Thursday 19 December 2013

Golden Pint Awards 2013

2013 has seen a change in my beer drinking habits. It may have been this episode in 2012 which changed my outlook, but I have turned into a mamil. I entered 2013 nearly two stones lighter and considerably fitter than I entered 2012. I have experienced a reduction in appetite for food and beer. Strangely, my beer tastes have also changed. The most conspicuous aspect of this change is that my tolerance for bitterness has reduced to such a degree that I find, for instance, IPAs almost unbearable. The corollary is that I have renewed my passion for the beers of Belgium, a country that has largely escaped the big-hop tyranny. I now crave delicacy, a characteristic sadly sometimes lacking in the marvellous new wave we call "Craft."

In the following I am not going to mention any beers from my home county of Cumbria. I know many of the brewers so I want to avoid any snipey comments about favouritism. 

I am also not going to mention any beers from my brother's brewery, Out There Brewing Companywhere I am occasional mash-tun digger-outerer. I am especially not going to mention his spectacular "Next Stop Mars" which is currently available in Newcastle's finest hostelries.

·         Best UK Cask Beer

Hmm, this is a bit of a head scratcher. I'll have to go for a particularly memorable single pint experience: Mordue Brewery's Workie Ticket as consumed at the GBBF.

·         Best UK Keg Beer

Magic Rock's "Circus of Sour."

·         Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

Camden Hell

·         Best Overseas Draught Beer

Birrificio Italiano's "Tipo Pils"

·         Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Anchor "Breckle's Brown" tied with "Silly Saison" by Brasserie de Silly tied with "La Trappe Dubbel" - Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven.

·         Best Collaboration Brew

Sorry, no opinion.

·         Best Overall Beer

[watch this space]

·         Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

·         Best UK Brewery

[watch this space]

·         Best Overseas Brewery

Birrificio Italiano

·         Best New Brewery Opening 2013

[watch this space]

·         Pub/Bar of the Year

The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle upon Tyne.

·         Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

Pleased to Meet You, Newcastle upon Tyne. Proof that craft beer has mainstream appeal.

·         Beer Festival of the Year


·         Supermarket of the Year

·         Independent Retailer of the Year

I don't recall using any specialist beer retailer this year so I'll have to pass on this one.

·         Online Retailer of the Year

No opinion.

·         Best Beer Book or Magazine

CAMRA's "Beer" despite its propagandistic drum-banging.

·         Best Beer Blog or Website

·         Best Beer App

No opinion

·         Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

The brewing legend Pierre Van Klomp

·         Best Brewery Website/Social media

No Opinion

·         Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Magic Rock's "Circus of Sour" with a packet of Monster Munch (I kid you not).

Finally, a special FUCK OFF to the IPA-addled craft wanker who sneered at my choice of Pilsner Urquell when serving me in a craft beer place I shan't name.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Fifteen Years Is A Long TIme in Beer

In the late nineties an old chum of mine was a brewer at Youngs (then still very much in Wandsworth). At the time we we're hanging out, drinking beer, as you do. I was also drinking second-hand brewing knowledge from my Heriot-Watt-educated pal. My old chum gave a Word document of off flavours and aromas from Youngs. 

The document has hung around on my various computers ever since. I was reading it again recently when number 13 shouted at me from the screen. Hop aroma is an off aroma! How times have changed.

(yes, I know it says "this is desirable...." but this is a document about off-flavours and aromas)

Associated terms
Common Causes
1. Sour
Acidic, Sharp, Lemon, Sour Milk, Vinegar
Beers are naturally acidic however, an excess of acid can lead to an undesirable flavour and mouthfeel.

NB. Beer may still be bright.
Mostly a problem on cask beers.  From raw materials, fermentation and bacterial infection in the presence of air.  The latter may be caused by:
1. Beer on dispense too long
2. Poor hygiene, dirty equipment
3. Beer sat in buckets being returned to casks.

2. Phenolic
Diacetyl, Cloves, Lactic, Wild Yeast
A variety of off-flavours may accompany this, but diacetyl is usually the most prominent.
Phenolics are a necessary flavour characteristic of some beers e.g. Wheat beers.
1. Produced by speciality yeasts used in wheat beers.
2. Produced as an off-flavour by wild yeast/bacterial infection in presence or absence of air.  Often accompanied by haze formation and can affect cask or keg beers.  The cause is usually poor cellarmanship.

3. Aldehyde
Apple, Grassy
High concentrations lead to off-flavours.
Bacterial infection (acetic bacteria) produces acetaldehyde as a by-product of metabolism of alcohol to vinegar (acetic acid).
4. Diacetyl
Buttery, Butterscotch, Modern Margarine, Milky, Vanilla
Off-flavour in Lagers, which are particularly susceptible, normally removed during maturation period.  ‘Cheap’ continental lagers may have high levels due to rapid processing in the brewery.  Higher levels are desirable in ales were diacetyl makes a positive contribution to flavour.
1 in 3 people tend to be sensitive to low levels of diacetyl.  Some may find it pleasant at relatively high levels.
1. Inadequate removal of diacetyl during maturation, however this will be detected at the brewery.
2. Formed by contaminant bacteria when hygiene standards are poor.  This is the most common cause and can usually be related to poor line cleaning, or not pulling beer through.  The first beer pulled through after standing overnight usually has a high level, where beer is in contact with air in the uncooled part of the system.  This is exacerbated by illuminated T-bars, as the beer is heated.

