Can bitterness be ‘bred’ out of beer?

This morning, I watched this video by The Craft Beer Channel:

In which the head brewer talks about the decline of ‘the big C hops’ – Columbus, Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Chinook because of the amount of bitterness they impart into the high ABV American style IPA. People want to lose the bitterness, and as we can see, the usage of Equinox, El Dorado and Mosaic are prominent.

Stone’s ‘Delicious IPA’ is one such beer brewed with El Dorado and it has to be said, the bitterness is low whilst the flavour or the ‘juiciness’ of the hops remain. It’s a lovely, well rounded beer, but why don’t we want the bitterness any more?

Bitter as a flavour compound is found by most people to be disagreeable, studies showing that most toxins or poisons are bitter. Evolution therefore naturally points humans away from ‘the big C’s’, and towards hops bred for high flavour profiles. I feel like when I point people towards craft beer instead of their usual beverage, they turn their noses up at just how bitter it is and of course, it is difficult to ask them to identify the underlying flavour we all know and love.

Although many of the criticisms of macro light lager brewers is a lack of bitterness, although most light beers lack flavour altogether. Maybe a new brand of beers that remove the grapefruit, pine and citrus peel flavours for more lychee, papaya and tropical fruit is what we have to look forward to in future.

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Cloudwater Brew Co. – A Tribute.

I live in York, but was born in Bolton, just outside of Manchester, the current home of Ratebeer’s ‘Best New UK Brewery’ Cloudwater Brew Co. So when I first heard of them, I already had a secret fondness, for the same reasons I support Manchester City or enjoy a chippy tea on Fridays – they were located in an area that was part of my youth.

Manchester itself is a fantastic city, with all the many benefits of living in a metropolis – with the friendliness of a local town. If you enjoy food, beer, shopping,theatre or art there’s something there for you, as well as a rich history and a wonderful multicultural scene originating from the cotton factories of old, bringing in migrants from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and China. Chinatown stands as a monument to this, a must visit in my opinion.

Back to York, My local pub always has a selection of excellent craft beers on bottle and draft (The Falcon Tap on Micklegate, if you’re interested), when I spot a minimalistic looking bottle with square Scandinavian artwork displayed on the front.

“What’s that?” I ask, to Cameron, the owner.

“New brewery out of Manchester, that’s their NZ Hopfenweisse – we rated it our beer of the year for last year, it’s fucking excellent” he grins back, so obviously I buy one. I was sold when he told me it was from home to be honest, but his enthusiasm was contagious.

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He was more than right, it was absolutely ridiculous, delicious sweetness with a yeasty funk and well balanced hoppy bitterness. I spent the next ten minutes just staring into the glass, and the following ten chewing a friends ear off about how good it was. I just wanted to share this experience with everyone round the table. I followed this with their first iteration of a DIPA – another five star beer. I found myself wondering how it was possible i’d never heard of these guys, and how they were making such brilliant beer. Cameron was grinning when I got back to the bar.

“I spoke to the fella over the phone when I was placing my last beer order about how he was making such amazing beer, I was like, are you some kind of alien or summat? Because you can’t just turn up like that and fire out a range that tastes as good as it does” I laughed, but agreed. He was absolutely right.

The rear of the bottle states the bittering and flavour hops used, gravity and plato, the yeast type and allergen contents of each one. They also state that they only make Vegan brews, a gesture less valued in most breweries. They seem to tick every box.

 

What I’m trying to say is, do yourself a favour, grab a bottle – preferably their new DIPA v2 which I unfortunately missed. They’re in a league of their own – the Premier League champions leading the UK into a higher plane of beer flavour. Others would be wise to up their game or get out all together.

 

 

 

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Long Hiatus…

A lot has happened in the last year, and unfortunately I’ve not been able to keep up to date with this blog. Sometimes it feels fruitless to post words that nobody REALLY reads, although it always feels good to talk about something you love to do. Especially if that something is the ultimate social beverage – beer.

I suppose this is the ‘I’m back!’ bullshit, but honestly I’m quite excited. I’ve missed having an open diary and a record of my exploration through the world of beer. I may have stopped writing, but I never stopped drinking, or learning more for that matter.

So, even if no one else says it, welcome back boyo.

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Midnight Sun – Williams Brothers Brewing Co.

