Saturday, 23 December 2017

Golden Pints 2017

Where did 2017 go? Time for Golden Pints already? Can't be!?!? 

I've drunk a lot of beer, I've been lucky enough to drink some really good beers, and, been to new places to drink them, both here in the UK and further afield. So, here goes.......

Best UK Keg Beer
The Kernel 'IPA Ekuanot Vic Secret'. This beer has stuck in my mind since I had it at the Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell with co host Steve, and fellow podcasters Andrew and Luke from Rhythm & Brews. It was simply brilliant (like so many of the Kernel beers), although not strictly sessionable, more than one pint was consumed that night!

Best UK Bottled Beer
Time & Tide / Weird Beard 'Call Your Friends'. Had this on the show and both of us were blown away by it. Black IPAs can be so good, when done right, and, some can be woeful, this falls into the former category - bloody delicious. Well balanced between the flavours of the roasted malts and the hops, very drinkable and belied it's 9.7%.

Best UK Canned Beer
Magic Rock / Thornbridge ‘Exaltation’. Tried it at the Bath Hotel in Sheffield as part of the Crimbo Crawl, absolutely delicious - fruity, bitter and refreshing - pretty much everything I love in a beer and everything I expect from these two amazing breweries.

Best UK Cask Beer
Thornbridge Jaipur. Whenever and wherever I see this beer on cask I buy it (The Sheffield Tap in early December can definitely testify to this as can my bank account!). I even bought it, in a bar, in Amsterdam on gravity, at a whopping €8!
Best Overall Beer
Thornbridge Jaipur (cask version).......see above!

Best Collaboration Brew
Time & Tide / Weird Beard 'Call Your Friends'......see above.

Best UK Brewery
Thornbridge. Surprised? Probably not I'm guessing. As well as everything else I have already said about Thornbridge beers, the online shop is pretty damn good.
Honourable mentions to Adnams and Magic Rock, who never fail to deliver / impress.

Best Overseas Draught
Dragoon Brewing 'IPA' - I had this on tap, in a bar, in a shopping mall (shopping centre to you and I) in Phoenix. If only all such places had a bar called the Yard House with around 100 taps to choose from. The Dragoon was a delicious straight down the line piney bitter West Coast IPA.

Best Overseas Bottle/Can
La Debauche 'Black Ale India Stout', had this in Beerz in Cherbourg with Michelle, a lovely little bottle shop found entirely by accident, this beer was simply fantastic, such an easy drinking stout, but, still complex in its make up, if you see it, try it.

Best Overseas Brewery
Stone - San Diego & Berlin - Love being able to get Stone beers over here from Berlin, but, when I was in Phoenix I was lucky to find a few Stone beers on tap, including the Tangerine Express which I really enjoyed.

Best Pub/Bar
The Victoria Inn - My preferred option in Colchester, a proper pub is a very apt description and anyone who has listened to the Sparklers episode of Hopinions will now know just how seriously they take their beer dispense.
The Ale House - My preferred option in Chelmsford (and home of the UKs longest running Bottle Share), always a great choice available - cask, keg, bottle and can,
Sheffield Tap - Been there three times, a Friday night, a Saturday night and Sunday lunchtime, in less than 48 hours (Crimbo Crawl in Sheffield was such a good weekend), did I mention they sell Jaipur on cask?!?!?

Best Taproom
BBNO revamped taproom - Paid them a visit with Michelle back in August. A very welcoming space, good selection of their beers available and barrels, what more do you need?

Supermarket of the Year
M&S – Choice & Accessibility, they provide me with the bulk of the train beers I consume, however, their stock rotation at times leaves a bit to be desired, I now always check the BBE date before I purchase, especially on the hoppy numbers!

Train Beer of the Year
Four Pure Session IPA, I just find this beer super consistent and easy to drink on the go, and, available in M&S.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Liquorice - Ever expanding range of craft beers, 2 mins walk from a mainline station I go through every day so easy to get off, stock up and get back on the next slow running train and now the Hopinions main studio of choice (for which, we are eternally grateful).

Online Retailer of the Year
Ales by Mail - I primarily use ABM for the in house work beer tastings and they never let me down.

Best Branding
Fullers & Friends - I absolutely loved the beers, and, the branding was clever yet simple. Each collaboration bottle was different but, at the same time had a uniformity about them.

