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Category Archives: Memoirs of a Bierebelle

Ride for your beer!

It’s a Saturday morning. It’s dark and the torrential rain is beating at my window. I see the clock hands creeping around to 6am and try to ignore it but the alarm goes and I know it’s time for action. I peer out the blinds at the rain bouncing off the pavements and cars, convince myself that the day will only get better and somehow get myself and my long-suffering boyfriend fed and out the door to make the 07:33 train to Brighton. If you follow my Instagram, you may have been slightly confused that rather than posing with my usual weekend morning train beer I was clutching a bottle of choco-milk but I had a mission to fulfill with a promise of beer at the end because this was the day of the Spin Up In A Brewery.

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

In its third sell-out year, the Spin Up offers led rides from the heart of Brighton on or off the roads through the picturesque Sussex countryside to the Dark Star brewery in Partridge Green. Having looked at the weather reports I left my trusty mountain bike at home and headed to the Velo Cafe with my road bike. Getting an earlier train meant we somehow missed the ridiculously heavy downpour that started the moment we came through the door which meant we could enjoy a coffee and cake in dry clothes watching the apocalyptic weather, keeping everything crossed hoping it would clear up before the 11am start. Thankfully with about 15 minutes to spare the sun put in a welcome appearance which made for a very pleasant ride. The volunteers leading the rides were pretty awesome and didn’t leave anybody behind, stopping the group to make sure everyone had a chance to catch up at opportune moments like at the tops of climbs. The views were stunning once we got out of Brighton and the highlight was the most exhilarating descent I’ve ever encountered on the road over the whole one year I’ve actually been riding a road bike – it never seemed to end!

The leaders managed to get us all up to the brewery in just over 2 hours which gave everyone just enough time to park the bikes, grab a pint and get inside before the heavens opened again. Not so lucky were the mountain bikers who turned up covered in mud not very much later but with smiles on their faces having earned their complimentary pint!

Post-ride refreshment

Post-ride refreshment

The brewery itself had been transformed into a massive celebration of cycling and beer with disco lights twinkling off the shiny tanks and cheesy pop blaring out. The main event for me was the Roller Racing, courtesy of South Coast Sprints, which I suddenly decided was a good idea having declined the opportunity to compete every other time I’d encountered it. This time I was beer-fueled. It turns out maybe beer is performance-enhancing since, despite being surrounded by girls who looked like proper cyclists I somehow managed to hold onto 5th place (or at least that’s where I was at the time I left so there’s a chance somebody came along and bumped me further down the ranking). I’ve gotta say that rollers are totally addictive (seriously – they almost had to drag me off as I hadn’t realized when the race finished). If I’d had another chance, I kept telling myself, if I’d only done this thing differently, I could have finished higher but it wasn’t to be so I’ll be jumping on the bikes again at the next possible opportunity to chase that PB. As well as the roller racing, there was a dress-up photo booth, surprise giveaways from ultra-cool cycling label Morvelo and the LBS Rule 5, live music and so much amazing food from pit-master Andy Annat, Mr Bake and Pleb Pizza. Of course the 23 mile ride cancelled out any calories in the enormous rack of ribs and the white chocolate tiffin I devoured.

Getting ready to race!

Getting ready to race!

For £8 a ticket I can’t think of a better day out really. Dark Star has always been one of my favorite South Coast breweries and this was a great way to see where the magic happens in a non-standard-brewery-visit way. I was astonished by the generosity of the surprise goody-bag on exit containing a t-shirt, haribos, stickers and a delicious bottle of Belgian IPA which was greatfully consumed on the train home.I’ll definitely be back next year – I have a roller-racing record to break!

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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Stella tasting at beer geek paradise

