Last Voyage

It’s malty, with slices of bread on its tail, but that was just the end of the voyage; with moments and levers in perfect harmony, what came before was pure IPA glory, with perfect balance in every aspect of flavour and figure.

A spicy concoction of bitterness precedes, led by an onslaught of tropical fruit with its oozing crevice hunting aroma. 

However, immediately prior to this display of wealth, it was just sat there, slowly showing off its gradually appreciating globe. 


The pour was insignificant, in that its qualities were as yet unknown. It’s removal from the fridge was as untroubled as it’s first voyage in my possession; from the bottle shop where I caught my first glance, shortly before its last voyage began. 

How was your last voyage? 

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The Cretan Craft. Part 1.

Through The Grapevine

With their initial crowd funding target of £35,000 now making its way into the history books, Crossed Anchors Brewery have completely surpassed all their expectations and are now a fully up and running 6 barrel brewery.  And with two awards under their belt, the future’s looking promising.

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At the launch party, a good number of the invited investors came down to find out exactly what they have helped to create, and of course to sample the resultant beer.

In their home at Exmouths Grapevine, which also incorporates Ruby Burgers, the three are a trio which offers everything.

Arguably the best burger joint ever to grace Exeter, Ruby weren’t a slouch when it came to beer either.  Prior to their relocation, I knew of no other restaurant to offer Brooklyn Local 1.  And I’m yet to find another, although, I do wonder where all THAT beer went after the move?

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The Grapevine itself is a fantastic pub, a proper pub.  With a good selection of cask beer, and a worldwide collection of bottles, you’ll be hard pushed to find something that won’t satisfy.  On the bar today were two of Crossed Anchors offerings, Cascade SMASH Hopburst and Weisse Guy.

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However, I was going to be drinking these from a different set of casks, namely the gravity casks in the brewery itself.

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As Adrian receives his dose of Billy banana and Charlie clove, in the form of Weisse Guy, I’m instantly surrounded by an aura of Cascade aroma that’s just erupted from the slightest tweaking of the SMASH’s tap.  It’s incredible, and it doesn’t stop there, I can feel the beer fizzing and tingling away along the sides of my tongue as it’s wholesome 3.8% wriggles its way deeper.  This beer is fantastic, I think I’m gonna need a refill pretty soon.

Back in the pub, Paddy and Olly make their speeches, mainly to thank the people who have put in a lot of effort to help them get where they are today, and also to thank their wives for putting up with their endless beery wittering.

But, at the end of the day, just look where that support can get you.  And you can do your bit too, by either visiting The Grapevine to sample some brewery fresh beer, or grab some bottles from various local suppliers such as Hops & Crafts, Darts Farm, Greendale and Joshua’s.

And watch out Bristol and Plymouth, the Anchors are coming for you!

A pint

Sitting before me is a pint.  A pint of beer.  Of what beer is of no consequence.

It’s just a pint, or is it?

It’s inviting.
It’s inclusive.
It’s exclusive.
It’s beautiful.
It’s admirable.
It’s enough.
It’s not enough.
It’s game changing.
It’s ice breaking.
It’s face breaking.
It’s heart breaking.
It’s heart healing.
It’s mind healing.
It’s evoking.
It’s provoking.
It’s challenging.
It’s normal.

It’s just a pint, or is it?

#allthesaisons Burning Sky

Knowledge, understanding and skill are three words that you don’t usually see on beer labels.  However, all three are required when it comes to making the stuff and Burning Sky’s Saisons are no exception.  With a mix of ingredients, from the typical to the foraged, these complex Saisons show off these requirements beautifully.

You mustn’t forget time either, with each of the barrel aged batches the beers evolve and have subtle differences in each iteration.  You may revisit these beer in twelve months time and discover different nuances of flavour or some other characteristic that just wasn’t there previously.

But for now, we’ll enjoy them as they stand.  So pull up a chair, grab a glass, and enjoy, all the saisons.

Saison l’Automne.