Beer Festival of the Year
Manchester Beer & Cider Festival, way back in January, Steve and I paid this festival a visit and we were very impressed with the venue (Manchester Central), the choice of beers and last but not least the choice of dispense, who could forget having Track Sonoma on cask and keg, wonderful.
Leeds International at the Town Hall in Sep, which as you can see is held in a lovely old building (the Town Hall) and they also arrange for the sun to shine, that's what you call organisation. Great selection of beers/breweries and I could choose what size measures I wanted and simply paid for what I consumed, not sure it's a concept that will catch on....????
Verde Canyon Railroad in Arizona holds a beer festival during the course of October on certain days before the train ride heads off on its out & back journey (a fabulous experience), luckily for us (yes, of course Michael was excited too) we had booked our tickets for one of those days. A selection of local Arizona beers in cans and bottles available, both before and during the excursion, best train journey I've experienced for quite some time!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Sparkyrite (2016 winner) and Steve @ BeerNouveau - Both of these guys make me smile, and, luckily enough for me I got to meet both of them this year.

Best Beer Blog
Mark Johnson (Beer Compurgation, also a 2016 winner), with a shoutout to Myles Lambert & Pete McKerry. These are the blogs that I read as soon as I can, well done chaps, keep it up in 2018 please,
Plenty of other blogs out there that I enjoy, these are listed on my own homepage.

Beery Podcast of the Year

Steve & Roland’s Beer Podcast and the Irish Beer Snobs are joint winners of my beery podcast award(It’s all about the banter on both of these podcasts). Steve & Roland and sometimes Gary, review the weekly BeerBods offering and although I am no longer a subscriber I still enjoy listening to these guys. The Irish Beer Snobs might well have been the outright winners if only they'd recorded and released a few more shows during the course of the year (I know Wayne was studying, only thinking about himself and his career, all a bit selfish really!!). Honourable mentions to NE Sippin Forecast, Beernomicon, Rhythm & Brews and Men Beerhaving Badly, so many beery podcasts, so little time!

And, there we have it, that's my look back at 12 months in beer, I'm sure I've forgotten something/someone/a particular beer or festival so apologies in advance as they say.

Looking forward to 2018, cheers guys!

Monday, 28 August 2017

How I Feel About GBBF '17


We've been together quite some time, you and I, 16 years in fact, having joined way back in the summer of 2001, probably at the Great British Beer Festival. A lot has changed, we're both older, a bit more mature, perhaps even a bit wiser (??) but I feel something has changed between us and that something is definitely connected to how I felt in the days after this years GBBF at Olympia.
I was sad, and, a couple of weeks on, that feeling of sadness remains.
I look at beer festivals from the point of view as a punter who really enjoys beer and loves good/great beer, both new and old alike. With this in mind, perhaps you can help me understand why there are so many stalls and areas devoted to pretty much everything other than beer? I get that we need to eat and relax, but, far too much space was given over to non-beer sales or information stands. Yet, despite this, no water stations were available to allow me to hydrate (surely this is something you as an organisation should encourage??) and rinse my glass, meaning that a switch between a stout and golden ale might not be in my best interests, i'm not a fan of blending beers. Other festivals, both beer & wine, offer this very simple but essential service, why don't you?
What logic is applied to how the beer stands are set up? It's never obvious to me I must admit. And, why isn't all the British Beer in just one part of the rather vast space that is Olympia? Why make me walk round the whole place? Last year the American Cask bar was in the smaller of the two halls, a good idea as when it runs out (which it inevitably does) it's out of the way. This year, on the Saturday the bar was simply a blot on the landscape at the back of the main hall, empty.
Really, my question here is simply "Is Olympia too big for a beer festival?" I think it might be you know, especially if you are devoting 50% of the space available to anything other than the Great British Beer you should be showcasing. Out of curiosity, how does beer get selected for GBBF?
I like the option of the brewery bars, but, I would much prefer it if the people involved in the brewing process were present serving the beers, it would add so much to the experience, rather than the support staff and CAMRA volunteers, while doing a fantastic job don't necessarily have that first hand knowledge for the product being sold (all the volunteers concerned should be congratulated for their hard work, time and effort).
I should point out that I really enjoyed all the beers I had (bar one that my mate Karl chose, I thought I could trust him!!) and all were delivered in good condition, no mean feat during the summer I imagine.
But, where to go from here? What is to be done? I'm not leaving CAMRA, as i think there is much to admire about what you have done and are doing in the world of real ale and pubs and I continue to support these aims and values. However, maybe we need to take a break, maybe I should focus on the other great and varied beer festivals during the year and simply omit the big one in August? Yes, I think that might be the answer, after all, they do say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A weekend in London with friends and family Part Three

