An infection, a reflection, a beer

Let's establish the facts:

Moved house. Contracted a chest infection. Been out-of-this-world-knackered for days. Recovered enough today to fill a skip with the flotsam from my cultural ebb and flow. Now particularly knackered, but in a pleasantly-tired way rather than a my-body-is-eating-itself way.

So there's been neither time nor inclination to write about beer.Let's change that.

I could write about this time last Saturday; a handful of brewers, a table full of beers and a fair few backslaps and man-hugs as we said goodbye to Kelly 'Tigger' Ryan from Thornbridge. But you don't want to know about Bracia, Thornbridge lager and home-made gueuze, do you?

You do? Sorry. Ain't gonna happen.

Here's what's happening this Saturday. I stink. Six hours dipping into a skip and introducing a lump hammer to recalcitrant furniture does that to a man. When I'd finished, I knew just what to do.

I didn't want harsh citric hops. I didn't want treacle-caramel malt.

I. Just. Wanted. A. Beer.

So here I am, with a six-pack of diddy Stella bottles and that aaaaaaah moment.

As in - aaaaaaah, beer. Not ooooh! Triple-dubbel-cranberry-hefe!

Just. Aaaaaaah. Beer.

A cold one. Something to glug. To knock the froth off. To scratch that itch halfway down by dusty throat.

Why Stella? It's the first beer I ever bought from the off-license. It's a beer I know I can buy from my local off-license today.  It's the beer I've been drinking at one certain bar for over sixteen years.

It's because I rather like it.


About Meantime

Much of my early-days beer shopping was at Sainsburys. Which meant two things: heaps of hit-and-miss Wychwood and the better-than-average Meantime lager-types in the Taste The Difference range. I don't shop there too often anymore so it was a treat this week not only to find Meantime's London Porter and IPA in 75cl bottles but also on sale at a quid off.

The Porter - well hopped, bitter coffee, chewy chocolate fruits - perfectly complemented a Pieminister pie with creamy mash. And the IPA - smooth, dusty hops with a lemon edge - has lasted me through a gargantuan portion of haddock & chips tonight and is still going strong.

Bottles of this size are a mild indulgence for an individual toper. The glass topped up slowly but often, an exposure to hops and malts sustained, nuances shifting as your palate is with and without food. And so I got to thinking - here's a bottle that deserves a place on a dinner table, to be shared. A couple of glasses of IPA to go with your main course, perhaps. A couple more of some kind of stout to accompany a chocolate pudding. Or an oyster starter. Not a single beer for each person; a range of beers to be enjoyed by all at the table.

So it's encouraging to find, after extensive research five minutes Googling that these Meantime bottles do appear on menus. Not just at the brewer's own restaurant but in London gastro establishments and some great country pubs too. I'd like to see more bottled beers of this quality and size on menus - allows the beer drinkers to enjoy a couple of styles with their meal and, perhaps, provide an entry-point tipple for any non-beer drinkers around the table.


In this pub...

... there's an etched window in a light oak door. The dried-blood coloured floor tiles pave a way from russet benches to the dark panelled bar. Five handpulls stand proud. Above, nine glass tankards hang southward.

To one side, black boards describe the beers on offer. There must therefore be eight more in the other bar, plus continental draughts. More boards announce food available; cobs and crisps only on this side.

My eyes scout around the room. Posters for brewers both familiar and long forgotten: Woodfordes, Hook Norton, Holt, Lloyds, Simspons, Vallances, Fremlins. Mirrors: Adnams, Bass, one that's massive (Worthington's).

Late autumn afternoon light refracts through stained glass. No other customer has disturbed the bar for over ninety minutes. One poster resonates - "Beer - the best long drink in the world!"

Outside, very close outside, trains stop or don't stop. Pints of porter have warmed me. The next train that stops is the one that spirits me away from what is possibly the best mid-afternoon pub in the world.


If you listen to one podcast this week...

The Brewing Network should need no introduction. Because, you're a beer lover. So you listen to it all the time, right?

Their Sunday Session is the perfect mix of frat-level ass-hattery and stupendously useful home-brew technical knowledge. Interviewees have included Brit-based brewers such as Kelly Ryan from Thornbridge, James Watt from Brewdog and Justin Hawke from Moor. But last week's podcast was something other-worldly; it featured Dr. Charles Bamforth of University of California, Davis (and Special Professor of Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham) who has to be one of the most engaging and charismatic characters I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.

All I'll say is this; if you love beer, go listen to Charlie. You'll love it even more after and will certainly learn a thing or four. The opening of the show is great, too, as host Justin Crossley gives a sparky American's perspective on English cask beer. And three guesses as to which ubiquitous English beer bod gets a namecheck early on...


