Monthly Archives: January 2012

Drinking Dens: The Craft Beer Company

What can I say about The Craft Beer Company that hasn’t already been said? Within four months of opening, RateBeer had them down as the 4th best beer bar in the world. When RateBeer published their Best Beer Bar list for 2011, Craft Beer Company and their sister pub Cask Pub & Kitchen were the only two UK bars on the list. Craft (as it’s known) has 37 beers on handpump and tap, plus a phone book-size menu of bottled beers (all available for takeaway), so it’s by far the best selection I’ve ever seen, anywhere (better even than Cask).

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Kernel Haul

The latest Kernel haul (I went to the brewery yesterday): From left to right, Pale Ale Centennial Citra (ABV 5.4), India Pale Ale Double Citra (ABV 9.8) and three bottles of Breakfast Stout (French Oak) (ABV 9.3). One of the Breakfast Stout bottles is for me, the other two are gifts. I’m very excited about this one as it’s the first cask-aged beer from Kernel – as far as I understand it the stout has been aged on French red wine barrels, but I might be wrong – feel free to correct me if I am.

Oh, and I also wanted to share some news of potentially earth-shattering consequences (at least if you are a beer geek): Starting next week, Kernel beers will for the first time be available outside the UK (beyond festivals and individual bottles, that is). Of course it’s the Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen that’s doing the importing. If you live nearby (say, in Malmö, for example), it’s totally worth the trip over the bridge. The blog post I’m linking to is in Danish, but it doesn’t contain any more specific information – it doesn’t say which beers, how much of it there is, etc (except it looks like about 12 kegs in the photo), but still – the standards at Kernel are such that you can pretty much drink any one of their beers with confidence that it will be excellent.

EDIT: I emailed Evin and asked about the cask (duh!) and he says it’s a french Bordeaux oak cask that probably did not contain wine before (i.e. it was originally made for Bordeaux wine), and was previously used by De Molen to age their Tsarina Esra stout. So now you know.

EDIT 2: I emailed Evin again (thanks for your patience, Evin!) and asked what beers they’d sent to Mikkeller Bar. This is the selection: 2 19-liter cornie kegs each of Export India Porter (ABV 5.9),  IPA Columbus (ABV 7.1), IPA Double Black (ABV 9.8), Rye Pale Ale (ABV 5.5), Pale Ale Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Pacific Jade (ABV 5.3) and 1 keg each of IPA Galaxy (ABV 7.4), IPA Citra (ABV 7.2), IPA Black (ABV 7.4), Breakfast Stout (ABV 9.3) and Export Stout (ABV 7.4). If you are in a position to go there, my advice is, for the love of all that is holy and good, try the IPA Double Black (my candidate for Best Beer of 2011), and then, for all that is slightly less holy and good, try the Breakfast Stout. Then try the rest of the. You may only get this one chance, fools.

Best in the World?

Beer review/social networking site RateBeer just released their annual Best-of-lists: the best beers, best breweries and best beer bars in 2011, as determined by their aggregate (and, I believe, weighted) ratings on the site. Being a beer geek who loves lists (but who, strangely, only just recently signed up to RateBeer – I’m HenrikO if you want to friend me), I naturally checked it out first thing. Some thoughts:

For Best Brewers in the world, the dominance of US breweries is clear. There are 33 non-US breweries in the top 100 for 2012 (up ever-so-slightly from 2011 when there were 32 – non-US breweries have in fact held relatively steady at around 1/3 of the list since 2006). There’s always an argument to be had whether this reflects the biases of the community or whether it simply reflects the fact that US brewers in general are better. I’m inclined towards the latter explanation, actually – for a long time, the US was the world leader in craft brewing in terms of innovation and quality, and it’s only in the past five or ten years that the rest of the world has been catching up.

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Happy Burns Night!

Charlotte, 4, shows off the haggis

I have no connection to Scotland. Neither has my wife, or anyone else in our families. Yet I celebrate Burns Night every year. Here’s the reason: I just like haggis. And whisky. And the whole ritual element of it. I’m a geek, what do you expect?

This year I got my haggis from the excellent Wild Game Co who happen to have a stall on Whitecross Street near where I live. The laddies there also offered some excellent cooking advice: rather than boiling it, put the haggis in a pan with some water and put it in the oven, 170 C for about 45 minutes – 1 hour. That way the flavours do not boil away, the haggis still stays moist, and the top layer gets nicely crispy. Maybe all of you other haggis-eaters have always cooked it this way, but it was news to me. And it turned out awesome! This is how I cook my haggis from now on. Thanks, guys!

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Meet the Brewer: Harbour Brewing

This is a London-centric blog, but sometimes (just very occasionally, of course) something interesting turns up outside London. Like today, for example, when new Cornish craft brewery Harbour Brewing has their official launch.

I met Harbour Brewing founders Eddie (Lofthouse) and Rhys (Powell) at a Mikkeller event at Cask Pub & Kitchen a couple of months ago, heard about their plans to launch a brewery, and stayed in touch. So far Cornwall hasn’t been craft brewing territory the way London or Yorkshire is – there’s Sharp’s, of course (Rhys used to be a brewer there), and St Austell’s, but not much besides. So it was fun to hear about someone wanting to put Cornwall on the craft beer map!

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The week in beer: Jan 9 – Jan 15

Bit of a mixed bag at the beginning of 2012. I sampled some more of my Christmas gift beers, went to Craft Beer Co. and The Old Fountain. Of course I also had the opportunity to try Thornbridge’s sherry cask-aged (3 years!) version of their Bracia Old Ale, which sort of put all the other beers I sampled last week in the shade – but I covered this separately, as you see.

