Beer O'Clock Show

Category: Still Thinking

Still Thinking about… Shiny Breweries & Sunny Skies

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Blog by Michael McGrorty

Sunny skies at this time of the year? What the hell are you talking about? I’m talking about South Africa. You all probably know a bit about South Africa: Nelson Mandela and Apartheid being the main focus, I’m sure. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about South Africa’s beer.

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Still Thinking about… #12BeersofXmas

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Blog by Michael McGrorty

An excuse to drink a beer every day for twelve days? I am definitely going to take up that offer. When Steve from The Beer O’Clock Show came up with the idea for this I was a little bit skeptical. “Do I have enough ‘special’ beers to take part?”, I thought. I quickly realised that the beer didn’t matter much, all that mattered was taking part, so I put together a list and prepared myself for 12 straight days of drinking. Well, here goes…

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Still Thinking about… The Golden Pints

Blog by Michael McGrorty

Golden Pints LogoBest UK Cask Beer
Rapture, by Magic Rock. I’ve only had this beer once but it was one of those times where everything was perfect. Every sip was an absolute joy and I know that even if I see this beer again it’s never going to live up to that first try. (It will still be absolutely fantastic.)

Best UK Keg Beer
NZ Axe Rocks, by Buxton. The culmination of an epic day and night in Buxton with Steve of the Beer O’Clock Show (among others), this beer lived up to all the hype we bestowed upon it in the two or three hours between finding out about it, praying with every bone in our bodies that it would get put on, and it finally being put on the bar. A blend of NZ Axe Edge and Black Rocks, and as crazily good as that sounds.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Nelson Simcoe IPA, by Elusive Brewing (Andy Parker). Can I give this to a homebrewer? Who cares, I am. This beer was absolutely stunning. Kindly given to me by Andy when he was up in Edinburgh earlier in the year, I stuck it in my fridge and forgot about it for a few days, as is customary for bottle conditioned beers that have travelled a bit. I cracked it open a few days later, gave it a big sniff and was blown away by the aroma. It was absolutely fantastic. I didn’t think it could get any better, until I took a sip. After that first sip I think the beer lasted around five minutes more. It was gone in around three big gulps. Fantastic stuff.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Schneider Weiss Original (TAP7), by Schneider Weiss. I’d heard many great things about this brewery but hadn’t managed to taste any of the beers until I saw it on tap in Port Street Beer House, Manchester. After a few sips it instantly jumped straight to the top of my favourite hefeweizens. I just hope I see it again some time soon!

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Modus Hoperandi by Ska Brewing. I remember buying this for nearly a fiver and thinking it was expensive. When I finally got around to drinking it (straight from the can, on a train), it blew me away. I’d happily pay a fiver a can in future!

Best Collaboration Brew
Sky Mountain Sour, by Buxton/To Ol. This was so good I had it twice, in a pub. Very rare for me to do that when faced with a big selection, but it was that good. Even got a small sample of it at the brewery when I visited, which was cool.

Best Overall Beer
NZ Axe Rocks, by Buxton. Reasons above!

Best Branding, Pump Clip or Label
Magic Rock. Instantly recognisable and very fun to look at. Magic Rock’s branding is everything good branding should be. It works so well and not only is it so recognisable your eye is drawn to it as well so it catches your eye as soon as look at a line of up taps.

Best UK Brewery
Buxton Brewery. Everything I have had from Buxton has been absolutely fantastic. From the insanely hoppy Axe Edge to the insanely roasty Rednik Stout, I love all of Buxton’s beers. The night in the Bat when every beer was a Buxton one was completely insane and amazing. Had the chance to drink with the guys from the brewery on a couple occasions as well and they’re all fantastic folk.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Weird Beard

Pub/Bar of the Year
The Hanging Bat, Edinburgh. Twenty rotating beer lines, fantastic food, regular meet the brewer events. What more could you ask for? I’m glad it’s an hour away otherwise I’d be bankrupt.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Buxton Tap House, Buxton. Absolutely fantastic pub that makes me wish I lived in Buxton. The food is good, you’re always guaranteed Buxton beers on tap and they have plenty of great beer from other brewers. Oh and of course there’s always the chance you’ll run into somebody who works at the brewery which is very cool.