Is it really breakfast time already?  Slightly sour cornflakes overwhelm your nose.  They’re drenched in spicy saison with a rose hip topping, so it’s cool to take them now.  The beautiful cereal maltiness resists diminishment and holds up well against the spice, but the spice doesn’t let go either, lick your lips, can you feel it?

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Saison yeast, hops, rose hips, cereal killer malts, what more do you want?  Who me?  Another bottle perhaps.  For now I’ll keep going with this though; a certain grape element is making itself known, not massively, but it lingers in your nose, your throat and on your tongue.  It softens, and becomes more cereal.  Breakfast indeed.

Saison Le Printemps.

Spicy, gingery, becoming saison funky, hoppy aroma hits you.  Not too heavy on the pepper but it gives a little warning of its presence.  Bready malts ensue, carrying along with them the fruits of the hops.  The beer’s fresh and the malts end up giving a satisfying, sweet, sugary, almost Loveheart tinge.

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It remains hoppy, with some lashings of citrus thrown in.  But wait, the pepper is back, it’s clinging on for dear life as the beer ends, but that warm, spicy, dry finish is so good.  And five minutes later, your lips are still peppered.

Saison à la Provision.

Bit of a tart in your hands now.  It’s still saison, but with a massive tart sourness that makes you brush your teeth with your tongue.  What else do you find in there?  Gorgeous saison yeast, beautiful bready malts, a warming spice.  White wine musk too, or is that just showing off?  The malts dominate, but don’t overpower.  The extra abv also makes itself known.  Not in a bad way, but it adds a hugging warmth that the others here don’t have.

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The finish is still incredibly tart, and the brett is there too, but it’s right at the back.  You all know it’s there, but it’s under complete control.  Just like the naughty kid who’s been sent to the back of the class.  Still mouthy and wants to make his presence known, but if he steps out of line, you know he’s gonna get it.  And get it he does from the glorious malts.  They keep him in check alright.

Saison l Été.

Who knew you could have such a thing as a gooseberry sandwich.  Well you can, and yours is served with a fresh elderflower pressé on the side.  It’s a tart awakening that’s sweet and smooth.  The beautiful malts fall neatly in line behind that gooseberry sharpness presented at the start.

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It’s luscious as it makes its way through your teeth.  But the sharpness keeps prickling away; jaws clench like a thirst quenched snare as a shoal of gooseberries meander through.  Some sour malts finish the bite as it beckons you in for more.  And as your glass becomes empty, the elderflower makes itself known.  It adds a mild floral finish to the malty saison funk.

Saison Anniversaire.

Funky, bready, white wine grape aroma.  Light herb notes with a savoury spice. Let it breathe, without forgetting to give yourself time to breathe.  Put some on your tongue.  Feel it glide around, leaving little hints of its contents behind.  Spices tickle, bubbles tickle, that wine dryness doesn’t tickle, but it mops up well leaving a nice tart bite and slightly sweet grain behind.

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Sit back, admire, but feel sorry for your empty glass.  Do it a favour and put it out of its misery.  The warmer the saison, the grainier it becomes, not in texture though.  The wine side is relaxed, becoming lemony, but retains that Chardonnay musk.  Three glasses in and things are getting a little funky.  Concentrate.  A previously hidden hoppiness is now evident, subtle, but delightful.  It does well to inhibit the musk, making this beer end just like a funky saison should.

Cuvée Reserve 2015-2016.

A relatively calm collection of earthy oak, sour grapes and apples, and bready malts sit before you.  Relaxed carbonation requires a little encouragement prior to their nasal journey.  Entry is confirmed, but due only to the funk they bring.

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Take a sip.  Lip smack like a face plant, this sour tart unleashed.  Musk, perfumes its way around, leaving trinkets, dotted of sweet malts and the sour blend.  It’s aged, grown up perhaps, but still full of the vigour of Provision.  A late spice, hearing of the funk wants in, could it be too late?  The party is drying, but the spice takes a hold.  Delicate malts are left in the wake.  Persistent are the fruits, slightly fermented perhaps, but sweet and inviting.  And the bread is there to catch you on the way down, softening the sour blow.