Kelly 'Tigger' Ryan

One of those brewer guys but like no other. The first time I spent a brewday with Kelly, he bounced around from mashtun to laboratory to hop store and back again. His enthusiasm for both the art and science of brewing is legendary.

He's off to New Zealand, leaving a Tigger-shaped hole in the English brewing industry.

For all the beers we've shared, for all the banter exchanged, here's to you, Kel.

And if if you want to know why he's really called Tigger, with apologies to A A Milne but no apologies for length, read on....

Jim woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and listened. Then he got out of bed, and lit his candle, and stumped across the room to see if anybody was trying to get into his hop-cupboard, and they weren't, so he stumped back again, blew out his candle, and got into bed. Then he heard the noise again.

"GiddayGiddayGidday!," said Whatever-it-was, and Jim found that he wasn't asleep after all.

"What can it be?" he thought. He got out of bed and opened his front door.

"I'm Jim," said Jim.

"I'm Tigger," said Kelly.

"Oh!" said Jim, for he had never seen a brewer like this before. " Do Thornbridge know about you?"

"Of course they do," said Tigger.

"Well," said Jim, "it's the middle of the night, which is a good time for going to sleep. And tomorrow morning we'll have some honey for breakfast. Do Tiggers like to brew with honey?"

"They like to brew with everything," said Tigger cheerfully.

"Then if they like going to sleep on the floor, I'll go back to bed," said Jim, "and we'll brew things in the morning. Good night." And he got back into bed and went fast asleep.

When he awoke in the morning, the first thing he saw was Tigger, in his gummies, sitting in front of the mash tun. Covered in honey. Tigger had been brewing with it.

Jim suggested that he could try some hopcorns.

"Thank you, Jim," said Tigger, "because hopcorns is really what Tiggers like best."

So after breakfast they went round to see Farmer Farham, and Jim explained as they went that Farmer Farham was a Very Busy Man who didn't like bouncing, and asked Tigger not to be too Bouncy
just at first.

And Tigger, who had been hiding behind the copper and jumping out on Jim's shadow when it wasn't looking, said that Tiggers were only bouncy before breakfast, and that as soon as they had had a few hopcorns they became Quiet and Refined. So by-and-by they knocked at the door of Farmer Farham’s house.

"Hallo, Jim," said Farmer Farham.

"Hallo, Farmer Farham. This is Tigger. He likes hopcorns," said Jim,
"so that's what we've come for." Farmer Farham pushed a bowl of hopcorns towards Tigger, and said, "Help yourself!"

But Tigger said nothing because his mouth was full of hopcorns....

After a long munching noise he said:


Farmer Farham, who was rather glad that Tiggers like hopcorns, said,
"What about caraway?"

"Caraway," said Tigger, "is what Tiggers like best."

"Then lets go along and see Gardener de Wynter," said Farmer Farham.

So the three of them went; and after they had walked and walked and walked, they came to the part of the estate where Gardener de Wynter was.

"Hallo, Gardener de Wynter!" said Jim. "This is Tigger."

"What is?" said Gardener de Wynter.

"This," explained Jim and Farmer Farham together, and Tigger
smiled his happiest smile and said nothing.

Gardener de Wynter led the way to the most caraway-looking patch of
caraway that ever was, and waved a glove at it.

"A little patch I was keeping for my birthday," he said; " but, after all, what are birthdays? Here to-day and gone to-morrow. Help yourself, Tigger."

Tigger thanked him and he took a large mouthful, and he gave a large

"Good on ya, mate!" said Tigger.

Jim called to Tigger.

"Come along and we'll go and see Stef. He's sure to have lots more breakfast for you."

Jim was thinking of a poem. And when he had thought of it he began:

What shall we do with our bouncy Tigger?
If he brews with everything our brewhouse should be bigger.
He loves to use honey and hopcorns and caraway
Because of how aromas, flavours and tastes overlay
And all the good things which a brewer needs
Like quality malt and Tahitian lime leaves

At last they came in sight of Stef's house. Tigger rushed up to him.

"Oh, there you are, Tigger!" said Stef. "I knew you'd be somewhere."

"I've been finding things," said Tigger importantly. "I've found a Jim and a Farmer Farham and an Gardener de Wynter, but I can't find any proper breakfast."

"Don't you know what Tiggers like?" asked Jim.

"I expect if I thought very hard I should," said Stef, "but I thought Tigger knew."

"I do," said Tigger. "Everything there is in the brewing world
like honey and hopcorns and - what were those crunchy things


"Yes, and those."

"Oh, well then," said Jim, "Stef can give you some breakfast."

So they went into Stef's house, and there on the table was a pint of Fermented Extract of Malt.

