) Track 3, 'Eno Collaboration EP' 1996 Probe Plus.

Anything under five percent I don’t want to drink it
I do like strong IPAs and stouts, but I'm more than happy to have weaker beer. In fact, I am in awe of a brewer who can extract great flavours and aromas in a beer around three per cent (or, in the case of Thornbridge Kastor, 2.9%)

Ugly frontage? Don’t even think it
I'm more concerned about the quality of beer inside than the flowerpots outside. For instance - Out Of The Vaults in Leicester looks like a tacky wine bar (which it once was) but has corking beers. The picture-perfect Trip To Jeruslam sells Greene King's foulest. 'All that glisters is not gold, often have you heard that told'

I want my hand held pumps
Pumps are good. And gravity is just as good (the Coopers Arms in Burton is my favourite non-bar of any pub I know). And, whisper it dear toper, keg can be good as well - there's too much snobbery about 'living' beer.

I want the sci-fi meet
Not really a SF fan - I've dabbled with Iain M Banks and Ken McLeod but the hard-sci-fi tomes bore the colon out of me

I want Dave and Barbara to refer me to the blackboard
I once knew a Ken and Barbara who ran a pub. And that pub now has a beer blackboard. But I've not averse to actually asking staff what they can recommend.

‘Cos I’m a CAMRA man

Weekends, vintage car show
I have been known to attend the occasional classic and vintage raceday. But that's to see them compete on track, not just buffed with a cloth in a farmer's field.

Doctor Who aficionado
No. No, no, no. Most over-rated 'entertainment' show in the history of British television.

No wife no kids
No and yes.

No way juke box
Depends. Sometimes I prefer a quiet pint and a crossword, sometimes I'm keen on decent background music (which the Smithfield in Derby often serves up with the Clash, the Jam etc)

I get sent the Belstaff catalogues
Had to Google them to see what this was all about. I'm more of a Berghaus man myself.

‘Cos I’m a CAMRA man
Perhaps in part...

And at the Monday night archery
Totally untrue. It was a Tuesday night... and I may well take up English Longbow next spring

A fellow cellar hopper lent to me
A Willie Rushton biography
In return for my Sally James scrapbook

I didn't know there was a Willie Rushton biography. I'd be keen on reading that. But I don't know if it's worth swapping a Sally James scrapbook for. Depends how porno the pictures were. No, not of Willie Rushton...

I’m a dirty great big Five Nations fan
Guilty as charged, m'lud. Even though it's now five nations and the sickly weaker one. You know, Scotland.

I’ve got Cheap Trick Live at the Budokan
No. Life is too short.

I’ve got a friend I can trust
Yes, but not with my beer cellar.

I’ve got a shotgun round the back
No, but I knew a guy who kept one by his front door.

I’ve got a Bonneville in bits but I’m gonna sort it out
Haven't got the room for one - my garage is full of beer.

Because I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am
I am a CAMRA man

On paper, yes. But not stereotypicaly so. And, indeed, most of the CAMRA members that I know aren't sandal-wearing beard-infested tickers. One of the is a bubbly young blonde with perty breasts. But his moobs will start to sag one day...

And you can really taste the hops!
Anyone who says this ought to be shot. So, no standing next to me with a firearm in Sheffield this weekend when I'm salivating into Thornbridge Halcyon.

For all of you unenlightened enough to have never experienced the lyrical genius that is Half Man Half Biscuit, Lastfm will play it for you here


Brewing up with: Thornbridge

Is brewing an art? A science? Alchemy? What's it like to get up close and personal to one of your favourite beers at each stage of the production process?

When Thornbridge asked me if I wanted to spend a day with them I jumped at the chance to see if it would help answer those questions. And so begins a tale of how a couple of Englishmen, an Italian and a ceaselessly-bounding Kiwi blend art and science to produce some of the finest beers that England has to offer.

A misty morning saw me hack my way to Bakewell on the TransPeak and hope for a connection that could deposit me vaguely near a lane end towards Thornbridge Hall. So there must be some sixth sense amongst brewery staff; whilst waiting at the bus stop, who should pull up but Rob Brock from their sales team. A lift secured, Ron was soon regaling me with tales of beers recently sampled and, er, inflatable pubs that fit on a trike-trailer (these things are seriously cool).

Drawing up to the impressive hall, we stopped off briefly in the office where three things struck me. The huge amount of beer-related books stacked on desks and heaped onto a metal trolley; allsorts of catalogues, hefty scientific tomes and countless volumes about a myriad of beer styles and recipes. The walls which were covered in framed 'beer of the festival' awards. And then there was the stack of even more awards waiting to be hung in the little space that's left... The room bristled with the the fount of their knowledge and the rewards of their labours.

