Bottled Up: Russian River Blind Pig


Usually, I resent being told how to drink a beer. Best served at 7.5Âș from a steel-rimmed chalice held in your left hand? Screw you. One to be enjoyed slowly and responsibly? Fuck off - if I want to chug it whilst hanging out of a train window I'll damn well do so. So when a bottle goes all shouty capital letters at me as to how and when to drink the contents, I'm tempted to pass. But this time, the instruction is dead-on.

You see, Blind Pig is a fat, fresh IPA. And Russian River want you to enjoy that freshness. In fact, they demand it. The label bears a Bottled On date and strict instructions:




My bottle was born just over two months ago. It was passed to me four days ago. So it would be mercilessly rude of me to leave it any longer.

Truth be told, I spent a couple of minutes with my nostril stuck over the open bottle. Just to feel hops leaking into me. It pours clean gold with a little-finger-thick head of brilliant-white bubbles. Yes, there's viscous grapefruit but it's undercut with peach, overlayed with pine, sustained by a sweet malt.

It zings. It's bitter and resinous but still.... restrained. Calculated. Measured. A hop load evenly spread. A multiple orgasm of a beer rather than an overblown moneyshot of hop eruption.


Amen to that.

Thanks to Phil Lowry for the beer.


Bottled Up: Williams Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale

Couldn't resist rolling this old feature out of wheezing retirement for a Burns Night special.

Truth be told, I'm ambivalent about celebrating Burns Night. I don't need an excuse to drink Scottish beer. I don't feel the need to eat haggis once a year. I don't wish to spend the evening out with the kind of Englishmen who think it's cool to wear kilts at weddings, even though their closest link to Scotland is that they once ate a deep-fried Mars Bar for a bet.

But I'm sneakily proud of my quarter-Scots heritage. I never met Grandad Tom but have been regaled by tales of how he met my grandmother Kate in Nottingham's Olde Trip To Jerusalem. He bought her a brandy to help her over her cold and the rest was (family) history. My memories of him are from tales told around a table (pub, dining, picnic), from medals in a case, from a tin of souvenirs gleaned from several wars. So tonight, Tom: this one's for you.

Bruce Williams started making heather ale to a seventeenth-century recipe whilst still a homebrewer in the eighties. Twenty years later, the Williams Brothers have taken their flagship ale and produced a startlingly special Anniversary Edition. It's 11% ABV, secondary fermented in ex-sherry casks once home to single malt Speyside whisky.

And it's sublime. An amber marmalade body holds a drumskin-tight white orbit of bubbles. As the beer effervesces into the glass, there's instant vanilla prickling, honey sweetness is followed by lemon juice so tart to be almost gueuze-like; a green-apple funk settles on the nose.

There's stacks of carbonation in here, the first mouthful covered with tangerine, light sherry fruits, some smooth caramel studded with slight spices. The whole mouthfeel has a clean wood feel to it, more sweet fruit etches over the sourness. There's no overwhelming alcohol at all; Fraoch carries its 11% lightly.

And there's so much going on, flavours almost blindside you. There's more gueuzey-ness each time I lift the glass, some mint swims in (perhaps from the myrtle?), even the merest dab of peat before more lovely lemon oozes forward.

It's a superb beer, really not what I was expecting and one that's given me all kinds of ideas about the directions in which beer can be taken. Fraoch 20th Anniversary is available for purchase direct from the brewer at their online shop (UK mainland delivery only, folks).

Many thanks to Williams Brothers for sending me the bottle for review.

Now I can give in and say, "Jings! Crivvens! Help ma Boab! That wis a braw beer!". For I am Oor Wullie; I've had the Christmas annual of Wullie or The Broons every year since I was big enough to climb out of my bucket.

PS - Henry the Gnome may be featuring as a guest reviewer in the near future.

PPS - Now you can go and read an erudite article about heather ale, its history and the whole Ireland versus Scotland shenanigans over at Martyn Cornell's site. Just mention that I sent you.


In Manchester: Pictures

I went to Manchester and I saw this brewery:

Where this coat-losing brewer does his stuff:

And brews beers like these:

And then went to this festival:

Where I chatted to Des De Moor:

Enjoyed Moor JJJ IPA with Dave and Ann from The Woolpack Inn, Boot, Cumbria:

And watched Jeff Pickthall spread his nuts on the table

I'll be back to Manc more. It's enthralled me each time I've visited.