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To anyone telling me it’s still autumn, I remind them that the UK gets 2 weeks of autumn, in which the weather is still mild and the leaves do their best to turn into that horrid brown sludge that tries to throw me off my bike. After that, it’s winter until at least may, when it pisses it down until it’s winter again. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it’ll always be. Despite the lacklustre start to this review, the cold wether brings along a cracking selection of darker beers to ring in the early nights.

This one is a lovely English Porter from William’s Brothers Brewing Co. up in Alloa, Scotland. I’ve had March of the Penguins by these chaps, but I preferred this if im being honest. The bottle describes it as spicy, which soon after opening your nostrils instantly sense, along with stone fruit. It almost smells like mince pies (don’t talk to me about how early Christmas is being advertised though, I’m sure our local Tesco had the decs up from October). The mouthfeel is a little thin, despite the porter not being quite as strong as your usual stout. On the tongue, you get the spiced apple, plums, dark fruit but also a refreshing hint of candied peel and citrus – surprising really. I wouldn’t open another bottle, not at that ABV, but if it’s chilly out, grab yourself one and consume with ample amounts of cheese and chutney, I’m sure it’d be a real winter treat.

3/5

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The Fickle Nature of My Bloody Opinion – or the Difference Between Good Expansion and Bad Expansion

Around this time last year, I posted an article commenting on my general good feelings towards large breweries taking over micro breweries. Mentioned was Goose Island, now owned by InBev, and their delicious Bourbon County stout which – having read opinions on reddit’s beer subreddit – arguably in the last few years has become a better beer. The list was endless of the delicious varieties that were produced: vanilla, coffee, barley wine and the infamous RARE. I genuinely believed that these large companies would increase availability of these beers, as well as improve the quality of the beer itself. Daft I know, my theory was based upon a single beer, of which yes the quality has increased, but looking back upon my article, I was completely wrong. The nature of a micro is ruined by the nature and company objectives of the macro, by which I mean the objectives after takeover completely change. I believe that the number one priority for large companies is to make a bigger profit than the year before, so buying smaller breweries that produce something very on trend, will aid them in that goal. The nature of the passionate micro brewer is exactly the opposite, to produce a good product that the customer will enjoy, despite higher costs whilst making a smaller profit. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d gladly pay a higher price for a beer that has good quality ingredients (and the omission of some completely) from a beer loving brewer. I believe it makes for a better beer.

It was only recently that I decided that there are two ways to give craft beer the percentage in the market that it deserves. Number one is the buy-out route, in which they sell their soul to the large companies, who may (or may not) tamper or interfere with the way in which they produce beer. Remember, it is of the highest priority for the large businesses to make a massive profit! Cuts made to staff or cheaper alternatives used in the beer making process itself – two examples that undermine the nature of the craft beer movement. It’s not about the money, (even though yes, it’s nice to make a living from it) it’s about the product, the delicious pint or bottle of beer at the end. The macro may have contacts in the supermarkets or abroad, and may increase availability of the beer, but at what cost?

The second route is for me, the better way to go about making better beer. Supporting microbreweries because of their objectives and because their beer is of better quality. Give them an increased market share, and heads in supermarkets and other beer selling outlets will turn. Brewdog have recently posted on their blog that Nanny State, the 0.5% Orwellian natured brew, is now available in a third of Tesco supermarkets, not to mention 5am Red Ale, Punk IPA and Dead Pony Club being available in Sainsburys. I like their beers, they’re made by a brewery with a tiny market share that have a passion for making good beverages. I also like the fact they’re available when I’m doing the big food shop, at an inexpensive price. Other breweries can follow, if we’re willing to give them our backing by paying slightly elevated prices and choosing them over a quite frankly shit alternative.

In figures, Molson Coors is currently the 7th biggest brewing firm in the world and produces classics such as Carling Zest (a current fascination with macro breweries to put lemon or lime in beers, usually some kind of artificial flavouring), Heiniken, Coors Light and Cobra. Brewdog currently has a 100,000 hectolitre capacity, and despite being the biggest microbrewery in the UK, only commands 0.046% of the market share. Imagine the difference in production capacity, and the beers that would be available if these figures were the other way around. It can happen, with you – it already is. Brewdog announced that they are expanding production, and it’s all because of you and your capital backing.