Jai Alai IPA

On the international front, I finally got my taste buds around the much-talked-about Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing. Since I obsessively follow London beer bars on Twitter, I know that all of them make sure to mention when they’ve got this one on, like it is a big sales argument. And now I understand why – this is a hefty Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 7.5) with lots of fruit on the nose and tounge: mango and pineapple predominantly, with slightly sour notes making me think of those fruits as unripe. The fruit gives way to a strong resiny hoppiness and an ever-so-slightly smoky aftertaste. I know Cigar City makes lots of variations on the Jai Alai (how about a juniper/cedar-aged one, or one flavoured with acai berries and mango?) and I’d be really keen to try them too if they ever show up on these shores. In comparison the Southern Tier IPA at first felt a bit flat, but I just had to get used to the fact that it was just a different take on the genre. The high ABV (6.9) does not come through at all as much as it does in the Jai Alai (or maybe those 0.6 percentage units really make a big difference) – the Southern Tier IPA feels like a much lighter, more workmanlike IPA where the malt is more in balance with the hops. There’s a clear bread-and-butter taste, and where the Jai Alai has unripe fruit, Southern Tier goes for overripe, with quite sweet apple, orange and tropical flavours. All in all a very smooth drink. I’m a big fan of Southern Tier and this did not disappoint.

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Review: Thornbridge Bracia

This is the kind of beer geek I am: I follow all London beer bars on Twitter so I’ll know if something exceptional comes on (granted, if your locals are The Craft Beer Co, The Old Fountain and The Old Red Cow, pretty much every night is exceptional). And the other day, I was rewarded for my geekery with the news that Craft was going to put on the cask-aged version of Thornbridge’s Bracia. In case you didn’t know, this Bracia has been aged for three years on Pedro Ximenez casks (that’s a kind of sherry). It’s a severely limited/rare release. A beer event in itself. I’m swooning just writing about it.

Naturally I started planning my visit to Craft the day I heard the news, and this Tuesday last the Big Day had come. I took a non-beer geek friend and off we went.

First shock: it’s £6 for a half-pint. But hey, quality costs, right? So I front the dosh for two halves, and there it is, as black as the night with a light frothy brown head that sinks a bit but sort of stays for the whole time we’re drinking. So after a build-up like this, it can only end in disappointment, right?

Wrong. This is one beer that’s every bit as good as the hype says. The nose hits first and the sherry aroma is unmistakeable: raisins, brown sugar/molasses, grapes and a little bit of wine. Then, the first thing on the tounge is the honey: sweet, more than a hint of molasses, and very floral. “Floral” is an adjective commonly used to indicate a delicate flavour, but Bracia is about as delicate as a hammer: when I say “floral”, think flowers with a heavy, penetrating sweet smell, like gardenia, or honeysuckle. The honey flavours blend well with the oaky, near-tannic notes from the cask, lots of vanilla going on there, then the sherry comes back with raisins, grape juice and a hint of dark berries. Then, just as you worry about the beer becoming too sweet and too cloying, the dry, roast bitterness comes on, with a distinct nutty layer, plus just a little bread (toast) to finish. The dry hoppy finish also stays with you for a surprisingly long time, making Bracia something very unusual: a beer of extremes that’s still perfectly balanced. As you drink it (this is a beer for sipping, not quaffing), it opens up a bit and the vinous/sherry character becomes more pronounced and the sweetness subsides. You get more of those raisins, the dark berries, maybe a bit of strawberry too, maybe just a little hint of grass.

I had another half after the second. It was worth it. Is it possible that I’ve had the beer experience of 2012 the second week of January?

How to make your own lamb’s wool (or wassail)

Lamb's wool - the finished productSometimes you just get that urge to make drinks according to medieval (or late renaissance) recipes. A good time to get that urge (provided you can control it; it’s usually a sudden-onset thing) is around Twelfth Night, when there is a  seasonally-appropriate drink to remake: wassail, or lamb’s wool as it’s also called (to be strict, lamb’s wool seems to be a variety of wassail, at least according to wikipedia, and as we know wikipedia is always right).

Lamb’s wool is essentially warm beer with sugar, apples and spices (whereas wassail is warm cider, though I’ve seen wassail recipes based on beer, too). Sounds good, right? Who doesn’t like sugar, apples and spices? And we all like beer, obviously. So this is what I did.

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For my Swedish readers: 10 British breweries you’ll want to see at Systembolaget

Ok, so this post takes a bit of explaining. I’m Swedish, which you know if you’ve been paying attention, so as it happens many (ok, three of them, which still leaves them in the majority) of my readers are Swedish. And if there’s one thing I’ve picked up from the Swedish beer geek scene after observing it from a distance these past nine years, it’s that British beer gets a bad rap there. No Swedish beer geek I know really enjoys British beer except maybe for BrewDog (who prefer to be called Scottish, I’m sure, though calling them “British” will certainly go over better than calling them “English”) – British beer is generally thought of as bland, stale, sour (in a bad way, not in a Cantillon way) and only one small step up from generic lager.

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Another Christmas Present: Mikkeller Selection

Besides the beer club membership I got, naturally I also made sure to get some Christmas presents for myself – and yesterday they arrived:

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So, beer geek readers: would you rather have the previously-mentioned 20 bottles or the 4 you see here? Bear in mind that the 20 bottles will be free in this almost-imaginary scenario, whereas you’ll have to pay around £50 for the Mikkeller selection (the first 20 bottles from the beer club retails for a competitive £40 or thereabouts, if memory serves).

So which one would you prefer? Or is that a trick question?