Hello readers! After a massively long absence I’m back! I don’t quite know why but fitting in time to blog has been a massive challenge in recent months. Now that it’s almost summer, I guess this is where the fun starts and I’ll be updating my blog with more tales of beery adventures. The first big event for me was the Copenhagen Beer Celebration which showcases some of the very best breweries from around the world. As well as the two-day festival, the events during the weeks either side just keep getting better and better. The bars hosted tap takeovers, meet the brewer events and even a book launch. I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see where the magic happens and have a try of Stella 0-5 at Mikkeller HQ.
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We began (obviously) with Stella 0. Only 1300 hand numbered magnum bottles in total were produced for the Danish beer-festival back in 2009 and also as a tribute to Mikkel’s daughter. It is a mix between a barley wine, a double India pale ale and an American strong ale. The first thing to note about Stella 0 was the rich honey and malt in the aroma which meant the incredibly bitter hops were a bit of a surprise. The huge hops gave way to a very woody, mature finish with a hint off burnt caramel that was just enough to round it off without being too sweet.
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So following on from 0 came Stella 1 of which only 1170 bottles were ever produced, again for the Danish beer festival. Billed as an ‘imperial porter with a difference,’ I wondered what this ‘difference’ could be when I heard grumblings of a ‘wet dog’ aroma around the table. As the bottle made its way round to me I was inclined to agree. But what a beautiful beer – rich, dark brown with a thick tan head. Ignoring the ‘aroma,’ the flavor was all about the roasty dark malt. It actually had a bit of an alcoholic burn on the tongue with the sweetness all the way at the back.
Next came Stella 2 and our bottle was actually number 200 of a second bottling of only 200 magnums. It’s a sour aged on white wine barrels which I was kinda not thrilled about since I’ve not been that impressed by white wine barrel aging in general of late. This was the beer to change my mind. With a cutting sour, almost vinegar aroma, it was a real stark contrast to the richness of 2. The sour cranberry flavor was super sharp without being spikey and really deliciously fruity with a sweet finish. According to our guide it wasn’t this sour originally so I guess the time in the bottle has done it good.
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Next came the best of the lot and possibly one of my favorite beers of the weekend, Stella 3. What makes 3 the most awesome Stella of all is that they took the already exceptional Black aged it several times on Eagle Rare bourbon barrels (which also worked well for Texas Ranger). It was so incredible they could only produce 170 bottles making it the most limited edition of the series and it’s also had the longest barrel aging and has the highest ABV. It looked pretty hypnotically dark with a really really deep tan head and the amazing sweet bourbony, nutty aroma was drifting around the table before the bottle even reached me.  The alcohol was warming in the way that bourbon is but there was also the satisfyingly bitter hoppy ending. So smooth and well rounded by that gorgeous vanilla sweetness and bitter black cherries throughout.
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Stella 4 was another hugely dark beer with a massively indulgent foamy head and for me it came close second behind number 3. It’s a dreadfully decadent, chewy milk stout with a bready malt aroma and so much sweetness it’s almost sticky. Interestingly, this is the only milk stout by Mikkeller that has been barrel aged so far. Interesting because it turned out so damned good for sitting in those Grand Manier barrels for 6 months. Limited to 558 bottles, I’m so glad to have one of these sitting in the kitchen for a very special occasion!
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So, the last two were brand the brand new never-before-seen Stella 5, a stout with blackthorne and Polly, a sea-buckthorne stout, both limited to 800 bottles each. 5 was another beautifully dark beer but with a pretty thin head. A gorgeous color to look at with an unusual fruit aroma laced with Christmas spices and possibly a little roasted meat. Although the flavor was sweet and fruity with slight sour and spice, something bugged me about the weird meatiness. Unfortunately, Polly also had the same kind of flavor with the addition of sloes to dial up the fruitiness and the sour dialled up just a little more. Now me, I love a challenge. Was this a challenge too far? Maybe. Luckily our ever so lovely guide in this beer adventure was super-generous with the beer and half-finished bottles were being passed around for a long while after the official tasting – I even managed to sneak seconds of the super-rare 3. Thanks so much to Mikkeller HQ for opening your office to us beer geeks and introducing us to some cracking beers – I hope we get another chance to pop in next year!
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Beer Geek Paradise
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beer
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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Biere Here (at last!)

Having been born and raised in York, the UK’s very finest city for beery pubs and general great nights out, my current home town of Southampton has always been a hugely miserable let-down. If you follow my Instagram you’ll be more than familiar with my almost weekly escape armed with a good train beer to somewhere, anywhere that’s not Southampton. If you’ve ever been misfortune enough to witness the drab concrete wasteland of this godforsaken pit you may have been hard-pressed to find a decent drinking establishment. Even if you did, the chances of finding anything more exciting than a ‘well kept pint of Landlord‘ or some other uninspiring real ale are slim. Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent breweries emerging but they are a lot more scarce than in the North and pubs favor the big familiar names over smaller, more interesting brewers. That has been the story until now. But things have started to change…

The opening lineup

The opening lineup

On Friday I was lucky enough to witness the opening of Southampton’s very first micro pub, The Butcher’s Hook, quite possibly the most hotly anticipated new pub I have ever witnessed. Rumors that a small unit in Bitterne Park had been taken on by a pair of aspiring publicans seem to have started way back in autumn 2013 and progress on the re-fit has been slow and steady but my goodness – the wait has been worth it. Local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson have restored the one-time butchers’ shop to a miniature gem and I would say easily the best pub in town.

