Wednesday, 07 October 2015 21:19

Indy Man advent calendar - day seven

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Buxton 2

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery)three (Chris Dixon, volunteer)four (Adam Watson, Against the Grain)five (Todd Nicolson, New Zealand Craft Beer Collective), six (Steve Bentall, punter and blogger).

Today's blog, the final one in the series, features Buxton Brewery head brewer Colin Stronge.

 

Why do you think Indy Man has become one of the most talked-about events in the UK beer calendar?

I think it relates to their beginnings. They were really a breath of fresh air for the beer festival scene. When Europe was doing some spectacular festivals, the UK was really dragging it's heels and the vast majority of beer festivals here were still fairly characterless halls with warm, generally fairly poorly-managed beer.

Indy Man reached out to Europe and beyond, something that other beer festivals here often struggled to do with any success or real intent. The first IMBC was truly a kick up the ass for festivals on this island! Their embracing of some of the world's most innovative brewers really helped them establish themselves and continue to help them push new ground in the UK.

 

What have been your personal highlights from previous years?

The variety of spaces afforded by the venue is a real treat. You can always find a comfortable spot to suit any mood, or any beverage, due to the wonderful layout of the building.

 

What's your top tip for someone attending for the first time?

Don't spend too much time in any room! Make sure you see the variety of spaces available and enjoy a beer in each one.

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Being there for the whole festival! The last couple of years I have had to come and go due to brewery commitments, so have never been free to immerse myself in the vibe fully and missed some brewers whom I'd have loved to meet and whose beers I would've loved to have tasted. This year I'll avoid that (hopefully).

 

From a brewer's perspective, which other brewers do you tend to look out for at Indy Man?

There are a lot of ace brewers at the festival every year. I'm always delighted to see To Øl beers as they are always mindblowing, with their variations of styles and big, bold flavours. But my favourite to see is nearly always Thornbridge. They provide great variety, a wide range of styles and rarely a grain of malt or leaf of hop out of place. Styles nailed hard!

 

What can we expect from Buxton at this year's event?

We'll have a wide variety of beers on, lots of our collaborations from this year, some specials we've held back especially and some new beers too. Hopefully a little something for everyone.

 

Heading into Indy Man, are you pleased with how the year has gone for Buxton?

It's always really humbling to be invited to these events and asked to showcase our beers. We've had a pretty mad year with expansion, staff changes, collaborations, etc. But we've managed to create some beers that I am really happy with and, thankfully, seem to have been really well received by you guys.

We're always trying to look for new styles and new combinations of flavours and we've managed a lot of that this year. That's one of the best parts of the job!

It's always great to work with other brewers, good fun and a chance to expand your knowledge around the brewhouse. We have been very lucky to work with some of the best in the world this year. I hope the beers we've made together have done them all justice.

 

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 20:44

Indy Man advent calendar - day six

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Indy Man Beer Con preview 5

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery)three (Chris Dixon, volunteer)four (Adam Watson, Against the Grain), five (Todd Nicolson, New Zealand Craft Beer Collective).

Today's blog features Indy Man punter and beer blogger Steve Bentall, from the Beer O'Clock Show.

 

From a customer's perspective, why do you think Indy Man Beer Con has become so popular?

For me, it's a mix of things. Location is a lot to do with it, there's something about Victoria Baths' unique environment that makes it special. The range of beer and breweries is impressive and many of the brewers are there as well so you get an opportunity to chat to them and find out more about the stories behind the beer. There's also a certain unknown quality as well that's probably to do with the atmosphere. It's very chilled, relaxed and good-natured.

From the perspective of a blogger, I've also found the organisers to be very approachable and they seem to be doing it for the right reasons. It does seem to be the prime gathering for beer geeks too so you know you will bump into good people.

It's close to being the perfect festival. There wasn't a single thing I didn't like about it last year and there were different options to suit different people. For example, if I wanted music I knew there was a room I could go to, but if I wanted peace and quiet there were also plenty of places where I could find that.

 

A lot of people mention the venue. What was your first reaction upon stepping into the Edwardian swimming baths?

My first reaction was literally, 'wow, this is amazing'. It took me back to my childhood because I remember swimming in baths just like these when I was younger.

It was just perfect and I don't know whether the festival would work as well in any other location so that's a challenge the organisers face in coming years. Do they want to grow the festival? If they do they will need to move and it becomes an entirely different experience. Or do they want to maintain what they are doing now but then risk excluding people?

 

Did you have any criticisms of last year's event?

I really don't know, there wasn't anything where I thought 'they shouldn't have done that'. The balance is just right and the few little changes that they seem to have made for this year all seem to be positive. It looks like they have listened to what people have said and responded to feedback, both good and bad. But I suppose we shall see.

 

What did you make of the criticism from some quarters that the festival exudes an air of snobbery?

I think it's what you make of it but it's quite difficult to make a judgement from the inside. I'm in what many people would consider to be the 'beer geeks' circle who will find people similar to us and maybe stand and analyse the beers a bit. The average Joe might walk past that and think it's a bit snobbish but I don't really get that at all.

The atmosphere at Indy Man is very welcoming and accepting - people are just there for a good time. There was never a single point when the brewers didn't want to talk to us, even those we didn't know. Everyone is happy to enjoy a beer and have a chat.

 

What would be your one tip to help fellow punters make the most of the festival?

Try as many beers as possible and try beers from breweries you have not seen before. The brewery list is 50-strong but maybe half of the beer available you can probably get elsewhere. The other half you can only get at Indy Man Beer Con so it's worth pushing the boat out. Try the collaborations because they are always interesting.

The fact the festival is giving customers the opportunity to buy cans of any beer at the festival is just brilliant as well. They have seen a trend in the market and they have jumped on it. It's a really creative idea and just adds to the experience.

 

Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to at this year's event?

I want to try beers from Wylam Brewery after trying their Jakehead IPA and being really impressed. They seem to be making some great stuff. To be honest, I'm going to take the approach of sticking to new breweries and new beers so the likes of Halcyon and Cannonball can wait! I'm also looking forward to seeing what Galway Bay bring because if they bring their double IPA Of Foam and Fury, I might forget what I just said.

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 06:46

Indy Man advent calendar - day five

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Indy Man Beer Con preview 2

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery)three (Chris Dixon, volunteer), four (Adam Watson, Against the Grain).

Today's blog features Todd Nicolson from Indy Man Beer Con newcomers New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, a collection of Kiwi brewers hoping to make a mark on the UK beer scene.

 

What's the background behind the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective and why was it formed? 

It's a collection of five independent breweries who were looking to share resources and help each other with the export and distribution side of things. You've got Renaissance, 8 Wired, Tuatara, Three Boys and Yeastie Boys who all offer something different to one another. Discussions about forming the collective started at the end of last year and we've been in the UK since February -  Craft Beer Rising was our first event in this country.

When we talk about the Collective and what the brewers wanted to achieve, much of it was born out of the fact we had shit beer in New Zealand so a lot of people decided to homebrew instead. There wasn't really that need elsewhere, especially in the UK where there is a strong brewing tradition. So it's created a little incubator in New Zealand because it's such a remote country and we've seen an interesting and varied beer scene grow really quickly.

What you're seeing is some really creative stuff and a really wide range of different approaches. At one end you have Renaissance, who are doing many traditional British styles with a Kiwi twist, but then you have Yeastie Boys making some weird and wonderful stuff. We just want to show people there is some great beer coming out of our country.

 

What made you decide to come to Indy Man Beer Con?

We were delighted to get the invite to Indy Man because it fit perfectly with our plans in this country. Over our first six months in this country, we've worked hard to establish ourselves in London and, because of that, our presence everywhere else has been nil.

But we have always been really keen to get our beer into Manchester and Leeds because both are great beer cities. There's a lot of good stuff going on in London but it's so spread out. But Leeds is more compact and Manchester, in particular, has a strong tradition so the beer scenes in each place have a really strong identity.

When we launched in both of these cities we wanted to go big, so we targeted Leeds International Beer Festival and then Indy Man as launch events for the collective. But the other reason why we were always keen on Indy Man was because so many people had told us it's the one event of the year you can't miss.

 

What can we expect to see from the NZ Craft Beer Collective at the festival?

Well, you won't miss us, that's for sure! We've got a huge banner that we'll bring with us and we treat these events like a party. For us, it's hard to know where the work ends and the play stops but we just want to communicate our enthusiasm for what we do.

We're bringing 45 different beers with us and will have 13 taps operating at any one time, so there will be a big mix available. We're pretty confident of the quality of the beer. If people come to us for a showcase of New Zealand hops, they'll be able to get that but there will also be a number of specials, one-offs and beers you'll never see again.

Yeastie Boys will be bringing the 2014 vintage of their annual specials His and Her Majesty, which change every year. We'll also have some of their Rex Attitude, which is one of the most divisive beers made in New Zealand. It's made with 100 per cent peated malt so is probably the beer equivalent of Laphroaig and it's one of those people should definitely try if they see it on.

We'll have Sauvinova from Tuatara, which is a great showcase of Nelson Sauvin hops. We'll also be bring some special green-hop beer with us, showcasing fresh New Zealand hops. So we'll be the only brewers at the event with green-hop beer.

 

Do you have anything else planned while you're in Manchester for the festival?

We've got a tap takeover at Port Street Beer House the day before the event because we really want to showcase what our brewers produce and get our beer in as many hands a possible.

We're also hoping to do five collaborations with Manchester breweries to tie in with the festival. We've already got two confirmed and want to organise a couple more too. Once we told the brewers that we have plenty of New Zealand hops to use, it didn't seem to be very hard for us to arrange collaborations! Once those beers are ready, in around a month's time, we're hoping to return to Port Street Beer House to launch the collaborations properly but you can expect to see us on the bar in Manchester a lot more in the future.

 

Sunday, 04 October 2015 19:00

Indy Man advent calendar - day four

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Indy Man Beer Con preview 4

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery)three (Chris Dixon, volunteer).

Today's blog gains the perspective of Adam Watson, co-owner and brewer at American craft brewery Against the Grain, who return to Indy Man this year following a successful debut in 2014.

 

How does Indy Man Beer Con compare to festivals in America?

IMBC was actually pretty similar to many of the better Stateside festivals. The big difference for me was that most of the brewers there are not available stateside, so nearly every beer I tried was a beer I had never had before. In the States I have usually already tried most of the beers available at a festival.

Additionally, cask is pretty rare in the States. Most festivals have none and those that do tend to have one small area for it.

 

What are your personal reflections on Indy Man Beer Con following your visit last year?

I'm going to have to summarize here because there was quite a lot. The festival itself was fantastic and the venue is one of the most interesting venues I have ever seen a beer festival take place in. The aesthetics were beautiful and the plethora of different rooms allowed lots of distinct experiences. The array of beers available was also very cool.

All the brewers and drinkers I spoke with were really excited about the whole thing, so it was nice to be in such a positive atmosphere. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the collaborative brew we did with Northern Monk while I was over there - those guys are awesome.

 

Were there any particular highlights from last year's festival?

One of my favorite parts of the festival was the cellar sampling. Twice I was given the opportunity to lead a smaller tasting in the hallways downstairs and I really enjoyed those. The chance to pair up with another brewer and to share some details about a particular beer was extremely exciting for me.

I also really liked all the opportunities surrounding the festival itself. I spent a good deal of time at Port Street Beer House and wandering about Manchester with the other top notch brewers that came to IMBC. The meet the brewer event at Beermoth was fantastic as well.

 

What can we expect from Against the Grain at this year's festival?

Unfortunately I will not be in attendance this year but two of my business partners, Sam and Jerry, will be making it out there. They will also be doing collaborations with Magic Rock and Beermoth while there. Keep an eye out, they may weird your world up.

 

Are you keen to develop more of a presence in the UK market?

Absolutely. We have increased our production volume significantly in the last few months and we are still figuring out which markets should be getting our additional liquid. Hopefully we can start growing our presence in the UK.

 

What do you make of the state of independent brewing in the UK?

With the relatively small sample size I have, I'm not sure I am qualified to answer this but I'll take a crack anyway. It seems like there is a lot of innovation and growth among small brewers in the UK. I have always found it interesting to watch the differences in growing a craft scene in a country where there was little pre-existing beer culture (USA) versus a country where there is a strong traditional beer culture (UK).

Perhaps because of the strong traditional culture in the UK, it took you guys longer to get in a groove on craft brewing but things seem to be humming along nicely now.

The barrier to entry in the US is a lot higher because alcohol is such a highly regulated industry. We have to play by a lot of rules that don't apply in the UK. It looks like you guys are taking full advantage of your relatively low barrier to entry and churning out some impressive smaller brewers who are pushing the envelope of innovation in really interesting ways.

Sunday, 04 October 2015 09:10

Indy Man advent calendar - day three

Written by

Indy Man Beer Con preview 3

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery).

Today's blog asks Chris Dixon, a regular volunteer and co-organiser of Birmingham Beer Bash, for his thoughts on the festival.

 

Why do you think Indy Man Beer Con has become so popular, so quickly?

Indy Man is clearly the leader in the 'craft beer' revolution of beer festivals. They've chucked out a lot of crap CAMRA event pathos and replaced it with vibrancy, effervescence and downright fabulous ideas.

 

You volunteer at a lot of different festivals but what makes Indy Man Beer Con different from others?

From a volunteer perspective, there's much more of an element of camaraderie over the whole group than at most other festivals. The interaction between volunteers, brewers and Indy Man staff is pretty much perfect.

 

What have been your highlights from previous years?

My highlight is always 'who's the new kid on the block that's going to get the Turkish Baths?' Last year's Beavertown party is going to be hard to top. This year my money's on New Zealand Beer Collective, by the way.

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I'll be honest, I haven't really looked at the brewery and beer list yet because I'm working most of the event - as normal! I guess I'd say the revamped cask spots, if pressed. There is the promise of super rare beers just in cask, which is really appealing because cask is still my first love.

 

What's your best tip for someone attending for the first time?

Have a look around. Soak in the atmosphere then go and find out which brewers are serving you. It really is the biggest highlight for the casual observer. Ignore the beer list and go and talk to these guys instead. They'll find your perfect beer, I promise. My first year I managed to blag a spot serving with Kjetl from Nøgne Ø and he was awesome!

 

Given you're a regular festival volunteer, what motivates you to do it?

Two main reasons. Firstly, you learn a heck of a lot. Even those old-fashioned guys at CAMRA have taught me shedloads of things. My job is nothing to do with beer so it's a completely different experience. Lifting stuff, fixing broken equipment or lashing together fixes for the unexpected - I've learnt this in spades.

Secondly, you meet so many absolutely amazing people. From brewers to landlords, from bloggers to people that genuinely just love beer. And then it takes over your life. As a single guy, with few overheads and a decent job, it's pretty much the perfect pastime.

 

What is the one thing you would ask of punters that would make volunteers' lives that much easier?

Just to remember that we are just that. Volunteers. We don't know everything but give us a chance and we'll sort you out.

