The Cretan Craft. Part 1.

Golden Pints 2016

Welcome to my first ever Golden Pints.  You’ll find that it doesn’t conform to the same formula as everybody else’s.  Why should it?  This has been my year in beer, and for that reason alone I’m writing this my way and not to a prescribed formula.

So here you are.

Best bottled beer.

Marble Brewery, Portent of Usher.

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It’s difficult to explain exactly what this beer did to me when I drank it.  But I wished it would never end, it’s sumptuous, heavenly, warming and probably one of the best beers I’ve had this year.

Best Cask beer.

Tapstone Kush Kingdom.

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Photo credit: @forkandcarrot 

Hazy, fruity, gloriously full in the mouth.  Difficult to believe that it’s actually a cask beer.  The body and life of the thing are truly fantastic, definitely should be one of your five a day.

Best Canned beer.

To Øl Sur Mosaic.

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You really don’t need anything else in a can, but this.  Fact.

Best Double IPA.

The Number’s 55|01.

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It’s pretty damn near perfect, in every way.  Coupled to the way it just appeared, with no fuss.  Bang, here’s our first Double IPA.  Thank you very much.  The rest of you can stay at home.

Best Cloudwater DIPA.

V6 all the way, that aroma is just incredible.  So good in fact, that I’d quite happily have it as an air freshener.

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The order of the rest?  Oh just put the remaining version numbers into ERNIE and see what comes out.

Best use of beer tiles.

So many people have used beer tiles this year, it’s been a tricky one to conclude.  Do you go for consistency or variety?  Here’s some of my favourites of this year.

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Photo credit: @HoptimisticDude

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Photo credit: @Myles Lambert

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Photo credit: @Sparkyrite

But I think the overall winner has to be this from Matt The List.

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Best beertographer. 

Tom Denham has taken some spectacular shots this year.  Lighting and depth of field have been pretty near perfect in most of his shots, the subjects haven’t been too sloppy either.  Think he and I need a bit of a photo competition.

Best BBNo Saison.

All of them.

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What do you mean one?  Really?

Ok, if I must.  It begins 01|

Best professional drinker.

Not saying, but here’s a link to the AA should you ever need it.

Best blog.

Has to be Adrian Tierney-Jones.  I’ve not kept up with a lot blogs as much as I should have done this year, and neither have I kept up with my own for that matter.  But I always manage to find time to read Adrians.  It’s pure beer poetry, no matter what he writes.  One could say it’s poetry in mash tun.

Best personal beery achievement.

Becoming an ambassador for St Austell’s Proper Job.

Sharing my love of this glorious beer with other like minded people and informing others of its presence has been great fun.  I’ve met some fantastic people over the last twelve months through being an ambassador, and I’m looking forward to 2017 and plenty more Proper Job.

Because as they say, it’s always Proper Job o’clock!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

50 Shades Of……

About a month or so ago, I managed to secure a bottle of the very limited run that Innis & Gunn produced to coincide with the release of the film 50 Shades Of Grey. It was called 50 Shades Of Green and was billed to be a beer that was “infused with ginseng and other aphrodisiacs” and contained fifty different hop varieties.

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Now if you’re a hop head, like me, all this sounds incredible. Just think of the flavours that could be gleaned from fifty different hops in a single beer, whereas the majority of other, normal beers, may only include two or three, and an aphrodisiac to boot? I’m in……

And when said bottle arrived, cocooned in a simple brown box, with a couple of green hearts stamped on to it, it kind of reminded me of the subtle, and supposedly nondescript packaging, that may contain some form of illicit goods that you need to hide from somebody. It’s a nice touch, but is it deliberate or did the money run out after committing to all those hops?

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Contained within the cocoon, along with the bottle, is a list of all the hop varieties used to compile the beer and also a fidelity contract that states that you must not indulge in any other beer brand for one month!

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Well if I’m to be honest, I may have cheated and consumed some beer from another source. What will my punishment entail?

So after all of this, is this beer worthy of all the hype?

I dove in and opened my bottle expecting to be floored by an overwhelming global hop aroma, but instead I was greeted by a subtle biscuity malt smell. Hmmm. There’s a hint of pepperyness from all those hops, but it’s mainly malts with a mild grassy tinge coming through.

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Feels good on the tongue though, nice and full, but smooth too. There’s a light bitterness in there that’s coupled with a citrus taste and the finish is soft, but slightly uninspiring.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but I feel maybe too much is going on and some flavours are being cancelled out by others. It’s just not what I was expecting and certainly not the hoppy head rush I kind of wanted.