Following the warning on Twitter that it may get a little cozy, we arrived for the 6pm opening, made ourselves comfortable near to the stillage and watched the pub steadily fill up with real ale aficionados in their favorite vintage CAMRA shirts, hipsters and anyone else from the general area until there was a queue out the door! In the constant rush the proprietors remained charming and attentive as they darted back and forth from the stillage, serving beer to the punters right where they were sat or stood. Seating is communal (think Wagamama) which means you could even make a new friend and all the folk we ended up chatting to were just lovely.

When we say micro-pub here we mean really micro but somehow there were three cask and two keg beers

We drank it dry

Yes Southampton’s thirsty – we drank it dry in less than two days!

available along with a fantastically well-chosen selection of bottles. I was excited to see beer from two of my favorite Northern breweries, Hardknott and Magic Rock on tap for the first time ever in Southampton, It wasn’t all about the imports though and two of the most exciting new local breweries, Vibrant Forest and Dancing Man also had beer available. Spoilt for choice? Anthony and Daniel certainly seemed to know their beers and never seemed to run out of energy helping their customers choose. Oh and did I mention that they also have day-jobs? Initially they will only open all day on weekends then in the evening on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays but if demand continues at this rate I’ve no idea what the plan is. If the opening night was anything to go by, there is a thirst in Southampton for more interesting beer and they’ve certainly got something for everyone. We had such an awesome time on the Friday night that we were eager to return on Sunday until we saw the following tweet on Saturday: ‘We stillaged as much beer as we possibly could and you drank the whole lot.’ I don’t think these guys have anything to worry about except for keeping up with demand. I cannot wait to go back to see what they have on next.

Lucky for me, if we manage to clear the Butcher’s Hook out of beer again, there’s another ray of light on the beery landscape and it’s just round the

I wasn't shy with the pickles

I wasn’t shy with the pickles

corner from me! Among the clubs, takeaways and shops of London Road, a rather special little burger joint has appeared. Chalk Valley is the latest of a string of burger restaurants to open recently around here but what sets this one apart is that all of the meat is traceable and grass-fed and happy cows make happy meat. The pork and lamb are raised at proprietor Will Buckley’s farm near Stockbridge and the suppliers for most of the rest of the menu are proudly displayed on a chalk-board above the door. With so much care and attention put into creating an ethically and, where possible, locally sourced food offering, they clearly did not want to let the side down with the drinks so for their excellent organic beer selection they turned to northern favorites Sam Smiths! Yet another first for Southampton so at last I can go out and enjoy a bottle of Sam Smiths’ delicious cherry beer (an old favorite) with awesome food and (dare I say in case you all go and clean them out) ….unlimited pickles!

 
 

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Bierebelle doesn’t have her head in the game

wpid-wp-1380728417789.jpgNo Game day beer last week.Or the week before. I apologize. There are many reasons for this.

1) I was far too busy mocking the other half about his beloved Miami Dolphins’ defeat at the hands of my New Orleans Saints

2) A game-day trip to Wembley for Vikings vs. Steelers meant I spent one Sunday evening on coca-cola (come on you wouldn’t drink Carlsberg at £4.70 a pint).

3) I went to Copenhagen for a few days.

Copenhagen more than made up for Wembley on the beer front. One in particular really stood out which you should really pounce on with all paws should it ever appear in a bar near you. Mikkeller Cù’t Cà Phê Bia Port  Barrel Aged, encountered at Mikkeller & Friends and ordered embarrassingly by the number of the tap it was on (you try pronouncing it). It smelled like everything good in the world. Port, brandy butter and a steaming cup of joe were evident in the sweet aroma of this deep black viscous beauty. I believe Nostalgia plays an important role in our tastes and although this is not a Christmas beer it embodies all my favorite flavors the festive season. Sticky Christmas pudding soaked in brandy sauce (by Birds,out of a carton, obviously) followed by the coffee creams nobody else wanted foraged from the bottom of the Quality Street tin. I’ve skipped the dinner and gone straight for pudding. Sticky lips and warm belly. Christmas is early.

Of course, since Copenhagen I realize the blog’s been a little quiet but I have also been to York and Manchester because I’m a very busy girl. More on Manchester later… Normal game-day service will be restored soon.

 

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Swing when you’re winning (I hope!)