Saturday, 03 October 2015 07:31

Indy Man advent calendar - day two

Written by

Runaway Brewery 4

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser).

Today's blog asks Mark Welsby, head brewer from Manchester brewery Runaway, for his thoughts on their hometown festival.

 

Why do you think IMBC has become such a highlight in the UK beer calendar?

In a nutshell, Indy Man seems to capture everything that's progressive and exciting about the UK beer scene right now, rams it into one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and fills it with people who are passionate about beer. What's not to like? In my view it has totally redefined the idea of a beer festival and people love it for that.

 

Being a Manchester brewery, does it represent a particular source of pride when you are invited to participate?

Of course. I remember sitting in the Ladies pool at IMBC in 2013 when our little brewery was still in planning stages. We were looking at the calibre of the breweries involved and laughing with friends about how, one day, we might get invited. That possibility seemed such a long way off, I can tell you. So to have been invited this year is a source of great pride for us. We're really looking forward to it.

 

What have been your highlights from previous years?

The choice of beers on rotation is fantastic. Unlike a lot of other festivals, every session offers something new to try, which is great. I always enjoy a wander around the baths because its such a great interior and I have been found sitting up in the old spectator area just drinking it in once or twice. I really enjoyed meeting Bruno from Toccalmatto last year too and it's great that you can meet the brewers serving their own beer.

 

What's your best tip for someone attending for the first time?

Listen out for impromptu tastings and meet the brewer pop up events. These are a good opportunity to ask questions, try beer for free and learn more about the story behind a beer or brewery. (Listen out for a bell, which usually signifies the start of one of these events. But be quick, places are limited. Ed.)

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Working at the festival on Saturday and Sunday will be good - being behind the bar for a change is something we really enjoy. Its a great way to get instant feedback on our beer and there's nothing quite like seeing somebody enjoy the fruits of your labour. I hope we can put a smile of one or two faces.

 

What makes IMBC different from other festivals?

As a drinker - the quality of the breweries showcasing their less mainstream beers and the beer rotation across sessions so that every session feels like a different festival from a beer perspective. The venue and food are great too, so it's hard to think of somewhere better.

As I said earlier, I think of IMBC as the prototype for the modern beer festivals. It feels very relevant and it really captures the spirit of the beer scene right now. It really feels authentic, collaborative and independent, and the beer on show represents some of the most diverse, exciting and innovative out there, from some of the best breweries in the UK and beyond.

 

What can we expect from Runaway at this year's IMBC?

What? Apart from highly unprofessional bar service? Well, we'll be launching our new double IPA and will serve that alongside a couple of very limited edition collaborations we've done with Indy Man Brew House, Pig and Porter and Crisp Maltings.

We've saved a couple of specials that people may not have had chance to try over the summer too, so hopefully there'll be a few new things to folks to try. We've also let Chorlton Brewing Co loose on our IPA, so fascinated to see how it turns out.

Thursday, 01 October 2015 16:26

Indy Man advent calendar - day one

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 IMBC recap 1

Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Today's blog focuses on organiser Claudia Asch...

 

Without wanting to blow your own trumpet, you must be pleased with how well IMBC has fared so far. What do you think has been the secret to your success?

We've always worked hard to be inclusive, to have something for everyone happening at IMBC that will make it memorable and make people want to return year on year. We love beer geeks, of course, and there will always be plenty for them at IMBC, such as the Tilquin tasting this year and some other surprises from Beermoth. But we also want to people just to have a great time in the splendour that is Victoria Baths, surrounded by great food and snacks, and excellent beer.

We try to go back to the drawing board each year and reinvent IMBC a little bit, and we think that that shows in the breweries that we choose, the food, the snacks, the talks and tastings, and the decor and set-up. It's about building beery (or cidery) memories that will bring people back year on year.

 

Given the huge number of breweries now operating in the UK, how do you go about choosing which are invited to participate?

In a nutshell, it's getting harder each year. We are always spoilt for choice and it's a balancing act, we want our good friends to come back, but we also want the opportunity to showcase some newcomers that we think are hitting above their weight already. Manchester's brewing landscape has changed quite a bit in the last year, and the same goes for all over the country.

A lot of names and breweries are circulated in our initial meetings, then we see who is actually up for it, particularly breweries from overseas. Then we suddenly find ourselves with a list of 50 breweries. Therefore, changing some breweries after three sessions gives us chance to showcase more.

 

What expectations do you place on the breweries in terms of the beer that is offered for the festival?

We encourage beer launches and specials. That is partially the idea behind us collaborating with breweries to bring some new beers to IMBC. Many breweries keep some specials tucked away for us or do a slightly different version of a beer for IMBC.

For some, it can be a bit of a test run. Thinking back to last year, Beavertown's Earl Phantom - a lemon, iced tea sour brewed in collaboration with IMBC - has been a big success for them, so much so they have rebrewed it and even canned it. We're quite proud of that.

Two years ago, Buxton brought a tea saison in cask that still gets talked about and in our first year, Brian Dickson - now head brewer at Northern Monk - used a Randall to add even more chillis to a chocolate chilli stout. People still remember how that kept getting hotter and hotter! Generally, people remember these beers and they know where they drank them.

 

Obviously there are always areas that can be improved. What changes have you made this year as a direct result of lessons learned from last year?

Oh boy, where to start? People asked about a separate bar for the collaboration beers last year so they will be on the Portable Street Beer House in room two this year. Those beers will be available throughout IMBC and we're hoping people really enjoy them — so much that there will be six packs and individual cans of the collabs for sale!

People also felt that cask wasn't visible, so we've gone back to our roots, like in the first year and have a dedicated cask bar in room two that will showcase lots of cask specials. All the food will be outside this year, mainly to reduce the food fog in room two that was a bit of a problem, and it has freed us up for more bars.

 

Cask did seem to be put in the shade a little at last year's festival, which was my biggest gripe. Was there any reason for this?

Perhaps we didn't really ensure that the cask offering was interesting enough last year but it's a difficult thing to gauge. Speaking to other festivals, there does seem to be a trend, however, that punters will try and go for more keg beers at an event than, say, if they spend an evening at the pub.

Now that we have a dedicated cask bar again, we hope that visitors will be able to find it easily and also recognise that there are some beers on there that they may never see again. As always, we'll ensure that the beer has been properly stillaged and is ready to go when we open on Thursday.

 

What is your top tip to help punters make the most out of the festival?

Crikey! Be experimental, be willing to try beer styles you've not tried before and try a brewery you've not tried before. The brewers will be on the bars, so pick their brains.

Go with the flow, explore the lovely Victoria Baths, be sure to eat what our lovely food vendors have on offer and hopefully, you'll have an amazing time.

 

Is there anything in particular we should look out for this year?

The brethren from Northern Monk are going to transform the Turkish Baths into a mini-abbey. David Walker from Firestone Walker will be at IMBC on Saturday and Sunday, so make a beeline for their bar in the Green Room if you want to meet him. He'll also be doing a talk on Firestone Walker and the California beer scene on Saturday night.

Then there are cans! We believe we're the first beer festival to have a takeaway canning service available. There will also be demos on off-flavours on Thursday and Friday from FlavorActiv, and much, much more.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:35

MCR Brew Expo aims to build Mancunian pride

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MCR Brew ExpoMCR Brew Expo, May 23 to 24

In five years time, it's entirely feasible we'll look back on MCR Brew Expo as a seminal moment in Manchester's beer scene.

The event itself is significant enough, representing the city's first collaborative showcase of modern microbrew, organised entirely by those who make it.

Nine breweries in total will throw their doors open in a bid to reveal the richness of talent and diversity lurking within the city's railway arches and industrial units, away from the public glare.

But, beyond the confines of the weekend, MCR Brew Expo looks set to leave an enduring legacy - one that will ensure Manchester provides fertile ground for further brewing growth.

"Collaborative working is the key to all of this," says Paul Jones, co-founder of Cloudwater Brew Co, who have taken a leading role in organising the Expo.

"We all came together initially to organise an event but have ended up forging long-term relationships that go much further. On a basic level, that might mean sharing malt and hops but it also means exchanging advice, sharing lessons that have been learned or just providing one another with someone to talk to because we know how it feels.

"This isn't just about nine disparate businesses coming together to make a bit of money. It's about creating a unified scene and we've already come together to discuss how we might work together on distribution, marketing and a number of other issues.

"Prior to organising the Expo, some of the breweries involved felt as if they were a little bit isolated but now we have developed a sense of community and camaraderie. Hopefully that comes across during the Expo."

When Jones talks, it's hard not to be swept up in a wave of enthusiasm.

As a beer lover first and foremost, he appears genuinely excited about the opportunities that abound for all those involved, rather than retaining a narrow focus on Cloudwater's own success.

The Expo roster also features Manchester stalwarts Marble and is rounded off by a strong selection of the city's best young breweries, which includes Alphabet, Blackjack, First Chop, Privateer, Runaway, Squawk and Track.

It would be easy for them to view each other with suspicion, particularly given the increasingly fierce fight for bar space and the tight margins that exist at the lower end of the industry.

Instead, the primary challenge is seen as expanding the prevalence of Mancunian beer in bars and pubs across the country. And, in that sense, the main competition lies across the water.

Jones says, "It would be wrong of us to think of each other as 'the competition' because that's simply not the case. Because of the current pressure on the market, we're in competition with quality and it's up to us all to make sure we're producing a consistently good product.

"The breweries in Manchester all produce different products that appeal to different people. In the Piccadilly area, Privateer are focused on making a good pint, Track are making some great cask pales, Squawk are focused on good keg beer and Chorlton are set up for sours.

"If we start focusing on competition then we are not thinking about richness of consumer experience and that's when we begin to lose ground.

"We are trying to compete against US imports to show people they can get beer from their own city that is just as good but much fresher because it hasn't had to travel.

"If we make gains to improve the production of beer in Manchester that's great for us. We want to make people proud of what their city produces and give them an incentive to invest in local breweries."

The hand of friendship has even been extended across the generation gap. One of the city's oldest family brewers, Joseph Holt, participated in a special collaborative brew especially for the Expo, creating the Green Quarter IPA in alliance with Marble, Blackjack and Runaway.

MCR Brew Expo collaboration brew team

It is a rare occurrence of Manchester's distinct ale scenes finding common purpose and a fitting example of the barriers that have been broken down in the process of planning this inaugural event.

Given the sizeable strides made in a small space of time, Jones' thoughts have already turned to the possibilities for extending the festivities further in the years to come.

He says, "We all have an appetite to see how far we can take this and I'm pretty confident this won't be the only Expo event this year.

"Beer festivals tend to be run by bar owners, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because we love the bar owners who sell good beer and work to promote it.

"But this is different because it's run by the brewers themselves so it gives a fresh perspective and provides the public with a feel for the thinking behind the beer they drink.

"We all enjoy the Bermondsey Beer Mile but feel it perhaps doesn't go far enough in providing people with the full brewery experience. The Expo is an open brewery event, which is exactly what we wanted it to be. Being inside a brewery is a sensory experience and we want people to enjoy that and take it all in.

"Most of us are underground, working under railway arches, so we often go unnoticed but when people see what we do, I believe the enthusiasm is catching.

"We want to generate a buzz round this so people see Manchester as a destination for good beer."

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the MCR Brew Expo website.

Friday, 17 October 2014 11:33

Ten things we learned from Indy Man Beer Con

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Indy Man Beer Con 2014 11. Beer folk are good folk

Nothing new there eh? Well, probably not but the sense of camaraderie and bonhomie seemed to reach its peak at Indy Man. No other festival captures the exuberant spirit and collaborative nature of modern British brewing quite like this one.

I've seen the festival's mood dismissed in some quarters as elitist or cliquish but there's a distinct absence of the snobbery and contempt associated with those particular traits.

Given Indy Man's focus is on presenting the best of beer from the sharp end of the craft scene, it would be easy for the festival and its participants to take itself far too seriously. On the contrary, it remains one of the most openly enjoyable, fun events on the beer calendar. Although I went with friends on both days I attended, I spent as much of my time speaking to new acquaintances and other likeminded folk.

My potential would undoubtedly be different if I wasn't an active member of the beer community but even casual drinkers I encountered couldn't help but find themselves absorbed by the carefree ebullience of the event.

It's possible to over-think these things in the search for agendas that don't necessarily exist. Yes, the beer community created a supernova of social media smugness in the days before and during the event but maybe that's just because people were excited rather than seeking recognition or validation.

For once, can we try to see the best rather than assume the worst (and yes, I'm fully aware that's rich coming from me)?

 

2. Thirds are for life not just for festivals

I'll never give up the pint. What kind of self-respecting northerner would I be if I started drinking exclusively smaller measures? I'd be hunted down and driven from Manchester for a start.

The humble pint also has an intangible satisfying quality - the 'ahhh' effect - something which appears to be hard-wired in me, or at least socially conditioned.

That's all well and good when you're drinking bitter, mild or session pale ales but anything significantly stronger and you're entering dangerous territory.

The enforced third measure at Indy Man introduces a different style of drinking, one that made me stop and savour, enjoying the beer for what it was rather than the effect it was having on me.

I'll steer clear of describing it as more 'refined' because it definitely wasn't that and nor would I want it to be. However, it did allow me to sample a huge amount of different styles, flavours and experiences at a leisurely pace that avoided the social pressure of hardcore supping.

Hopefully more pubs and bars will start to expand the range of measures offered because choice can never be a bad thing and helps to broaden the range of experience that can be enjoyed while drinking beer.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 43. Sour is the new black

In previous years, I've possibly been guilty of seeking out the biggest, baddest beers at Indy Man - those high-ABV monsters that lure you in with promises of delight and decadence before smiting you with the most vicious, spiteful curse.

This year I was determined to do things differently and sought out more beers at the lower end of the spectrum, particularly during the Friday afternoon session.
In previous years this would have meant highly-hopped session pales but, this year, I found myself swimming in a sea of sour.

There was Beavertown's Earl Phantom, a lip-smackingly tart lemon ice tea sour brewed as a collaboration with the festival organisers, Kernel's Raspberry London Sour, Evil Twin's Bikini Sour, Mad Hatter's Manchester Tart, Quantum's Berliner Schwarz, Buxton's Red Raspberry Rye and many others still.

Sours are undoubtedly en vogue at the moment but that's not necessarily a bad thing given it's resulted in the revival of styles such as gose, berliner weisse and grätzer, which had previously found only niche markets.

There is a danger breweries will begin to rush to these styles without first perfecting the techniques and there have undoubtedly been a few such beers recently that have delivered a huge, overwhelming sourness and very little else.

But when executed well, they are stunningly accomplished and provide a unique drinking experience that probably falls well outside what would typically be considered as 'beer'.

I've discussed faddishness in beer on this blog previously and it does present certain problems but this clamour for the new and unusual has at least resulted in a much wider range of available beer across the full spectrum. That can't be a bad thing.

 

4. Keg is putting cask in the shade

Without wishing to open this particular can of worms again, it did feel like cask was seen as the poor relation at this year's Indy Man.