5. DMS
Cabbage, Cooked Veg., Sweetcorn, Seaweed, Tomato Sauce, Oniony, Strawberry Jam.
Desirable characteristic of most lagers, but an off-flavour in some beers. e.g. high levels are found deliberately in Stella Artois and Lowenbrau, but very low levels are found in Budweiser.
Formed from a malt derived precursor during beer production.  May also be produced by contaminant bacteria during fermentation.

6. Estery

Fruity, Banana, Peardrop (iso-amylacetate)
Beer is a delicate balance of esters.  The flavour depends on which esters are predominant, each contributing its own characteristics.
Many factors in brewing affect ester formation, especially yeast strain and type of fermentation vessel.  Handling in the pub is unlikely to affect the balance of esters.

7. Chlorophenolic
TCP, mouthwash type taste.  Often has a harsh after-bitterness.  Individual susceptibility to this flavour is highly variable.  Some may find it objectionable at even very low concentrations.
Taint from hypochlorite in cleaning fluid, especially if used too hot or left in the lines for long periods.  The fault could originate in the brewery but is normally associated with dispense.

8. Caustic
Biscuity, Detergent
May leave a burning sensation on the tongue.
Again, contamination by cleaning fluid if line cleaner is not rinsed sufficiently .  Lines should be checked for soapiness by rubbing the rinse water with the fingers, and the final flushing water smelled and tasted before beer is pulled through.

9. Oxidised
Cardboard, Stale, Bready, Biscuity
Mainly affects canned/bottled products and old kegged beers
Air/oxygen in package, coupled with high pasteurisation temperatures.  These stale flavours develop faster with high temperatures and with age, hence the importance of temperature controlled storage and stock rotation.

10. Sulphury (H2S)
Rotten Eggs, Sulphur
Imparts a desirable flavour at low concentrations and an off-flavour at high concentrations.
1.Brewing product.  Produced by yeast during fermentation and occasionally during maturation.
2. May be a product of bacterial infection due to poor hygiene standards.

11. Mercaptan
Oniony, Drains, Rotten Vegetables,
Natural part of a beers character which becomes an off-flavour when present in excessive quantities.
Formed by yeast during fermentation and also by yeast autolysis during maturation.

12. Lightstruck
Skunky, Sunstruck
Mercaptan has a very low flavour threshold, therefore, only very small amounts need be present in the beer to make it unpleasant.
Formed when beer is exposed to daylight or artificial light.  Therefore mainly a problem in beers packed in clear glass bottles, or pints of beer drunk in beer gardens during summer.  An exposure time of ten minutes on a sunny day can be enough to have a serious effect on beer flavour.
The flavour comes from modification of the hop compounds in the beer, therefore beers produced with specially modified hop products will not develop this flavour.

13. Hop Aroma
Hop aroma is not the same as Bitterness.  It does not impart any more bitterness to the beer, but gives a pleasant hoppy smell and taste.
Produced by addition of hops late during copper boil or by dry-hopping (addition of a hop pellet to cask).  This is desirable and forms a significant part of the beer character

Thursday 31 October 2013

SIBA North Judging: Possibly Slightly Less Unfit For Purpose Than Last Year

Last year at about this time I had a grumble about poor judging at the SIBA North event in Manchester. I had witnessed a woeful ignorance of off flavours from several judges. I also noticed that many judges preferred bland beer to tastier beer, marking them accordingly. It seemed many judges were treating the event as a jolly day out drinking beer at someone else’s expense.

This year’s North West event was held at Hawkshead Brewery’s beer hall at Staveley near Kendal, in my home county of Cumbria. The beer hall is considerably smaller than last year's Manchester venue. The number of Staveley judges was about a third of the number of Manchester judges. I noticed the absence of some of the clueless judges I’d made a mental note of the previous year.

The first of my three rounds was bottled pale ale. Or, at least I think it was; my scrawled note said “bpa”. Three of the eight beers showed the unmistakeable damp cardboard flavour of oxidisation – one of them was particularly bad. I kept schtum while my three fellow judges murmured their general approval of the beers. I thought about correcting my fellow judges but decided not to be the know-all dick of the table. Several times I heard the beers to be declared “balanced.”* Result: bad beer got reasonable marks.

My second round was speciality beers. I opted to judge this round as I’d previously witnessed reluctance by some judges to have a go at funny foreign styles at rocket fuel strengths as high as a jaw-dropping 7% abv. Two of my three fellow judges expressed disappointment at being allocated the “weird stuff”, as one of them described it.

The beers were entertaining. Fortunately none showed any off flavours. One, described as “spiced”, tasted like mildly alcoholic Coca Cola. Another was an extremely good dark raspberry fruit beer with a sour note. It was a marvellous beer: if you had told me it was from a very good Belgian brewery I would have believed you. Two of my fellow three judges took exception to it, screwing up their faces in disgust. They marked it very low.

My third round was bottled golden ales. One beer was hellishly bitter, other than that they were competent though unremarkable beers.

Not being a SIBA grandee, I didn't judge the final round.

All in all, my piss boiled less than last year – possibly because I didn't have to fork out £30 for a rail ticket**. But questions for SIBA remain: just what are people doing judging a round in which they are likely to encounter something outside their parochial tastes? Just why are people who don’t know common off flavours judging beer?

Many thanks to Jon and Becky of Stringers Beer for the lift to Stavely and to John and Lucy of Barngates Brewery for the lift home.

 * I am suspicious of the descriptor “balanced.” It is often used where the word “bland” would be more appropriate. I find its use is often indicative of entry-level beer appreciation.

** Yes, I know SIBA is a good cause and all that, but so is my never-ending overdraft.

A happy brewer: category prize-
winner Roger Humphries of Cumbrian Legendary Ales