Beer O'Clock Show

Month: August 2013

Wallowing In A Vat of Ale. Or not…

So at the moment, I’m going through a but of a dry spell. Not out of choice but because I had to have my gallbladder removed. Years of excess and poor diet resulted in gallstones and hopefully the surgery will now signal the end of a fairly uncomfortable year of stomach problems and a return to eating and (more importantly) drinking whatever the hell I like.

So why blog about this? What has it got to do with beer? Well, frankly, I’m bored. I’ve been sat on the sofa for three days now since the surgery and all I’ve done is looked at Twitter and all of the wonderful brews that people have been drinking over the bank holiday weekend and all I can think is “I WANT A BEER!”

My affair with beer seems to be bordering on becoming an obsession… I read about beer, I read what others write about beer, I search out beer that I haven’t tried on the net and most importantly I love drinking the stuff and searching out new beers that I’ve never drunk. I am so grateful to my beer buddy and co-presenter of the Beer O’clock Show, Mark for suggesting that we do a podcast about beer because that has only helped to fuel this ‘hobby’ of mine.

The show seems to be going from strength to strength. We’ve had a lot of favourable feedback for our shows and we know we’ve got a hardcore group of listeners. Recently we’ve had more brewers get in touch telling us they like what we do, we’ve got people asking if they can come on the show and we have our biggest season yet coming up in September.

I’ve become a fully fledged beer geek (or ‘craft wanker’ as some might put it) and I wear this like a badge of honour. Because of my beer geekery I have met many new friends and enjoyed many new beers & locations. I’ve even got a trip coming up in October with a random Scotsman that I met on Twitter to two of (undoubtedly) the best breweries in the UK – none of this would have happened without the show and the opportunities that it has presented.

My beer stash is growing and I now think nothing of paying more than a tenner for a single bottle of beer. I’ve enjoyed some amazing beers in recent times including home brews that have been brewed in peoples kitchens that put a lot of ‘mainstream’ beer to shame. Currently residing on my beer shelves are variations from Brewdog, Weird Beard, Crouch Vale, a number of US Breweries and a couple of beauties from Magic Rock that have been ‘stashed’ for Christmas. One of this pair (most likely the recent release Strongman) will probably also get the honour of being my 500th unique check in on Untappd.

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So is this anymore that post-op random bank holiday ramblings? Probably, but it’s helped ease the boredom and allowed me to talk about my passion/obsession [delete as appropriate].

Craft wanker? Beer geek? Absolutely. But I’m proud of it.

Episode 39 – Summer Special

We’re back with a one-off special, featuring news from the Great British Beer Festival, catch-ups for Steve and Mark on what they’ve been drinking since the last episode, as well as a featured review of the Innis & Gunn Canadian Cherrywood Finish!

It’s Beer O’Clock!

Still Thinking about… BeerBods

Blog by Michael McGrorty

I recently had the opportunity to interview Matt from BeerBods, a subscription beer club that gets together on Twitter every week to drink the same beer and chat about it using the hashtag #BeerBods. I’m not a member yet, but I will definitely be joining very soon. You can’t argue with 12 beers delivered for £36, and I love the idea of not really getting to choose the beer I’m going to drink. I love variety and BeerBods offers just that. Here’s what Matt had to say:

For anyone out there who doesn’t know what BeerBods is, can you please explain what it is?

It’s kind of like a book club for beer. We send our subscriber 12 beers in the post every 12 weeks. They all drink the same beer (just one) every week and come together to talk about it online.

How did BeerBods come to be? Where did the idea come from?

BeerBods was a few ideas rolled together, rather than one big light bulb moment. Firstly, I love beer. That’s not an idea. It’s my passion, which I think is more important. I love beer even more when I hear the stories behind it. That got me thinking about how I could run a business that sells more than just beer.

Secondly, beer is much more fun when you drink it with your mates. The internet allows us to build communities in a completely different way. That excites me.

Finally, the growth of subscription based services, particularly with food, has been difficult to ignore. That made me think about how it could be done with beer.

What is the BeerBods philosophy?

Drink better beer.

How did you guys become interested in beer?

A mis-spent youth.

What are your favourite beers and brewers?

Changes by the week. This week I’ve been drinking a fair bit from East London Brewing. Their Orchid Mild is a real cracker.

Have you ever homebrewed?