Then it was off to the brewhouse to meet the team. Head brewer Stefano Cossi was flitting around with a hundred and one things to do. Though, every time I saw him on a laptop he did look like he'd rather be brewing. Matthew Clarke was busy shifting casks, Dave Pickering had his head in a mash tun and Kelly Ryan was... well, he was bounding around with unabated enthusiasm. And he never, ever stopped bounding!

Kelly was soon explaining eagerly about the beer that Dave was brewing today, a batch of one of my all-time favourites - Jaipur IPA. The mashing had been underway for an hour or so and Kelly insisted that I try some of the sweet malt. This became a defining theme of the day, tasting and smelling the ingredients at every step gives you a truely visceral understanding of brewing. For instance, tasting the sweet hot wort brought home just how welcome hops are in a beer.

And, what hops they were. Always itching to try something different, Thornbridge were adding Nelson Sauvin into the boil today. They were the first English brewers to use this hop (in their Pacific pale ale, Kipling) and now they were hoping to create a bitterness not too far removed from Jaipur's familiar bite. The aroma as Dave measured out the hops was sublime, with fresh citric fruits bursting out the bag.

Everything to do with the process is recorded meticulously - times taken for boils and run-offs, the precise quantities and varieties of ingredients used. After all, what's the point of experimenting and coming up with a great new way of brewing an old favourite if you don't know how to replicate it? Tables are consulted; calculators and laptops are brandished.

But even this seemed low-tech compared to what Kelly then introduced me to. Thornbridge are possibly the only microbrewer in the country to have their own microbiology laboratory. All through the day, Kelly (a microbiology graduate) worked away on numerous projects whilst patiently explaining the biochemical processes to a man who failed A level Biology too many years ago. Now, I'd hoped for a few tasters along the way and expected to be roped into some grunt work in return. But I honestly didn't think I'd get the chance to analyse yeast activity using a hemacytometer under a microscope. Perhaps though it's just what I should have expected - Thornbridge's passion for brewing is driven as much by getting the exacting science right as it is by the artistry of combining flavours, aromas and textures.

Yet it's not all pipettes and test tubes. There's no substitute for a keen palate and a clean nose. As with trying the proto-Jaipur earlier, Kelly insisted on sampling other beers as they reached critical stages of the brewing process. A batch of Ashford still conditioning was tasted and proved to be shaping up well. The cold hopped wort of the Jaipur proved to be a more challenging taster...

With today's Jaipur off to the fermenters, that left the not-so-little job of cleaning up after us. Dave said the brewer's job was 'ninety per cent cleaning and ten per cent brewing' and his wife couldn't understand 'why I can't be this clean at home!'. The mash tun needed emptying of the spent malt before being steam cleaned, so Dave hopped inside with a shovel and... I got to hold a sack open for him to shovel the malt into. For an office-based softie like me it was actually hot and back-stretching work, a fierce heat still wafting off the malt as it was bagged and dragged outside. Newest recruit Matthew Clark was slinging the sacks into the back of a 4x4 - the malt was being recycled as cattle field at a local farm.

Time for a breather. The crisp autumnal afternoon was perfect for photography and one raised bed nearby caught my eye. Kelly explained later that this was their own herb garden where they had been growing the likes of rosemary, sage, rosehips, lemon balm... typical of their experimentation, here were the fresh ingredients that could be used to create the spearmint-tang of alecost or the citrus cut of lemongrass.

With Dave delving inside the copper tun now, I had a chat with Matthew after he and Kelly had cleaned out the returned casks (see, there really is more cleaning to do than you can imagine). Matt originally applied to be the delivery driver, started off instead as the cask cleaner and has now become one of the brewers. He's even taking night school classes in chemistry to gain a fuller understanding of the science side of the operation. He told me that since starting here he'd learned to do 'sample' beer rather than 'drink' it - sip and taste as opposed to knocking it back.

So, just to show that it's not all work, work, work, there were indeed beers to be sampled. Kelly really was like a proud father; long stemmed tulip glasses proffered up with the latest nascent brew. A possibly-Christmas beer, Eureka, had a superb smooth candy sugar edge. Hop Juice, a matured version of the Halcyon IPA, had benefited from having thirty pounds of freshly picked Target hops crammed into it. But the head-and-shoulders standout had to be Bracia, a chestnut honey beer that was impossibly smooth and sweet-nutty, cream-sweety.... ah, for once words fail me. Every mouthful was savoured, every glance into the emptied glass was one of longing and envy.