Beer Festival of the Year
Larbert Real Ale Festival. I only went to two beer festivals this year, this and Scottish Real Ale Festival. The SRAF was awful in my opinion so it only leaves one option. A great wee festival I thought, plenty of decent beers on that were reasonably priced and it was only a twenty minute train ride away.

Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose. They simply have the best selection of any supermarket near me. Had my first (and only ones so far) taste of Jaipur from Waitrose so they’re definitely doing something right.

Independent Retailer of the Year
The Beer Hive, Edinburgh. I could spend hours in this shop, and spend hundreds of pounds. Always guaranteed a great selection of bottled beers, they have a kegerator so you can take some draught beer home, the staff are great and always up for a chat. I also love that they will reserve anything I ask for (although my bank balance doesn’t). Notable mentions to the other Edinburgh bottle shops, Great Grog and Cornelius.

Online Retailer of the Year
Have never bought beer online, so can’t comment on this one!

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Never really read any books or magazines so I can’t comment on this one. Certainly one I’ll be rectifying next year as I look to start writing a lot more myself.

Best Beer Blog or Website
The Beer O’Clock Show! It’s technically a blog so I’m including it. Absolutely love the show!

Best Beer App
Untappd. I honestly would be lost without this. It’s so handy to have a log of all the beers I’ve had, although it does sort of become a game. I don’t generally use it for rating beers but it’s easy to ignore that.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Colin Stronge. He’s one of the best brewers in the UK and he’s given me advice on numerous occasions. A supremely awesome guy.

Best Brewery Website/Social Media
Honest Brew. Love these guys, they’re always happy to chat and they have a competition every week for free beer. I’m not just saying them because I won the competition one week, honest!

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Circus of Sour and a pulled pork roll at Buxton Tap House. Steve suggested it and it just worked.

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Still Thinking about… Stone Brewing Co.

Blog by Michael McGrorty

I don’t really know how to introduce this interview, so I’m just going to say enjoy. Here’s an interview with Mitch Steele, Brewmaster at Stone Brewing Company:

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

Beer has always been my beverage of choice and I occasionally enjoy a glass of wine, but I’m not a cocktail or spirits drinker. My love for beer, and my interest in science and art, is what got me involved in the Brewing Science program at the University of California, Davis. I’ve always had a very strong curiosity about how different beers were made.

How did you get into professional brewing?

There was a lack of brewing opportunities when I graduated from UC Davis, so I worked in the winemaking business for several years. However, I always hoped to get into brewing. In the late 1980s, there was an article in the Hollister, CA newspaper about a new brewpub opening up in town. I called the owner, Bill Millar, to inquire about investing, and ended up coming on as his brewer. I worked there on a part-time basis for 4 years while I still had the winemaking job. Eventually I decided to go 100% to brewing, and that’s when I joined Anheuser-Busch.

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

Well, the obvious answer is to focus on cleaning and sanitation. You can’t make good beer using dirty brewing equipment. That said, my other piece of advice would be to master a few styles, but don’t get hung up on style guidelines. The most exciting beers out there are beers that take existing styles and add interesting or unique twists to them. Don’t be afraid to try something that might not work.

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

Our year-round release beers have very loyal fans, Stone IPA is one of the most widely available west-coast style IPAs, and has been for a long time. We were one of the first to bottle a double IPA year-round (Stone Ruination IPA) and a black IPA (Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale). In addition, Stone is always thinking out of the box and pushing the envelope when it comes to new beers. We don’t rest on our laurels-we are constantly trying to brew new styles and integrate interesting flavours. We have a well-deserved reputation for brewing bold, flavourful and largely hop-centric beers. But we really brew so many other great beers as well!

How do you think the beer scenes in the US and the UK compare? Have you sampled many British beers?