Dabbled, but don’t have the patience to make anything that competes with what we are sourcing from brilliant breweries. I don’t do as much as I’d like to.

Do you have any tips for prospective beer sellers out there?

Make it about more than just beer. It’s about stories, friendship, learning, people and places.

What is your favourite beer and food pairing? Do you pair beer and food or are you just a drinker?

Oh boy. Whether it’s a Viennese Lager and a burger, a Wit beer and salad, an imperial Stout with gooey brownies and ice cream or just an ESB and nuts, beer is always better with food in my opinion.

What is the pub scene like where you are from?

It’s really mixed. There are increasingly fewer pubs, but the ones that do good beer and good food that put communities first are doing really well.

What do you think makes BeerBods stand out against other beer retailers?

We make it about more than beer.

Are there any plans for expanding BeerBods?

We want to get more people drinking better beer. There are a lot of people who want to do just that.

Thank you to Matt at BeerBods for the interview, find BeerBods at www.beerbods.co.uk or @BeerBods on Twitter.

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Still Thinking about… Elixir Brew Company

Blog by Michael McGrorty

Elixir Brew Company. I first heard about them a while back, thanks to their Benedictine Groove, a beer which contains Buckfast (a Scottish staple among younger drinkers), tablet, and smoked malt. Scotland in a glass. I just had to try it. I didn’t get the chance to try it until months after I heard about it, but when I did it was definitely worth the wait. A fantastically interesting beer that I urge everybody to try. Before I managed to try the Bene Groove though, I had two other of Elixir’s beers: Conviction IPA and Cuzzy Brew, a black IPA. Conviction IPA is a super, super bitter IPA that really punches you in the face with bitterness, fantastic beer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Cuzzy Brew as it has some of the roast character that I don’t like in a black IPA, but if you like your black IPAs roasty then seek this beer out. You won’t regret it. I think Elixir are one of the most, if not the most, interesting brewers in Scotland today. If I see their beer on a bar I’m going for that one right away. No exceptions.

I recently had the chance to interview Ben Bullen of Elixir, and here’s what he had to say:

How did you get interested in beer? Have you always been a beer geek or did you gradually slide into it from other drinks?

I have always drunk beer although my tastes and, fortunately, access have changed over time. I used to drink lager, Guinness and the odd Belgian beer as that was largely what was available in Australia at the time. We always tried to seek out more exciting beers though, Mountain Goat being a favourite Aussie micro. We moved to England in 2007 and discovered real ale. That was a huge moment. Like any travelling Aussie, I had a stipulation on my VISA stating I had to work in a bar. I pulled pints at the Salisbury Arms in Cambridge for a while and started getting involved with the Ely Beer Festivals.

It’s been amazing being able to visit Belgium and The Netherlands as well. I highly recommend the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation and De Molen fests. The amount of choice in the UK just now for amazing local and international beer is incredible and it’s great to be a part of it. I have always enjoyed whisky too, I might add, which is great living in Edinburgh! I am still in love with Laphroaig but sadly have been left behind somewhat with wines. What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in Tokay adoration though.

How did Elixir Brew Co get started? What was the driving force behind deciding to brew professionally?

The driving force is experimentation. I had been homebrewing since moving to the UK and, with a lot of help from my friends, had been producing a fair amount of beer that we were really happy with. The house, as a few people will tell you, was starting to look more like a brewery but I couldn’t sell the beer. I still wanted to continue experimenting with new beers so it seemed logical to approach a brewer to use their kit initially. Barry and I are very grateful to Adam and James at Alechemy for giving us the opportunity to brew commercially.

How does it feel to be able to walk into a pub and buy a pint of beer that you brewed?

Amazing. The first time I had a pint of my own beer (Bene Groove) at the Stockbridge Tap was the most nervous I had been for a long time! You scrutinise everything but it’s a superb feeling when a plan comes together. Some of the most incredible moments have been when my beer has been turned back into food, like the Pulp Fiction pumpkin sorbet or the Minception fruit mince pies at Cloisters. Having Matt at Drinkmonger turn Conviction IPA into a jenever to make gin cocktails and the guys at Steak curing their salmon in Benedictine Groove are also fantastic. These are the moments that make the whole experience so worthwhile.

What do you think of schemes like BrewDog’s Equity For Punks and sites like Kickstarter? Have you ever considered crowdfunding to expand Elixir?