Continuing with my Game Day series, I’ll be raising a glass to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who will be this weeks’ rivals and, like last weeks’ losers the Atlanta Falcons, they’re also divisional rivals of the formidable New Orleans Saints. For those unfamiliar with the NFL, the teams are divided into the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) and the winning team from each of these conferences eventually goes on to battle it out in the Superbowl. The two conferences are divided into four divisions each and my team, the New Orleans Saints, are in the NFC South division along with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We’ll see each of our divisional rivals twice during the season and the winner in each division will go through to the play-offs. Although the divisional games have slightly higher stakes because of this, I find it difficult to dislike the Bucs who I’ve lovingly nicknamed the ‘Sucks.’ This is partly because a good friend of mine is a fan and partly because, well, they have a cute logo. Oh and they haven’t been much of a threat in recent times. The last time we met was a 41 – 0 beat-down, but as we know anything can happen on any given Sunday. Since I’m writing this before the game, it won’t do me any favors to get too cocky and I may end up eating my words.

Swinging Harry

Swinging Harry

Whatever happens, this is an excellent opportunity to crack open that very special beer that came back from Copenhagen with me way back in May. Since I’m in London at the Anamanaguchi All Dayer on game day Sunday, I’m enjoying my game-day beer slightly in advance. Any excuse will do – I’ve been excited about the Mikkeller collaboration with Tampa Bay brewery, Cigar City, ever since I saw the label which takes me right back to being a kid playing Pitfall! on the Atari. Swinging Harry (11.4%ABV) is a Belgian style quad brewed with Papaya and Mango and aged in Grand Marnier barrels and if you think you might wanna risk your neck swinging from vines over alligator infested swamps to get your hands on a bottle, you may find it worthwhile! Unlike the awesome label illustration by the ever-talented Keith Shore, the actual beer is a little dull to look at – a swampy slightly orange murky brown with a lacing of tiny off-white bubbles. The aroma is on the stronger side of what you expect in a Belgian ale with a really sweet waft of orange, candy sugar and super-warming alcohol. The taste is not as alcoholic as the smell and instead is full and thick with ripe tropical fruits. The bready malts take the back seat to the papaya and mango with deep woody notes and juicy figs and raisins soaked in bitter orange and masses of caramel. It’s like a boozy fruit cake that leaves you with sticky lips and a warming glow. It had been in the fridge for about an hour before I lost patience and hauled it back out, but I think the flavors really came out to play as it warmed in the glass so don’t worry about chilling it too much. Just relax and enjoy and wish the Saints the best of luck. Who Dat!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Fruit beers, Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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Anyone got a spare rib?

The mysterious Brooklyn Dive Bar

The mysterious Brooklyn Dive Bar

If you’ve been reading my blog since last year, you may be aware of the annual celebration of all things Barbecue that is Grillstock, Bristol – I go on about it enough. What makes me go back each year? Do I go for the beer?

Although you don’t generally go to Grillstock for the beer, there has always been some decent suds on offer. The first year Bristol Beer Factory did a sterling job with a good mix of regular and not-so-regular stuff. The second year they maybe underestimated how much beer they needed and only brought the standard brews but lucky for us a local farm store had pitched up and were selling a grand selection of bottles including some from local heroes Arbor. Grillstock 2013 brought in the big-guns, featuring the not-so-local Brooklyn bar run by beer giant James Clay serving mainly unidentified Brooklyn beer at between £4 and £5 for a pint along with a couple of rotating guests from Magic Rock and Flying Dog. As outdoor event beer goes, you don’t get better value than that but I went away less than impressed at the contempt they showed for their customers and their beer.

Eh?

Eh?

Call me old fashioned but I love to know what I’m drinking, even if it’s just to lord it over my Untapp’d buddies. Sadly Grillstock took the stance that their punters would rather get drunk on cheap pints of strong beer and couldn’t care less what it was! My first beer of the weekend was from the guest tap and named on the chalkboard as ‘Chipotle Smoked Ale’ at 10%ABV and available only in pints – way to go for responsible daytime drinking! Over the course of the weekend, several beers came and went from the guest tap – later on I was excited to see the name ‘Flying Dog’ written up and hurried to the bar to find out which one it was. Unfortunately nobody serving at the bar had even the foggiest idea what on earth they were selling. Sadly I had to argue that ‘Flying Dog’ was the name of a brewery and not a beer by Brooklyn! No problem though – I was reassured of the most important fact about the beer many times –  it’s 10%! Hooray – regardless of what it was I could get drunk – yippee! Grillstock missed a trick – based on their bar staff’s opinion of the type of crowd they were expecting they could have made a better markup on Buckfast! Several days later I finally found out that it was actually the Flying Dog Chipotle Brown Ale, also sold earlier in the day as Chipotle Smoked Ale. It was actually a pretty awesome chipotle beer with a gentle build up of heat – it’s a shame the Brooklyn Bar staff felt such a skilfully brewed beer didn’t deserve the respect it would normally get if it was served by people that genuinely care about their customers.

