Watch umbrellas fly

There are schools of thought attached to beer blogging. Apparently.

Some say you should blog in brief, often.

Others say you should blog infrequently, with gravitas.

I suppose I fall in between and subscribe to:

Time for my sabbatical. If anyone severs that Möbius strip whilst I'm away, let me know. 

Doubtful. But ever hopeful.

Back for Easter. Play nicely. If you can remember how to ;-)

* for the record: today's blog has been brought to you with one of the best pop videos ever burrowing into my head


The Session #71: Brewers and Drinkers

This month's Session Beer Blog on the topic of Brewers and Drinkers is hosted by John at Home Brew Manual.

And he hands over a loaded gun.

"Do you brew? If so why? If not, why not? How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?"

My relationship with beer and how it's made? It's complicated.

I brew. Sort of.

I've cleaned mash tuns and added hops and connected hose A to FV B.

Sometimes it's been at commercial breweries. Sometimes it's been in Brew School.

So: I love beer. I 'brew' for the shits and giggles. And to learn. And to blag free beer. But mostly to learn stuff about kettle geometry or isomerisation or who once slept with who. Whilst connecting hose A to FV B. Eventually.

I've brewed, but I'm not a brewer.

(I got soul but I'm not a soldier)

Does that affect my enjoyment of beer?

Understanding the scientific principles of brewing enhances my enjoyment of beer. As does:

- my mood
- the weather
- the company I keep
- the place where I drink
- the time of day
- the time of the year
- whether I'm working the next day
- whether I'm sleeping soon
- whether I'm feeling like a session at George Best's best session rate
- whether I'm ready to uncork a bad boy and stare the night down til dawn

You don't need to brew to appreciate beer. Like you don't need to butcher to appreciate steak.


Beer and sensory science: the Aroxa flavour standards

Let's start with an apology; this post should have been published in December 2011. Something went wrong. I blame the organic lump at the end of the keyboard...

Whilst reading up about the science of beer taints, I found the aroxa website. This has a wealth of information on how tainted flavours originate, why they're important to recognise and, interestingly, which flavour notes professional tasters have mistaken for others.

One product that caught my eye was the beer uno kit. This offered ten flavour notes - four positive beer flavours, four off-flavours and two taints - which could be used to run a two-hour tasting session for ten people. And so a plan was hatched. Aroxa kindly donated me the kit; Thornbridge Brewery kindly rounded up some of their licensees and staff and so I ended up running a tasting panel session at their bar, DAda.

The mechanics of the session were very simple. Each flavour standard is a powder in a colour-coded capsule; the powder is dissolved into a jug of beer (we used a cask pale ale) and left for a couple of minutes to dissolve. Everyone had a tasting glass measure poured for them and then followed the assessment criteria for that standard (e.g. short sniff or sip & swallow).

Everyone shared their opinions of the flavours and aromas experienced and then we then talked through the information on the specification card that accompanied each flavour standard. These cover the importance and confusions data also found on the website plus details of the flavour's threshold and its chemical formula.

The tasting led to plenty of animated discussion. It was interesting to see how different people had different thresholds. Off-flavours were identified as issues encountered previously. And even the positive standards sometimes produced a negative reaction - "it smells too hoppy!"

Everyone agreed it had been a really useful insight into not only being able to experience the flavours and taints in a controlled environment but to learn more as to why it may be an issue - and what the likely cause could be.

This kit would make an ideal session for many brewers to run for their staff and the information cards and website backup could prove to be a valuable resource. Larger kits and single flavour standards - over a hundred of them - are available and cover cider, water and wine as well as beer.

I'd be more than happy to run the session for any brewer and their staff; get in touch if you want to know more.

Many thanks to Dr Bill Simpson from Aroxa for the beer uno kit and to Thornbridge for their time, beer and staff.


Of hobgoblins and baked beans

It started with Guinness; available everywhere from pub to bar to club, lovely with chips, even better with Pernod.

Newcastle Brown was next at polytechnic; couldn't be watered down, almost as ubiquitous as the black stuff, topping up a halfpint glass in the student union, glugged from the bottle in the pool halls.

Then Ind Coope's Burton Ale when the Railway Inn in Stafford ran out of Newcy Brown one night. Then an occasional Bass. My first cask beers.

Which led to beer bottles in my food hampers sent from home. My Mum would put together a parcel of essentials - tins of baked beans, Irish stew, meatballs - and then this appeared.

Although she never mentioned it, I think my Mum chose it because of the picture on the label. Which is maybe-ironic; the illustrator of Wychwood's distinctive labels and pumpclips is now one that my Dad collects. He's Ed Org and his work looks like this:

There's more than a touch of Burne-Jones about his work, which is why my Dad is drawn to it I guess (he's a Pre-Raphaelite kind of guy).

As for the beer... well, it's heavy on the crystal malt, Fuggles and Goldings. It's rather chewy toffee. I don't buy it when I'm in the supermarket but I do get given the odd bottle at birthdays and Christmas.

I'm not really a fan of the 'lagerboy' marketing. The goblins & mythology approach is something I've been moving away from since my Runequest-playing days*. But everytime I drink Hobgoblin, like now as I write this, it brings back memories of student bedsits, burnt beans and a beery journey that had only just taking its first stumbling steps.

* Always Runequest, never Dungeons & Dragons. Although I was more of a Traveller kind of guy myself. 


You've Come a Long Way, Baby


A railway arch in South London. A corner of a rockshop warehouse in Huddersfield. Industrial units on the edge of the Peak District. Shoebox-sized rooms in the rear of pubs across London.

All waiting for world-class breweries to start.

Thornbridge were brewing on a secondhand kit squeezed into a converted stonemason's workshop. Brewdog were brewing cask.

London had yet to get a real hard-on for beer.

The thought of buying a locally brewed craft keg Black IPA in an English bar was unthinkable.

Five years later, British beer has come a long way.

Dare you imagine where it's going next?

Meanwhile... celebrate it, baby.

Praise it like you should.

Happy New Year.