We actually haven’t considered crowdfunding to be honest although people are doing amazing things thanks to Kickstarter and, obviously, BrewDog are expanding at breakneck speed. We’re quite happy to build our business the old fashioned way for the time being.

Do you have any tips for homebrewers? What’s the most important aspect of brewing for you?

The most important aspect of brewing? Take notes. When you make something incredible you’ll probably want to do it again. The tastier the beer, the faster it will go and you’ll want to remember exactly what the malt bill and hop additions were for a start! Also, don’t be afraid to go all grain. There are some really easy techniques for brewing your own beer from scratch on the stovetop. The Aussie Brew In A Bag technique is one of the simplest ways to do this. You only really need a couple of sizeable pots and a large sack for the malt.

Mash tuns made from coolers with a simple copper manifold work brilliantly and are cheap and easy to make. I modified a larger water tank for mine because I like to brew big beers. If you want to make a sizeable volume of strong beer without relying on sugars, a larger mash tun is very handy. Finally, share your wares and ask friends, bar staff and other brewers their opinions. It can be difficult getting an honest reaction when you are giving your beer away, particularly to friends. Bring a batch along to a party and get a few different opinions.

What do you feel makes your beers stand out in an (one could say) already crowded market?

We try to do things a little bit differently, particularly with our concept beers. I think people have reacted so well to the Benedictine Groove because it genuinely conveys something of Scotland in a glass. I love the challenge of making something that shouldn’t work, work. We make every effort to source the best and most exciting ingredients available and we feel this shines through in the finished product.

I understand that you don’t have your own brewery and brew at Alechemy’s brewery, tell us a bit about what that’s like and the challenges involved with using somebody else’s brewkit.

First off, it’s obviously been a fantastic opportunity to brew our own beers commercially without owning a facility. Although there are a few cuckoo / gypsy brewers springing up, Adam and James allowed us to use their brewery when this wasn’t quite as established locally. Having access to both a pilot brew kit and a 10 barrel plant has allowed us to experiment with our more outlandish recipes and also produce enough of our core range to supply fairly regular bottled, cask and keg beers to Edinburgh and beyond.

Are there plans to have your own brewery?

Going forward, we would really need our own brewery to fill the demand we have received to date. The greatest challenge we have at the moment is not being able to meet this demand. Having said this, we do try to keep a fair bottled beer range in stock to supply local beer stores and pubs with bottled beer all year round. We’ll soon let you know when we have news.

What’s your favourite beer and food pairing? Do you match beer and food at all or just mainly drink it?

Geuze and herrings. That is a match made in heaven! The sour and musty characters of the geuze accentuate the salty, pickled herrings and the carbonation really gives it a lift. We like to match food and beer, usually with a beer heavy slant. Taleggio and Munster cheese, olives, Quorn balls, herring and Craig Garvie’s ubiquitous homebaked bread are staples at the drinking table.

What’s your current favourite beer? Aside from your own of course!

My favourite beer style at the moment is Belgian Strong Ale. My favourite beer in this style is De Struise Pannepot. This beer develops spectacularly well in the bottle. My wife and I were lucky enough to try a bottle from the original batch and it was incredible. Hands down my favourite beer to date! It has an ethereal aroma of marzipan, toffee, figs, chocolate and plums with perfectly balanced alcohol. Great fresh on keg as well.

Huge thank you to Ben for taking the time out to answer my questions. Elixir Brew Company can be found at www.elixirbrew.com and on Twitter at @ElixirBrewCo

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Wallowing In A Vat of Ale at Urban Sessions

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Hackney Wick Station. Bit of a dump really. Not a lot going for it. You can just about see what can only be described as the backside of the Olympic Stadium, through a gap in some houses. But for this summer at least and up until 31 October it will be the destination of choice for those who like their beer. For just a 5 minute walk away is an old public baths that is hosting Urban Sessions.

If you walked past it you’d possibly think the understated signage was some sort of youth club or drop in centre. Not the mecca of beer to be found inside. Urban Sessions is the brain child of Melissa Cole and what a great job she’s done. Inside there is a perfect ambience – a DJ is spinning tunes (is that the right lingo?) in the background, a few tables dotted around the space and there is also a decent sized ‘beer garden’ (although as it was raining I was unable to take advantage of this).