This is a good pale, but if I’m honest, some smaller breweries out there are getting much, much more from the ingredients they have available to them.

This is a shame as normally Innis & Gunn produce beers that are quite outstanding. The variety of flavours is very good and usually you’d only need to wave a Toasted Oak IPA or a Scotch Whiskey Porter in my face and you’d have my attention.  But somehow 50 Shades is lacking, and it’s not for the want of trying. Cramming 50 hop varieties into one beer is no mean feat, but I feel the hype surrounding the original 50 Shades has got the better of them and the beer is just a sales tactic.

A Date with The Russians

I’m not one to cheat, but when your wife goes to Berlin for the weekend and you have some ladies saved for an evening together…… Well, you just have to oblige and take advantage of the situation. (Now you must realise that I’m not actually going to cheat and the ladies in question are the four Brewdog Russian Dolls).

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So, phone off, lights dimmed and John Legend setting the mood, I collect the Dolls from their hiding place.

I’ve never been great at judging a book by it’s cover and I would always get sucked in by some pretty pictures to then realise what I’d actually bought was a pretty poor and expensive leaflet.

But, on this occasion, I was anything but let down. The artwork just jumps out and pulls you in, and I mean it drags you in. If you’ve read about the Dolls but haven’t tried them by now, then you are really craving them, and the artwork just adds to the fascination. Miles away from being just a beer label on a generic four pack, it doesn’t need an aged He-Man wannabe prancing around a studio glacier to sell it, this is art.

What Brewdog have done is made everybody who loves their beer become completely infatuated by it, and the artwork is almost collectable. I mean you’re not just going to see these ladies put out for recycling now are you?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even want to open these. They have been in my beer box since Christmas and I wanted to hoard them and guard them forever. Every time I went to grab a beer, I’d check to make sure they were still there. No one else would drink them, but I saw myself as their guardian, protector almost.

But as I’ve said, my wife’s in Berlin and I have a date….

So just what are the Dolls. Are they quads? Two pairs of twins? Or just sisters? Well, although they share the same DNA, they are anything but identical.  The same hops and malts may be used in each beer, but they’re blended in different quantities to give a different, and progressively higher ABV for each iteration.

So, lets get ourselves acquainted shall we….

The Pale. She’s not necessarily one to play it safe, just measured, balanced and in control. You could hang out all day and she wouldn’t put a foot wrong or say anything out of place. But she knows just how to keep you from straying.

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Pours with a light golden colour, nice and clear. Has a good and fine head that quickly diminishes.
The aroma is delicate and citrusy that’s ever so lightly peppered. You really have to chuck your nose in to get at it, but it’s good. It opens up nicely on tasting, being really fresh, crisp and bitter. This is a good classic pale.
It’s lush and velvety in the mouth, with quite a similar finish to Dead Pony, only slightly softer on flavour.

The IPA. She’s definitely a step up. Got a cheeky side. Like a drunk student moving for-sale signs, she can have fun but she knows when to call it a night.

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Just a whisker darker than the pale, with a slight cloudiness caused by suspended bubbles. More intense aroma, more proud, and it’s all about the citrus fruits. This really reminds me of candied orange and lemon segments. The bitterness has increased and tasting is of creamy orangeyness. It’s far from being pure OJ, but it’s there alright. And that orange flavour lingers right in the back of your throat too.

The Double IPA. Now things are starting to get interesting. She’s bitter, a bit twisted. Constantly in your face and ensures that you take the rap whilst she carries on.

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Again we’re going darker in colour, similar aroma to the IPA, just a smidge more of it and hunting isn’t necessary; we’re making real progress now. The orange is tangier and now slightly marred by the creeping malt presence. The malts are starting to give off a mild honey note which makes this sweet on the tongue. Still very bitter but the sweetness balances it nicely. There’s also a good chunk of caramel coming through. The increase in viscosity since the Pale and IPA is noticeable but it’s far from being chewy; just a good round texture. This is an excellent Double IPA, which offers a slightly different take to what I’m familiar with. But go careful though, we’ve left the session drinks far behind now….

The Barley Wine. Well, imagine Shirley Manson fed purely on a diet of Buckfast; Indefatigable, unashamedly full on and certainly not one to bring home to meet your parents.

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Much much darker now, with the presentation being a deep reddish brown. Pours with the same fine head as all the previous Dolls, just slightly slower, and with nothing in suspension, due to the further increase in viscosity. The fruitiness of the aroma has dulled and very is close to becoming overpowered by the extreme maltiness. Exceedingly sweet, with an intense hit of malty, toffee-esque, jammy alcohol coming through. It almost has a whiskeyness creeping in around it’s depths and because of this, you’d best take your time…..

