The Cretan Craft. Part 1.

#allthesaisons Brew By Numbers

Brew By Numbers. What does that mean to you?  Well, to some it’s similar to painting by numbers, which we will now call drinking by numbers, only you have complete freedom over which numbers you choose, and all you have to do is match each one to the most suitable glass and enjoy.

For now, we have five beers and two glasses.  The beers are all Saisons, 750ml of course, and the glasses are Brew By Numbers own.

To make it nice and easy we’ll start from the beginning, and work up a little as we go along.

01|01 Saison Citra.

750 Citra

I first came across this beer around 12 months ago and it was the first Saison that made me think ‘wow, these Saisons are alright’.  Call it a Saison epiphany if you will.  It continues to blow my mind every time I drink it.  You’ve probably seen the hashtag beergasm, well, this is it for me.  Spicetastic, funktastic, citratastic and full to the brim with the Number’s Magic.

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This beer alone is the reason why I have chosen to do this with 750ml bottles.  Don’t get me wrong, the 330ml is good, but that extra volume takes it to another level.  The depth and intensity of flavour are unparalleled, and it starts with that aroma.

It hits you, and you know you’re in for a treat.  It’s classic Saison, with that funky spiciness coming from the yeast, but the hop pushes it forward.  The fruity funk delivery from the Citra completes the meet and greet, so you’d best taste it.

The spices used are really evident as you delve in, but there is a light maltiness there too.  Coupled to the yeast, this really does make for a satisfying drink.  And that hop, it just doesn’t go away.  With it’s relentless funky fruits hammering away at your taste buds, you’ll wonder why this doesn’t come in a bigger bottle.  I could quite happily take a magnum of this stuff.  Actually, no.  Make that a Jeroboam.

And that dry finish it leaves behind?  Well that’s your invitation to get stuck in with the next.

01|02 Saison Amarillo & Orange.

Amarillo Orange 1

The aroma, again, starts with the typical saison funk, but this time with a fistful of orange.  The taste is bittersweet orange, with the saison spice just creeping in along with a nice dose of bready malt.

It’s surprisingly quite smooth too, and doesn’t have the coarse carbonation of some Saisons.  That smoothness makes is very satisfying and so wholesome; it feels full bodied but it’s quite light at the same time.

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The finish is a mix of bread and cereal malts, and a light orange pithy bitterness.  It’s not too dry and some bananary notes also linger.  If you’ve started this off straight from the fridge, this beer benefits from being allowed to warm slightly, which really opens the beer up to release all those flavours.

01|09 Saison Hibiscus & Chamomile.

Hibiscus & Cham

Ever had a cup of chamomile tea followed by an Hibiscus Prosecco cocktail chaser?  No?  Ever thought of mixing them?  Thought not.  But if you did, you’d probably end up with something like this.

The funky Saison yeast hits you first, but it soon fades and is followed by the sweet fruity smell of the hibiscus and a dusting of orange.  The chamomile completes the breath and offers an almost savoury end prior to the tasting.

It’s similar to Prosecco, just much smoother, in the way that it’s dry and has a certain grape like character to it; The back of your mouth thinks it’s having a glass of the stuff.

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The dryness is also like chamomile tea.  It is exactly like the aforementioned mix would be on paper, although I doubt in practise it would be as successful.  The dryness extends and the finish builds for some time after.  It almost has an evolving woody note to it’s end, and it’s complexity will have you chewing your cheeks and lips to fully fathom it.  It’s definitely wood, or is it?  Could it be the chamomile?  It’s tricky to pinpoint, but it’s very intriguing nonetheless.

01|16 Saison Rakau.

Rakau

With a leisurely rush of bready malts, followed by a dash of funky yeast and the lightest of spice, this begins in a much more delicate way than the other beers here.  All the flavours are there but they’re chilled right out as they glance across your palate.  The beer is wholesome, and there’s a slightly sour kiwi fruit making it’s way along your tongue.  It leaves behind more of the earlier bread delivery, but contained within the sandwich is a splattering of grapes.

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The trail acts as a guide for the next mouthful, which after gaining a little warmth, becomes all the more exciting.  There’s more of everything; more funk, more spice, more sour kiwis rolling around your mouth, and more slices of malt too.  It’s still incredibly delicate, but if you allow it, you will become immersed in it.  Add a shade more warmth, and that bread becomes a freshly baked sourdough loaf.  Glorious.

01|17 Saison Enigma & Nelson.