Now, if you have read parts one and two, it might come as no surprise that on Sunday, the day started a bit later than on the Saturday, but, breakfast / brunch was still provided by Costa's Café on the Kings Cross Road (can well recommend a visit if you want a decent bit of grub, as the saying goes "it does what it says on the tin"). Last Sunday was a lovely sunny day and time was on our side, so, we got a bus over to Hackney Wick, you see a lot from a London bus (also, as the Oyster machine was out of order, it was a free ride), I definitely spotted a few places I'd like to visit including pubs that advertise football and real ale / craft beer - heaven!
As you can see from the picture above, we paid a visit to Mason & Co. This my second visit to Mason & Co., the first was when they were in Shoreditch before Brewdog flashed the cash, and, if I am being honest I probably preferred the set up then versus this one now. Having said that, there's a lot to like about where they are now, especially when the sun has come out to play. The deck chairs and shades were all out in force on the River Lea at "Here East Campus" on the edge of the Olympic Park.
The service is top notch, as was the food we enjoyed, and I quite like the fact that it attracts a very mixed crowd, from the achingly hip (although I think a bloke in their 30s with the jeans halfway down his arse is uncalled for), to the families enjoying the Sunday carvery to the old guy with his greyhounds, which to be honest made him a bit of a babe magnet.
And, most important of all, a decent range of beers on tap (bottles and cans available too, but, I didn't avail myself of any). During London Beer City they had a Whitelocks (Leeds pub of note) Tap Takeover, Yorkshire beers it was then! We both started off Roosters Londinium, a chilled porter on nitro, very refreshing it was too. I was keen for us to try the two LBC beers, South London v North London was the theme, and the South, much to Michelle's pleasure, won hands down with the South Pacific Pale Ale, sadly the Pineapple inspired Agadoo was a real disappointment.
Time to move on. Following the waterway took us to the Howling Hops Tank Bar, a place that Michelle and I hadn't visited since November 2015, and, we immediately felt comfortable once inside. Hard to put my finger on why though, perhaps it is simply the sight of all those lovely shiny sliver tanks that are full of delicious fresh beer.
We found a little table against the wall near the bar and proceeded to work our way through a number of the beers on offer, we stuck to 1/3 pints, which worked perfectly for us. Recently, Michelle seems to be loving her sours & saisons, and, today she threw a wheat beer into the mix (the sour was really nice, sharp, fruity and tangy).. For my part I enjoyed all the beers I had, but, the NEIPA was a bit of a standout I must say. We both finished on the 11% Fighting Ale Imperial Stout, and boy did we both love it! My Untappd comments - "Easy drinking delicious impy stout. Coffee, bitter chocolate flavours without the alcohol burn." Michelle said "Awesome impy stout, smooth, great mouthfeel and delicious."

And, that as they say, was that. The beery bit of the weekend was finished. Great fun with my girlfriend, family and friends with some awesome beers and venues thrown in for good measure. We walked back to Stratford, past the fun fair (which I wasn't allowed to visit by Michelle.....) and saw the crowds on their way to the last night of the World Athletics Championships, it was an inspiring sight. As was this.
London, I love you.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A weekend in London with friends and family Part Two

A very good breakfast consumed at Costa's Café meant that all four of us were ready to head off to the Great British Beer Festival. The sun was shining and we were in good spirits, despite a night in the 'Lodge. This was a return visit for Michelle and Karl, but, Hannah's first for me, let's just say I've been a few times over the years!
Here are four beers that I tried that I really enjoyed, all them in great condition, the 360 Degrees and Roosters went especially well with the pork scratchings I bought and shared (when I say shared, Karl had one, and the girls declined my kind offer.....oh well). And, I was very pleased to see Chiswick on the Fullers bar, an underrated session strength bitter than should still (in my opinion) be part of their core range. With regard to the experience as a whole, I think I am still processing my thoughts on this so might be subject to separate post (you lucky lot!).