Tigger came closer, and he leant over the back of Stef's chair, and suddenly he put out his tongue, and took one large golollop. The pint of Fermented Extract of Malt had gone.

Tigger looked up at the ceiling, and closed his eyes, and his tongue went round and round his chops, in case he had left any outside, and a peaceful smile came over his face as he said…

"So that's what Tiggers like best!"


Mud between your cleats

There's a certain something about November.

Looking out of my office window, I've been watching trees on the turn. Burnished golds and russet reds replace the green swathe. And my mind is set on one thing.

Boot time. A good Sunday yomp. Mud between the cleats, leaves stuck in your hair. And a good, malty beer at a country pub as a reward.

After a morning spent ankle-deep in the mud it was good to stop off at a cracking pub near where I live, The Royal Oak at Ockbrook, kick off the boots and introduce a vague aroma of cowshit to the bar. Sat back outside in the bright sun and cool breeze, with a coco-choc-full pint of Derventio Barbarian, I remember just how much I enjoy getting out into the countryside. And just how great the first sip of that first pint tastes.


The Session: Wheat Beers

Those folks over at are hosting this month's Session, the beer-blogging monthly get-together, which this time around is all about the wonderful world of wheat beers.

So, here's Four Less-Than-Obvious Observations About Wheat in Beer.

I say wheat beer. You say…. Weiss? Weizen? Wit?

It’d be easy to pour a bottle of the cloudy stuff into a vase-shaped glass and ruminate on all things hefe, but let’s give it up for the wider world of wheat in beer.

#1 – Wheat in beer is (almost) everywhere

And for good reasons. When you think of an archetypal weiss, the head stands out – literally. Wheat is rich in glycoprotein, molecules of which are both attracted to water (hydrophilic) and repulsed by it (hydrophobic). These nest together, create pockets of C02, forming bubbles and – ta-da! – a head on the beer. Which is why many brews include a small proportion of wheat in their mash.

#2 – Lambic is a wheat beer

OK, not as high a proportion as weizens, but wheat makes up around 30% of a lambic’s grain bill. Turbidity, head retention, high levels of dextrins helping young lambics taste smoother than their funkier, older siblings… that’s the unmalted wheat at work.

#3 – Britain brews some damn fine wheat beers

They’re not quite like any other. Which is fine and dandy by me; if I want a classy bottled hefeweizen I’d buy a German bottle. There’s a certain something about an English cask ale that’s been given the wheat treatment. Oakham White Dwarf has a smooth lemon edge to it and makes for a corking summertime pint. Castle Rock Snowhite is more floral and, as a winter release, is a welcome palate rester when the bar is full of malty-toffee beers.

I get to drink those two fairly often. Wish I could say the same for Green Jack Orange Wheat with its deft marmalade touch and itching Citra notes. And then there’s Lovibond’s Gold Reserve Wheat Wine: brewer Jeff Rosenmeier took his premium wheat beer (Henley Gold), ramped up the wheat and balanced the flavour out with local honey to produce what was voted the world’s best honey beer at the 2009 World Beer Awards.

#4 – Britain held the first International Gluten-Free Beer Festival

So, glycoproteins helps make a wheat beer all fluffy and wonderful. Albeit not so wonderful at all if you’re allergic to them. They’re the building blocks of gluten, which is also found in barley, so severely restricting the beer-drinking of those who are gluten-intolerant. There have been a number of gluten-free beers entering the market in recent years and back in 2006 there was the first international festival to feature them. Held in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, it featured over a dozen gluten-free beers in bottles, cans and on draught from all around the world. Today, UK brewer Green’s have developed a range of beers made with de-glutenised malt –including pilsners, dubbels and triples – to challenge the assumption that gluten-free beer is boring in both style and execution.

And one of the judges at that festival was Nick Wheat. Seriously. I couldn’t make it up.


Raising a glass to Spyke

Last month, I spent a couple of beery, cheery days at the ever-excellent Nottingham CAMRA beer festival. After a busy session as a SIBA judge and a day of random beers, I decided that I ought to write an article all about it. And I thought I'd try to persuade Nottingham CAMRA to publish it in their multi-colour, multi-award-winning branch magazine, Nottingham Drinker.

I tried to catch up with its editor, Pete 'Spyke' Golding, at various times during the festival. A quick hello was as far as I got; the crowds got deeper and my chance of a convincing pitch diminished. And as much as I wanted to talk about my article idea, I also wanted to thank him in person for his work as editor on what's possibly the best free beer magazine I've ever read. Never mind, I thought. There's always another time.

Spyke died last week.

It's his funeral tomorrow. I can't be there, but I'll wearing my most colourful tie when I raise a pint to him.