He's a genuine doctor of barbecue

He’s a genuine doctor of barbecue

So, would you go to Grillstock for the beer? Maybe but be prepared to bring your detective hat if you want to identify what any of it is. Of course, it’s a barbecue festival so mainly you go for the food right? Wrong. As a lover of ribs, this is usually one of the ultimate highlights of the festival season. I can genuinely say that the best rib I ever had was Grillstock 2011 – I can almost still taste it if I think about it. I had pretty high hopes this year and rushed to buy tickets early, especially since the organizers were tweeting about the tickets having almost run out months in advance. So guess how many ribs I had over the two days? How many? One single rib! Having posted multiple warnings on Facebook and Twitter about tickets running  out, I think possibly Grillstock may have been slightly overcome by the kerching of the cash-money and sold too many tickets meaning there were way too many people and not nearly enough foods. A number of stalls ran out of key items half way through the first day and they were still selling tickets on the gate! I have no idea if there were even any ribs to begin with. The low point was reaching the front of the queue to buy a pulled pork sandwich having queued for over 20 minutes only to find that too had run out. To add insult, the staff kept telling me ‘it’s only five minutes until the next lot comes out’ and theatrically looking around the back, then saying ‘I can see it’s being carved up now.’ After 10 minutes of this charade guess what? No pulled pork! I sadly ended up leaving hungry on the Saturday and took refuge in the always awesome Brewdog where I managed to tuck into a delicious cheese platter and some of their always exceptional beers including one of my all time favorites Tokyo (18.2%ABV) – strong but served in sensible measures. Bristol Brewdog you guys never let me down!

Things were looking up for Sunday though – having spotted my various tweets bemoaning the general lack of barbecue food for sale, be it pulled pork, ribs, brisket, Grillstock sent me a reassuring message to say if I came back there would definitely be ribs. Sadly, like their stance on the existence of a fine brewery known as Flying Dog, their tales of fresh pulled pork and their claim that the tickets had sold out, the promise of ribs also turned out to be a lie. That solitary rib I finally managed to procure? The kind and talented BBQ Fanatics team, hearing about the lack of barbecue food for sale, cooked up a few racks on the Sunday afternoon to give away to the hoards of disappointed meat lovers and it was heaven on a bone.

So, I hate to say this considering Grillstock is a food festival, but don’t go to Grillstock for the food. Particularly if you love barbecue as much as I do. Of course there were some highlights – as ever Dr Barbecue was bringing his jovial brand of judging to the King of the Grill competition and it was fun to watch some of the best barbecue teams in action. The chilli-eating competition was particularly excruciating to watch, especially after a poor chap gave himself an eyeful of naga, ghost pepper and who knows what else and had to be escorted to the first aid tent (and possibly on to A&E)! Despite the genuinely confused bar staff, the Brooklyn Bar area turned out to be the most fun spot to hang out with a free photo booth and music provided by the likes of the fabulous Sicknote Steve and the man who brought the sunshine to an otherwise rainy weekend, Levi Roots. I really want to go to Grillstock again for the entertainment but sadly you can’t have a barbecue festival unless you actually have some barbecue available for visitors to buy! I’ll be looking forward to their new restaurant opening next month in Bristol – I’m hoping to even eat something there but my love affair with the festival may be at an end.

 
 

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Street drinking with style

The famous chalkboard

The famous chalkboard

As you may have noticed if you read my post about my most recent beery adventure, I did have more than a few amazing beers at the Copenhagen Beer Celebration but during my time in Copenhagen I was pretty spoiled with the two Mikkeller bars in the city. The day after the festival was an extra cause for celebration; the original bar in Viktoriagade was turning three years old which meant a fabulous street party where everybody was invited. As could be expected, the party turned out to be pretty popular, especially since a great many of the beer geeks who had turned up for the festival were still in town, including the super-blogger behind Oh Beery Me and Tyne and Beer, Sheriff Mitchell with his super lovely partner in crime Minke Wales as well as Mr Rock N’Roll Beverage himself, Landells. I had thus far managed to never cross paths with any of these Twitter chums in our own country oddly enough so it was pretty cool to finally meet them and share a drink or two!

Drinkin in the sun

Drinkin in the sun

I didn’t mind braving the queues in the bar since I’ve marveled at so many Twitter snaps of the chalkboard – it actually felt oddly familiar! .The bar was pretty much everything I expected – cozy, modest but shabby-stylish. There was a tinge of bad memories from CAMRA festivals as I was overlooked a number of times whilst waiting to be served in favor of pushy older men, but the crowd was mostly friendly folk from all kinds of places. On the bar, alongside the various Mikkeller there was also a decent selection of guests including the delicious Pipeworks Nisperos De Batata, a pumpkin beer which took me right back to all those lovely ones I was lucky enough to try in Vancouver.I also tried my first ever beer from Sweedish brewers Narke Kulturbryggeri, the Imperial Double Porter collaboration with Norway’s Haandbryggeriet, Unionöl recommended by a very proud Swede I was queuing with.