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There is a LOT of beer to choose from – roughly 30ish taps on offer plus a cocktail bar where you can choose to add beer into your cocktail if that floats your boat. You can pay cash or do slightly better for your money and buy beer tokens (1 token = 1/3 pint). Drinks are available in 1/3 or 2/3 measures – there are no pints to be had in here lager boys.

Enough rambling about the ambience and onto the drinks. Here’s my bar tab from my night at Urban Sessions and some brief thoughts on each…

Nelson Saison by Weird Beard/Elusive Brewing (6.9%)
Well balanced, smooth, easy drinking Saison with a hint of spices. Collaboration beer with home brewer Andy Parker

Siberia Rhubarb Saison by Ilkley Brewing Co (5.9%)
Like drinking rhubarb & custard sweets. Couldn’t drink too many of these but really easy to drink. A collaboration brew with Melissa Cole.

Easily the best two beers of the session

Easily the best two beers of the session

Honey Brown Lager by Sleeman (5.2%)
Another easy drinker, with sweet flavours throughout.

Jaipur by Thornbridge (5.9%)
What more can be said about this that hasn’t already been said? Jaipur is an amazing beer – check out our review of it here

Yakima Red by Meantime (4.1%)
A great balance of hops in this beer, giving way to an easy, moreish finish

Cannonball by Magic Rock (7.4%)
Love cannonball, it’s like the start of hopaggedon. From the first hints of the aroma through to the smokey finish, this is close to the perfect beer.

Great Eastern India Pale Ale by Redchurch (7.4%)
Didn’t enjoy this one so much. Found the hops a little to harsh and dry, not my sort of thing at all.

I’d highly recommend a trip to Hackney Wick Station but only as a waypoint on route to Urban Sessions. If you enjoy your beer and like to enjoy beer with other beer lovers, this is a place you need to be.

Thanks to the guys at I Love Free Beer for taking us along to Urban Sessions, it was great to meet Melissa, Mark from The Beer Boutique and to see the guys from Honest Brew setting up their kit for this week’s live brewing session.

www.urbansessions.co.uk for more information

www.ilovefreebeer.com for information on how to download the app and claim your free beer at Urban Sessions

Still Thinking about… The Right Pint?

Blog by Michael McGrorty

Wetherspoons. You either love it or hate it. I love it. I can have a cask beer from a smaller brewery, my girlfriend can have a cocktail and of course there’s plenty of bottled beers and commercial lagers, so it caters for everybody. And of course it’s cheap. Where I live a pint of lager won’t be much cheaper than £3, and that’s in a small city in central Scotland. The last time I was in a (non-airport) Wetherspoons a round of drinks for three of us was less than £7. I almost couldn’t believe it. To make it even more unbelievable this was an hour outside London.

But despite all those good points, an experience I had the other day has really soured my opinion of Wetherspoons. I was flying to Turkey with my girlfriend for a holiday, and after having some lunch and with an hour or so to kill before our flight we headed to the airport’s Wetherspoons. I got quite excited at the prospect of trying a new beer, and at just over £3 for a pint it wasn’t ridiculously expensive as is the norm for airports.

As the queue got smaller and the hand pumps came into view, one caught my eye: Schiehallion, from Harviestoun. It’s a fantastic beer and a wonderful example of how great lager can actually be, and I’d only had it once before from a bottle so I was looking forward to trying the cask version.

I finally reached the head of the queue and placed my order: a Kopparberg and a pint of Schiehallion. The waitress had no idea what I was asking for and so I had to explain by way of which pump it was. Not a great start. It’s not much to ask that the people behind the bar know what beer they have on offer. I’m not expecting a vast knowledge as these guys are probably making minimum wage, but knowing what four beers are on your pumps isn’t very hard, especially as I doubt that all four change regularly.

So with Schiehallion and Kopparberg in hand, I struggled back to my table. I set it all down on the table and finally got a good look at my pint: brown in colour and a few large white bubbles masquerading as a head. I knew immediately something was wrong but I pressed on as I’m not usually one for complaining. Schiehallion should be pale, not brown. It didn’t taste at all like Schiehallion either but it wasn’t that bad, after a few drinks though I decided to take it back.

Does this LOOK like Schiehallion?

Does this LOOK like Schiehallion?

Upon reaching the bar I was told by the barman there was a queue. Ha! After explaining I had a problem he told me there had been a mix up and Schiehallion was now replaced by Fyne Ales‘ Avalanche, which was likely what I had. I had my pint replaced with an Avalanche anyway, and took my identical looking pint back to my table. As I was walking away I’m sure I heard the barman asking if that was everything, surely to the next customer as there wasn’t a chance I was paying again.