This isn't a criticism of the festival organisers as such - in many ways they are probably just responding to demand from the punters and supply from the brewers - but keg was definitely king.

These beers were front and centre at each bar, displayed boldly in the immediate line of sight, while the cask list was usually tacked on at either side, in one case a piece of card attached to a wooden plank.

This resulted in some punters missing some of the stunning cask beers on offer, including Siren and De Molen's excellent Empress Stout at the bargain basement price of £1 for a third.

Personally, I'm not inclined towards any particular form of dispense. I drink more keg but only because the beers I tend to gravitate towards are more suited to this particular form.

In the case of something like Empress, however, I feel it benefitted hugely from being served on cask, the extra body and lower carb accentuating the smooth richness of an indulgent imperial stout.

I might be wrong but there did seem to be more of an even split between cask and keg in previous years and I'd love to see more cask crop up next time round.

 

5. Beer festival food doesn't have to consist of a frozen burger in a bap

I was an avid festival-goer long before Indy Man, as the concept of being able to spend several hours sampling a huge variety of new, rare and exciting beers unsurprisingly appeals.

One thing I had become resigned to as a result of previous experiences was the need to eat the kind of crap I would never dream of making at home or else face the consequences delivered by a lack of sustenance.

The typical choice was a frozen burger slapped on a white bap, neon yellow chicken curry with undercooked rice or a tray of chips that had been left in the fryer five minutes too long.

Whatever way, the outlook wasn't good.

Luckily, Indy Man has refused to follow tradition in this respect and the selection at this year's event was even better than previous years.

Giant, loaded hot dogs, monstrous burgers from Almost Famous, hearty pies, pizza and Indian chaat all stuffed our stomachs. My personal highlight was the fish tacos from Margo and Rita, substantial enough to fill a hole, light enough to sit perfectly alongside a hop-forward pale ale or IPA.

We shouldn't have to tolerate expensive and hastily-assembled slop.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 26. Beer geeks love to mess about in changing rooms

The Edwardian splendour of Victoria Baths is undoubtedly one of the major factors in Indy Man's success.

On the approach, it feels like you're attending a beer festival at Wayne Manor and what's not to like about that?

Inside, the two pools are filled with bars and even the Turkish Baths, adorned with stunning glazed tiles and many of their original fittings, host one brewery (this year it was Beavertown).

But possibly the most enjoyable feature is the individual changing stalls which line the perimeter of the pools - their rusted, cracking blue paint hinting at better times, the red-and-white striped curtains still hanging limply from many of them.

It's hard not to be infected by the magic of such handsome, historically significant surroundings but the stalls, in particular were a magnet for merry beer geeks. So much so that we all became desensitised to the sight of bare-chested men stood proudly behind their doors throughout the weekend. I only hope they kept their trousers on.

 

7. Pub crawl before tea except after IMBC

Best laid plans go to waste - an adage that rings especially true after five hours at a beer festival.

I'm usually a fan of an afternoon start to a pub crawl, as it means you're able to move leisurely from venue to venue before the chaos of the night crowd sets in.

But starting a pub crawl in the late afternoon, immediately after Indy Man and without stopping to intake solids of substantial nutritional value is idiocy of the highest order. Go straight to craft jail, do not pass 'Go', do not collect your third of Zwanze.

So those people who questioned the wisdom of myself and Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show for attempting to arrange a Manchester crawl immediately after the Saturday afternoon session at Indy Man were spot on. It fell apart after the second stop.

Ah well, you live and you learn.

 

8. With great power comes great responsibility

This might sound a little worthy and self-important but, as beer lovers, I feel we all have a responsibility to help educate the general public on good beer.

There were a couple of occasions at Indy Man where this was made abundantly clear.

The first incident involved an acquaintance of mine, the other a complete stranger but both times, the person in question found themselves completely over-faced by the selection of beer in offer at one of the bars.

Without trying to be pushy, I offered my assistance, enquired about their tastes and attempted to provide a little bit of information on the available beers and brewers. In the case of my acquaintance, at least, it was appreciated... I think.

But the point is everyone arrives at the bar with different levels of understanding or knowledge and, in the appropriate circumstances well-intentioned advice is appropriate.

In this vein, the pop-up tastings at Indy Man were a good idea. A bell was rung to signal the start of the session, samples were handed out and a brewer chatted passionately about their beer for five minutes or so. It was a good way to bring punters' attention to beers they might not otherwise have tried and to pass on a little background information.

The spread of good beer depends on good advocates and, aside from the breweries themselves, that means us.

 

9. Solitude is bliss

Emma made an excellent point in her blog over at Crema's Beer Odyssey about the charm of Victoria Baths.

Aside from the obvious aesthetic beauty, it's the variety of the venue that makes it so perfect for a beer festival.

If you ever want to escape the crowds, there are a huge number of nooks and crannies you can crawl into to enjoy a moment with your beer.

The terraces overlooking two of the rooms both had adequate and sparsely-populated seating areas, while the outside area was developed further this year to offer an opportunity for fresh air - brave considering the Manchester weather.

Tickets aren't over-sold either so, even at its busiest, Indy Man never feels stifling or claustrophobic.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 310. Organising a piss-up in a swimming pool isn't easy

I find it incredible that, despite the scale and duration of the event, there were very few hiccups throughout the course of the weekend.

A few minor speed bumps were encountered along the way, including a brief fobbing issue on one of the keg bars, but they were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

The organisers didn't stop running from pillar to post all weekend and the volunteers generally combined warmth with know-how. They all deserve great credit for pulling it off.

 

My top five beers from Indy Man

1. Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break. Shouldn't work but it just does - rich chocolate, bitter coffee and the sugary, doughy goodness of freshly-baked doughnuts. Delightful!

2. Summer Wine Twiggy IPA. A glorious representation of English hops, the aroma of a blackberry bush combined with full-on flavours of marmalade, damson jam and earthy spice.

3. Toccalmatto Delta Red Disorder. A sherbet bomb, blood orange and grapefruit jumping, cartwheeling and exploding off a hefty caramel base.

4. Beavertown Earl Phantom. A clean, sharp, easy-drinking beauty that threw a lip-smacking punch of lemon, followed it with a sprinkling of lemon and lime zest and rounded it off with earthy, mildly tannic tea.

5. Against the Grain Citra Ass Down. The right beer at the right time, a big, sticky hop hit to offset a previous parade of sours.

Friday, 03 October 2014 11:01

Preview: Indy Man Beer Con 2014

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IMBC recap 1Preview: Indy Man Beer Con

Victoria Baths, Manchester, Thursday October 9 to Sunday October 12

This is Manchester, we do things differently here.

When Tony Wilson uttered those famous words, they were tinged with more than a hint of bias.

The man known as 'Mr Manchester' was prone to outpourings of unbridled civic pride but amid the gushing sentiment is shrouded a piece of acute observation.

Right from the start this city has resolved to plough its own furrow, both through economic necessity and belief in a distinct identity, fuelling a strong aversion to conformity.

This refusal to follow established trends has kept Manchester at the cutting edge of cultural innovation - a thread that has been picked up by Indy Man Beer Con.
Although London's sheer size has facilitated an explosion of bars and breweries that has positioned it at the forefront of the craft scene, Manchester's significance has been cemented by this groundbreaking festival.

The formula is reasonably straightforward - after all, there's only so much you can do with a beer festival - but it's the attention to detail that sets Indy Man apart.

Meticulous planning is applied to the beer list, encompassing both cask and keg, with participants selected according to a ruthless quality standard, ensuring an unrivalled blend of one-offs, wild experiments and consistent quality.

As it enters its third year, there's a growing sense that brewers hold back their best for this four-day celebration in Manchester's magnificent Victoria Baths, casting aside the safety net provided by their core ranges to push the boat out with a number of specials and new brews.

IMBC3After all, isn't that the point of a festival? To sample the kind of beers you might not otherwise get the chance to during the course of a night down the local.

And this year's beer list, which was unveiled today, goes even further than previous years, combining the best of Britain's new and established talent with rare and exciting imports from the likes of Against the Grain, Evil Twin, Loverbeer, Stillwater Artisanal.

"Our success so far has been a combination of a lot of things," says Claudia Asch, festival organiser. "One is the support we have in the brewing community, meaning that breweries from around the UK and now further afield want to be involved and serve their beers.

"We also try to make the event appeal to a diverse crowd, a bit of something for everyone, from the seasoned beer geeks to those just getting excited by great beer. For the beer geeks in particular, our collaborations create a bit of additional interest, bringing unique beers to the event.

"We realise that we have to introduce some new features each year, because now there will be people who have attended the previous years, so expectations continue to push us to be innovative.

" There are so many specials and obviously the collaborations on offer, there really ought to be something for everyone to get really excited about.

"As far as special and really exclusive goes, look no further than Loverbeer. Valter Loverier produces some amazing sour beers — and not very much of it, so we are very, very fortunate he is coming!"

This international element is something that looks set to grow in years to come.

Alongside the new additions, the likes of Brewfist, Toccalmatto and To Øl all return after successful showings in 2013.

"The festival will have a more global feel in years to come," says Claudia. "The brewing world is pretty small, so we're hoping that the good word about IMBC continues to spread to bring some more international brewers to the baths.

"We are over the moon that Brian Strumke (Stillwater) and Adam Watson (Against the Grain) are joining us for the first time this year, along with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Evil Twin, and Valter Loverier from Loverbeer."

Another area undergoing continuous expansion is the collaborative effort between the festival organisers and brewers.

This year the team having travelled the length and breadth of the country - and made a quick trip to Italy - to brew an incredible 15 collaborations especially for the festival.

When it comes to rarities, these are as scarce as it gets and previous years' creations have been among the highlights on the beer list, Thornbridge's Otter's Tears, Marble's Farmhouse IPA and Buxton's Tea Saison all sticking in the mind from last year.

Claudia adds, "We're excited about trying all of them! It's going to be a challenge to try them all, but worth a go.

"We hope the spread of beers will satisfy everyone, as there will be a gose, a couple of Berliner weisse, a barley wine, a super hoppy red ale, a huge double IPA and two very different Saisons - and that's not all."

IMBC recap 2

Given the emphasis on experimentation and adventure, there is a risk Indy Man might get pigeon-holed as an event aimed exclusively at the sharp end of the craft scene, limiting its potential appeal to the beer tickers and Untappd obsessives.

The Great British Beer Festival, for example, benefits from an immediately wider reach, largely due to its scale and CAMRA's national profile, but Indy Man's organisers claim to have noticed a growing diversity each year.

"Judging from last year, where we had groups of people attend to celebrate birthdays and even work dos, we think that the interest in good beer (and cider, for that matter) is spreading," says Claudia.

"Of course there are still a lot of beer geeks, and we'd venture to suggest that all of those with Full Fat tickets, attending all sessions, are certainly beer geeks extraordinaire.

"We certainly hope to cater to tastes of all kinds, from those that only want to drink barrel-aged saisons to those only getting started in their beer journey.

"It's all about discovery and sharing beers."

One factor that bodes well in this respect is Indy Man's progressive nature.

The food offering, including a beer matched meal from Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney appeals to the foodie with a passing interest in beer, while the range of musical acts and DJs make the more casual drinkers feel at home by alleviating the serious nature of the devoted beer hunting occuring elsewhere.

Then there are a range of talks, debates and tastings that take place on the fringes of the festival, which offer a great opportunity for people to learn more about the beers they are drinking and interact with the people making them.

This year's programme includes a number of exclusive tasting sessions, a discussion around the American craft brewing scene, a seminar on the science of yeast and a homebrewing chat and tasting hosted by yours truly.

But, even without taking into any of this into account, Indy Man offers a fairly unique experience - an event that captures the enthusiastic, inclusive nature of modern brewing without patronising or taking itself too seriously.

And, importantly, the organisers are determined not to rest on their laurels.

"There are always lessons to be learned, to be honest," says Claudia. "We're working hard to respond to suggestions from volunteers, brewers, and punters - we got a lot of useful feedback after both years.

"For instance, most people seemed to rate the joining up of cask and keg bars and were pleased with the food offerings last year. We have a couple of new food traders this year, and are working on more snack options as well.

"There are definitely some new approaches in the works, but we don't want to reveal too much in advance."

A limited number of tickets are still available for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Visit the Indy Man site for more details.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014 11:44

Recap: Birmingham Beer Bash 2014

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Birmingham Beer Bash 2014 1Where in the world could you possibly buy a beer made with squid ink and miso?

If your answer was Birmingham then top marks but I'm not sure it would have been many people's first guess.

It's true though. Not only does Birmingham have more canals than Venice, at the weekend it could also boast more beers made with squid ink - two at last count.

It's perhaps a perversion too far for the kinky Venetians, yet the kind of unbridled unorthodoxy we've come to expect from the Birmingham Beer Bash.

It's only been in existence two years but already the festival has quickly become synonymous with bonhomie and idiosyncrasy, thanks to the combination of a small, cosy venue, relaxed approach and ambitious beer list.

Last year, Wild Beer's excellent Shnoodlepip - an extraordinary, pink-coloured beer that combined hibiscus, passion fruit and pink peppercorns - was talk of the town, simply because it lay so far beyond most typical conceptions of beer.

At the time, it seemed impossible to imagine a space further out in left field, at least one where the finished product still resembled something worth drinking. Then Bexar County introduced Tinta de Sepia Gose Con Miso (6% ABV, cask) at this year's festival.

This is a gose, the traditional sour and salty German style, which derives its saltiness from miso (fermented soy beans) and squid ink. It shouldn't have worked - a fact highlighted by the baffled, almost pitying look on the bar worker's face when I asked for a third - but it was executed with impressive aplomb.

Birmingham Beer Bash 2014 2Warm, soft saltiness tickles the middle of the tongue before a clean, crisp fruitiness announces itself at the back, the sour crunch of under-ripe, green apples joined by the pop of tart gooseberries.

Strangely enough, this wasn't the only tentacled beer on offer, given Hardknott had also brewed a dark 'pale' ale called Squidy in collaboration with the festival team.

However, the organisers' experimental approach wasn't confined to the weird and wonderful. An equally-intriguing side project saw six breweries recreate recipes fished from the past by respected brewery historian Ron Pattinson especially for the event.

The 1929 Russell XXX (cask) brewed by Sarah Hughes was a fruity, spicy showcase for the oft-maligned Goldings hop but the pick of the bunch was Ashover's 1910 Fullers Porter (cask), beautifully smooth, full of coffee and roasted malt yet eminently drinkable.

There were a host of further highlights too.

Buxton Ace Edge (6.8%, keg) - a version of the revered Axe Edge hopped with Sorachi Ace - understandably attracted lots of attention but was still overshadowed by Cheshire Brewhouse's Sorachi Ace (5.8%, cask). An alluring light golden beer, it was clean and sessionable but still jammed full of the divisive hop's eccentricities, bright lemon and peach sitting alongside flavours verging on bubblegum and oak.