Questions and answers

Who suggests to me the beers that I drink? 
Well, I'm more receptive to suggestion now than I ever was. It's been a wave; when I was a newbie to beer I listened to anyone who shouted loud enough. When I thought I knew what I was doing, I'd ignore most people and go with what I knew. Now, I'm broadminded - letting folks on Twitter and Facebook decide which beers I should drink whilst at the Nottingham Beer Festival this year was a real eye-opener. I tried beers by brewers to whom I wouldn't normally give a second glance.

Who do I ignore? Why?
Any beer or brewer that makes just too much noise. When half a dozen bloggers regurgitate the same press release, when the Facebook album is loved by people I know cannot have tried the new beer, I steer clear.

Where don’t I go to drink beer? Why?
I'd become rather beer-snobbish. To the extent of not visiting High Street, national chain bars lest they offered nothing of quality and passion. To the extent of not visiting some of my local pubs, where I've eaten and drank for ten years, because the cask offering was unlikely to be a show-stopping dry-hopped bonanza. Then I realised how I'd been missing out on a great, fresh pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at All Bar One. How a well-kept Pedigree or Bass can be flinty and sulphourous and pretty damn good with fish & chips.

What styles do I avoid? Why?
It's repetition of style that I'm avoiding now. There were times at beer festivals, desperate to scoop new breweries, when I would drink nothing but brown best bitter. Because that's invariably what debut brewers brewed. And most were average but some were tasty. Step forward six years and the lists are now chock full of pale, pale ales. And many of them are tasty... put it this way: I like Metallica. I think the track 'Master Of Puppets' is one of the most kick-ass tracks of all time. But I couldn't listen to the intro over and over and over again. The chords may begin to bore me. I'd know what to expect. I'd be satiated, but not quite as excited. But after I've been away and listened to a stack of Mahler, the DAH! DAH-DAAH-DAHHH!! of 'Puppets' sounds claw-your-face-off fresh.

How does method of dispense make a difference? Why?
The difference is everything and nothing. Nothing beats the flavour, aroma and mouthfeel that you get from a pint of hoppy pale cask ale that's been poured from gravity, allowing the gentle flavours to linger longer throughout the glass.. Except for a pint of nutty, toffee cask ale handpulled through a sparkler, giving a creamy head that helps the flavours stick. Or.. a pint of kegged unfiltered lager which stays cool and crisp and refreshing. Or... a bottle of carefully conditioned ale that's developed a level of complexity that even sherry dare not dream of. The only difference that dispense makes is when beer drinkers get too hung-up about it and miss out on great opportunities.

When did I last drink my‘epiphany’ beer, the one that proved to you that beer can be not-sucky? Why?
About three weeks ago. Why? Because it's gorgeous. Because no other beer looks so damn tasty in its own branded glass. Because when I drink it, I'm transported back to Brugge and the bar of the Oude Burg hotel and I remember what it was like to be on the cusp of discovering a world of beer which, until that moment, I had been blissfully ignorant of. And so I'll be having another bottle of Duvel this weekend. You've gotta love non-sucky beer.



Confessions and questions

My name is Simon and I am a Reluctant Scooper.

In the past four weeks, I have:

- drank nothing but imported bottled lager in a pub offering 12+ tip-top quality cask beers

- drank nothing but imported keg beer in a bar offering 8+ tip-top quality cask beers

- drank nothing but the same cask beer in a pub offering 15+ other tip-top quality cask beers

- drank supermarket beer at home rather than trek out to new bar openings and beer launches

- drank random cask beers suggested to me by folks on Twitter and Facebook whilst at a festival

The point? It’s easy to get hung up about method of dispense, about the shock of the new, about surfing the zeitgeist.

Ask yourself some questions.

Who suggests to you the beers that you drink? Who do you ignore? Why?

Where don’t you go to drink beer? Why?

What styles do you avoid? Why?

How does method of dispense make a difference? Why?

When did you last drink your ‘epiphany’ beer, the one that proved to you that beer can be not-sucky? Why?

I’ll answer my own questions tomorrow.


Let's Do The Timewarp Again

Reluctant Scooper is back. With a jump to the left and a step to the right.

There's going to be brews news, reviews and interviews. More irreverence and topering about. And, for starters, spot the pattern;

1) Cains Double Bock, 2) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 3) Augustiner Edelstoff.

1) Brunswick Father Mike's, 2) Budvar, 3) Westmalle Dubbel.

1) Thornbridge Kipling, 2) Thornbridge Kipling, 3) Thornbridge Kipling.

A clue? Some of the 2's could also be 3's. Some of the 3's could also be 2's. Some of the 1's could also be 3's. As, indeed, Kipling proves.

A prize for getting it right, I hear you say? I'll stand you a pint.