Best. Cheese. Ever.

Best. Cheese. Ever.

It wasn’t all queues at the block party – rather thoughtfully there were also kegs of Mikkeller refreshment available outside. The crowds were tearing through the beers so quickly there was a new one on pretty much every time I looked and drinking vessels ranged from regular festival plastics, through to Danish flag plastics and finally some white coffee cups they turned up from somewhere Thankfully, with all this awesome beer available, there was plenty of superb food available. The barbecued, crispy-skinned hotdog was the best I had during my stay (and I had a lot of hotdogs over there) but a special shout-out goes to the cheese. Oh my goodness the cheese the beery Mikkeller cheese. I almost weep thinking about the fact that I only had one tray – I look back with regret that I didn’t run off with the lot. We had an apartment hotel – we had a fridge. OK I also had a tray at the festival the previous day. Best beer festival food ever. If this makes a return next year, it’s worth the trip!

 
 

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Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2013

Last week I fulfilled a dream of many beer geeks and jetted across to Copenhagen, Denmark for the second edition of the Copenhagen Beer Celebration hosted by the esteemed ‘gypsy’ brewer himself, Mikkeller. This was a rare opportunity to sample beers from a wide selection of the best breweries in the world today. Our tickets were for the Saturday afternoon session and, between 18:00 and 23:00, all the beer we wanted was ours for the taking. Getting off the flight and going for our train into the city that afternoon, I was already geeking out, spotting t-shirts and stickers and jackets depicting brewery logos everywhere I looked. Some I’d never even heard of. Having checked into the hotel and dumped our cases, we made our way across town clutching Google Map directions, but we kinda knew when we were in the right area. The folks staggering out of the previous session and lying on the pavement gave it away.We had arrived.

Posing with my cute festival glass

Posing with my cute festival glass

We were issued with cute little stemmed tasting glasses and told to help ourselves but it was tough deciding where to start! There was way too much choice so I started with Stillwater Lower Dens (6%ABV) and made my way around the hall to peruse the stands. One of the nicest things at a beer festival like this one is meeting the brewers or at least people associated with the brewery and hearing them talk so passionately about the beers they’ve brought I loved the team from Boxing Cat who had come all the way over from Shanghai. Their King Louie (8%) which had been aged in bourbon barrels was insanely rich and complex and one of my favorites of the day. The team were so friendly and really wanted to talk about their beers and the brewery, which I learned was named for the brewery cat Louie who used to look like he was boxing when he chased butterflies (unfortunately now no longer with us). I also loved the very smiley team from Westbrook from South Carolina and their spicy, chocolaty treat Mexican Cake (10.5%ABV).

Unfortunately, I  completely missed the 3Floyds stand, I believe because there were too many people around it to actually see it, so I missed out on the legendary Dark Lord! In fact, 3Floyds were the first to run out of beer – for some reason I hadn’t expected this to happen (yes they make some of the highest rated beer ever) so next year they’ll be my first stop. Luckily we happened to be in a huge hall packed with so many amazing breweries I was spoilt for choice!

How will I get this in my suitcase?

How will I get this in my suitcase?

It was great to have a flat ticket price which included all drinks rather than using a token system – it took me the whole 5 days I was in the country to work out the Danish money so cash would have been a  disaster! I felt like a kid in a candy store, wandering wide-eyed from one stand to the next clutching my little glass and marveling at all the wonderfully creative brews. I’m glad that the festival glasses were so small so I could try lots. A lot of the beers were pretty strong and as you can see in my list below, I didn’t drink many that were below 10% so even 1/3rd pints would have been disastrous. The trends I noticed around the hall were barrel-aging (OK that’s been popular for a while) and saisons and lambics, two styles I have only recently started getting into. I’m not sure whether I especially noticed these as they are still relatively uncommon here in the UK. Mikkeller brought a particularly exceptional lambic Spontandoubleblueberry (8%) (imagine trying to say it after a few drinks) which had a pretty disturbingly purple color and a super-serious sourness.

So was it possible to choose a favorite amongst such a stellar line-up? Possibly not but a few stand out in my mind. One of my top picks was actually from Siren who hail from the not-so-exotic Berkshire; ‘Chai Love You a Latte’ (6.5%ABV) is a spice-infused version of their breakfast stout Broken Dream. I initially loved the cute name but the flavor was a pretty close match to the hot-cross bun chocolates I love which Hotel Chocolat bring out every Easter. I also rate Against the Grain Bo & Luke (13%ABV) quite highly – the guys on the stand were great which helped but they had brought over a port barrel aged version of this Imperial Stout which was fabulously smoked. Then of course there was the Anchorage tripel, The Tide And Its Takers (9%ABV) which had an amazing citrus sourness and totally lived up to its reputation as an outstanding beer.