Beavertown's Convicts of the Road (5%, keg) (or at least, this is what I assume it was, given it was listed only as 'elderflower saison') was a perfect summer refresher, tart and lightly perfumed with a bone-dry finish, and Celt Rebirth's Rhubeer (5%, cask) a hugely-satsifying, fruity sour with a beguiling funky rhubarb nose.

Birmingham Beer Bash 2014 4It was also pleasing to see Rodenbach Grand Cru (6%, keg) on the international bar, a beer I can never walk past without ordering at least one. However, my choice of accompaniment - a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger from the Original Patty Men - probably doesn't feature in the big book of beer and food pairings.

Freedom's Barrel-Aged Pilsner (5%, keg) was a more unexpected treat, as I'm generally not sold on shoving pilsner in whisky barrels. This, however, is an accomplished pils that's subtle on the oak and nicely rounded in body with a crisp, palate-cleansing finish.

The festival itself both thrived and suffered at the hands of Birmingham's tropical climate. Permanent sunshine allowed the venue at the Bond Company to really come into its own, delighted punters lazing and chatting by the side of the canal right until the death.

On the flip side, however, the indoor areas were stiflingly hot and keg pours became a little slow and foamy in certain cases. But the patience and friendliness of the volunteers and brewers meant these issues never seriously infringed on enjoyment of the event, enthusiastically discussing the beers and indulging in good-natured chatter to keep everyone in good spirits.

On a personal note, I was disappointed to miss out on the fringe events, which included talks from brewers, beer writers and experts, but feedback from other punters suggested they had been well-received.

Disappointment doesn't last long though when you're faced by such a bold and varied beer list. The festival ended for me with Siren's Odyssey 001 (12.4%, cask), the most indulgent and decadent of cask beers - a blend of wine, bourbon and brandy barrel-aged vesrions of imperial stout Even More Jesus with the brewery's standard red ale Liquid Mistress.

Sipping on the street as I waited for my taxi, I was treated to a swirling mix of rich chocolate mousse, brandy, tart red berries and smooth mocha. The alcohol warmed but never burned, thanks to a soft, almost marshmallowy sweetness, although the satisfying throb of brandy and rum accompanied me all the way home.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

Friday, 11 July 2014 11:57

Event focus: Birmingham Beer Bash

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Beer Bash 1Birmingham Beer Bash, Thursday July 24 to Saturday July 26

Buy tickets

Birmingham Beer Bash was the biggest surprise of the 2013 beer calendar.

It's not that we ever doubted the ability of Britain's second city to host a top-class modern festival, just that we didn't expect so much, so soon.

Last year's bash seemed to emerge from nowhere - springing from discussions held by a handful of Brum-based beer geeks on Twitter - to become one of the most outwardly enjoyable, well organised events around.

The atmosphere at times verged on giddy. Rarely have I seen a room so buoyant, bubbling with energy for the entire duration of the Saturday evening session, as old friends, acquaintances and strangers alike indulged in excited chatter.

It was small but perfectly formed. The beer list spanned cask and keg, new and old, British and European, all set against the rugged, industrial beauty of the Bond Company in Digbeth.

Another highlight of last year's event was seeing brewers serving their own beer, putting in the hard hours on the various bars and enthusiastically engaging with drinkers, answering questions and offering insight.

Its success was such that even the organisers themselves were taken aback.

"I think that's safe to say we were surprised," says co-organiser Dan Brown."Initially there was scepticism from some quarters - but to be fair we were a completely unknown quantity.

"In the run up to the event we were really heartened by the support we received from so many people. We were just crossing our fingers that all of our hard work would translate into an event which left the punters feeling delighted.

"Throughout the first day I was totally wired on adrenaline and nervous energy, but I remember by the end of the second session taking a minute to check the comments on our Tweetwall. Seeing such a cavalcade of happy responses was an incredible feeling.

"At that point I almost became an emotional gibbering wreck. David (Shipman, the director of the fest) said that same thing - all of a sudden he realised what a positive impact we'd had.

"The feedback in the months afterwards has continued to be great. People were calling us one of the country's best beer festivals and that is fantastic."

This year's bash clearly has big shoes to fill but, far from resting on their laurels, the team are keen to apply the lessons learned from their first attempt.

Dan says, "Lots of things were learned during our set-up period last year, mainly about how much time gets eaten up dealing with unforeseen problems. This year we have that experience of anticipating issues, so we'll be able to plan our time more strictly in the week beforehand.

Birmingham Beer Bash 3

"We've increased our food options to cater for all you hungry burger fans and built in a load of exciting Fringe events because they were a real hit last year.

"The thing we've mainly tried to learn from last year was what worked, so that we can repeat that success. People told us that they loved the laid back nature of the event and the chance to try so many different styles of beer - so those looking for more of the same need not worry."

It's also fair to say the boat has been pushed out even further this year.

The beer list has been expanded in terms of both quantity and imagination, meaning more offerings in the mould of Wild Beer's barmy Shnoodlepip, which proved such a huge hit last year.

An intriguing project has been undertaken in association with brewery historian Ron Pattinson where six breweries recreate classic recipes from Britain's brewing past.

There will even be a dedicated sours bar, which will provide manna from heaven for those of the lambic persuasion.

Dan says, "This year we've tried to bring in some hot new brewers who are about to hit the big time, people like Sacre Brew and Twisted Barrel - new local breweries doing tastings on the fringe - and the likes of Axiom, Atom, Bad Seed, Burning Sky and Mad Hatter on the main bars.

"We also wanted to get people like Celt Experience, Lovibonds and Quantum, more established but most definitely interesting brewers who are making their bCubed debuts.

"Finally, we wanted to bring back brewers who a) produce great beer and b) loved talking to our punters last year, so we were delighted when names such as Weird Beard, Thornbridge, Wild Beer and many more said they would love to come back.

"It was a sign that we were doing something right, that this year lots of brewers approached us, rather than vice versa. We can only mention a few here of course, there are just so many."

Birmingham Beer Bash 2

In addition to the beer, fine dining sessions on Friday and Saturday evenings will allow punters to enjoy a five-course menu designed by chef Nathan Eades alongside beers from Wild Beer and Compass.

Two 'Siren Sliders' events - on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon - will see burgers from the Original Patty Men paired with beers from Siren Craft Brew.

But there will also be plenty of alternatives on offer in the courtyard at the Bond Company, where attendees can make the most of the attractive canal-side setting, weather permitting.

"We loved the Bond Co - its open air segments, canalside location and variety of spaces," adds Dan.

"Fresh air is important at a summer beer event, as is the chance to wander around the different bars and this venue ticks all those boxes.

"We really loved being in Digbeth, which is a cool, urban, arty sort of place. It's a city centre location but has its own distinct personality.

"One of my favourite images from last year was people lounging around the outdoor parts of the venue, chatting excitedly and watching the sun set."

Let's hope this year paints a similar picture.

Wednesday, 02 July 2014 10:30

American Beer Festival at Port Street Beer House

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Port Street Beer House American Beer FestivalPort Street Beer House American Beer Festival, July 1to July 6 2014

Port Street Beer House kicked off its annual American Beer Festival in typically emphatic fashion with a showcase of some fabulously weird and wonderful bottles from across the pond.

Under weird file Reaper vs Unicorn, a barmy rye barleywine from Pipeworks with a label resembling something from My Little Pony: The Acid Years.

Under wonderful... Well, you could file Reaper vs Unicorn there too but Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura and Knee Deep's Hoptologist DIPA also etched themselves into the memory.

It was all par for the course in an evening hosted by Manchester's resident American beer expert Jeremy Stull, co-owner of the excellent Beermoth bottle shop situated a short stumble from Port Street in the city's Northern Quarter.

Missouri native Jeremy's passion shone dazzlingly bright during a whirlwind two hours of tasting and insight into the people and stories behind some of the best US bottles from the fridges at Port Street. There was even a special 'extra' thrown in from his own personal collection.

Such bottle share events are a great way for both the initiated and uninitated to share the experience and cost of beers that might usually be reserved for only the most special of special occasions. And, given each had been selected by Jeremy himself, the standard was consistenly high.

Jacks Abby Jabby Brau

The journey started with Jabby Brau from Jack's Abby (4.5% ABV), a 'session' lager that I'd already sampled following a previous visit to Beermoth thanks to a recommendation from Jeremy. A superbly clean and crisp 'session' lager, it combines a squeeze of citrus fruit with a perfectly-judged dose of zesty bitterness and sweet biscuit, perfect for an atypically warm Manchester evening.

Stillwater's Stateside Saison (6.8% ABV) manages to neatly straddle old and new, delivering the funky, spicy aromas and flavours of a typical Belgian saison alongside a burst of citrus and light tropical fruit from US and New Zealand Hops. A stab of lemon rind bitterness and long, dry finish make it another one that's gone all too quickly.

Shallow Grave from Heretic, the brewery set up by legendary homebrewer and blogger Jamil Zainasheff, is a wonderfully rounded 7% ABV porter. Smooth as silk, it's full of toffee, chocolate and milky coffee punctured by a pleasing jab of tartness - it's as dark and drinkable as a porter should be.

The Hoptologist double IPA from Knee Deep (9% ABV) was typically American, packing in 102 IBUs and assaulting the senses with huge notes of pine, citrus and tropical fruits. The aroma filled the room as soon as the first bottle was opened and the taste matched expectations, aromatic resin, tangerine, orange zest and a huge pithy bitter punch softened by rich, soothing caramel.

Pipeworks Reaper vs Unicorn

That brings us to the aforementioned Reaper vs Unicorn (10% ABV). Its label apparently tells the story of a unicorn being killed by the grim reaper only to rise from the dead and kill the reaper, told through the medium of a Grateful Dead album cover.

The beer itself is somewhat less chaotic, albeit unashamedly bold and brassy, the tidal wave of rye spiciness working surprisingly well alongside the numerous layers of malt and assertive hops.

However, Madrugada Obscura from Jolly Pumpkin (8.1% ABV) was my pick of the bunch, a barrel-aged sour stout that combines malty flavours of charcoal, coffee and chalky chocolate with an indulgent vinous character. The finish is wonderfully juicy and tart, somewhat similar to a mouthful of black fruit gums, brimming with sour cherries and grapes.

Jeremy also kindly shared a bottle from his own personal collection, snaffled on a recent trip to his home country, Saison de Lis from Perennial (5% ABV). A saison brewed using chamomile flowers, it boasts an unusual nose of cinnamon-dusted apple strudel and a more floral taste with elements of spice, apricot and fresh dough.

And, as quickly as that, a short blog post detailing the start of Port Street's American Beer Festival becomes a 700-word feature. Apologies for my lack of brevity but it felt only right to do justice to Jeremy and these otustanding beers, all well worth a try if you get the chance.

Port Street's American Beer Festival continues until Sunday, July 6 and will showcase a number of draught rarities from old favourites Brooklyn, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Odell, Flying Dog, Founders, Victory, Ska and Westbrook, as well as Heretic, North Coast, Ruhstaller, Uncommon and Stillwater. Get on it.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:24

Recap: CAMRGB Manchester Twissup

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CAMRGB Twissup 1On February 22, 2014 I achieved my life's ambition.

It's taken 31 years to get here but never again will anyone be able to call me incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.

The CAMRGB Manchester Twissup saw more than 50 people from all over the country share a pint (or ten) in two breweries and three bars on a riotous, rowdy ride through the city's beer scene.

And, in all honesty, it wasn't that difficult.

When I first floated the idea of a Twissup late last year, a host of bacchanalian superheroes swooped to my aid.

Rob Hamilton and the team at Blackjack risked potential catastrophe by offering to throw open the doors of their brewery to a bunch of rabble-rousers, while the Marble Arch offered never-before-seen bottles of very special beer (more of which later).

The ever-accommodating Port Street crew teamed up with Quantum Brewing's Jay Krause to offer a first taste of the spectacularly-bearded brewer's new doppelbock, while both Font and First Chop expressed willingness, no questions asked.

So, although I'm still going to add 'piss-up in a brewery' to the major achievements on my CV, most of the credit should actually be spread elsewhere.

The incredible turnout, which included beer folk from as far afield as Dorset, also provided vindication for Simon Williams' vision of CAMRGB as an organisation run entirely by its members.

From the minute I proposed the idea of a Manchester event to him, Simon was happy for me to grasp the CAMRGB banner and run with it. And it will have been even more pleasing for him that another member-organised gathering was taking place simultaneously around London's Craft Beer Rising festival.

Beer is one of life's great unifiers - truly deserving its reputation as social lubricant - and the overwhelming support for such events bodes well for the potential of CAMRGB and the future of British beer.

Never before have I spoken to so many people in such a short space of time with such a genuine passion for promoting good beer - whether that's through convincing friends and family, sharing their thoughts in the blogosphere or making and selling the stuff.

CAMRGB Twissup 2

There were far too many great folk for me to mention them all but it was heart-warming to find the presence of people like Becky and John from Art Brew, who travelled hundreds of miles to take part even at the end of an extremely tough week.

These are the kind of people who can help to drive demand for good beer and improve standards by educating the wider population and making pubs and retailers take notice of the wide variety of microbrewed beer now available.

So, to the event itself. In hindsight, 12 noon might have been an ambitious starting time but with so many potential venues and so little time, midday drinking became almost necessary - at least that's what I told myself.

Regardless, the Marble Arch is a fantastic start point for any meander through Manchester and a poignant reminder of a proud heritage.

The striking mosaic floor provides a bed of Lancastrian roses and the glistening, glazed tiles that adorn the walls epitomise much of the city's Victorian architecture.

Put simply, this pub IS Manchester.

To reinforce that point, hometown heroes Marble call this place home, so it was only right I started out with a half from the house and the hoppy, refreshing Brew 701 hit the spot.

At this point, the pub was unfortunately packed with City fans (they're an odd breed), so it was difficult to pick out my fellow Twissupers, especially as I didn't have the slightest clue what many of them looked like.

Luckily, my mate Jonny and myself spotted fellow Manchester homebrewer Steve Dunkley before bloggers Mark (Views From the Bar)Jim (BeersManchester) and Cameron (All You Need is Beer) made themselves known, Jim even bearing the gift of an Ilkley Speyside Siberia (very much appreciated, my friend).

James from Axiom Brewing also led a small party on an adjoining table but our group remained fragmented until the Arch staff brought out what basically amounted to beer geek's cat nip.

Four bottles of imperial stout were brought to our table - a barrel-aged version of last year's anniversary stout, brewed to mark the Arch's 125th birthday - and suddenly our fellow drinkers began swarming like flies round the proverbial.

The Macc homebrew boys made themselves known and our Chester contingent were not too far behind.

The stout itself was a delight. Sweet, rich and sticky, full of coffee and dark fruits with a warming, boozy finish, it left mouths agape in wonder and desperate hands grasping for more. At 10.8%, it was also akin to pouring petrol on a bonfire that didn't need any assistance in catching light.