I think the scenes are different, but I love them both. I’ve been to the UK several times during the last 6 years and love the tradition of cask ale. I enjoy relaxing in a pub with a great sessionable beer and food. After a visit to the UK, I really look forward to getting a beer with American carbonation levels and a lot of hops! The craft brewing scene in the UK is becoming pretty amazing, brewers like Kernel, Thornbridge, BrewDog and some others are making great beers – similar to what American craft brewers are doing. I absolutely revere the traditional brewings of Fuller’s, Adnams and others like Wadworth, Shepherd Neame, etc. I think Fuller’s is one of the best brewers on the planet. I absolutely love their beers, especially when served from a cask in one of their pubs.

How do you get inspiration for new recipes?

Inspirations can come from everywhere: a beer that I really enjoyed somewhere, experimenting with new hops or malts, collaboration brewing, ideas from our owners Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, pilot brews and special casks created by our brewing team. Seriously, every new beer that we’ve released since I’ve been at Stone Brewing Co. has its own unique story.

What is your favourite hop and hop combination?

I love Centennial hops, and have found that a blend of Centennial and Citra is pretty magical-we use that blend in the dry-hop of Stone RuinTen IPA. Centennial and Simcoe are wonderful to put together also. And Amarillo with Simcoe creates a really nice blend of tropical fruit, citrus and pine.

What is your favourite unusual ingredient to use in a beer?

A very tough question! We’ve been doing a lot of brewing recently with herbs from our organic farm, Stone Farms. Some of the ingredients I really like to use in beer include lemon verbena, tea, and citrus peel. We’re releasing a collaboration Imperial Porter soon that was brewed with jasmine flowers, and I like what jasmine contributes. Hibiscus is wonderful in light wheat or Belgian beers.

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

By far my favorite pairing is craft beer with artisanal cheese! There is nothing better. I don’t always focus on food and beer pairings, but it is fun to find unique flavours that work well together.

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

That’s an impossible question to answer! There are so many great breweries operating in our area right now, and my preferences change every day.

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

Pretty darn good! Though I have to say, I get much more enjoyment out of seeing others drink and become fans of our beer. That is the ultimate experience.

Thank you very much to Mitch for the interview – looking out for a Black IPA that Mitch has recently brewed with Adnams for the Wetherspoons real ale festival between 16 & 31 October.

For more information on Stone Brewing Co visit www.stonebrewing.com / follow them on Twitter @StoneBrewingCo 

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Still Thinking about… The Kinneil Brew Hoose

Blog by Michael McGrorty

Bo’ness. You probably haven’t heard of it, and I can’t really blame you. Until recently I had no idea where it is. And I live half an hour away!

I now realise how wrong my ignorance was.

Beer lovers in Bo’ness have it very good indeed, in the form of the Corbie Inn and the Kinneil Brew Hoose.

With six hand pumps serving all the time, the choice of beer at the Inn is fantastic. When I was there they had beers on from Loch Lomond Brewery and Oakham Ales to name but a few, and of course they always have a beer on from Kinneil Brew Hoose, the main feature of this post and the reason for my trip to Bo’ness.

After home brewing for many years, Stuart Simpson and two friends decided to start up a brewery. The friends soon dropped out of the venture but Stuart worked on, currently having to work seven days a week to keep the brewery ticking over.

The brewery is located just behind the Corbie Inn, a 2.5 barrel plant in a room not much bigger than an ordinary garage that Stuart has cobbled together himself. Stuart came from an engineering background which has served him well in the brewery, allowing him to do such things as build a cask washer, rig up temperature control for fermentation and build a temperature controlled cupboard for storage.

It’s not a state of the art set-up, but it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into putting it together, and of course it still makes great beer! Stuart very kindly gave me a bottle each of his three staple beers: Kincardine Sunset, Caer Edin Dark and Penvael Amber. I’ve since sampled all three and they are all very nice indeed. They’re not going to push the buttons of the most hardcore of craft beer fans, but they’re sessionable, easy to drink and very flavourful. Caer Edin a lovely rich, dark chocolatey porter was easily my personal favourite.