All too soon, it was time to go. But not before Kelly had thrust bottles and a mini-keg at me (watch out for a few extra-special Bottled Up articles before Christmas). On the ride back to Bakewell, Rob was regaling again with tales of riding a Harley Davidson around the US in search of cask beer. It occured to me then that all the Thornbridge guys share that love for beer - whether it's brewing it, selling it or drinking it.

Brewing at Thornbridge is an art. The guys have the feel for a recipe that leads to a beer that can excite the eye as well as the tastebuds. They know what makes good beer good - and how they can subtly change things to make good beer greater.

Brewing at Thornbridge is a science. The guys are well qualified and take pride in their understanding and control of the processes responsible for turning raw materials into alcohol.

Brewing at Thornbridge is a business. The guys know there's no point in making beer for the sake of it; their beers sell well because they are products offering sustained quality in enough quantity in styles that appeal to the modern drinker.

Brewing at Thornbridge is a labour of love. The guys have levels of energy and enthusiasm that appear to be boundless. You get the feeling that someone has to shove them out and lock the gates at the end of the day or else they'd never leave.

Yes... brewing at Thornbridge is.... all about passion. Crafting a combination of flavours, controlling the quality of the process, consistently delivering marketable products. And loving it, loving it, loving it.

Thanks to everyone at Thornbridge for your hospitality and infectious enthusiasm.

Some more photos can be fund on my Flickr site


Bottled Up: McGivern Ales

I expect several a number of highlights at a Tamworth beer festival. Church End oddities. One outstanding beer from a brewery I'd never heard of. A crap half of something blandly bitter at the Albert on the way home. But I wasn't expecting a selection of bottled beers from a new brewer. Matt McGivern has been described as a 'commercial homebrewer' who's knocking out up to twenty gallons a day from a converted outhouse at his parent's house. He won gold at Tamworth with his Festiv-Ale. How would his bottles measure up?

I bought three different bottles back from Tamworth. Wrexham's Matt McGivern is producing around a dozen different brews but I bought a trio of dark stuff; a stout, a porter and Matthew's Mild. The stout was fairly well hopped, albeit a little slight around the edges. I'm keener on a toasty, roastier malt and this pulled back from being a pouty stout to more of a thin-lipped wonder.

The porter, too, was rather subdued. Some ashen notes wafted around but again there was a particular lack of body. By no means unpleasant - competent, certainly. Drinkable, absolutely. My porter of choice? Unlikely.

So, having been underwhelmed by beers from two of my favourite styles, would the mild be more challenging? Well, McGivern seems to be proud of this; it's the only beer to carry his name. And what a beer it was. Here's the burnt fruits missing from the other two, bits-in-the-bottom-of-the-jam-pan with any over-intensity collapsed by a smooooth silkyness in the finish. I'm no brewer, but I get the feeling that any cheeky monkey can madly hop an IPA or over-smoke a stout. But to extract a balanced sweetness in an ale under four percent is, to me, a genius touch.

Matt is looking to continue supplying local pubs whilst looking for one of his own as an outlet for his cask works. When he does, I'll be an eager queuer at the bar for beers of this quality. You may struggle to find these beers outside of North Wales but if you do stumble across them, buy more than you think you need. Your friends will be grateful!


Toper Talk: Tetley in torpor

Carlsberg are closing Tetley's brewery in Leeds. CAMRA are, understandably, outraged. Carlsberg, unsurprisingly, cite their need to "maximise efficiency in order to remain competitive in the face of increasingly challenging market conditions". The future of the cask bitter is still uncertain. But, would it be an issue if it were to be brewed elsewhere - or, indeed, never brewed again?

Here's what kicked it off for me. An article in this morning's Guardian reported the closure and included an odd quote from CAMRA. Their vice-chair Bob Stukins was reported to have said "Brewed outside their Leeds heartland, I fear the ales - Tetley's bitter, dark mild, mild, Ansell's best bitter and Burton ale - would lack the provenance which today's discerning consumers expect". Ahem... Ansells? Burton? They already lack provenance by virtue of being brewed in Leeds. Fortunately, a quick check of the CAMRA press release and other news reports showed that the Grauniad's quote seems to be a mash-up.

But it had got me thinking. Carlsberg have stated that they'll shove keg Tetley production off to Northampton and that fabled hall of brewing and winner of the Financial Times Industrial Architecture Award in 1975. Where will cask production end up? Darran Britton, marketing director of Carlsberg UK, has said that "if it's not in Yorkshire, then it'll be somewhere in the UK. We've got three years to sort this out'. According to Roger Protz, mind, the Yorkshire Square fermenters have already been ripped out from the heart of the Hunslett works so I hope the maturation tanks are full to bursting.

