As it happens, the European Beer Bloggers Conference was in Brussels at the end of August, and I just had to go. But prior to that my wife had organised a surprise visit for us to Belgium earlier in August. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma. Should I really go to Belgium twice in a matter of weeks? Yes I said, and off we went.
Learning from the visit to Budapest, I took notes at every opportunity; whatever was in my head, at any given time, I wrote down and took a photo wherever I could. And this left me with a diary of thoughts over the days of our holiday. These thoughts were expanded upon and formed the series of posts that became Saisons in the Sun.
I loved writing these three posts, as I felt they really captured exactly what we experienced during our holiday and were a complete departure from anything I had written previously.
Whenever I read anything that Adrian Tierney-Jones has written, I get the impression that he has also written down exactly what is in his mind at that precise moment in time, and he has effortlessly transcribed those thoughts into blog posts and articles that just keep you wanting more. It’s a fantastic way of writing and I have to say I love it. Some of what Adrian writes is like poetry and it’s fascinating to read!
A week or so before the conference, I glanced over the list of attendees and recognised a few names of people who I followed on Twitter and whose blogs I had read. I was really looking forward to it, but I was daunted by the thought of having to write about it afterwards; as apart from the Russian Doll post, everything I’d compiled so far had been off my own back and for me.
This fear soon went as the conference began, as during the registration period I was greeted by a fellow blogger who mentioned they had read my ramblings and said they really enjoyed reading it! This was totally unexpected, but I really appreciated it and it made me feel at home.
Looking round the room I saw two familiar faces, well the faces of two familiar names to be precise. Matthew Curtis and Chris Hall. Chris, a prolific beer writer, who, works for Brew By Numbers, had assisted me with me some information for Citra Session, so it was great to meet him and be able to thank him in person. And Matthew, well, he is a beer writing machine, who has the enviable ability to produce consistently good work, time and time again. It was a pleasure to meet him here too.
There were so many really great people in attendance at the conference, so many in fact, that I didn’t get the chance to speak to half of them! But those who I did mange to collar were all decent people and all there for the same reason; to share their love of beer and writing about it.
Two people who really stood out over the weekend were the Irish Beer Snobs, that’s Mr & Mrs Irish Beer Snob, Wayne and Janice to be correct. The pair of them, like beer encyclopaedias, but great fun at the same time. Not that I’m saying everyone else was boring, because they weren’t, but I felt we were on the same level. And I’m sure Wayne downed a pint of the black stuff whilst nobody was looking!
Another thing that really struck me was the distances that some people had travelled to be there. I thought I’d had it bad having to get up at 4am to get into London to catch the Eurostar to Brussels, after having only five hours sleep the night before! But no, there was a certain Brazilian journalist who trumped my journey. Another absolutely top man who was always outside smoking, so who knows what he ended up writing!!
During the conference sessions I made an incredible amount of notes in a bid to try and capture everything that had been discussed. But looking back over these, I realised that what I should have done was just pick two or three subjects and concentrated on getting as much information as possible about the chosen matter. As when I was at home, I really struggled to make any sense of what had happened over the weekend.
I knew I had to write something, but just didn’t know what to write about! Then it struck me, during Jean Hummlers outburst, he insisted that, us, as bloggers, should be more truthful about what we write and be critical about things we didn’t like or don’t agree with, just making sure that we did it in a constructive manner.
The whole weekend had been dominated by sour beers and the brewing industry in Belgium. I had some strong feelings about the sour beers I’d tried, so along came Hop Head, Sour Saint. I’m still unsure about whether publishing this was the right thing to do, but I felt I had to get it off my chest. Who knows, maybe the right sour beer could end up being my next Saison.
My second conference related post discussed contract brewing, which is a subject that a lot of writers know a fair bit about. After reading a few of the posts that other attendees had written, I decided that I would try and do something a little different and add in some non-conference material. I didn’t want my post to be a carbon copy of the conference session, so by talking to a local nano-brewery I was able to give my post a little twist. Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful is what I ended up with.