Enigma Nelson

Think Saison, think white wine, think savoury.  Throw in some fruits and you’re close, but not that close.  There’s a good load of malt in there too.  Swill it, wake it up, and allow its aroma to unleash itself on your senses.  Peer through the faint banana and get yourself involved with the spice.  It’s got a kick, but you arrive at it in a more leisurely way than a hot curry.  Taste it; Cloves like a Kretek, and shouldn’t be rushed like one can’t either.

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Reminiscent of white wine, but you soon realise you have something far, far better.  There’s an increase in depth that you just don’t get with your favourite Sauvignon, but it’s hard to remember that this is actually a beer.  It has exactly the same dry finish as the wine, but with the added extras that keep your senses alive and brain ticking.  And you ask yourself, again, is this actually a beer?  You answer; it is. It’s fantastically dry, grapey, funky, spicy, murky; and an immensely satisfying offering.

For months I’ve been buying Saisons, all the Saisons in fact.  But none of them satisfy me in the way that those from The Numbers do.  I don’t know what it is exactly that makes them suit my taste, but it’s been a struggle to find anything else that comes close.  And after you’ve made your way through all the Saisons above, you’ll see exactly what I mean and you’ll be on the hunt for the rest.  And if you see a 750ml bottle, make it yours.

 

The Double IPA, is it a thing?

The early part of this year has seen some fantastic double IPAs. Some of which were seasonal brews showing their faces again, some were completely new beers, and others just didn’t quite know what they were. Or they did, except a newer, slightly different version was released before you’d even finished the last.

Now, I’m all for tweaking recipes and altering things to improve the final product, but it would seem that Cloudwater have progressed with their series of DIPAs a little quicker than everybody else; First came the original DIPA, followed swiftly by V2 and then rather rapidly by V3. V4 and V5 will soon be on their way too, but do we really need them both now?

All CW DIPA

Picture @ThaBearded1

So far, the Cloudwater DIPA series has been very successful, and each one different to the last, but I do wonder what will happen when VMax has been reached.

Moving away from Cloudwater and on to the rest of our DIPA offerings, we have the highly anticipated Human Cannonball from Magic Rock. This yearly brew has the beer geeks mouths foaming at the prospect of getting hold of it. Fortunately for me, I was one of those lucky geeks whose overcame the mouth froth, correctly engaged my talking organ and successfully purchased this beer. I also managed to fill my sweaty palms with an Un-Human Cannonball too. This, a Triple IPA has an even bigger froth factor that will make a mess out of even the hardest of beer geeks.

Cannonball Run

To get the most out of Human Cannonball and Un-Human Cannonball, you really should add the normal Cannonball IPA into the mix and take part in what is now known as the Cannonball Run. Not entirely like the film at all; no crazy doctors, no priests and unfortunately no 1980’s super hot girls in a Lamborghini either. But nevertheless, when drinking these ‘on the run’ you’ll see that these beers have everything in common with the two crazy Japanese guys in the Subaru. ‘Do sixty, sixty’ may well be your famous last words too, as you are propelled into hop heaven…..Or, it could be the that you end up in the pool after saying ‘I can’t see shit, can you?’

The next DIPA scored very highly on DIPA night. Not on your average Clintons sourced calendar, but on the Twitter calendar, it’s there alright. The score this beer received was 55|01. Quite a strange score that, I hear you say. Well yes, but then there’s more to the beer than just the score.

BBNo DIPA 1

55|01 is actually the first DIPA from Brew By Numbers. They’ve really made us wait for this, and you know what? I’m glad. No rush, no fuss and no V’s. Just a DIPA exactly the way it should be; extra everything, and a little of the BBNo magic too.

Born To Die from Brewdog may well have you thinking of Lana Del Rey, but you must stop, and stop now! Too late, it’s already dead. You spent too long thinking about Lana and now the beer is dead.

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Like all it’s predecessors it only had a short life, limited to weeks, and all the while you’ve been procrastinating about Lana, this poor beer has been gradually fading away without you even realising it. Shame on you!

As the hop fade of Born To Die was irreversible, this next beer is too. Irreversible is the DIPA from Twisted Barrel Ale, who are touted as being more folk than punk.

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Picture @Sparkyrite 

So as they sit on opposite corners of the ring, will they slog it out? Or will they embrace and just hug it out with a beardy cuddle? There might also be a rabbit thrown in for good measure. That’s not an elephant in the room, that’s a folking rabbit.

So, what do you think.  Is the DIPA a thing?

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.

 

Black Tor Brewery – The bottled beers.