Will the likes of Theakstons, John Smiths or contract-brewmeisters Burtonwood want to take up Tetley? Or rather relish the brew that's only a few years shy of a double-centenary dying on the vine - and opening up the market for their products? Half of the pubs in the 2007 Good Beer Guide were Tetley Bitter stockists, suggesting there'll be a void to fill. Perhaps the keg stuff will suffice, wherever it's brewed. The erstwhile Manchester Guardian identified other beers that are 'emblematic of the north of England' like, er, "Manchester's Boddington's" (keg products brewed in Wales and Scotland) and "Newcastle Brown" (which lost its Protected Geographical Indication when brewing was moved over the Tyne to Gateshead in 2005). In years to come, Tetley may still be associated with Yorkshire even though it sloshes from a Northants keg.

Perhaps another brewer can be persuaded to keep Tetley going? But would they also prop up those brands conjoined into the Carling portfolio due to earlier takeovers? The Midlands couldn't support Burton Ale or Ansell's Bitter - long since brewed by Carlsberg in Leeds - so what chance they will now continue too? Who wants a second hand brand? Will Tetley cask survive as a pointless regional contract brew before it too goes for a Burton?

I can be saddened and angered by this issue. Saddened certainly for the 170 workers who lose their current job. Angered by comments such as those by the president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, Gary Lumby, saying that the news "has come out of the blue"; last April's review by Leeds City Council identified the development potential of the site for for 'large-format retailing' as well as office and leisure use and suggested 'the brewery may... consider relocating". Some of us read the papers, Mr Lumby. And I'm nonplussed by the corporate crap that slooshes out of Carlsberg like loose stool water; apparently they "experienced a slump in consumer sentiment"...

But... I'm probably more amazed by the collective naivety displayed in the press. A prime city centre operation, already slated for development, is closed by a struggling global brewer. Who has seemingly no stomach to continue cask production, given that its easier and more profitable to flog the same-named kegged beer from just down the M1. Is this really a shock? Should we really be surprised if there's a collective lack of enthusiasm for carrying on with Tetley cask? If Carlsberg couldn't make the beer profitable, what chance do any others have?

The beer could limp on as a contract brew. But this year's contract brew is next year's thorn in the over-extended portfolio. Isn't it better for Tetley to succumb to the hunt and be remembered as a proud Leeds beer than just another second-hand mash?


Ratebeer: Update

As posted at

"The community response has been overwhelming. Thanks to all of you who sent us help, beer (yeah!), offered advice, sent us your hard earned dollars, pounds, crowns, pesos and euros, offered help, words of encouragement, and simply toasted us all here in the trenches. We are now very close to meeting today's goals of having a plan and the money to execute it.

I hope we can be back in a limited way in less than three days but this is really up to our security advisor. I want to be absolutely certain we're offering our users a safe environment before we open our doors. I'll send updates here and to the ratebeer community at facebook.



In the meantime, we can still go out to play over at (cheers to phil_l for that)



Bottled Up: Nils Oscar Rokporter

It's the Nils Oscar beer that got away. The smoked porter couldn't find a course to accompany during my Swedish feast, so it's been a wallflower in the cellar until now. With the autumn weather calling for a robust beer, the Rokporter gets its opportunity tonight.

Smoked beers make me nervy. I'm a huge fan of Islay whiskies so I have no problem with smoke in the water. It's the feeling that you don't really know what you're letting yourself in for. Massive chokey-smoke? A rauchbier singed pig? Or a smoke that's more low tar and gauze filtered?

With the other Nils Oscar beers offering a smooth feel and rounded flavours, I hoped this porter wouldn't be too harsh. And what a pleasure it was - a certain smokiness but more of a well-roasted coffee feel. Fat, plummy fruits in here as well. It feels more all the time like a flashback to a pavement cafe in winter; the last crumbs of a raisin-studded slice, the last crema mouthful in the espresso cup, a waft of smoke from the next table where an elegant blonde in a fur-lined floor-length coat is, er, eating a smoked pork sausage. With her fingers.

Subtle fruits, subtle smoke. And a superb, soft, sultry feel - I don't know what they put into the water but these Nils beers are so smooth they just caress their way down your throat. Smoke echoes as a sublime creaminess leaves coffee in its wake.

Nils Oscar Rokporter is that rare beast - a restrained smoked beer, one that has the reassurance of its quality to carry off the marriage of flavours without feeling the need to go overboard either way. It's a smoked you can drink on its own - something I'd struggle to do with many rauchbiers. One to reach for in these colder winter months when that sausage casserole needs a beer to lift it higher.

Thanks to Phil at for the bottle.