I had the chance to interview Stuart, and here’s what he had to say:

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

In the early 70s Skol lager was the drink of choice, and I thought then it was ok. There was a brewers strike or something and then Ind Coope at Alloa were the only people who could supply beer. They must have been supplying it to every pub in Scotland. The problem being it was rubbish! They must have changed their process to get more out. Probably stopped “lagering” it. Anyway it stayed the same rubbish ever after. So I started looking around for something better, and holidays in the Lake District and Austria showed me that beer could actually have a taste. Just not in Scotland!! I found a shop in Linlithgow which sold bottled Belhaven Export which was great, but you couldn’t get it just anywhere. Hand pulls were a rarity in pubs. On that note on to the next answer…..

How did you get into brewing?

Given the difficulty finding a decent pint of beer, I thought I might be able to brew a beer with some flavour to it. I think it’s one of my character traits (or flaws?) I always think I can do better myself. So I started out with a kit, and before long moved on (as you do!) to mashing and making a mess in the kitchen. I was lucky that at this time I lived in Crosshill Drive Bo’ness, a street famed for its home brewers. We all tasted each others brews, and oh, The Street Parties!

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

I don’t think there’s one I’d single out. I’m like lots of real ale drinkers in that I want to try them all. I think that’s the difference from Keg drinkers. They tend to stick to one so-called beer, and that’s it. If it doesn’t have a big red T or if a bit of flavour creeps in, they don’t want to know.  I do like a beer around the 4% ABV mark, with a good hop level, but not overly hoppy. I like my beer to taste of beer, not oranges, grapefruit, ginger etc.etc. A hint is ok, but in-yer-face? Nawww!

How did the Brew Hoose get started? What was the driving force behind deciding to start your own brewery?

Kinneil Brew Hoose came about after a conversation in a pub. Two friends, Gail and Giles Fairholm were considering creating a brew pub, which eventually became the Corbie Inn. I had two more friends who came in with me as business partners. They’re long gone. Still friends of course but like Elvis they have left the building. The brewery is still going after two years and Gail and Giles are still my landlords and good friends as well!  It’s been suggested I get the same buzz as I did when I was playing live as a musician. I guess there’s some truth in that. It’s great to see people asking for and enjoying one of your own beers..

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

BrewDog does what BrewDog does. They’re not really in the same game as small self funded microbreweries. Kickstarter and crowdfunding don’t really appeal, although never say never! Kinneil Brew Hoose has been entirely self funded. No loans, grants, or sleeping partners etc. That’s how we’ve survived this far. There aren’t any shareholders looking for a return, and we can get by without any danger of losing the house! I’ve had offers from small investors, but I don’t want to end up working for them. If someone wanted to come alomg and work as hard in the brewery as I do, then that’s the kind of investment I’d like to talk about.

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

Tips for home brewers – JFDI!! Keep everything clean, and when you think it’s clean, clean it. Get your liquor analysed, and treat it. Don’t use water straight from the tap.

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

So far, it’s been the fact that the brewery is relatively new. Real Ale drinkers, as I’ve said like to try something new. Also we’re a local brewer, and people are increasingly looking for local produce. Having said that, we’ve sent beer to festivals all over mainland Britain. Even a couple of bottles to Australia!

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

I don’t normally drink beer with my meals, unless I’m in a pub or restaurant. Then you usually just have to take what they’ve got. I can’t stand half of the nonsense written about wine. They have this big thing going on about what they can taste in the wine and what wine with what food etc. Beer’s a much superior product in every way. Just doesn’t have the snob appeal required by the foodies. But I do like a really good fish supper dripping with Gold Star sauce oot the chippie then doon the pub for a pint of Caer Edin Dark Ale.

How do you come up with new ideas for recipes?

I really don’t know. I guess I just have light bulb moments. So many of the recipes I did years ago are just that – recipes. Waiting to be dusted off and used again. I’m interested in local history, so if I can add something that reflects that so much the better.

Are there any expansion plans?