As Karl & Hannah were only in London until mid afternoon and Michelle & I were due to meet up with my brother and his partner, I decided there was only one place we could all go/meet - Brewdog in Shepherds Bush, and, this is why:
Need I say more? A Kernel tap takeover @ Brewdog..........yeah, it was such a tough decision!
While supping a rather excellent Export India Porter Zeus, we concluded that we should paddle our way through the range of beers on offer.
However, after paddle number one Karl & Hannah handed over their baton to Brian and Alison (the aforementioned brother & partner), who quickly got into the swing of things with their own paddles. In total I sampled 13 of the Kernel beers and threw in a Tokyo taster for good measure (courtesy of SXBottleshare friend, Andrew, cheers pal!) across a 6 hour stay in Brewdog. I won't bore you with all the details, but, according to Untappd, the lowest score was 3.5, with the highest being 4.25 - all of them I would have again, with the highlights being the Biere de Saison Honey, Biere de Saison Chardonnay and London Sour Damson. Don't get me wrong I loved the Pale Ales, the IPAs and the dark beers, but, the three I have noted above were so well balanced, so drinkable that they deserved the special mention (the burgers Michelle and I had are also worthy of a shoutout, we bloody loved them!)

Reluctantly, we all agreed that we needed to get over to Kings Cross (train for Brian & Alison, hotel for us), however, rather than sensibly stopping with the alcohol consumption, we decided to visit Belgo again, more Belgiany drinking fun ensued, plus we watched GB & NI win some medals in the 4 x 100m relays - get in, the spirit of Super Saturday lives on. The food that Brian & Alison devoured late on looked pretty damn good I must say, however, I was too busy enjoying my Bush Ambree and Troubadour Obscura to concern myself with food, although a cheeseboard might have been a good idea. Then the night was over, goodbyes were said, hugs and kisses all round and off we went.......or did we?
Michelle wanted to sample the cocktails next door in the posh place beside Belgo (my debit cried out in pain), while I opted for some gin. Saturday was finally over, so over, it was now Sunday! Goodnight all...........zzzzzzzzzzz.

Monday, 14 August 2017

A weekend in London with friends and family Part One

It's a Friday afternoon, it's sunny and I am having a pint of Marble Table Beer outside the Euston Tap with Michelle, I think you'll agree there are worse ways to start the weekend!
We were due to meet friends at The Parcel Yard for lunch but decided to have a couple of warm up beers en route, via the aforementioned Euston Tap, followed by The Euston Flyer (a Fuller's establishment along the Euston Road). I always look forward to a visit to the Parcel Yard, tucked away at the back of Kings Cross station, past Platform 9 3/4, it really is a beautiful place to spend time with friends (I can recommend the burger, the sandwiches and the fish n chips).

Next up was a visit to The Queens Head on Acton Street, a stone's throw away from probably the worst Travelodge you are ever likely to stay in (I know how to show a girl a good time!!).
The picture above was taken before 5pm, after 6pm it was busy inside and out, however it is well worth a visit, especially if you pick a night where there isn't a large number of young "screechy" and excitable girls in attendance. Excellent beer choices, the highlights here were The Kernel Pale Ale Citra and Siren Project Barista Turkish. I'd like to revisit when it's a bit quieter for longer as the place certainly had a charm about it.

On our way to Belgo Kings Cross (closer to Farringdon than Kings Cross in my opinion) we decided to stop at the Union Tavern, which took us past a nicer looking Travelodge, we looked on in envy and vowed never to talk of such things again. A couple of beers and a cheeseboard had everyone smiling again and I must say that the staff were very good and it is a pub I could spend some meaningful time in with cask and keg both well represented.

Time for some Belgiany beer.....Belgo is a chain, but, not one I had ever ventured into before. The one we went to is attached to a rather swanky wine/cocktail bar (more about that in part two) and the Crown Plaza hotel. It's smart, it's pricey but it was perfect to finish off the evening. And, they also have the best high chairs EVER!
Everything is very well presented, and although most of the beer choice is bottles, there are a few taps, including an old favourite of mine - Stella. I however indulged in a Trappistes Rochefort 10, a Saison Dupont and lastly, the Straffe Hendrik Brugs Tripel.