After the conference I settled back into my normal routine and wondered where to go next with my blog. It was then I discovered a new bottle shop was due to be opened in Exeter. This was quite special as up until now there really wasn’t anywhere in the City Centre that offered a decent selection of craft beer in the form of a dedicated bottle shop. As I mentioned in my post about Hops & Crafts, Whistle Wines used to be my port of call prior its closure. Even though the selection was limited to a few local breweries, the choice was good, and I paid a visit pretty much every Friday on my way home from work. It was a shame when the shop closed, but the Whistle Wine Club is still extant for the wine lovers amongst you.
Chris Harper, of Hops & Crafts however, has done a fantastic job of filling the gap that Whistle Wines had left and I can see myself becoming one the regulars, as the shop is still on my route home from work!
On top of consuming and writing about beer, one thing that had caught my eye was beertography. I was intrigued by this new ‘thing’ as previously, I, like many others had just placed a glass next to the beer, and snap! But during the year and through the course of creating my blog, I had taken quite a few photos of beer. Some of these were just a photo of the beer, but some were a bit different. Lots of people were trying new things with beertography and I wanted a bit of this too. Chris, @mindlesspizza is a dab hand at this, and you really must check out his efforts. His bokeh like rendering of the background is fantastic which really makes the subject stand proud.
I’d seen the floating can trick, with the can held on to the edge of the glass by the ring pull. I even did it myself.
But I’d yet to see somebody do it with a bottle. So I set up this shot ready for Craft Beer Hour when Moor Beer Company were hosting and, contrary to popular belief, did not use Photoshop. I might even do this one again but use a bottle of their Illusion instead!
Following this I took a few more shots that weren’t just of the beer, or they were, but I still tried to add a little twist to each one.
I’d had a bottle of Buxton Brewery Two Ton for a couple of weeks and liked the sound of Wonton, Two Ton. So took this.
I also managed to grab a few bottles of Yellow Belly and Yellow Belly Sundae. For quite rare beers photos of them were everywhere, but seeing the mirror on the Sundae bottle gave me an idea. I positioned a bottle of Yellow Belly just out of shot but captured its reflection in a carefully placed mirror to make it look as if it was preying on the Sundae.
On top of this, Craft Beer Hour has been a fantastic thing throughout the last year. I always enjoy grabbing an early week beer and sitting down to take part. Craft Beer Hour has really opened my eyes to a lot of previously unknown breweries and beers. It’s also brought a lot pot people together to talk, and share their common love of beer. It is fantastic and I commend Tom for all his efforts in setting it up.
Further thanks has to go to Tom, for one week when the Electric Bear Brewery were due to host. They are a fairly young brewery and their beers are currently confined to the beautiful city of Bath. However, in the week prior to their hosting I was asked whether I’d like to play a proper part in the next Craft Beer Hour. How could I refuse? I loved being part of CBH and was more than happy to help. That help involved being kindly sent a few sample beers from Electric Bear with the premise of talking about them and playing a part in CBH.
This was fantastic, as with my electrical connections and background I had some great ideas for some photographs. I had no idea which beers would be sent out but I knew that my workplace would play a big part in preparing for the evening.
I wanted to give each shot some relevance and a link to something beyond the beer.
Edison, their Czech style lager, is a crisp pilsner hopped with Hallertau, Perle and Saaz which ends up being a nice dry pilsner with a citrus finish. And with Edison being the electrical link here I used an Edison style lamp as a prop for the shot.
Following this was Elemental, a session strength IPA jam packed with US hops and balanced with pale malts.
The prop here was a ceramic insulator from a high voltage substation, and before you ask, yes I do have lots of these and the one in the shot lives in our front room.
The final beer for the evening was the truly fantastic Cherry Blackout. Morello cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate, there is nothing about this beer that’s not to like.
Out came the candles and some cherries to complete the shot.
To finish off my year I paid a visit to the Black Tor Brewery. Based in the Teign Valley just outside of Exeter, they are producing some fine traditional ales in a bid to resurrect the historic name of the Gidley’s brewery. My work brought me here to repair a water pump, well beer pump, one that transferred the beer from the copper, through the heat exchanger and into the fermenters. The pump was duly fixed and I was offered some refreshment.
No coffee here, just an approximate third of their beautiful Raven. Which, hopped with all English hops, Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles, is a rather fruity and easy drinking session ale.
And that concludes my 2015. Let’s look forward to 2016 and all the good beer that it will bring. Cheers!