Can’t really expand on the site, and there’s little enough room as it is. There aren’t enough hours in the day/days in the week, so unless we get more people involved, I’d say my plan is to do the same, but better!!

What are your favourite hops and hop combinations?

I use Target hops for bittering in a couple of my beers. They’re high alpha acid, so you use less of them in a brew, which is a commercial consideration I suppose, but they leave a wonderful lasting bitterness at the back of the mouth, which is the main reason I like to use them. I also like to use Goldings or Fuggles along with the Target to temper the effect. Goldings and Fuggles are still great hops. They’ve been the mainstay of British brewing for many years and not without good reason! I also like to put some hops in the fermenter. Something with a good aroma, in the hope it will survive into the finished product. Something like Styrian Goldings or Saaz.

Does your beer travel far? Will any of my English readers be able to find it?

Well, we started out styling ourselves as the local brewer. The first cask we sold outside of the pub next door went to London. Followed up soon after by a beer/music Festival on the South Coast. We’ve supplied the occasional pub in England, and regularly supply beer festivals. For example we’ll have some beer at the Bolton Festival, which is coming up soon.

Do you have any advice for aspiring professional brewers?

It’s harder than you think! It’ll cost more than you think! It’ll take a lot longer than you think!
Be sure you have all the skills needed between you and whoever you go into the business with. Brewing, Engineering, Electrical, Plumbing, Sales, Delivery, Book Keeping, etc. etc. etc. If you’ve got to pay someone to do some of these things you will really struggle. If there are 8 days in the week in your neck of the woods, that helps too! But you’ll be working for yourself, doing something that you love, making something that you love. What could be better?

Thanks to Stuart for the interview, find out more about Kinneil Brew Hoose at www.kinneilbrew.co.uk and The Corbie Inn at www.corbieinn.co.uk or on Twitter @CorbieInnBoness

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

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

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

Still Thinking about… A Day In The Sun

Blog by Michael McGrorty

You know when you’re that excited you wake up several times hoping it’s finally time to get up and when you finally do get up it’s still like half an hour before your alarm…

This was my Friday night. The wait was excruciating. But finally, it was Saturday morning and time to depart on my trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Real Ale Festival. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks. And what a day it would be.

I arrived in Edinburgh just after 11am and headed to my usual first stop, The Beer Hive. After a quick chat I purchased a bottle of Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss (which I’m drinking as I write this: WOW), I headed off to my second port of call: The Hanging Bat for a pint with Elusive Brewing’s Andy Parker. Andy is a home/pro brewer, and although I’ve never tried any of his beers, everybody I’ve seen who has raves about them. I’m very excited to try the IPA he gave me. (Tried it by the time I edited this piece: WOW!) We had a lovely chat about brewing and beer and he had to shoot off, far too soon for my liking, to the next event of the European Beer Bloggers Conference. Andy is a great guy so you should all keep your eyes and ears open for whatever Elusive Brewing has planned next! If you’re reading this Andy, cheers for the company and the beer.

After Andy left I finished off the beer I was drinking, a Saison 14 from Weird Beard, which was fantastic, and quickly ordered a Citra by Brodies. A fantastic beer and packed full of flavour for only 3%. As nice as it was though, I found it far too warm. Probably a result of the ridiculously warm weather we’ve been having recently.

And with that beer finished, it was time to head to SRAF. Until I noticed on Twitter that @stravale was just round the corner from me. I invited him to join me and we stayed in the Bat chatting to Adam of Walking and Crawling for a little while. He told us that he had just been to SRAF and was disappointed, but I was still looking forward to it as it was my first big beer festival.

A short while, and a bus journey later, myself and @stravale were making our way into the Edinburgh Corn Exchange where we would find over 150 cask ales on offer. After paying our entry fee and picking up our glasses, we made our way through to the hall.

I went straight for the Elixir Fremantle Doctor. A lovely beer, maybe a bit too heavy on the bittering for me but a great beer nonetheless and one I definitely want to try again.