Set in the beautiful Teign Valley, just outside of Exeter and right on the edge of Dartmoor, is the Black Tor Brewery.  Recently under new management and in the process of rejuvenating some familiar recipes, along with adding in some new ones, Black Tor are ready to deliver some fine ale, to not just their local Devonians, but to as far a field as their beer may be requested.  As Jonathon, the head brewer, personally delivers casks of beer to pubs dotted about the South West and further afield when called upon.

Using traditional brewing methods, along with combining local and natural ingredients supplied by Tuckers Maltings, Black Tor are producing some fantastic classic ales, which, offer a nice distraction to the rat race that is the world of Craft Beer.  And sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and relax with a fine ale instead.  Just take a minute, or twenty, and sit and ponder over the exquisite, deep, and long lasting flavours that a proper hand crafted ale can give up.  Take your time, enjoy, and savour every last drop.  You mustn’t forget, that traditional ales are the heart of our country, and deep in the depths of our counties, there’s many a fine brew being laboured over as we speak.

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In addition to the well travelled casks, Black Tor are now offering their beer in bottle conditioned form.  I was fortunate enough to be able taste a sample of Raven whilst on a recent work call to the brewery, and I was delighted by the fact that this beer would be available in bottles along with two others, Devonshire Pale Ale (DPA) and Pride of Dartmoor.

All of the trio are staple brews and offer a good insight to the brewery’s work, and I’m sure, once you’ve managed to empty your glass, slowly, you’ll be on the hunt for more.

So let’s get started shall we?  Pull up a chair, preferably your favourite one, set the dog on it’s bed and go.  Grab yourself a bottle of Raven and a glass.  Crack the top, release that gentle fizz, and now pour.  Nice and slowly, leaving the sediment behind, or not, its your choice after all.  Now sit down, put your feet up and admire that glorious, glowing, reddish copper liquid before you.

Raven

Allow your nose to take in the sweet caramel and berry aroma, breathe deeply now, we’ve only just begun and you’re in for a treat.  Follow that aroma, and dive in for a taste.  The smooth caramel butteriness develops into some further summer fruits, leaving you with a medium bitterness that just craves another gulp.

DPA

When you’re ready to move on from the Raven, it’s time to get acquainted with the DPA.  Offering another fantastic show of colour, the DPA sits before you proudly showing off it’s rich golden depth.  The aroma starts off a nice hint of caramel with a dusting of a fruity funk.  And it’s the gorgeous caramel that initiates the soft mouthfeel, leaving you with a lightly bitter and bready finish.

POD

And if you’re ready for your final instalment of the evening, then reach for the Pride of Dartmoor.  That beautiful, deep, autumnal glow lets you know that something good is sat before you.  With it’s grassy, biscuity aroma leading on to a taste that’s almost like a toffee apple, the soft mouthfeel leaves you with a lovely toffee taste and a light bitterness in the back of your mouth.

As is often the case with bottled ales, I do feel that they have lost a little something in the bottling process.  The Raven, at least, has a slightly fuller flavour when drawn from the cask, and it’s a shame that the same flavour profile isn’t present in the bottle.  But, all in all, these three are really nice ales, and Jonathon should be commended for his efforts in taking the brewery on and the work he has done in order to make these beers available.

He has the enthusiasm and also the will to create something good, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his brewing venture and also to thank him for providing the beers that enabled me to write this post.

Visit the Black Tor website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

Do you want the truth or something beautiful?

Gypsy, contract or fake brewers as they are sometimes known, clearly have a place in the current brewing scene but not everyone agrees with their presence or practices.

Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic is one of those who certainly doesn’t agree.

During the conference he climbed upon his soapbox and provided a passionate and spirited outburst and has certainly stirred up what is already a subject of much debate.

The point that Mr Hummler was trying to get across was that the blogging community really need to tell the truth in what they write and they should almost weed out the fake brewers and shame them for their practises.  He has some strong feelings about his friend Mikkeller, but by Jeans definition, the work that Mikkeller is doing and the way he is acting, he is not a brewer, he is a beer designer.  Who Jean, in his own words doesn’t give a shit about.

Now that’s all well and good, but surely what’s important here is that by whatever means a beer is brewed or conceived, as long as the end result is good, what does it matter, right?

And Mikellers brewing activities have created some spectacular and also some quite intriguing beers.

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I’m not going to delve too deeply into this but the views of others at the conference should be considered before you can really come to any kind of conclusion on the current industry practises.