After this, we took a short stumble down Gould Street towards Blackjack brewery. On first glance, this looked like an unassuming industrial unit beneath a railway arch but closer examination revealed it was, in fact, some kind of boozy wonderland.

The infamous Mr Hamilton had hinted at what delights may be on offer via a Twitter teaser pic the previous evening but what greeted us went far beyond anything we could have expected.

His very own Doppelkopf made its debut on the solitary keg font - a soft, smoky pleasure - and there were three cask handpulls featuring two more Blackjack efforts, including an excellent stout, and Burning Sky's superb Saison L'Hiver.

CAMRGB Twissup 3

As if that wasn't enough, a couple more firkins were perched at the end of the bar offering Blackjack's Four of a Kind and the beautifully bold Arbor and Alechemy collab Anti-Christmas.

All of these were offered at knockdown prices and, to add to my giddiness, we were even allowed to pour them ourselves - a novelty that never wore off even after my first effort was 85% head.

One reveller enquired whether Rob would have any problem with us moving into the brewery on a permanent basis but, alas, Port Street called where we had a date with Mr Krause and his doppelbock.

I'm not sure the staff knew quite what had hit them when a swarming mass descended on the bar to shout in unison for Quantum's Interocitor, the aforementioned doppelbock, which slipped down a treat - a fruity, easy-drinking drop.

Lively conversation between brewers and beer geeks ensued and I also indulged in a delicious half of Mad Hatter's Hare of Darkness before making the move to Font, where things started to become more than a little hazy...

I remember drinking a pint - yes, that's a PINT - of Rodenbach after getting a little overexcited at seeing it on draught.

But one of the best moments of the day came when Simon bought a bottle of Arbor's Down Deeperest, which he had designed the label for, and shared it among our party. Given it stands at 12% ABV, it was probably the last thing I needed at the time but how can you resist such a delicious, unique black barleywine, rich in huge, sweet malts and pungent, earthy hops?

The answer, in case you were in any doubt, is you can't! It's one of those beers that coats the mouth with a delightful, syrupy residue, soothing you into a state of supreme serenity.

Last stop for the day was the First Chop Brewery, at the end of a troublesome trek from the city centre to Trinity Way in Salford that involved more than a few false turns.

We felt like Scott and his team of intrepid explorers when we finally arrived at the huge railway arch, equal parts brewery, New York craft beer bar and dark, underground club.

The big cheese himself, head brewer Rik Garner, was getting busy on the wheels of steel, spinning an impressive mix of soul classics that even had Messrs Hamilton and BeersManchester strutting their stuff on the dancefloor.

CAMRGB Twissup 4

If you haven't yet ventured down there, I'd heartily recommend going to one of the regular brewery socials, which usually take place on the last Saturday of each month.

Once all the drinking and dancing had become too much for me, I stuffed my face with tasty wood-fired pizza from Honest Crust on the courtyard outside and jumped in a taxi home to regale my long-suffering partner with thrilling tales of libation and lunacy.

I wasn't at my eloquent best when I described the events of the day but one thing she instantly detected was my sheer, unbridled excitement. Never before have I had the chance to drink, natter and act the fool with such a wonderfully warm, varied and interesting group of folk.

Who's for Twissup Redux later this year?

For some different views on the Twissup, read the following excellent blogs:

BeersManchester

CAMRGB

Brews Implosion

Or check out Steve Dunkley's photos here

Friday, 10 January 2014 17:00

CAMRGB Manchester Twissup

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Manchester-Twissup

CAMRGB Manchester Twissup

Next month it's Manchester's time to shine when I attempt to help organise a piss-up (at least partly) in a brewery.

On February 22 this great city will play host to the next event from CAMRGB, in the shape of a stagger round some of the beery wonders this city has to offer.

The following is a 'provisional' plan and although I'm well aware these things are often subject to change after the first few drinks have slipped down, hopefully this should provide plenty to get excited about.

 

12 noon Marble Arch

An early start and a chance for everyone to meet in one of Manchester's finest pubs. Marble have agreed to keep a couple of special beers aside for us and there will also be the chance for food should anyone wish to line the stomach.

2pm Blackjack

Blackjack have kindly agreed to throw open the doors of the brewery and put on some beers especially. So if you'd like to have a poke around some copper while knocking back a beer, this is one for you.

4pm Port Street Beer House

A tour around Manchester wouldn't be complete without a stop at Port Street and the guys there have agreed to clear some space for us. This stop should also include a new beer from Quantum Brewing, which brewer Jay Krause has kindly agreed to supply.

6.30pm Font

As we make our way across the city we'll stop off at Font. It's a chance to drink more beer and grab some food, as I'm sure there'll be a few growling stomachs by this point.

8.30pm First Chop

The Twissup coincides with First Chop's second brewery social, so the final stop will offer a chance to meet brewer Rik Garner, sample some fine First Chop beers and enjoy a bit of music.

Get the date in the diary now. If you can, let me know either in the comments here or via Twitter if you'll be attending so I can give each stop notice of how many people to expect. That way they can make sure there's beer and food for everyone!

Hopefully see plenty of you there.

Thursday, 17 October 2013 13:06

Recap: Indy Man Beer Con

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IMBC recap 1No sign of second-year syndrome here.

It seemed unthinkable that Indy Man Beer Con would surpass the success of its inaugural outing but, somehow, it did exactly that.

There can no longer be any ambiguity. It is simply the most significant event in the British beer calendar, particularly for those wishing to gain an insight into the bright, bold future promised by the nascent microbrewing scene. 

Sod the Great British Beer Festival. Quality beer and bonhomie trump sheer quantity every time and IMBC strikes a better balance between variety and intimacy, coupling a selection that starred plenty of rarities and one-offs with the kind of atmosphere you'd find down your local boozer.

Throw in the splendiferous surroundings of Victoria Baths and the event becomes a veritable Willy Wonka's factory devoted to the art of experimentation and perfection in beer.

Step inside the grand Edwardian building and enter a world where good beer is the norm, acting as a unifying passion rather than a divisive issue. Cask, keg, bottle, none of it really matters. Snort the bloody stuff if you'd like as long as you enjoy yourself.

IMBC recap 2It's this kind of attitude that makes IMBC such a joy. I've already mentioned elsewehere on this blog the important role the people play in its success but it can't be overstated.

The sense of inclusion and warmth is almost tangible. Organisers, volunteers, brewers, beer geeks and the rest mingle together to share a drink, an anecdote, a joke or a drunken moment. There's something so much more personal about the event than other beer festivals.

By and large, the beer didn't disappoint either, although it was one area which aroused a slight quibble.

In comparison to last year the selection did seem a little less varied, particularly in terms of the brewers in attendance, but, ironically, this may have been a result of the festival of getting bigger.

Having expanded from two days to four, breweries were spread a little more thinly across the full duration of the event, making the nightly beer lists seem slightly less diverse. The organisers certainly wouldn't do any harm by adding a few more different breweries next time round.

But, that said, I didn't leave the event unsatisfied, squeezing 25 new beers into my two nights and finding some real crackers. In no particular order, the stand-outs included:

Thornbridge Raspberry Imperial Stout (10%). An indulgent impy stout that packs in plenty of fresh, tart, raspberry sharpness, coming through clear as a bell. Although surprisingly light bodied, it also delivers bags of roasted malt, rich dark chocolate, liquorice and sweet dark fruits. Right up my street.

Brodies Only Human (12.2%). A shogun assassin of a beer at 12.2%. You wouldn't even hear this creeping up on you before it delivers the telling blow that takes your head clean off. An unbelievably gluggable triple IPA despite the intensity of flavours, assaulting you with a barrage of caramel, pine, orange, pineapple and mango, chock full of sticky, chewy hops.

Marble Farmhouse IPA (7.4%). Another brewed specifically for the event and a really enjoyable, easy drinker thanks to fresh, soft lemon flavours, earthy yeast and a palate-cleansing, dry finish.IMBC3

Summer Wine Calico Jack rum barrel-aged (10.9%). A real boozy treat that has been aged in Appleton Estate barrels. A powerful imperial stout full of big, rich flavours including rum, demerara sugar, vanilla, treacle, liquorice and oak with a warming alcohol heat and mouth-numbing spiciness.

To Øl Reparationsbajer (5.8%). Although designed to be the perfect beer for drinking on a hangover, I can imagine it's also pretty good at inducing a hangover. Extremely moreish APA matching a touch of light honey and a good dose of biscuity malt with loads of tropical, citrus hops.

Birra del Borgo Genziana (6.2%). A deliciously delicate beer brewed with gentian apparently, which, for culinary ogres like myself, is a bitter flowering plant. Initially sweet and fruity, it develops into a fresh, grassy beer with hints of coriander and parsley accompanied by spicy yeast and doughy malt.

More generally, it was great to see the Italian microbrewing scene had such a strong presence at the festival. The explosion of microbrewed beer in Italy has been one of the more intriguing stories of recent years, so it was pleasing that British drinkers got the chance to try Birra Del Borgo, Brewfist, Toccalmatto and Birrificio Italiano on cask and keg.

Buxton Tea Saison (6.3%). A collaboration with the event's organisers and a wonderfully balanced fruity beer, which combined earthy, peppery yeast with excellent sweet and sour flavours of cranberries and cherries. Neither element was allowed to outshine the other and it worked perfectly.

Alpha State Smoked Belgian Pale (5%). Another superbly balanced beer that found a happy medium between smoke and hops, starting out a light woody, smoky bacon before giving way to sharp citrus hops and finishing dry as a bone.

Lovibonds Sour Grapes (4.6%). An invigorating sour beer that delivers a mouth-puckering splash of sourness full of lemon and wine, followed by wheat and thick doughy, biscuity notes that offer the ideal counterpoint.

There were others too but I won't bore you any longer. Next year is already in the diary.

Friday, 11 October 2013 10:47

Opening thoughts from Indy Man Beer Con

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IMBC1It's the morning after the night before. So how was it for you?

Indy Man Beer Con kicked off last night, riding an incredible wave of positivity into its second year of existence.

The sentiment across social media and among those I had spoken to was one of unbridled excitement. It really was difficult to find a cynical viewpoint anywhere, such was the success of the inaugural event.

So what's changed?

Well, primarily more rooms and live music. Last year, the beers were split among three rooms at the iconic Victoria Baths (the sports hall, gala pool and the Turkish baths) but this time round a further pool has been opened to house a performance space and keg bar (pictured below).

Food and cask can still be found in the main sports hall, while Magic Rock have replaced Brewdog as resident brewers in the Turkish Baths - a vast improvement if you ask me.

The nature of the venue immediately adds an inescapable allure to the festival. The grand pools, glazed tilework, rusted changing stalls and stained glass windows all hint at a proud past and make it seem less venue and more place of worship - a fitting setting for beer geeks to bow at the altar of Britain's best and brightest.

IMBC2

Victoria Baths is such a dazzling piece of Mancunian history, it seems somewhat poignant that it is able to play host to such a landmark event. There really couldn't be a better setting for the festival.

So, to the beers and if there's one minor criticism, it's that there does seem to be a bit less variety than last year. On first glance, there appeared to be more beers but fewer brewers, possibly because the selection has been sprinkled across the entire four days of the event.

But to bemoan the variety is akin to complaining about the lack of an umbrella while stood indoors. You're pretty well covered anyway.

Much of my focus was on trying one-off beers and rarities, so I started with Quantum's Imperial Treacle Stout, a collaborative brew designed specifically for the festival. At 9.1%, it was the perfect way to ease myself into the evening - start as you mean to go on and all that - and a pretty solid beer with strong notes of bitter treacle toffee and smoke, although it could've maybe stood to be a bit more full-bodied.

The Buxton Tea Saison (6.3%) was the best of the special collaborative brews I tried, a wonderfully balanced fruity beer, which combined earthy yeast with excellent sweet and sour flavours of cranberries and cherries.

The Roosters Huckleberry IPA (6.9%) was well worth a try too, a well-rounded IPA that filled the mouth with the taste of rich, juicy berries and delivered a well-judged dose of hops.

My favourite beer, however, had to be Alpha State's Smoked Belgian Pale (5%). I'm a huge fan of smoked beers anyway (if you've got a connect for Schlenkerla's Eiche Doppelbock, hook me up) and this struck a great balance between the different flavours, starting out a light smoky bacon before giving way to sharp citrus hops and finishing dry as a bone. I've not had a beer from Alpha State that I've disliked yet.

Lovibonds' Sour Grapes was another I'd heartily recommend with an invigorating, mouth-puckering splash of sourness full of lemon and wine, followed by a thick doughy, biscuity taste that offers the ideal counterpoint.

Aside from the beers, a large part of Indy Man's appeal comes from the chance to rub shoulders with the people who brew the beers and all of last night's talks and seminars seemed to go down a storm.

I attended the dry-hopping seminar hosted by Simply Hops, which showcased three examples of dry-hopping on the same base beer, all brewed by Liverpool's excellent Mad Hatter.

IMBC4

It perfectly highlighted the importance of later hop additions in imparting flavour and aroma and the wild variations in hop flavours while highlighting just how many variables can alter the taste of the beer you drink.
 
One of Indy Man's greatest strengths is the people. It manages to bring together a huge number of passionate individuals all keen to exchange knowledge, ideas and opinion, creating a warming sense of bonhomie and camaraderie throughout all the rooms.
 
To top it all off, the food is great too. Get a fish taco from Margo & Rita and I offer my own personal guarantee you won't regret it.
 
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not buying a weekend ticket but I will, at least, be back on Saturday night. Feel free to say hello if you fancy remonstrating with me about something I've written on this blog. I may even give you a bottle of my questionable homebrew. 
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 21:49

Event focus: Indy Man Beer Con

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Indy Man Beer ConManchester, so much to answer for.

Love him or loathe him, Morrissey was right.

They do things differently here - for better or for worse - and it has always been a great source of civic pride.

After all, this was the city that gave birth to the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and sparked a cultural shift at the end of the 20th century that transformed British music and fashion.

It seems fitting then that the burgeoning beer revolution should draw a significant dose of impetus and energy from within the boundaries of our great city.

Granted, London acts as the permanent centre of the scene, due to a phenomenal proliferation of pubs, bars and brewers, but Manchester was responsible for one of the movement's seminal moments.

Indy Man Beer Con almost acted as a rallying call, bringing the industry together last year for an innovative gathering that provided the blueprint for the modern beer festival.

This was cask, keg and food coming together in perfect harmony against the stunning backdrop of Victoria Baths. It might have been slightly surreal drinking beer while stood in an empty Victorian swimming pool – or inside one of the many cubicle changing rooms lining the perimeter – but somehow it was perfect.

Indy Man combined wild innovation with brewing tradition, delighting the beer geeks and sparking new interest in those who had stumbled along looking for a good time.

This year's event promises to be even better, running from Thursday, October 10 to Sunday, October 13 and boasting a star-studded line-up of brewers that includes local heroes, national powerhouses and foreign rarities.

The roster of events promises to be just as good, featuring 'meet the brewer' spots with Red Willow, Wild Beer, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, live music and a beer and food-matched meal hosted by Masterchef 2011 winner Tim Anderson.