After that I tried out Fyne’s Sublime Stout which I didn’t like at all. I can’t put my finger on what it was, but unfortunately it ended up down the toilet sink. There was no way I was wasting time on beer I didn’t like, especially on a day like today.

After that we both headed over to the Natural Selection cask and tried it’s Origin. I’d been really excited to try this and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. It didn’t have any of the Belgian yeastyness that you expect from a saison and as it was cask it wasn’t as carbonated as I would have liked. I’m glad I got the chance to try it and I’d definitely like to try it on keg or in bottle.

Not long after that we started chatting to a random guy at the bar. Turns out he was one of the judges of the Champion Beer of Scotland! Very cool. Which then inspired us both to have a half of Jarl, the new king of Scottish beer. Lovely, lovely beer and like Citra from earlier, one that really packs a punch despite being relatively low in alcohol.

The new King of Scottish Beers, Fyne Ale's 'Jarl'

The new King of Scottish Beers, Fyne Ale’s ‘Jarl’

Being all beered out by this point, probably due to the heat, we headed outside and grabbed a drink of water and some food. Being a bit disappointed with the festival, we decided one more beer before heading: I went for Old School by Six Degrees North which was ok but nothing special. Kind of sums up SRAF for me.

The beers were nice enough but I don’t think they were conditioned long enough and they weren’t being poured very well. I also think it’s awful that all the best beers are already gone by Saturday. Would it be hard to get more or not put them on until Saturday? I can only assume Saturday would be their biggest day. A lot of these thoughts were echoed by the barman in The Bow Bar, who suggested getting some professional cellarmen in to look after the beers and possibly delay opening until Friday to give the beers a bit more time. This festival is supposed to be the pinnacle of cask in Scotland and quite frankly, it’s not.

After the festival, @stravale headed home and I headed to The Bow Bar. This was my second new bar of the day and after finding it surprisingly easily I headed in to peruse their selection. I noticed a couple Weird Beard beers on, but I quickly decided on the beer that I came for: the Buxton / To Ol collaboration, Sky Mountain. This was my first ever Berliner Weiss and only my second ever sour so I was eager to get stuck in. Boy, did it not disappoint. It was fantastic. Just sublime. So good I ordered another third before moving onto another beer of what must be today’s theme: small, flavourful beers. This time it was Little Things That Kill by Weird Beard, and just like the others it was packed full of flavour, just brilliant.

While I was drinking this I got chatting to a guy at the bar who just happened to be a published writer. Woah! Don’t think I’ve ever met a published writer before so that was kinda cool. He’s a lecturer at the university and wrote a book on 18th Scottish history.

After getting a bottle filled with Weird Beard’s 5 O’Clock Shadow I made my way back to The Hanging Bat. Being a wee bit hungry I opted for some food: their pulled pork. And bloody hell, it was amazing. You get a box filled with the pulled pork and a wee roll to put it on. I smothered it on the roll rather liberally and still had enough left in the box for a good few scoops. One of the tastiest things all day!

I washed that down with a Bethnal Pale by Redchurch and waited to meet Andy Parker again, having a Diablo by Summer Wine Brewery with Andy, Andy of Summer Wine and two other beer enthusiasts whose names I can’t remember (sorry!). Diablo was a brilliant beer and drinking such a fantastic beer with the guy responsible for it was a great finish to my day.

After that I headed to the train station, completely exhausted from my eventful day. I even fell asleep on the train, helping make the journey a bit shorter. When I got home I went straight to bed, dreaming of the next time I could grace Edinburgh’s fine streets and bars.

Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

Still Thinking about… An Un-Human Expedition

Blog by Michael McGrorty Until a few weeks ago, Un-Human Cannonball was just another one of those beers that quite a lot of people I follow on Twitter were raving about and that I probably wouldn’t have much of a chance of trying. Or so I thought. One day I was casually scrolling through my feed when I saw a retweet from a beer shop in Edinburgh saying they had ten bottles at £12 each and they had to be reserved. I thought nothing of it until a day later when for some reason I forgot I was Scottish and decided to spend £12 on one beer. This seemed crazy and alien to me. I tweeted the shop asking if they still had a bottle, they did and so I reserved it. A week or so later I jumped on a train to Edinburgh alone and spent a couple of hours wandering around the city, first to pick up my Un-Human Cannonball and then to The Beer Hive (fantastic shop, by the way) to get a few more beers. After that I wandered back towards the train station and stopped in at Jake’s Place for a couple. I quickly downed a third of Oak Barrel Stout by Old Dominion and a third of Hop Mountain by the same brewer as I had a train to catch. Both were great. I thought my Un-Human Cannonball experience, short of trying it, was over but how wrong I was… I decided to tweet my friends over at the Beer O’Clock Show to see if they had any plans to review the beer. Unfortunately they hadn’t been able to secure any bottles. Upon hearing this I started tweeting various Edinburgh beer shops and by some marvellous stroke of luck a specialty wine and beer shop still had three bottles. I reserved all three: one for Mark, one for Steve, and one for my arch-rival #No1Fan @stath79 A week later and it was time to go through to Edinburgh for the beers. It was a Friday night and I opted for the 1906 train. And due to the time, I set off on my journey with about 30% left on my phone battery – the only thing standing between me and being a helpless lost imbecile in the big city. While on the train I enjoyed a can of Modus Hoperandi, from Ska Brewing Company. It was amazing. It was like a big, bitter, resiny slap in the face and I loved every last sip of it. If you like American style IPAs then try this, you will not be disappointed. Upon arriving in the capital, I got out my phone and checked bus routes. There were a few I could take to Leith so I waited at the bus stop patiently until one finally arrived. I hopped on, trusty £10 note in hand, expecting no trouble at all only to be told that the driver didn’t do change and that the exact £1.50 fare was required. Feeling a bit pissed off that my money was no good, I sauntered away to a nearby McDonalds and got a coffee. Which I only drank half of for fear of being kicked off a second bus, this time for having food! Finally another bus arrived and I hopped on, dropping my money in and taking a seat. Ah, bliss – should be plain sailing from here provided I can get off at the right stop. Wrong! I managed to get off at the correct stop, and according to my rapidly dwindling phone I was just round the corner from where I needed to be. Fuck yeah! Or so I thought. I turned the corner into the street I needed only to be confronted with that most disheartening sight: a huge wire fence gate with a big padlock securing it shut. Noooooo! Was I too late? I saw a sign which had 9-6 written on it in big letters. That’s strange, I thought, the guy on the phone definitely said 10pm. I got out my phone again, now with so little battery I’m actually putting it in flight mode when I’m not using it, and checked the shop’s website. Yes, that’s right: I went to the wrong place. Only I could be such an idiot and go to the shop’s wholesale warehouse when I actually needed their retail shop. That’ll teach me for not reading the website properly. Damn it! Cursing myself aside, it was now approaching 9 and with the shop due to shut at 10 I started walking. Fast. I didn’t want to add another tenner on to the cost of the beers for the guys, and I couldn’t really afford to absorb the cost myself due to a holiday this month. I was going to make it to that shop, damn it. Half an hour later I was at the shop purchasing three bottles of Un-Human Cannonball and a bottle of Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings for myself (a beer which I had been waiting to try it again since December!) And with that, I shouldered my now considerable bag and headed back towards the train station and Jake’s Place for a few well earned beers. Another Oak Barrel Stout as well as a Copperhead Ale and a Rams Head IPA by Fordham Brewing. Now a little bit drunk I made my way into the train station and to Burger King for a little post-beer snack for the train home, which nearly made me miss my train but thankfully they were able to make my burger just in time. An hour and a half later and I was tucked up in bed, Un-Human Cannonballs tucked away safely waiting for their trip south, despite the big city and my phone’s efforts to thwart me. Look out for the season finale featuring said Un-Human Cannonballs that will be out at Beer O’clock on Friday 26th of July! Follow Michael on Twitter @h_doody #StillThinking

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