Chris Sullivan, of Stone Brewing Berlin, spoke to me and provided a great point about the relevance of gypsy/contract brewers. He views it as a ‘way in’, or ‘foot in the door’ to brewing for the home brewer or smaller brewer.  Who on their own may not have the means to set up a full blown brewing operation. It is also a way to rejuvenate old and possibly tired breweries whose production may have wained or are maybe struggling.  Which he cites has been the case for some German breweries.

So by allowing gypsy/contract breweries this can have two huge benefits. One for the brewer trying to make a name for themselves and also for the older breweries who may be looking for some inspiration to continue or improve. Some, and clearly Jean Hummler, see this as a massive problem, as by the dictionary definition of a brewer and brewery they can almost be viewed as being fake.

There are other views too, such as this held by An De Ryck of Brewery De Ryck. She believes that without that fundamental and historic link between brewer and his brewery, there is no brewer.  She believes that you must eat, sleep and breathe the brewery to truly be recognised as a brewer.  And it is this link that is clearly missing from the whole process whilst a contract brew is taking place.

Coming away from the conference, I pondered a lot on this matter and felt as if the content I’d heard at the conference could and should be expanded on.

So on my return home I decided to talk with The Occasional Brewery, a young, local nano-brewery whose brewing capacity is checked to 100 litres.

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Toby, and Fin the head brewer, shared these thoughts, over a beer of course.

We started our operations by expanding on our home brewing, we stepped up from brewing as a hobby and made it into our business.  As a small brewery we see contract brewing as a great way to further expand operations and make beer available to a bigger audience.  It’s a good way to grow a business without so much of the initial financial outlay, which can offer a little more security too.

By remaining relatively small, we have a lot of freedom when it comes to making decisions about what we brew; which is something that you don’t necessarily see in the larger commercial breweries.

But you also have to remember that commercial brewers are all out to make money, it’s their business, and the beer is just a product of that.  All business has to be profitable for it to remain viable, and if that requires the services of another business, well that’s just life.  You’ll encounter contracting and sub-contracting in all types of business, the world would be a very different place without it.

Mikkeller has clearly found a gap in the market and by being a good entrepreneur and businessman he is taking full advantage of it.  He is also feeding his knowledge and experience directly back into the beer market for others to experience first hand.

We as brewers, and also the consumer can learn a lot from what he is doing.  He’s not stuck with any kind of tradition or fallen into a specific category, and he’s been very successful in the process.  He’s just gone about his business, giving the bird to everyone else and just carried on in a way he’s sees fit.

The man should be respected for this.

Hop Head. Sour Saint.

Sour beers; my first taste of a sour beer took place at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed.

On the lead up to the conference I’d read a little about sour beers and was curious to try them and see what the fuss was all about.  I wondered whether they really had a place or were they just going to be a fad and the next cool beer to be seen drinking.

I went into the conference completely open minded and was certainly not going to refuse to try them.  But from the outset they just didn’t seem to sit right for me.  I have no problem with challenging tastes, nor with something that’s a little bit different, but the sour flavour given up by these beers was really a massive step way beyond everything I’d tasted before.

I am in no way disrespecting the brewers of these beers, as evidently they have gone to a lot of effort and expense to bring these products to the market, I’m just saying they are not to my taste.

During the conference, the issue of whether a beer can be good or bad was discussed.  The answer that was hit upon did sum it up, almost, just in a very diplomatic way stating that, really, there are no bad beers, just beers that need to find the right audience or market.  I do agree with this to a point, but to some people, there will always be bad beers.  If you come across a beer that you don’t like, then you can’t confidently and truly say that it’s a good beer, it’s just impossible.

Think of it this way, if there was no such thing as a bad beer, would we all be drinking the same, single type of beer, as there would be no need to brew anything else?

Not everybody can, should or will like sour beer.  And this choice should be respected as much as it is for the people who do like them. They’re not wrong for not liking them, it’s their choice and mine too, and here’s why;

Sour beers just do not give me what I want from a beer.  I want a beer to be enjoyable and a pleasure to drink in whatever form it may take, and unfortunately I just don’t feel that a sour beer can satisfy me in this way.  I’m not necessarily asking for something dead safe or boring, but for something that isn’t quite as outlandish or as challenging to my taste buds as a sour beer is.

I don’t want my beer to replicate a seaside supper condiment.  For me it should be inviting, satisfying, and not something that rips your mouth apart and leaves you looking like Esther Rantzen after that initial sharp draw of breath through your teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I know sour beers do have their place, but unfortunately that place is not in my drinks cupboard.