It may sound like I’m being paid by Brewdog, but alas, I’m not. I just enjoy their beers and going out at the end of a busy week with friends or family, sitting down in the pub and drinking a cracking pint with good conversation. The more beers that are available, the better.

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Brewdog – Dead Pony Club

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  • 330ml Bottle
  • Scotland
  • 3.8%
  • 25 IBU
  • Pale Ale
  • Purchased at Brigantes – Micklegate, York

There’s a lot to be said for session beer. A beer that can be drunk several times over the course of one sitting – still delicious but without the alcoholic backbone that is associated with lots of other well known beers. For example, in the same evening I had Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA – a severely strong hop explosion that was fantastic, despite being knock out strong (9.2%). What I’m trying to say is, I couldn’t drink more than one, even though I’d like to. For me, Hardcore IPA is the bigger brother of the standard Punk IPA, whereas Dead Pony Club is the youngest of the trio.

I’d gladly grab a 6-pack of cans (or bottles), and drink them over the course of an evening, without feeling like the living dead the morning after. The flavour is great, citrus, grapefruit and pine resin notes come through – minimally carbonated leading to an easy drinking beer with good mouth feel.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the best pale ale I’ve ever had, but the availability and good flavour really sing to me. They’re found in Sainsburys or if you can’t find them pick a few up from the website (www.brewdog.com), which at the time of writing is £1.80 for a can or bottle.

3/5

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Left Hand Brewing – Milk Stout Nitro

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  • 330ml Bottle
  • USA
  • 6% ABV
  • Milk Stout
  • Purchased at The House of Trembling Madness, York

I bought this on a great deal of hype from friends in the US, as they would wail on about how good the ‘mouth feel’ was when drinking a nitro, something I’m only used to in Guinness. And no, before you punch me through your computer screen, I’m NOT comparing this to Guinness, it’s so much better than that, but let me get round to telling you why.

Left Hand Brewing, from Colorado have recently moved operations to the UK, bringing a wealth of new beers with them. This one, I’ll admit, was the most exciting for me.

The closest I could get to describing it would be drinking an impossibly smooth, alcoholic latte. The coffee and roast notes coming from this beer are powerful, but not overpowering. The real experience is indeed the texture of this beer. Not only is it smooth because of the lactose added, but the nitrous furthers this, making it real joy to drink. I’ve had two of these so far, and would put it in the top 3 stouts I’ve ever tried. A real treat. So, if you’re ever in the York area, pop in to Trembling Madness on Stonegate and grab yourself a bottle, or pick one up on http://www.beerhawk.co.uk – you won’t regret it.

4.5/5

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IPA’s – is the future of beer in the hands of hops?

There doesn’t seem to be anything more popular these days than a well crafted IPA from either the local microbrewery or an absolute hop bomb imported from the USA. Having read that Five Points are releasing their own take on the style, it got me thinking – why is IPA so popular? IPA or India Pale Ale is a British invention, a colonial era import from blighty to India for the troops fighting abroad. With the long travel time, an excessive amount of hops were added to a standard pale ale, this supercharged brew acting as a natural preservative for the long journey across the world. I presume the bitter hop presence will have dulled somewhat after the trip, resulting in a familiar tasting brew. These days, we enjoy our IPA’s fresh, as to savour the delicious hoppy flavours and (sometimes) unrelenting bitterness. So the outcome appears to be, despite the original method being one based upon preservation, an increasing tolerance to the bitterness of fresh IPA, drinkers being able to taste the underlying flavours produced by mountains of hops added. Breweries, attempting to expand upon this knowledge, have produced an array of beers based upon a standard IPA, so much so that the IPA has become the umbrella term for a a multitude of beers. Ill explain a few below.

English IPA

The origin, the foundation and cornerstone of all IPA is an English IPA. Hopped with Goldings and Fuggles to produce the flavour typical of the style. Usually not as strong as their American counterparts, they range between 5% to 6%. Fullers IPA for me is an excellent example, with Shepherd Neame IPA being almost as good. I tend to stick with the traditional breweries when drinking this style.

American IPA

Our American cousins across the pond have taken the style to new heights, adding Simcoe, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus and Citra to name a few. These produce a massive ‘hop bomb’, with IBU through the roof but with delicious flavour to match. These average out between 5% and 7.5%, with great examples coming from Sierra NevadaLagunitas, and Stone. They may be difficult to find in the UK, but the slow trick may turn into a tidal wave as the floodgates open with new beer lovers funding these breweries.