Of course, our trip to Copenhagen was more than just the CBC – I’ll be following up to tell you how we got on at the Mikkeller block party and whether the two bars are worth a visit. For now, I’ll leave you with a list of the beers I sampled:

What Bierebelle drank:

Anchorage: A Deal With the Devil (17.3%ABV)

Brewdog: Abstrakt AB13 (11.3%ABV)

Mikkeller/Brodies: Big Mofo Stout Blueberry & Danish Liquorice Edition (10.5%ABV)

Against the Grain: Bo & Luke (Port Barrel Aged) (13%ABV)

X-Beeriment: Brett the Elder (Berry) (9.3%ABV)

X-Beeriment: Agent Coopers Delight (10.5%ABV)

Siren: Chai Love You A Latte (6.5%ABV)

Siren: Oi! Zeus! (11.4%ABV)

Cigar City: Cheers! (10%ABV)

Firestone Walker: Double DBA (12%ABV)

Jester King: Funk Metal (8.2%ABV)

Hoppin’ Frog: Hop Heathen Imperial Black IPA (8.8%ABV)

Boxing Cat: King Louie (Bourbon Barrel Aged) (8%)

To Øl: Liquid Confidence (12.3%ABV)

Stillwater: Lower Dens (6%ABV)

Mikkeller: Spontandoubleblueberry (7.7%ABV)

Anchorage: The Tide and its Takers (9%ABV)

Mikkeller: X Barley Wine 2006/2013 (12.9%ABV)

Westbrook: Mexican Cake (10.5%ABV)

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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Festivals, Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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Stouts for a snowy weekend

Salty stout!

Salty stout!

Last weekend I ended up venturing on yet another trip to Bristol for a bit of a rest from the dreariness of Southampton and a change of scenery. This time, the all important beer selected for the train was the fabulous Netherlands brewery De Molen‘s Spanning & Sensatie (9.8%ABV). This Russian Imperial Stout is one of their limited editions and boasts additions of spice, salt and chilli! Like any great stout, the opaque thickness and deep chocolate brown with tight tan head lace the sides of the glass enticingly and there was an excitingly chocolate malty aroma with a twist of spice. The unusual flavor was typically stouty dark chocolate but it fell more onto the raw cacao side with a little sourness. The salt at the end was mouthwatering and moreish and there was a so so subtle hint of warmth at the back from the chilies.

Since the weather took a turn for the worst and snow and winds descended on the city, we spent a lot of our time in our favorite pubs (OK any excuse). After dropping into the lovely Bag O’Nails where I enjoyed a refreshing, biscuity pint of Box Steam Broad Gauge (4.8%ABV), we headed to Brewdog where I found my top beer of the year so far, Mikkeller Black (17.5%ABV)  (other beers be warned – this will be a tough act to follow). I was overjoyed to see this on the bar as I wanted to try it for ages! The hypnotically luxurious aroma was like vanilla smooshed up with dark chocolate mars bar,

Super-happy Bierebelle!

Super-happy Bierebelle!

deceptively sweet sticky chocolate caramel in a minstrel black with a golden head. Surprisingly the strength doesn’t hit as hard as you might expect but it starts of super-bitter, courtesy of the French Cassonade sugar (thanks for this fact @BrewDogBristol).it takes a few sips to really get into and surrender to the dark malty burnt chocolate and slight tang of red berries with an alcoholic afterburn on the tongue. But my goodness the bitterness was delicious. CBC cannot come quickly enough – I can’t wait to get immersed in the decadent world of Mikkeller and friends!

I can’t really mention the trip to Brewdog without commenting on the amazing service I saw there. Have any of you fellow beer snobs ever been into a super-awesome pub where somebody strolls in off the street, asks for a lager and is scolded or mocked for suggesting such a thing? It’s pretty funny and a lot of bar staff can get away with such banter due to their charming personalities. However, Molly (really hope I got the name right) in Bristol trumped such behaviour with her brilliant knowledge and enthusiasm and may have even started some lucky customers off on the path to discovering more awesome beer. I saw three groups walk in who were new to Brewdog and possibly just sheltering from the blizzard conditions, nervously asking if there was any lager. Each group stayed and tried something new as Molly enthused about what set their beers apart, poured tasters and talked about the ingredients and brewing process with a lot of charm and a sense of fun. If we can have somebody like Molly in every craft beer/real ale pub who knows how many folk we can coax away from the drab old commercial fizz?