Indy Man Beer Con

Then there are the beers brewed specifically for the event. Last year, Quantum's blood orange tea pale ale was among a handful of never-before-seen specialities to excite the palates of those in attendance and this year's selection promises to be even stronger. "We've brewed five collaborations with Quantum, Buxton, Marble, Roosters, and Thornbridge for this year's IMBC," says co-organiser Claudia Asch. "We're really pleased with those beers and think that sets us apart.

"Some of those beers will appear in cask, some in keg, which is great, because the goal is to champion beer, in its manifold formats. But beyond that, lots of brewers have been pushing the boat out and have experimented, so we're chuffed by the response.

"We don't want to give away too much, but we think it's safe to say that IMBC ought to delight Untappd users, Ratebeerians, and non-beer geeks alike."

One of the more intriguing elements of this year's festival may be the Italian influence. The country's microbrewery explosion has resulted in the emergence of some truly superb beers and Toccalmatto, Birra del Borgo, Brewfist, and Birrificio Italiano will all be in attendance to display their wares. A must if you are still unfamiliar with what each has to offer – their beers covering the entire gamut from updated classics to experimental oddities.

And there is yet more to be announced.

"We are just finalising some more events and will have those up shortly," adds Claudia. "The support for IMBC has been amazing, and we're definitely on notice to make this year's experience build on last year.

"Our goal is to give visitors a varied and exciting experience, to dazzle taste buds, as well offer those who want to learn more about who and what is behind making beer the chance to do so. We're excited, and can't wait to welcome people back to the baths!"

Saturday, 24 August 2013 16:33

#JustTheOne - an evening of single-hop beers

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JSTTHEONE-ADVERT-660X393Maybe I should have left it at 'just the one'.

After just the five single-hopped beers, coming on the back of two post-work beverages, my first CAMRGB Twitter event became a little bit cloudy by closing time at around midnight.

Having never participated in one of these evenings before, I hadn't quite known what to expect when signing up for #JustTheOne and was excited to see how it might pan out.

But, never one to do things by half, I offered to host the bloody thing as well.

I had approached Simon Williams of CAMRGB a while back with the idea of setting up a night of single-hop beers, designed to get people talking about different hop varieties by going back to the basics.

It can often be difficult to differentiate the characteristics of different hops when they're asked to play nicely alongside several other varieties, so a bit of one-on-one time can help drinkers to better understand their own tastes, as well as the ingredients that make up their beers. From that conversation, #JustTheOne was born and an enjoyable night it was too.

No matter how many or how few were online at any given time, it was great to indulge in a bit of pub chatter from the comfort of your own home. Beyond discussing tasting notes, it was just good to share light-hearted conversation and the odd joke with light-minded folk, while enjoying outstanding beers. There's no way I could have indulged in such a selection in any of my local boozers.

So, to the beers. First up was a highly-anticipated specimen from Mikkeller.

I was lucky enough to pick up two samples from their single-hop series during a recent trip to Cotteridge Wines, allowing me to finally satisfy my intrigue about the experiment.

Mikkeller AmarilloMikkeller brewed 18 different 6.8% ABV single-hop beers in the same week, using malt from the same batches, the same yeast and the same fermentation temperatures. The aim, of course, was to showcase the unique properties of each hop so it couldn't have been a better fit for #JustTheOne.

Of the two, I plumped for the Amarillo first, as it is has long been one of my favourite aroma hops. Surprisingly, it pours a murky burnt orange colour – almost brown in certain light – with a thick dirty orange head that quickly dissipates to leave just the slightest layer of bubbles sat tentatively atop the beer.

As expected, the aromas are beautifully pungent, encompassing peach, pineapple, orange zest and some light resinous notes. But the hop really starts to sing in the tasting, taking the characteristics up another notch. Delicate mandarin orange and pine get to work before powerful pink grapefruit comes charging through, demolishing all in its way.

It's sharp and mouth-puckeringly bitter but is prevented from having things all its own way by an undercurrent of biscuity malt. A crisp finish and lasting bitterness that burrows into the corners of your mouth round off the invigorating experience.

After that high-octane start, I was simply unable to keep up the pace, so eased off a little with Mallinsons Citra at 3.9% ABV.

Citra remains one of my favourite hops, largely because of the profound effect Oakham Citra has had on my drinking life, and this was a solid representation of it. Huddersfield brewers Mallinsons have created a vast range of single-hop beers, most of them at sessionable strength, so they're always a good bet when looking to learn more about different varieties.

The Citra pours extremely lively, a glittering pot of pale gold with a thick, lasting white head that leaves a strong lacing all the way down the glass.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the hop, the aromas don't knock you out but it is slightly skunky, with a good squeeze, a handful of dry grass, some mango and a strong soapiness.

There's more mango in the flavour, some freshly-picked gooseberry and a touch of grapefruit but its the floral, grassy notes that actually dominate, making this extremely fresh, clean and drinkable.

The light malt struggles to get a proper look in but that doesn't detract from its drinkability, a crisp, dry and bitter finish providing that 'ahhh' moment. I couldn't help but think more could have been done with the hop but it works as a light session ale.Brew Dog Dana

Quick 'breather' taken, it was back to the strong stuff with Brew Dog Dana at 6.7% ABV. This comes from the Scottish punks' IPA is Dead series, which set out with a similar aim to Mikkeller's single-hop saga by using exactly the same amount of hops in the boil and the dry hop, on top of the same malt base.

In all honestly, I went into this with low hopes. The series as a whole had failed to impress me, having already tried the underwhelming Waimea, Goldings and El Dorado variants, and friends had warned Dana was the worst of the bunch.
But, despite my trepidation, I actually enjoyed this.

It's far from a typical IPA as it lacks the big, juicy fruit aromas and flavours you might associate with modern incarnations of the style. In fact, it's a bit of an odd duck.

It smells like a field of wildflowers, floral and grassy, but with hints of pine and just the slightest bit of orange trying to sneak through.
The first sip kind of takes you by surprise. Instead of possessing the clean, punchy hop flavours usually associated with a Brew Dog IPA, this is spicy and sticky – almost as if lupulin is clogging every pore across the tongue.

If parma violets were made as boiled sweets rather than chalky tablets, I imagine this is what they'd taste like and although that might sound slightly unappealing, I enjoyed it. A good dose of caramel malt adds to the rounded sweetness, preventing the sneaking bitterness from making more than a brief cameo right at the death.

Following that, I cracked open the second of my two Mikkeller beers, this time their Simcoe, 6.8% ABV. As much as I'm a fan of Amarillo, I think this one trumped it, acting as a fabulous showcase for Simcoe's strengths.

It pours an cloudy copper colour with a big white head, full of huge bubbles, that rapidly sinks to leave a lasting halo at the top of the glass.
Clean aromas of lemon, grapefruit and pine whoosh immediately up the nose, at once juicy and sherberty, vivid and fresh. Pine too comes through, as well as a slightly yeasty smell.

Despite the dominant citrus in the nose, everything is in balance on the palate. The caramel malt comes through much stronger than in the Amarillo variant, giving this a backbone of iron that complements the hop flavours well. Lemon, blood orange, grapefruit and pineapple all explode in successive bursts, continually changing the character of the beer as it slides across the tongue.

Without a doubt, the best of the night.

Black Isle Yellowhammer

 

By this point, three strong beers had taken their toll, so my night cap came in the form of Black Isle's Yellowhammer, a 4.1% ABV golden ale hopped with Cascade.

It pours an attractive clear straw colour with a frothy head that shrinks to leave a thin layer of foam that lasts as long as the beer itself.
The nose contains lemon, grass and floral notes carried on a fresh breeze, with just a hint of candy sugar.

Before drinking, a quick glance at Rate Beer – which is never recommended – showed up a host of unfavourable reviews for this effort from the Scottish brewers. 'Dull' was a word that seemed to crop up frequently, with a number of reviewers complaining about the presence of diacetyl.
Maybe I'm missing something but I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Take it for what it is, a crisp, drinkable golden session ale and this is a really good beer.

The hops ring clear as a bell, with heaps of sharp lemon joined by orange, grass and a spoonful of marmalade once it reaches the back of the tongue. It's light-bodied but contains just enough cookie dough malt and a fuzzy, sherbert sensation in the aftertaste.

Some great beers were enjoyed elsewhere too and I was particularly jealous of the Weird Beard barrel-aged Chinook enjoyed by the guys at Honest Brew.

Already looking forward to the next event.

Thursday, 22 August 2013 17:13

Recap: London Craft Beer Festival

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London Craft Beer FestivalAlan Partridge was wrong about London. It's not all bad.

Yeah it's big, congested and run by Boris Johnson but it's also got beer, lots and lots of beer.

The London Craft Beer Festival proved that particular point in emphatic fashion by providing an incredible selection that supplemented the best of British with a sprinkling of European class.

Comparisons with the Great British Beer Festival had been inevitable, with both taking place in the same city in the same week, and while LCBF didn't come anywhere close to matching the quantity boasted by its giant counterpart, it absolutely nailed the quality.

Every brewer in attendance seemed to roll out the big guns, achieving a perfect balance between core powerhouses and limited-run curiosities.

A rolling roster of musicians and DJs ramped up the party atmosphere but the mix of indoor and outdoor space allowed the more misanthropic to retreat to a quieter spot when the mood dictated. The industrial 'chic' of the Bethnal Green's Oval Space only strengthened the appeal of the event, allowing it to branch out beyond a solid crowd of hardcore beer geeks and attract a good mix of revellers and anoraks.

My only minor criticism is that I remain unconvinced on the format of the event.

Basically, you paid £35 for a ticket and received 18 tokens, each of which could be exchanged for a 150ml sampler of beer from a specific brewery bar.  In the case of some breweries, such as Howling Hops and Five Points, the bars were shared, meaning you had to plump for one or t'other rather than enjoying a beer from each.

The non-beer obsessives among our group found this pretty tough going, especially as some of the bars offered little below 7/8% ABV, and would have preferred to be left with an unrestricted choice. I applaud the festival organisers for attempting to encourage experimentation and exploration but it may end up limiting their potential audience by alienating the less seasoned drinkers.

For someone like me, on the other hand, it was red rag to a bull.

Give me 18 tokens and I'm going to make damn sure I drink 18 beers, no matter the consequences, because that northern mentality simply hates to see any kind of waste. The gauntlet had been thrown at my feet, so I picked it up, filled it with beer and started supping.

The only problem with that is, after arriving at 7.45pm, I had four hours and 15 minutes to drink 18 beers. That's approximately one every 14 minutes - not an easy task when eight of them weighed in at more than 8% ABV and one, from those crazy kids over at Mikkeller, at an eye-watering 17.5% ABV. Now that'll put hair on your chest.

I'll refrain from going through a list of every beer I sampled on the evening, primarily because I don't want to bore you all to tears but also due to the fact my tasting notes are simply not fit for public consumption.

Many of the latter notes would not stand up to any kind of close scrutiny and certainly wouldn't pass as hard evidence in a court of law.

I started with the best of intentions, writing eloquent and passionate descriptions of Beavertown's excellent Bloody 'Ell and Buxton's equally impressive Axe Edge NZ but lost my way somewhere after the halfway point.

My last tasting notes read simply 'Dr molten, blood and spen', which I take to be De Molen's Blood, Sweat and Tears but really can't be sure.

So, in the circumstances pop pickers, I will instead give you a rundown of my favourite beers from the event:

Brodies Romanov

 

5. Brodie's Romanov Empress Barrel Aged Stout, 12.1% ABV (pictured left)

A really decadent stout that drives a battering ram right through your palate. You could quite easily sit for hours and enjoy the rich aromas of smoky malt, bitter cocoa, oak and red wine, slowly getting high off the intoxicating vapours  if only it didn't deny the pleasure of the tasting.

Smooth dark malts and bittersweet chocolate slide across the tongue before luscious dark fruits, molasses, prunes and brown sugar ooze everywhere. Then comes the oak, a building woody smoke that only heightens the pleasing effects of the alcohol, which warms the mouth and throat like a comforting log fire.

Probably not one best suited to the early stages of the evening due to its thick, sticky, port-like consistency but that didn't spoil the experience.

4. To Øl Black Malts and Body Salts, 9.9% ABV

I had a feeling one a To Øl beer would make it onto this list and I wasn't disappointed. Black Malts and Body Salts is a coffee double IPA - complex, tasty and absolutely bloody barmy. Nobody seems to do eccentricity quite like the Danes.

It pours deep black with a lively brown head and the aroma is a confusing mix of charcoal, coffee, dark chocolate, pine and sharp citrus - not unfamiliar, I suppose, if you're a person who enjoys hot drinks, fruit and confectionary while sat around the bonfire in a pine forest.

Smoky, roasted malts introduce themselves to the palate first, followed by a blast of strong, black coffee, a little caramel and salty liquorice. Then come the hops, a jet of grapefruit, tangerine and pine washing away the heavier flavours and leaving a clean, bitter finish.

3. Buxton Axe Edge NZ, 6.8% ABV

Axe Edge was already a nigh on perfect IPA so why mess with a winning formula? Buxton just had to go and throw a load of New Zealand hops in there didn't they?

'Why did they do that?' I hear you scream. Well, because they're motherlovin' geniuses that's why.

I didn't think it was possible to improve on Axe Edge but this may well have done it. Instead of the usual mix of Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin, this uses Motueka, Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin to create a riot of tropical fruit.

The delicate balance between malt and hops, sweetness and tartness, is still there but now Axe Edge appears zingier and zestier than ever before, fizzy bombs of sherbert fruit exploding everywhere across the tongue. Juicy peach, pineapple, passion fruit, orange and a touch of grapefruit tantalise the taste buds, neatly setting up a refreshing, lightly bitter finish.

2. Magic Rock Salty Kiss Lime Goze, 4.1% ABV

Having tried the gooseberry Salty Kiss at Birmingham Beer Bash, I knew I couldn't leave LCBF without having sampled the latest version. Upon entry I made a bee-line straight for the Magic Rock bar but, much to my disappointment, it wasn't on.

However, I bided my time and patience paid off. Seeing its name appear on the board at the Magic Rock stand I put elbows, knees and feet into action, fighting my way through the crowd to ensure I got a piece of the action.

It was just as good as I had been led to believe by the smug sorts on Twitter who had tried it earlier in the festival. Unsurprisingly, the nose is full of tart lime and lemon but it is still nothing compared to the incredible wave of juicy lime that instantly crashes through the mouth on the first sip.

It's such a vivid, invigorating experience that it causes you to momentarily reel back in shock before embracing the lasting, juicy sourness. There's a sprinkling of sea salt and a dry, tart finish, making this one you kind drink all night long.

1. Siren Broken Dream, 6.5% ABVLCBF2

Siren have done it again. For the second time running, they've come up on the outside to pip the favourite at the post and clinch the coveted title of my festival favourite. I could've sworn Salty Kiss would take the number one spot, such was my anticipation for it, but Broken Dream was the right beer at the right time.