I went to check in on Untappd, as I usually do, and as I’d never had this beer before I checked it out and discovered it also should be a pale, golden colour. It even tasted the same as the last beer. By now I was very, very frustrated. Both beers I was given for were clearly not what I had asked for, and the service wasn’t fantastic.

I wandered back to the bar, unknown pint in hand, again, and was again told there was a queue. After again explaining my problem, a little bit more angrily I must admit, the barman was quite assertive that my pint came out of the Avalanche tap so it must be Avalanche. I suggested he check that it went to the correct cask and he scuttled off to talk to a manager, presumably to see what to do.

Of the four cask ales they served, two were light: Deuchars IPA and Schiehallion/Avalanche (supposedly), two were dark: Dark Island and Abbot Ale. Both of the pints I was served were on the lighter side of dark which led me to believe that I was drinking Abbot as Dark Island is very dark. Very frustrated and by now just killing time until my girlfriend finished her drink and we could go to the gate, I decided to try my luck with whatever was coming out of the Abbot tap. It looked a bit lighter coming out of the tap but by the time I got it back to my table it was pretty much the same colour as the other one, and upon tasting it I knew instantly it was definitely Abbot.

By now I was more confused than anything. If it was definitely Abbot coming out of the Abbot tap and the other beer I had was too light to be Dark Island, then just what the fuck did I drink? Is this why Wetherspoons is so cheap? Do they just chuck random casks in their cellar and hook them up to whatever tap with whatever font they have lying around?

It was quite possibly the worst experience I’ve ever had in a pub. I’ll never drink in this particular one again and I’m definitely going to think twice about other Wetherspoons in the future.

All that being said, I live in a town where 90% of the pubs are owned by Belhaven, so when our Wetherspoons opens in about a year it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. I might actually go out in Stirling for a change. I just hope it’s not run by monkeys like the one in Glasgow Airport.

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Wallowing In A Vat of Ale: The GBBF Beer List

It’s that time of year again. The Great British Beer Festival is upon us and we wait in anticipation for the release of the beer list. An experience that I can only compare to Christmas or the anticipation of sex. Let me explain…

You know it’s coming, you know what it going to be like, you can see the goods wrapped and ready to be torn apart. And then you get to them. Tear the wrapping off a moment of absolute excitement and ecstasy and then a release of sorts. Then it’s all over. And what have you got? The promise of something amazing and then the reality…

The GBBF beer list is the same for me. This will be my third year at the event now (so still a relative rookie) and each year I have got more and more excited about the release of the beer list. This years release came without too much fanfare (in fact I picked it up from Jeff Evans on Twitter rather than official GBBF account) but even so I found myself getting that familiar feeling of excitement building as I clicked on the link.

I wasn’t disappointed (well maybe only a little that once again Adnams only had one beer on offer) but other than that there’s a fine selection. My current list is 26 beers long – even sticking to 1/3 pints that’s just over 8 pints to get through. My previous best is approx 12 different beers and I’ve only ever managed 6 hours at the event. This may be a challenge to far.

The question is – do I stick with all 26 or drop some from the list that I’ve had before? Those on the potential cull list include Adnams Ghost Ship, Thornbridge Wild Swan, Crouch Vale Citra and Fyne Jarl – the latter being the newly crowned ‘king of Scottish beer’ – what to do?

I think the initial plan will be to hit the new beers first – I’m quite excited about some of Brains releases including the Atlantic White IPA (would be a first for me) and the double chocolate & bacon porter A-Pork-Alypse (mouthwatering) and also the Triple Hop by Arbor, the Monkey IPA by Art Brew and the Black by Williams Bros but to name a few. So going back to my initial comparison, will this be a tear, rip and done in 30 seconds affair or something a little more refined? Only time will tell…

We’re at GBBF on Friday (Steve) and Saturday (Mark). If you want to review a beer from GBBF for the show, tweet us @beerhund (Steve) and @ReliqEU (Mark) while we’re there and let us know so we can arrange to meet you. Our summer special featuring our thoughts on GBBF will be our on 23 Aug.

Follow us on Twitter @beeroclockshow , subscribe via iTunes or check us out on the Stitcher Radio app.

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