All in all, a very solid start to a beery weekend in the smoke. The four of us made our way back to the hotel that shall not be named looking forward to what the Saturday would bring.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Porterhouse beers in bottles

(Thanks @gingerdaniels13 for taking the pics again)
Porterhouse have decided to bottle some of their beers for the off sales market, 21 years after their first brewpub opened in Dublin, here's what Michelle and I thought of them.
Disclaimer from me - not a big fan of red ales, and, I'm afraid this offering didn't change my mind. My Untappd comments "Burnt ash on the nose was an unpleasant opening, the sweet malty flavour too much for me. Not a style I love, maybe better on tap?" Michelle however enjoyed it much more then me, her thoughts "Lovely, light red ale with a great taste, good colour but not much aroma."
As you can see we were definitely split on this one. Time to move on to beer number two.
Now, this was more like it, although whether it lives up to the title "Best stout in the world" is probably up for debate, especially given it is classed as a porter (Discuss?)
"Toast on the nose. A light dry bitterness with hints of sweetness running through it. Translates very well to the bottle."
Michelle was even more effusive than me "Awesome porter, lovely aroma, great taste and mouthfeel. Delicious could drink a few of these."
A thumbs up from both of us this time.
Decided to split the two dark beers with the pilsner (by the way what do you think of the bottle tops?), a strategy that worked rather well.
Michelle's comments first up this time "A lovely, malty pilsner with a great aftertaste and very easy to drink."
And, as you can see, our thinking on this one was very similar - "Slightly malty/biscuity nose, lovely refreshing carbonation, but, but not too fizzy. Easy drinking fruity flavour. Very good."
Agreement again, what about the last beer?
Further disclaimer - this was my favourite of the four beers, which as you can see from my Untappd comments is pretty obvious "Delicious. Jewel in the crown of the bottle range. Sweet chocolate notes, smooth mouthfeel." But, what did the Mrs think? "Smooth, good mouthfeel and an easy drinker. Lovely aroma loads of flavour." More agreement.
We didn't pay for these beers, but, pretty certain that we have provided honest comments.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

I was aged 7 in 1978

(Picture courtesy of @gingerdaniels13)

Yes, hard to believe, but I was around in 1978, at which point I was already living above an Off Licence (Unwins for those of you who are interested), Butcombe Brewery however, were only just starting out. To celebrate the year of their birth, they have introduced a new line up of beers under "The 78 Range", two of which were sent to me by Butcombe recently - Forty Two and Invader, a Session Black IPA and a Bock respectively.

I decided to share the tasting duties with Michelle, who very kindly agreed to help out (she's good like that), she also took the photos for me.

First up, was Forty Two, the Session Black IPA

(Picture courtesy of @gingerdaniels13)

Love the can, a bit of a "space" feel to it, which I guess is appropriate as it is was in 1978 that The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy gave us the answer to the ultimate question - 42, simple really.
(Incidentally Douglas Adams co-wrote my personal favourite Doctor Who story from the classic run - City of Death, filmed in Paris featuring Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor, even had a guest appearance from John Cleese).

Poured out nice and dark as you'd expect given the style, decent head retention too, always a good start to the proceedings. It's on the nose that I am sometimes wary of what a Black IPA might deliver, as personally I am not looking for those roasted toasty malty notes, and thankfully none of those were present. Although I am not looking for certain qualities I am always looking for a BIPA to be well balanced between the malt and hop notes and this was certainly the case, making this a session beer in its truest sense, I could have downed a few of them and chilled, it was all the more refreshing. It left a pleasant subtle sweet aftertaste, which only encouraged me to drink it rather too quickly, thankfully at only 4.2%, one can get away it!

Michelle's Untappd comments - Nice easy drinking black IPA, great taste throughout.
A thumbs up from both of us for beer number one.

The 6% Bock was next......

(Picture courtesy of @gingerdaniels13)

Space Invaders was launched in 1978, now that was a big deal! This really was the future, the world was never the same again.

The Bock slides down the glass with a colour reminiscent of a Barley Wine, a lovely copper colour indeed. I was hoping for a little more carbonation/life, but, what little there was, soon dissipated. However, I found it be a good example of the style. Slightly sweet, with a hint of sour too. I found there was gentle spicyness present with the malty backbone provided good balance (something these beers definitely had in common was balance and drinkability).
Michelle's Untappd comment - Sweet, wine like taste. Not a style I've had many of before and not really for me. 

Both beers were enjoyable, although naturally personal preferences played a part in our thoughts and opinions, we'd both definitely have the Black IPA again, and, I'd be keen to sample a few of the others from the 78 range based on these two offerings.

Thanks to Butcombe for sending me the two beers, no idea whether it influenced me or not, but, if you try either, let me know what you think, especially if you have tried them on tap.