After three IPAs in a row, I was ready for something a little darker towards the end of the night and this mistress satisfied my every need. I wasn't expecting the smokiness in the nose but it just added extra complexity to the dominant notes of espresso coffee, creamy cocoa and breakfast oatmeal.

This is one breakfast stout you could actually imagine sipping at the start of the day with a slice of toast. Just like a capuccino, it combines the sharp, bitterness of a shot of espresso with sweet, frothy milk and a sprinkling of chocolate. Add to that vanilla, a trace of dark fruit and wonderful roasted malt and you get a multi-layered yet easy-drinking delight.

The mouthfeel is silky smooth and warming, the finish bitter and clean. I was a Siren virgin until very recently but now I've been thoroughly seduced by their wares.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013 10:50

#JustTheOne with CAMRGB, August 23

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JSTTHEONE-ADVERT-660X393Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard all about the Great British Beer Festival and to be honest, I couldn't care less.*

It might be the biggest, best-attended beery event in the country but, ultimately, it acts only as a prelude to #JustTheOne, CAMRGB's Twitter event hosted by yours truly on Friday, August 23.

Imagine the GBBF is Tom Cruise. The safe, successful, instantly recognisable face of the industry.

Well, #JustTheOne is Oliver Reed. Edgier, more belligerent and possessing the propensity for absolute disaster.

Hopefully that won't all be true but #JustTheOne will at least allow beer lovers on Twitter to continue the party after a superb week that also includes the London Craft Beer Festival.

Basically, it will be a celebration of single hop beers. So whether your preference is Citra, Nelson Sauvin or even Experimental 366, just bring a few bottles and join me on Twitter (@likethemurphys) from around 7pm.

In case you're in any doubt about what's going on, here's a handy step-by-step guide:

1. Buy a selection of single hop beers from your retailer of choice.

2. Save the above beers for consumption on the evening of Friday, August 23.

3. On the evening of August 23, settle down in a comfortable place where you can both consume your beers and tweet about them with the beery community - either accompanied by friends or on your own.

4. At 7pm, start drinking and tweeting. I will kick proceedings off by tweeting about my first beer and hopefully, plenty of you will follow suit. Just make sure you use the hashtag #JustTheOne in any tweets about your chosen beers.

5. Chat, drink and be merry. Share tasting notes and observations about your beers with other users and join in conversations with like-minded individuals. It's basically like the Women's Institute but for beery degenerates.

Twitter beer folk of the world unite!

 

* I've been driven insanely jealous by tweet after tweet from smug gets supping away while I sit at my desk wondering why the squirrel outside keeps running up and down the drainpipe.

Friday, 02 August 2013 09:26

Event focus: London Craft Beer Festival

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LCBF1Event focus: London Craft Beer Festival

London has been the C-4 in the British craft beer explosion.

Granted, sparks of inspiration have been flickering all over the country but nowhere has the boom been more stunning than in the nation's capital.

New microbreweries are popping up on an almost weekly basis and traversing the many craft beer bars and pubs could become a life's pursuit.

But, despite this success, London still lags behind in one respect - the lack of a single event to rival Manchester's Indy Man Beer Con.

A series of smaller festivals offered plenty of choice but none succeeded, or indeed attempted, to bring such a huge range of cask and keg together in such spectacular fashion, possibly because the monolithic Great British Beer Festival looms too large over the London festival scene.

Two Londoners identified this flaw and, sufficiently motivated by a shared love of beer, resolved to do something about it.

The result is the London Craft Beer Festival, which takes place between August 16 and 18 at Bethnal Green's Oval Space, featuring a stellar list of brewers that includes Thornbridge, Brew Dog, The Kernel, Buxton, Magic Rock and Mikkeller among many others.

"It started with me going to Great British Beer Festival last year and then going up to Camden Town Brewery and just thinking we'd love to bring all the new breweries, the new beer and the new feel into a festival that reflected what we really enjoyed," says organiser Greg Wells.

"I've always been into beer, amongst other drinks, and was talking with Dan Sylvester, my mate who co-owns and runs Oval Space, and we thought it was something we could do together. We knew it was something that we'd really enjoy and could do really well.

"London deserves a grade A beer festival and we want this to be established on the calendar.

"When we started this process, there hadn't been anything like this in London.  Still today no one has put this level of event on in terms of the beer list we've got and the food, with the likes of Ginger Pig, Forza Win and Gelupo involved, in such a great space."

 

A journey through beer

Both Greg and Dan (pictured above) have committed to the festival as a passion project, putting in the hard graft on top of bill-paying day jobs, which makes their decision to push the boat out with the event's format all the more impressive.

Instead of opting for the traditional entrance fee and token format, they have plumped for something a bit more unusual - and risky - by UK standards. Punters pay £35 for their ticket, which includes a 150ml sampler from each of the 21 brewery stands.

Some might view this as slightly restrictive but the emphasis is on encouraging experimentation with different styles, flavours, brewers, in some cases pushing people beyond the boundaries of their usual comfort zone.

Greg says, "We knew we had to do something different in model to most UK beer events.  To ask a brewer for cash means even if they do attend, which makes little business sense for them, they'll only bring beers that make most money in order to recoup their investment.

"Our model is new for the UK, it's a risk, but we've worked hard, we've thought about how you go about getting this kind of brewer involved and worked back from there.

"The key thing here is though we wanted the event experience to be premium too.  We want people to come and not think about a thing other than trying lots of superb beer, to go on a bit of journey, whether you are a beer geek or just getting into appreciating good, honest beer.

"There's been a lot of chat around our ticketing structure, but we think it's a great deal when you see what beer is on offer. It's new for the UK although it is common in other places, but we designed this in a way we would want if we were attending as customers.

"You want the whole experience to flow.  A big beer journey."

LCBF2

Rubbing shoulders with the big boys

Possibly even bolder than the format is the event's date - in the same week as the previously mentioned CAMRA-operated monster, the Great British Beer Festival.

You could be forgiven for thinking the organisers are playfully thumbing their noses at the cask ale establishment but Greg insists the events should not be viewed as duelling factions, rather two distinct parts of the same general puzzle.

"To say we didn't know it was happening would be a lie," admits Greg. "We think we're pulling a different crowd to be honest but we also thought anyone can make both if on at the same time. So many people and brewers in town can only be a good thing for London and for us.

"We're not saying 'fuck you' at all, craft isn't a threat to ale. If we help them realise that it's about good beer then we've contributed."

So what makes the London Craft Beer Festival unique?

" I think it's the diversity," says Greg. "We want beers that will spark people's imagination, make them re-appreciate beer.

"It's not about crazy hop bombs all the time, or imperial stouts with more depth than the Pacific but also great session beers with depth, fruity hops and beautiful aroma.  Hop Head by Dark Star is stunning, so is Half Mast by Siren and Table by The Kernel.  These beers are simple pleasures of the best kind.

"Personal taste played a role.  The scene is growing so fast so new brewers are popping up, or into your realm of existence, all the time.  We had a list of key ones, started there, and everyone we met said, 'have you spoken to these guys?'

"Testament to our list is the amount of enquiries from the UK and all over the world asking to be involved.  Maybe next year!"

Beyond the brewers, a full programme of musical and culinary delights promise to make this more cultural showcase than traditional beer festival.

The choice of venue indicates as much. The Oval Space is billed as a mixed-use arts space, comprising a modern loft-style warehouse with two impressive terraces which offer views over East London.

Greg adds, "There's a pop-up restaurant we're running on our mezzanine, which is creating four beautiful fine dining dishes that perfectly match four beer types (pale ale, IPA, porter and stout).

"The team have worked incredibly hard to create a real balanced plate that matches the flavour and mouthfeel of drinking that beer type. I tried some and was blown away. 

"Ginger Pig's Cuts will be awesome, as will the special beer ice cream Gelupo are making.

"With more fun provided by the likes of Craig Charles and a big-name band turning up to DJ too, which is still secret, it's just going to be so much fun."

To find out more or buy tickets visit londoncraftbeerfestival.co.uk

Full list of brewers taking part (Twitter handle):

The Kernel (@kernelbrewery)

Thornbridge (@thornbridge)

Mikkeller (@MikkellerBeer)

Redemption (@RedemptionBrew)

Magic Rock (@MagicRockBrewCo)

De Molen (@molenbier)

Beavertown (@BeavertownBeer)

Brew Dog (@brewdog)

Dark Star (@Darkstarbrewco)

To Øl (@toolbeer)

Camden Town (@CamdenBrewery)

Brodie's (@BrodiesBeers)

Weird Beard (@WeirdBeard_Brew)

Crate (@CrateBrewery)

Siren (@SirenCraftBrew)

Partizan (@PartizanBrewing)

Buxton (@BuxtonBrewery)

Harviestoun (@HarviestounBrew)

Howling Hops (@HowlingHops)

Five Points (@FivePointsBrew)

Monday, 29 July 2013 15:54

Recap: Birmingham Beer Bash

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Beer Bash 1

A morning haze is usually the sign of a good night before so the Birmingham Beer Bash must have been one hell of a night.

I went there not knowing quite what to expect - just knowing the event was in the safe hands of a passionate organising team committed to showcasing the best of beer. First impressions were good.

The Bond Company comprises a group of attractive, refurbished Victorian warehouses sat alongside the canal in Digbeth.

After passing through the grand entrance gates, you take a toddle down the cobbles towards a large covered courtyard, which housed the festival's culinary delights. Take a left and you ended up at the international bar, take a right and you stumbled upon the main beer room that housed a collection of cask and keg.

Given the grandeur of the surroundings, I felt like I was wandering into a beery version of Willy Wonka's fantastical factory, ready to swim in lakes of double IPA and soar inside giant lager bubbles. Now that would've made a great movie!

Initially, the main room seemed a little small and I must confess to a brief panic that there wouldn't be enough beer to satisfy my eternal thirst. But those worries quickly dissipated because while it was small, the Beer Bash was perfectly formed.

What the Birmingham Beer Bash lacked in scale, it made up for in intimacy and bonhomie. All manner of people mingled in the various rooms and many of the brewers were on hand to discuss the inspiration behind the beverages being sampled.

Beer seems to be a bloody powerful unifier but then maybe the effects of beer played a sizeable part in attendees' willingness to indulge in good-natured chatter.

And despite initial fears about the size of the selection, I still came away feeling I hadn't tried everything I wanted to - proof that quality trumps quantity every time.

So to the beers. Ending the night with a 12.5% Imperial Stout from Howling Hops means my memory isn't quite what it should be but I'll do my best to recap the good and bad of everything I tried.

First up was Magic Rock Salty Kiss, the Huddersfield brewers' take on a traditional German gose (made in collaboration with Kissmeyer Beer) and one I've been desperate to try since first hearing about it a few months back. It was the perfect starter for 10, a great beer for both enlivening the old palate and refreshing my arid throat. A mouthful of sharp, zesty fruit - with elements of gooseberry, lemon and grapefruit - combines with earthy yeast and a pleasant salty finish to make an excellent beer. It's tart, juicy and boldly different - an experience similar to my first taste of salted caramel and one I hope to repeat.

Mind suitably blown, I followed this with another Magic Rock beer. After all, why change a winning formula? This time I opted for Magic Rock The Juggler, a collaboration with the always intriguing Danish gypsy brewer To Øl. For one reason or another, the saison is the current bière du jour, so every man and his dog has been desperate to join the party. Consequently there's a huge clamour to be noticed and, despite being a solid beer, this doesn't really do enough to stand out from the crowd. It poured with a huge frothy beige head, which offered stark contrast to the ominous murky brown colour of the liquid. The aroma combines the farmyard with dark fruit and the flavour is rich raisins and cherries, slight sweet caramel, bitter hop and smoke. There's a generous dose of spicy, earthy yeast and a dry, lightly sour finish.

The next beer was a contender for my favourite of the night, Siren Limoncello IPA. Put aside for one second all thoughts of the disgusting, neon yellow goop served up in a shotglass after every meal at a bad Italian restaurant. Limoncello can be a tart, zesty delight when done properly and this beer attempts to emulate that - a task it fulfils stunningly well. The nose offers a surprising whoosh of freshly-sliced lemon and this carries over into the tasting, which is an invigorating treat of energetic, zingy citrus. It leaps and bounds across the palate like a mouthful of fizzy sherbet and was clearly hopped to within an inch of its life because Sorachi Ace and Citra have left their own indelible fingerprints all over this.

Beer Bash 2At this stage I was picking up pace quite nicely so made a beeline for a beer I had wanted to make absolutely sure I tried at the festival, the Weird Beard and Northern Monk collaboration Bad Habit. It was expertly served to me by he of the Weird Beard, Gregg Irwin, and went down an absolute treat. This hazy amber brew smells strongly of yeasties and grassy hops and offers an interesting take on the classic Abbey Tripel. Spicy phenols and Belgian yeast are the most powerful influences on the tastebuds but dark berries, citrusy orange (from the Cascade hops) and sweet candi sugar are also present. It finishes reasonably dry with just enough bitterness to give it an excellent balance. As far as debuts go, this was up there with Wayne Rooney smashing a hat-trick past Fenerbahce for my beloved Manchester United.

This is when the tasting notes started to become a little bit more concise, which I can only put down to my rush to imbibe as many wonderful beers as possible (or something like that anyway). Art Brew Anarchist Party Bitter is another I was very keen to try, so was left a little disappointed by the serve, which was slightly flat and lazy-looking out of the cask. It's still a beer well worth trying though and a unique take on the humble bitter that sticks two fingers up to the establishment. Leathery malt, caramel, toffee and smooth liquorice supply the body and sweetness before Nelson Sauvin does its usual job by slashing through those flavours with its noble sword of sharp bitterness.

Three IPAs were up next, the best of which was Tiny Rebel Hadouken IPA, a beer I should've tried long before this festival. It's a real triumph from the Newport-based brewery, so much so that I felt like Dragon Punching the air in celebration. Reminiscent of excellent American IPAs such as Ska's Modus Hoperandi, it shoots an exploding fireball of bitter, resinous hops straight down your throat. The powerful grapefruit and pine are well balanced by caramel malt, making this an extremely drinkable IPA.

Mikkeller 20 is another good take on the style, making use of more floral hop characteristics with the balance tipping a little more towards sweet than bitter. Biscuity malt and rich honey are quite prominent but so too are grassy, floral hops, orange and mango. There's a slight earthiness too and although it does finish with some bitterness, it remains quite sticky.

The Buxton and To Øl collaboration Carnage was, unfortunately, a touch disappointing but perhaps only because I expected far too much from a shared effort by two of my favourite brewers. They played it pretty much straight down the line with this one, creating an IPA which doesn't break the mould but still leaves enough to admire. It's piled with hoppy flavours, particularly orange zest, peach and pine, has a slight bready malt and finishes extremely dry and bitter. I'm looking forward to trying their other collaboration Sky Mountain Sour much more.