"By no stretch of the imagination is Manchester a picturesque city. In common with all things is fundamentally flawed. It has a compulsion to preen and show off. It is narcissistic, contrary and wayward, and yet you cannot help but love it. It is both admirable and maddening."

Chris Lethbridge


Thornbridge Equinox: a decoction concoction

I'm not really here, but I couldn't resist a couple of quick words about the latest offering from Thornbridge.

Equinox is billed as a 'Vienna IPA'; same strength as Jaipur (5.9%) but this baby's brewed with a heap of Vienna malt and a giddy range of hops, including Warrior, Chinook, Perle, Ahtanum, Magnum and Centennial.

But the real breakthrough for Thornbridge is that Equinox is their first decocation mash beer. Kelly Ryan, Brewery Manager, explains the process: "In Germany and other countries they developed a system where a part of the mash would be taken away, boiled to aid in the release of starch granules, and to raise the temperature, and then added back to the mash".

Does it make a notable difference to the brew? "Some say that it affects head retention, others say it gives the beer a cleaner flavour", Kelly says. "Some say it adds a hint of caramel character to the beer, some say it aids fermentation. Whatever it does, we think it's worked really well".

The end result is a beer that promises biscuity malt, bananas, oranges and berry fruit with a clean and crisp mouthfeel. I'll certainly be on the lookout for it this month.


Blogs Of Beer

For all those visitors who come here for the beer blog feeds - they've now moved over to a new site alongside the ukbeerbloggers feed and hedlines from the Morning Advertiser and The Publican.

All the latest madness can be found at:

-- 10/01/10 you should be able to access the site now, *someone* forgot to reset the permissions. Grrr. Thanks to scissorkicks for letting me know.


What Shall We Do With The Reluctant Scooper?

What shall we do with the Reluctant Scooper?
What shall we do with the Reluctant Scooper?
What shall we do with the Reluctant Scooper?
Now the New Year's dawning?

Lock him in a club and serve him Smoothflow
Making sure that off to the loo he don't go
Watch his tastebuds pop on all that nitro
Early in the morning

Make him clean the copper with a balding toothbrush
Scouring oh-so-slowly, no way can he rush,
Til he has no hands, just gloves of pink mush
Wasted by the morning

Take him to the city and maroon him in a Spoons
Where the fridges are half empty and the cask's 'Coming Soon'
And the locals are excited by the phases of the moon
Grunting every morning

Let the Jaipur run out before he gets to the bar
Doesn't really matter that he's travelled so damn far
Just tell him that the next cask's really on par
But not until the morning

Everybody ask him "What's your favourite beer?",
"Where would you be drinking if you weren't drinking here?",
"I'd really love a Carling; do they serve that here?"
Every fecking morning

It's time for this Reluctant Scooper to take a sabbatical; several other projects are gaining momentum and need a little nurturing. Over the next couple of months, I've scheduled several posts for publication here, ones that I never quite got around to sorting out in 2009.

Normal service (if you can ever call it that) will be resumed in Easter 2010.

In the meantime, expect the (occasional) Tweet from @reluctantscoop as I'll still be finding time to toper around in search of a few sherberts.

Drink 'em like you stole 'em, folks!



Poor Algy has bought it

With a whiff of roasted malt still in the air and the strains of the 'Battle of Britain' theme tune fading, my Spitfire bottle opener has bought the farm.

The sound of a single-speed supercharger Merlin 45 no longer echoes around the kitchen.

If anyone would like to donate a new opener to the topering cause, drop me a line.


The Session: New Beer's Resolutions

2009 taught me that there's more to beer than malt, hops, water and yeast.

Place, time and company all played a pivotal role in my enjoyment (or not) of last year's beers.

Sometimes, everything came together in a serendipitous manner. Such as pints of Thornbridge Hopton enjoyed over a lazy Saturday lunch, sat outside in the sun at The Bear Inn, Alderwasley, with my wife. Lashings of Marble Dobber downed by the crew on the European Summer Gathering, out the back of Manchester's Marble Arch pub, with plenty of banter. A quiet pint of Brunswick Black Sabbath, supped by myself in the brewpub, a precious half an hour alone with my thoughts, a crossword and a great beer.

When it all went wrong, it was more often down to the place, time or company - not the beer. Pubs that had closed for the afternoon. Too many pubs on a crawl. Great beers rushed in order to move on to the next (underwhelming) pub. No-one around to share a great beer with.

My only regret is that it took me so long to understand just how important place, time and company are to beer enjoyment.

For me, 2010 is going to be more about the context and less about the beer. But only just less :-)