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Having these beers just sat there waiting was hard. They were like the actress with seductive glasses, you know the one, who when she removes them becomes the star? Yeah. Except in this instance, she was keeping them on and withholding her secret, a secret that I was so desperate to reveal. And now, with the glasses removed, I can assure you it was worth the wait.

Bermondsey Arches Breweries.

My wife’s birthday falls far too close to Christmas. I’ve put in numerous requests for it to be moved, but every year it ends up being too bloody close. I’d love for there to be a bit more time between the two, but no, I have to deal with it.
So, this time we had a few days planned in London to celebrate and I wanted to get to Bermondsey and visit The Kernel, Brew By Numbers and Anspach & Hobday, and she’d have to just deal with it.

I’ve wanted to go to Saturday at The Kernel for a few years now, and I was fully primed to take the opportunity whilst we were in London. Initially, I hadn’t realised just how close The Kernel was to a few other breweries. This had now worked to my advantage and my day was planned around visiting the three breweries all within spitting distance of each other. The wife and I went our separate ways at Victoria and I made my way on the tube to Bermondsey.

Now I’ve always promised that I would never do the whole ‘this beer tasted like this’ and ‘the smell reminded me of blah blah blah’, but, as you read on, you’ll realise that you cannot come to Bermondsey, drink it’s beer and contemplate writing about it without doing the whole…..

First up was the Kernel, handily only a few minutes walk from the tube. I opened up my day with the single hop Mosaic pale. Straight from the brewery, you cannot get any fresher than this. And this freshness is what my whole day was about. Like my experience of Punk IPA on draft, except this is brewery fresh beer. This is something I’ve never had the honour of sampling to this extent before and a visit here will open your eyes, and mouth. This is not just a swift two thirds with your mates, this is an experience, as you are about to find out.

Back to the Mosaic, visually a light, and slightly cloudy straw colour with a faint green hue. Fresh tropical fruit smell and a really clean but slightly dulled citrus taste. After taste similar to refreshers sweets and it leaves your tongue buzzing, and craving another sip,well mouthfull! This I could drink all day long.

Mosaic is definitely one of my favourite hops, along with Fuggle, but that’s just a name thing. Although Mosaic is a fairly new hop, I can see this becoming a classic very quickly.

This was followed by the New Zealand Cascade pale. This is a lot more bitter than the mosaic and has quite a tang to it. It’s palette scrubbing and very refreshing. You receive a light tickle on the roof of your mouth from the carbonation, but this softens out with the more you drink and it keeps the taste buds alive.
My first Saturday at The Kernel did not disappoint.

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Brew By Numbers were my second brewery of the day. And what can I say, the staff here are awesome, not that the Kernel’s weren’t, so friendly and welcoming. It was like being on a beer date; I was introduced to their beer, and then I lost my BBN virginity. And it was their Session IPA, Citra that took it.

This had pretty much run out on arrival but I got the end of the keg as a taster. Oh my word. The aroma this beer gives off is amazing, I could stand here all day and just sniff this; if this beer was glue, then I’d get what all the fuss was about. Fresh citrus, pineapple and some further tropical fruitiness bunged in; it’s just sublime. Tasting is like a breathe of fresh beer air. It’s clean, smooth and immensely satisfying with a slightly bitter end.

Why on earth would you drink lager when you can have this? At 3.9% it’s lighter than your average lager but not even the best lager can compete! I say best lager on the loosest possible terms. Are there really any good lagers out there? Or have I just not found them yet?

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The traditional porter is so earthy, has the aroma of black coffee and a hint of light soy sauce. The coffee gets deeper on initial tasting then tails off into a gorgeous bitter chocolate finish. Love it.

The black IPA with Yakima valley hops, this beer is sublime. Coffee in colour with a fine light brown head. Visually like a porter, but it’s in disguise; It’s much fresher, brighter in the mouth and less viscous. Quite a fruity finish and so refreshing at the same time.I will always hark back to the first time I tried Yakima hops at the Meantime Brewery in their Yakima Red and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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And I can’t forget to mention the scotch eggs that are available. Scotch egg and a beer? Perfect. Also, you pay a £3 deposit for your glass. This means you can return the glass for your tube fare or take it home and add it to your collection!