Session IPA

Despite the demand for IPA being huge, the high ABV can be very off putting to some. It can be difficult to drink more than one, even though you’d like to, so the session IPA was born. The same hop profile is maintained, but the ABV is lowed to below 5%, allowing the drinker to chug many more. Look out for Founders All Day IPA and The Kernel Table Beer as some great examples of the genre.

Double IPA

Pioneered by Vinnie Cilurzo of the Russian River Brewing Company, the double IPA is an absolute kick in the teeth with a hop filled boot. Double the hops, double the ABV and in most cases, double the flavour. These can range all the way up to 10%, so discretion is advised when tasting – we don’t want you face down in the gutter after several bottles of the stuff. The infamous RRBW Pliny the Elder being the holy grail of Double IPA, topped only by Vermont based Heady Topper – brewed by The Alchemist. According to some, its the best beer ever made, but tastes are subjective. Having tried neither, Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA and Thornbridge Halcyon are two of my favourites.

Triple IPA

I think when the madness truly sets in, and there’s nothing else left to experiment with, the triple IPA was going to be an obvious creation. Blowing the rule book into space with these atomic hop bombs, the triple IPA attempts to triple everything: ABV, IBU and of course, hops added. Dogfish Head produced the 18% 120 minute IPA, a shitstorm of flavour and bitterness. Taste it at your own risk. For me, the closest I’ve had was Magic Rock Brewing’s Unhuman Cannonball, a 12% knockout beer. Will we have a quad on the horizon? I’m sure it’s on the way…

These are the most common in the UK, sub categories of these exist also: Rye IPA, IPL (India Pale Lager) and brews made with wild yeasts also exist, are less common but equally delicious. Check them out of you get the chance, Beavertown’s 8 Ball Rye IPA is incredible.

The market is obviously there for all of these products! According to beeradvocate.com the best beer in the world is an IPA – contradictory to the sales figures for beer in the UK which are still dominated by mass produced lagers and light beers, reknowned for their lack of bitterness. Despite this, breweries continue to gain market share with heavy hop IPA’s. The increase that we’re seeing is no illusion, tastes are changing, customers expect more flavour, and the IPA is on the rise. Who knows, maybe in 10 years time, the IPA will be dominating the T Bars across pubs up and down the UK – the colonial era coming back to haunt us.

Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.

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World premier!

World premier!

Check this out, a boy can only dream of such a thing.

 

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Are cans changing the face of beer?

Canning beer is the future.


Think about it, cans of beer summon images of cheap shitty lagers, drunk lukewarm or out of a bucket at a BBQ. I don't like cheap lager, I never have, but the image of a can always strikes me as a cheap one. Maybe it's having spent so long wandering up the supermarket isles intentially avoiding the whole canned beer section, knowing that bland tasteless lager is the only thing you can buy from them. So when I found out that craft brewers were turning from bottles to cans, I couldn't be happier. Finally! A beer that tastes delicious, easily consumed in a can. Why is canning better? Let's start with the simple stuff.

Bottles break, the caps can come loose, and the resulting glassy mess isn't much fun to clean up. There's a reason why soft drinks come in cans, they're convenient and tough. They can be carried around in bags, boxes or on bikes, to be drunk when you fancy. They're also better for the environment, aluminium being a cheap and plentiful resource (the most abundant in the earth's crust), and can be stored and packed much tighter than a bottle, meaning more can be shipped for the same fuel cost. Up to 68% of an aluminium can is recycled, and can be recycled again after use. Hopefully, this will make our beer cheaper, if the breweries decide to pass on the savings.

Don't be fooled by the naysayers, cans don't change the flavour of the beer. Cans are lined with an unreactive plastic coating to prevent the beer from ever touching the aluminium shell, much like the way in which glass does in a bottle. Your beer will still be as delicious from the can to your glass. In some ways, it may even be tastier, light not being able to penetrate the can as it would a bottle. Even brown glass over time leaks light, and your beer with eventually skunk.

Perceptions need to change in order for people to start buying cans of good beer, and the association with cheap macro-lager can has to stop. Brewdog, Vedett, Sierra Nevada have all made the switch, putting their leading lines into cans. It's about time others started to put their thoughts into ditching the bottle too.

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