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So the next time you find yourself sat in a field waiting for the sun to rise, don’t think, look at that burning sky.  Think, I need some Burning Sky.

Tapstone, Opium Wars. A beer on the silky side of hoppiness.

Brewer of, perhaps, the most interesting beer at the recent CAMRA Festival of Winter Ales in Exeter, is the Tapstone Brewing Co, and that beer is Opium Wars.  Billed as ‘An unfined dark brown beer.  Strong hop aroma and citrus flavours and a lingering finish’ it is in actual fact an oily, black IPA.  Unfortunately by the time I’d managed to get myself to the festival, this beer had run out.  However, on further investigation I discovered that the Tapstone Brewing Co is based in Chard, and I have just started a new job working out of, you’ve guessed it, Chard.  So, off I went to find the brewery and get me some of that beer.

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Chard is not a big place, and neither is the industrial estate on which the brewery is based, but could I find it?  Eventually after driving round and round for the whole of my lunch break, I saw a clue.  A white van parked outside a nondescript unit with beer casks peeking out of it’s open door.  This has to be it, and there it was.  The unit door was open so in I walked, to find James Davies, the brewer.  After a quick introduction, I was led into the business part of the brewery.  Not big either, but all the kit was there and the room smelled absolutely incredible.  I’m sure James’s nose has become accustomed to the smell, but it was a glorious dose of fruity tropical hops, and I was in heaven.

At the rear of the brewery are the two main vessels, and contained in one was the next batch Opium Wars.  Still conditioning, I was told it wouldn’t be ready for a couple of weeks.  We discussed pumps and flow rates, and agreed that I should return after said conditioning time had elapsed.

A few weeks later I returned to the brewery.  When I arrived James was casking up a new, low abv beer, called Zen Garden.  At 3.6% this is the lowest strength beer that the brewery has produced.  The aim was to create a massively hopped, light beer with a decent body.  And after a quick taste, I can confirm that it’s pretty much met that mark.

Zen Garden

We picked up from our previous conversation and began to talk oxygen and the way that it affects beer.  James’s desire to rule out any oxidation that could occur is evident when you see just how full my bottle was.  But even filled to this level James isn’t satisfied.  As in his mind, the bottle should be filled to the brim, to fully preserve all the hoppy goodness contained within and prevent any oxidation from occurring.

Now, back to the main reason for my visits, Opium Wars.  This beer never usually reaches bottles, in fact, none of Tapstone’s beer usually ever makes it into bottles.  So I have been very fortunate to be able to obtain this bottle and I am also very grateful.

Let’s start with the label.  With its simple graphics and just enough information to tell you what’s inside, it’s like what you’d expect to find on a white label promo record.  And during my record collecting days, these ‘white labels’ were the hens teeth and most collectable of all records.  I’ve still got boxes of vinyl, all doing exactly what I’m not going to do with this beer, ageing.

Opium Wars

The beer, pours a very dark brown with its grassy, roasted chocolate notes making their way around the room and deep into your nostrils.  As it’s luscious, slick, velvety body lands on your tongue, your senses are kicked into life by the light citrus, cherries and bitter chocolate contained within.  And the presence of the dark chocolate leaves behind a sublime bitter finish that just lingers, and lingers, and lingers.

This is a truly stunning example of a black IPA, it’s not just an unfined dark brown beer with a strong hop aroma, citrus flavours and a lingering finish.  No, this is much, much more than that.  The depth of the flavour and complexity are outstanding.  It’s balanced too.  The aroma hits you first and that flavour just drags you in.  Not to mention the feel of the thing.  It’s absolutely magnificent.

 

2015, my year in beer. Part two.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Wonton Two Ton

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.

Sundae Bloody 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.

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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.

Edison

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.

Elemental

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.

Cherry

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.

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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!