Beer Bash 3

With time running out, my penultimate beer was Wild Beer Modus Operandi, one I've had before from the bottle. I enjoy the unpredictability of this beer, created by the decision to both age it in oak barrels and ferment using wild yeast. The result is an ever-changing beer but one that never fails to get you smiling. A parade of dark fruits includes raisin, rich plum, grape and cherry and it takes on a rich, deep port-like character thanks to its hibernation in the oak barrels. Smokiness and funky Brett give it another dimension and there's also a slight sourness just to confuse the palate further.

And now to the aforementioned Howling Hops Russian Imperial Stout, admittedly not a particularly wise choice as the final beer of the night. But, even though it did lead to me temporarily misplacing my marbles, I don't regret trying it. Fermented with saison yeast it is an unusual beer full of rich berry flavours rather than the chocolate and coffee notes found in so many stouts. It was a bit like an indulgent Christmas pud - sticky sweet and heavy with late-arriving alcohol heat - so the spiciness added by the yeast worked well. Maybe next time I'll have this a little earlier though so it's easier to break down the complex flavours!

In terms of my beer of the festival, I'm going to sit on the fence and call a tie between Weird Beard and Northern Monk's Bad Habit and Siren's Limoncello IPA. Really (and you might want to grab the sick bag for this one), the winner was the great British beer-loving public. The organisers proved sufficiently that this should become a regular feature on the festival calendar.

Images courtesy of Francis Clarke, francisclarke.co.uk

 

Thursday, 11 July 2013 13:30

Event focus: Birmingham Beer Bash

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A new breed of events are altering our perceptions on the humble British beer festival.COGENT Beer Bash Poster

Forget crowded rooms in church halls and working men's clubs, where a pungent haze of sweat and mild linger overhead and flat beer is supped while a blues revival band plays in the corner.

These events are the realisation of a dream many of us didn't think possible, where cask and keg skip merrily hand in hand and food extends beyond a burger resembling a hockey puck on a white bap.

It's a good old booze-up but not as we know it.

Manchester's Indy Man Beer Con and the recent Liverpool Craft Beer Expo are two such events which have set the standard for all others and the Birmingham Beer Bash is next up, taking place amid the striking surroundings of The Bond Company in Digbeth on July 26 and 27.

It will showcase more than 100 beers from the likes of Thornbridge, Red Willow, Tiny Rebel and Magic Rock, while the gourmands among us can enjoy five-course beer and food matching events hosted by Simpsons Restaurant and Carters of Moseley, with beers from Purity.

The organisers hope the event will complement, rather than usurp, the CAMRA-run Birmingham Beer Festival, which takes place later this year. Craft beer may have been slow to take off in the nation's second city (as a proud Mancunian that's a term I regret using) but the Beer Bash is an attempt to address that. It is not only designed to cater for a burgeoning demand among craft loyalists but also to break a vicious cycle where limited availability causes a dearth of demand.

As such, an emphasis on education and inclusion are key pillars of the event.


Year zero for Birmingham craft beer

Dan Brown (no, not the one responsible for The Da Vinci Code), organiser and PR guru, explains, "One of our ongoing discussions centred on the lack of craft beer venues in Birmingham and the vicious circle which therefore existed - no knowledge of craft beer equals no market for craft beer equals no craft beer availability equals no demand for craft beer. We wanted to break this cycle which a statement of intent; a year zero for Birmingham beer fans."

BEER BASH-10-2

So what will it offer that is different to the Birmingham Beer Festival?

"The short answer is kegged beer," adds Dan. " I go to the Birmingham CAMRA event each year and enjoy myself but a lot of breweries who I absolutely love, are not there - mainly because of the way they want to dispense their beers, which contravenes CAMRA's rules. Of course CAMRA is perfectly entitled to decide which breweries it wants to deal with, but as a punter it's frustrating because I know how much quality beer is out there, which I don't get to sample in my own city.

"The other main difference is the educational element of our event - delivered via a fantastic series of talks and tastings. We have been really lucky to secure some fantastic expert speakers, including TV personalities and world class brewers."

These talks include a session on hops delivered by Paul Corbett from hop merchants Charles Faram & Co and one focused on malt from Dominic Driscoll, brewing manager for revered brewers Thornbridge.


Turning Twitter dreams to reality

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Beer Bash is that it was conceived entirely via social media. The event's organising committee developed from a loose collective of bloggers and beer fanatics who struck up a rapport online and decided to take action to resolve their virtual gripes.

Social media has become a powerful platform for the nascent craft beer scene in the UK, providing a platform for brewers to exhibit their wares without the need for expensive marketing campaigns and for enthusiasts to connect with other like-minded individuals to share opinions and recommendations.

The blogging community is perhaps more influential than ever before and the Beer Bash is a demonstration of that. If passionate individuals feel compelled to do something, they have the perfect example of what can be achieved.

Dan says, "As an online community first and then a real life community second, we kept saying the same thing to each other - why don't the best beers get to Birmingham? Why are we always the last ones to enjoy these hot new beers which are popping up across the UK? Eventually we sort of said to each other, well if no one else is prepared to address this situation, we'll have to do it. Can we do it? Yes. Let's do it. Let's learn how to put on a national level progressive beer event.

"For us, social media has been absolutely crucial. All the organising team got to know each other via Twitter, and established a beery rapport way before we actually decided to meet in person. On a personal level, Twitter enabled me to identify like-minded people and to feel part of a progressive beer community - a community which we all believed did not exist in real life, at the time we met."

Still, organising a national event hasn't come without its fair share of challenges.

Dan says, "We are a team of enthusiastic volunteers, but we aren't wealthy and we don't have any cash reserves, so our first major challenge was to secure sponsorship to pay essential costs. In order to get this sponsorship there was a lot of pressure on (event director) David Shipman to passionately and convincingly sell the idea of the event. Luckily, the people we talked to also shared our vision and could see the need for a large craft beer event, in England's second city."

Challenges now overcome, the Birmingham Beer Bash is ready to stake its claim for a permanent spot on the craft beer lover's calendar.

Indy Man Beer Con set the bar high with a superbly-executed event hosted at Manchester's stunning Victoria Baths last October, yet the organisers are viewing its success as a gift rather than a curse.

"Well IMBC certainly set the bar high when they emerged last year, very early on when were in the early stages of our planning," adds Dan. "Both Manchester and Liverpool have been incredibly supportive and helpful in offering us advice, so we feel part of a network of craft beer events in the UK and feel very motivated to make sure our Bash is of an equal standing with the aforementioned events.

"It's good that similar events are starting to pop up, as it ensures that we all keep striving for better and better experiences for the people who come along to check us out."

Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Birmingham Beer Bash website at birminghambeerbash.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 18:23

CAMRGB single hop event

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If you've read my previous blog posts, you'll already know I'm a fan of both CAMRGB (the Campaign for Really Good Beer) and single hop beers. And if you didn't know, well you do now!

Neatly combining the two interests, I have offered to host a single hop Twitter event in association with CAMRGB on Friday August 23.

For those unfamiliar with CAMRGB's Twitter events, they're basically a chance for people all over the country to share a beer together from the comfort of their own home.

Anyone interested in taking part merely has to prepare a selection of single-hop beers and then drink them throughout the evening, sharing notes and thoughts via Twitter using the hashtag #justtheone. It doesn't matter if you spend the evening home alone (maybe Macaulay Culkin fancies sharing a few beer notes) or if you have a few mates round and make a proper session of it, as long as you take the chance to forge a few friendships and enjoy a few good beers in good company.

I'll be aiming to kick the evening off at around 7.30pm when I'll crack open my first beer. After that, it's up to you lovely, lovely people to follow suit.

 

Why single hop?

Single hop beers are perfect for getting to know each different hop and cosying up to the ones you like the most.

Most brews contain a combination of various different hops and although this certainly isn't a bad thing, sometimes it pays to go back to basics. Just ask John Major (actually, please don't).

During my regular attempts to convince friends and family about the wonders of really good beer, I'm wary they don't often fully understand their own tastes. Drinking beers with a mixture of hops doesn't help to break down the complex flavours offered by each strain, especially as modern brews are becoming bigger, bolder and more complex.

Starting out with single hop beers makes it much easier to distinguish the different hop characteristics and understand the nuances of each, allowing drinkers to make more informed decisions about what they are likely to enjoy in the future and why.

Plus, I just really like drinking punchy single hop IPAs and pale ales and there's plenty of them out there.

 

What beers can I get my hands on?

This list is by no means definitive and only reflective of my own questionable tastes but here are a few suggestions to get you started:

The Kernel (masters of the single hop beer, I recently got my grubby mits on their Stella and Amarillo IPAs and Summit pale)

Oakham Citra

Mikkeller's single hop series (the Danish gypsy brewer has produced 19 different beers including Galena, Challenger, Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial, Cascade, Warrior, Citra, Nugget and others)

Brewdog's IPA is Dead series

Mallinsons (the Huddersfield brewers regularly produce single hop efforts, the most recent being Simcoe and Topaz)

Thornbridge Kipling (this British classic is made exclusively with Nelson Sauvin hops)

Marks & Spencer single hop range (yes, even Marks have a single hop range, although if the Citra variety tastes like Oakham Citra, that's because it is!)

 

Feel free to send me any more suggestions and I'll happily add them here. You can follow me on Twitter using @likethemurphys

Visit the CAMRGB website for more information about their upcoming events.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013 19:52

Wholesome American fun at Port Street Beer House

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American Beer Festival - An Audience with American Ambassador Andreas Falt

Port Street Beer House, Manchester, June 26 2013

PSBH American-Beer-Festival-256x363

Break out the bottle, it's time to pay tribute to the stars and stripes.

No matter what you think about the country itself, just put aside any images of gun-toting rednecks, obnoxious muscle cars and fist-pumping patriotism for one second because the US of A also boasts a lot of good people making a lot of good beer.

That much was made abundantly clear to anybody in attendance at the launch of Port Steet Beer House's latest American Beer Festival. An evening of tasting, toasting and talking encompassed the best of American beer in the presence of Andreas Falt, Ambassador for the Brewers Association, the organisation responsible for promoting American craft brewers.

Although it was slightly strange hearing a Swede eulogise about all things American, he took us on an entertaining and informative tour of American craft brewing - each step of the journey marked by a different beer from Port Street's excellent selection.

The first beer was Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner. At 5.2% it was the weakest beer of the night (yep, you read that right) and, in all honestly, it didn't quite match up to its successors in terms of quality either. That may be a slightly biased opinion, as I'm not a huge fan of pilsner in the main, but it did lack the depth and complexity of those that followed.

Brewed by Oregon's Rogue Ales, it is one of their estate beers, which means the primary ingredients were grown on site, including the liberty hops and floor-malted barley. As such, that's where the beer got its name - 'chit' being the rootlet which emerges from the barley kernel during floor-malting.

It's a refreshing beer with more of a tart, lemony hop flavour than many pilsners. Crisp and dry, it's underpinned by a solid biscuity malt but fails to completely hit the spot.

After this solid introduction, Andreas proceeded to educate the audience about the history of American brewing, from the heady days of the early 20th century, when 3000 breweries operated stateside, to the tentative origins of craft marked by Fritz Maytag's purchase of the Anchor Brewing company in 1965. Apparently Maytag had no experience of running a brewery or even making beer when he took control of the San Francisco brewer but was sparked into action in a bid to save the ailing business and the 'steam' beer he so enjoyed. Thousands of fans worldwide would thank him for that rash decision today.

Craft continued to rise with the founding of California's New Albion Brewery in 1976 and into the 80s with the establishment of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, also in California, and America's first brewpub in 1982. Brewpubs are an incredible phenomenon across the States, constituting around 1,600 of the country's 2,800 craft breweries.

Next stop on the beer bus was Modus Hoperandi by Ska (pictured below), a long-standing brewer based in Durango, Colorado. A 6.8% hop bomb, this beer's reputation certainly preceeds it but I'm ashamed to say this was my first try. Now I'm definitely ready to make up for lost time because it was a real joy.

Ska Modus Hoperandi
The aroma was an instant indicator of what I was about to receive, loaded full of pine and citrus. It was a similar experience for the tastebuds, powerful grapefruit and tropical fruit coming through first, accompanied by slightly resinous notes, before a decent kick of bitterness. Apparently its even more punchy out of a can but I thought the keg version struck a perfect balance, its bitter hop well matched by the sweet malt to make it slip down very easily.

Modus was followed by another beer that filled me with excitement, Sierra Nevada's Belgian Blonde IPA. Unfortunately though, this one didn't quite follow through on its promise, although that's probably more to do with my extremely lofty expectations rather than the quality of the beer.

Andreas explained the Belgian 'IPA' has become something of a fad among craft brewers in America and I must admit, this came across as more of a wit than a classic IPA, either in the American or the English sense. Aromas of cloves, cream soda and honey got the juices flowing. The Belgian yeast was in evidence, providing a nice spiciness, complemented by notes of banana, mild citrus hop and a touch of caramel, making it a really smooth drinker but it lacked the kind of character I was expecting. Worth a try but not one I'd be rushing back to again and again.

Andreas continued with a lesson on the regional division of beer styles across America. In the east, traditional styles tend to go down well, perhaps a hangover from their colonial beginnings. The influx of central and north European settlers in the midwest has led to a hankering for more German styles, such as lagers and pilsners, while those on the west coast love HOPS. In this case it is essential to spell the word in upper case because big, punchy beers full of citrus and high on IBU tend to be favoured by those bordering the Pacific.

But, in contrast with that particular theory, the next beer was Southern Tier's Iniquity, a hop-filled black IPA (or cascadian black ale as someone pointed out) from a microbrewery based in Lakewood, New York. Befitting its colour, the nose was dominated by smokiness, chocolate and roasted malt, with a hint of floral hop.

Similarly, roasted malt and smoke pleasured the palate but it also had a fruity sweetness, elements of berry and citrus and a strong bitter finish. It's one of those beers which goes down far too easily at its strength, which stands at 9% - not for the faint of heart!

The final beer was arguably the pièce de résistance. Flying Dog's Imperial Green Tea Stout is a knockout 10% and jammed with complex flavours. Flying Dog are known for doing the odd eccentric brew and this certainly slots into that category, pairing the more delicate flavour of green tea with the overwhelmingly potent characteristics of an imperial stout.

Surprisingly, it works! Smoky oak and sharp bitter coffee are well balanced by a slightly sweet, sticky chocolate base, before the earthy, herbal green tea pops its head above the parapet to say hello. Andreas explained that many people just can't find the tea in this beer and that was certainly my big worry prior to tasting. But after knocking back two of these with relish, I just can't come round to their point of view. If you can get down to Port Street before this has been quaffed by enthusiastic drinkers, I'd heartily recommend trying it - even just because it's so unique.

All in all, it was another successful event organised by the excellent team at Port Street and I'm looking forward to sampling plenty more of their guest selections during the American Beer Festival, which continues until Sunday July 7. During his talk, Andreas also let us know there were another 1,400 American breweries set to open imminently, so there's potential for this festival to run and run!