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Final brewery of the day was Anspach and Hobday. And their triple hop pale was the beer of choice. Served colder than at BBN, The aroma is outstanding, more complex and fruity. This makes it a lot more punchy on the nose. In the mouth there’s a nice fruity bitterness with a fresh cut grassy edge. Colder is much more refreshing. Same Citra hop as BBN, but with Mosaic and Simcoe added, and brewed to a slightly higher abv. This definitely has more grunt to it. Maybe it’s the temperature or the additional hops, but with the greater bitterness this is much more satisfying. Another fantastic all day beer with an after taste that lingers for a long time, all the way back to Victoria from Bermondsey in fact, and beyond.

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My visit to the three breweries was fantastic, if you are ever in London and you need to lose the wife for a few hours, (don’t let her read this) then you must head over to Bermondsey, on any Saturday, and sample some proper brewery fresh beer.
Don’t forget to also bring a bag that’s actually capable of carrying as many bottles as you can possibly fit in it. The bottle choice offered by all the breweries is quite spectacular, and can offer a slightly different range of beers to those available on tap.

Hoppy Craftmas.

So this is christmas and what have we here; fortunately for you, nothing tainted by Bob Geldof or Simon Cowell.

I’m sure you’d love me to bang on about how amazing Christmas is but I’m not, it was all about New Year for me!

So once we’d got all that fuzzy Christmas gumpf out the way we had a few days planned in Cardiff with friends over New Year.  I had one request, and that was to visit the Brewdog bar.  We’d been wandering round Cardiff on New Years Day and I was hungry and in dire need of some refreshment.  After a quick visit to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen we made our way to the bar.  A little tucked away but still within an easy walk of the station and the castle.

I’d been craving a visit to this place for months, and I was not disappointed when we arrived.  The beer menu laid out above the bar like an old fashioned cinema listing; All the beers, and guest’s included, are nicely legible.  I’d imagined that’d be very useful later……

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We found a seat, a nice booth, and fathomed what we’d take.

I have to say now, the staff here are amazing.  It had been raining and the bar tender offered me a tissue to wipe my glasses; this is something that has never been offered to me before, not even in any restaurant, ever. Fact.

Now we all know Punk IPA is great, but you can’t just opt for the safe bet.  Although, I’d never sampled the Punk on draft so I was intrigued.  I was offered a taste and, oh my, I was simply blown away.  You may think you know this beer, but I can tell you now, if you’ve not had this on draft you do not know it and you are clueless about it’s full potential.  The aroma is sublime, the hops just burst out and the snifter it’s offered in can barely contain it.  The mouth feel you receive truly is something else, you get that proper draft pulled effect which a bottle can never replicate.  Punk, on draft, takes it to another level.

At this point I was quite happy to settle for a pint, but the tender had other ideas.  He asked what type of beers I liked and offered samples of his recommendations.  IPA I said, he duly responded and presented another snifter containing just enough Stone IPA.  This is a beer that I’ve never tried before and again I was put back in my seat, and that’s quite a feat considering I was stood up!  The pine and fruit aromas emitted by the Stone are sublime; why on earth doesn’t Olbas oil smell this good?

I learnt a little trick for beer tasting tonight, which was to swirl the glass, take a good long sniff through the nose, place it in your mouth, let it swim around and then swallow.  Now the most important part after swallowing is to keep the mouth closed and exhale thorough the nose.  This just lights up the back of your throat and gives the beer a second coming.  I’d never done this before but I recommend you try.

The tasting continued and next up was Ruination by Stone; simply another mind-blowingly fantastic US style India Pale.  I opted for a half, took my seat and tried so hard to savour the hoppy bitterness.  I was dying to get back to the bar and let the tasting session continue, but no, I remained seated and politely supped my beer.  Ruination is a superb name for a beer, it’s like a slap in the face to all the piss poor US and UK breweries out there.

On nearing the end of this beer, I peered over to the bar and tried, and struggled to decide what could and should follow.  The tasting session that followed was immense, with snifters of Russian Doll barley wine, Cocoa Psycho, Brixton Porter, Santa Paws, Brodies Southside Zester; this is very interesting, kind of like a lime cordial but in beer form.  And the list goes on, Stone Go To IPA, Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable and Alesmiths Speedway Stout; the list continued on and to be honest I began to lose track at this point.  We ended up with around fifteen tasters and I can only thank the bar staff for allowing it.

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The experience of tonight’s visit is one I’ll never forget and Brewdog have lived up to their name.  Visiting one of their bars is an unpressured experience and their knowledgeable staff really make you feel welcome.  If you’re not sure about beer or are too afraid to ask, then your local Brewdog bar is the place to go.