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Memoirs of a Bierebelle, Stouts

 

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Jingle-Belles, Jingle-Belles….

As usual, the flights up North for Christmas really should have come with a health warning or possibly an in-flight detox on the return journey. There’s so much choice of real ales and craft beers in the many many pubs that every day feels like a beer festival. Having spent a day enjoying the fabulous pubs of Leeds, we caught the train to York where, there in the station, is one of the best pubs in Yorkshire, the York Tap. It was just my luck that after I had been trying to track it down for so long, the Tap were serving Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%ABV) brewed in collaboration with Emelisse. It looked pretty much like an IPA, smelled like an IPA, albeit an IPA that  had a little stroll in a floral meadow. The taste was initially typically hoppy and satisfyingly bitter, but there was this beautiful gentle bergamot and orange blossom drifting in and the tea itself glides in at the end and leaves a slightly over-brewed bitterness which totally compliments the hops. Worth tracking down!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

Of course, one of our first stops is normally the bottle shop on Stonegate for hotel beers. However, we had procured some hotel-room refreshments already at the lovely Beer Ritz in Leeds. The beer we selected to toast the morning of the End of the World was To Øl Moccachino Messiah (7%ABV), a classic breakfast beer. It could have been mistaken for Coca Cola on its deep red-brown colour and  a fizz to almost match. If those four horsemen were to actually show up, I felt that this exceptional dark roasted espresso wake-up call was a good way to start the day. There was a slightly harsh bitterness at the end but the  lactose sugar lightened it up and smoothed over any sharpness.

Since being absolutely spoilt in Canada for delicious pumpkin ales, I’ve been missing them so much that I have brewed my own! Naturally I was delighted that when I visited the cozy Pivni to see that they had a Pumpkin PA (6.8%ABV) on which is the result of a collaboration between Tempest and Cromarty. It certainly looked like the real deal with a really lovely cloudy amber colour (maybe helped with the addition of carrot juice to the brew) with pumpkin and vanilla in the aroma. The first flavour to hit was the pumpkin and at first I didn’t really get much spice but once it had a chance to build up, there was a definite spicy cinnamon and ginger spice which warmed the throat along with cracked pink peppercorns. This was the proper smooth, thick pumpkin ale I had been missing so badly.

A ray of sunshine

A ray of sunshine

One of the biggest surprises of our trip came from Sunbeam Ales which I had never even heard of before, but that’s not surprising since they are the ‘smallest brewery in Leeds. Seriously, go to their website and look at the pictures. This guy makes 50 litre batches in a regular kitchen in a back-to-back terrace and has picked up several home-brew awards. No wonder if the Honey & Lavender (4.9%ABV) I tried was anything to go by. What a joy even to look at, such clear, golden, straw-coloured liquid sunshine with a beautiful honey aroma. The honey sweetness stood out and the lavender (from brewer Nigel Poustie’s garden!) was so delicately lovely. It made the bus out to Beer Ritz all the more worthwhile.

No trip to York would be complete without a visit to the Maltings, conveniently situated about a two minute walk from our hotel Of course if the river level had come up any further we may have had to swim to it. Despite the flooding of the cellar, we still managed to get ourselves a bowl of some of the finest chilli and chips in Yorkshire and more importantly, an exceptional Old Ale (8%ABV) courtesy of Kirkstall, with a little help from Doug of Colorado brewery Odell.who just happened to drop in on a trip to Leeds! I feel slightly bad mentioning this beer here – landlord Shaun had kept his cask for a year so it was pretty unique as far as I’m

You can't argue

You can’t argue

aware (although I’m still wondering if it was also available under the name Aquitane). What a beer!  It was complex, strong and fruity, almost like a beer version of a dark rum with a red wine aroma and a slight woodiness. .

For our last night in York, we cracked open the Hardknott Rhetoric Edition 1 (10.2%ABV) chilling out in the hotel and what a special yet ever so unusual beer that was. Beautiful beery dark gold with an exceptional aroma-sweet sweet treacle and star anise like a festive spiced bread. It was malty and sweet up front with an almost minty, kind of metallic cool freshness. The exotic star anise after taste had received a light sprinkling of cinnamon which made me recall a distant memory of some Chinese pork dish I can’t quite remember but certainly enjoyed.

Christmas is always a busy and sometimes stressful time of year, rushing around to get around all my friends and family. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant choice of pubs and bottle shops in and around the city I grew up in so I can relax with real treats in the time I have for myself. They don’t call it God’s Own Country for nowt!

 

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