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!

Sour coffee to start the day!

Spontankoppi!

Spontankoppi!

So you know when you go to a beer festival and get a little inebriated and buy a t-shirt? Yeah I ended up leaving the Copenhagen Beer Celebration with a t-shirt of a beer I hadn’t actually ever tried, Spontankoppi, based on the fact that the picture was pretty cute and the assumption that I could buy a bottle at the Mikkeller bottle shop. Unfortunately I hadn’t actually figured out that the hundreds of other beer freaks from around the world who had come for the festival would also be looking to pick up a bottle or two to take home so the shop was pretty much ransacked by the time I got there and all the Spontankoppi had gone. Thankfully, I managed to pick some up back in the UK at my lovely local beer emporium, Bitter Virtue.

The Spontan series is Mikkeller’s series of lambics which are ‘spontaneously fermented’ using wild yeast and includes lychee, blueberry and strawberry variations. Fruit lambics…so far so good but coffee!? Doesn’t coffee traditionally go into stouts and porters? Not any more! As far as I am aware, this is the only coffee lambic in existence but let me know if you hear otherwise. As regular readers may have noticed, I prefer to enjoy my coffee beers on weekend train journeys as a little kick-start to the day. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t brought a glass, I swigged this one straight from the bottle (poor form I know) which meant I couldn’t really get a good whiff at the aroma so I was completely unprepared for the flavor! Having tried several from this series, I should have known what to expect but the shocking sourness hits me every time and I end up contorting my face like a lunatic with the first sip. To be fair I was drinking just before 11am so maybe I was still waking up. Getting past the extreme geuze-like super-sour hit at the front, the coffee tasted fresh and green – my first thought was that unroasted beans had been used but apparently the beans were roasted but unwashed when they went in. The bright but bitter super-carbonated-ness really brought out the acidity of the coffee in a unique way and the dry slightly sour-grape finish reminded me of a lively champagne. I’m pretty confident that this is my favorite of the Spontan series so far – a superbly refreshing way to take your morning coffee!

 

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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12 Stouts of Christmas

So it’s May and I’ve finally finished my 12 Stouts of Christmas from Bristol Beer Factory which means my reviews are complete! I’ve been treating myself to a bottle every now and then and writing a little review so sorry if some of it doesn’t make chronological sense! The more observant among you might also note that there isn’t actually 12 reviews! I have absolutely no idea why this is but at least it seems to be the more widely available ones I missed! Unfortunately, quite a few of these stouts may now be unavailable but I just thought they were still too good not to share. We can hopefully look forward to what they have up their sleeves next Christmas!

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

Mocha (4.5%ABV) – According to the label, it contains ‘Coffee chosen with help from Extract Coffee Roasters – Hope Project Peaberry Espresso from Tanzania. It has notes of bitter/sweet dark chocolate and cherry fruitiness’ – There’s a really lovely big frothy head. The rich coffee aroma pounces out of the glass intertwined with unlit cigar. The thin mouthfeel emulates the characteristics of iced black coffee. The beans are dark-roasted, almost burnt but there’s a berry sweetness which balances out the bitterness perfectly.

Ultimate (7.5%abv) needs no introduction. A satisfyingly thick mouthfeel, rich and velvety. It’s a fine example of a full-bodied, well rounded chocolaty stout with just the right amount of bitterness at the end.

Port (5.5%ABV) – nice stout to round off Valentines Day. The port was specially selected by Avery’s Wine Merchants in Bristol and I assume was added to the beer at some point. There’s more chocolate than port on the nose and the bitter dark chocolate carries throughout the velvet richness of the flavor  rounded out by a little vanilla and a lot of warming fruity porty-ness.

Ultimate Raspberry (7.5%ABV) – The Ultimate Stout infused with fresh raspberries. The aroma takes me right back to summer, carrying punnets of beautiful fresh raspberries home from the farmers market, eating them out of the bag still warm from the sun. The bitterness and richness of the original Ultimate Stout is still there,but it’s got a jolt of sourness cutting through from those lovely sweet raspberries The bready malt almost makes me think of a raspberry jam sandwich in a glass.

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Smoked Chili Chipotle (5%ABV) – I love Chipotles so much that the OH and I actually home-brewed something like this last year. Chipotles are simply jalapeno chillis which have been dried over smoke so you have the lovely sweet chilli flavour with a warming kick combined with a rich smokiness which makes them a perfect addition to dark beer. This is not the most smokey or hot chipotle beer I have had (we used a lot of rauchmalt in ours!) but it’s pretty well-balanced and goes down smoothly with just a hint of heat at the back and a lovely sweet smoke with a touch of vanilla. The dryness at the end reminds me of the Irish style of stouts.

Blackcurrant and Liquorice (5%ABV) – The brewery building in another life was actually a Ribena factory so I’ve been told so Blackcurrant seems a nice choice for a special addition. Do I imagine a hint of purple in the deep dark stouty brown? Possibly. The aroma was typical dark malt and a little vanilla and the flavor was pretty sweet with more of that bready malt and a little of that blackcurrant at the end which actually built up pleasantly with each sip. The end had a zingy tartness, almost like under-ripe blueberries and it was a little dry. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t detect the liquorice but the yummy fruitiness made up for it.

Imperial aged in Bourbon Casks (10.5%ABV) – Aged in oak bourbon casks for four months and, well, my goodness you can tell from the smooth rich flavor – so very well balanced and deliciously warm. The aroma is all dark sticky treacle and there’s a taste of dark dried fruit with a hint of oak and that familiar bourbon-breath sensation as you take a nice long breath out and relax.

Imperial aged in Speyside Whisky casks (10.5%) Smokey, peaty and rich. Maybe a little too peaty for me since I’m not a big fan of that style of whisky but there’s also a little fruitiness which keeps me interested!.

Imperial Stout (8.5%ABV) The original classic. Dark with a roasted, slightly smoked malt aroma. Satisfyingly thick and warmingly complex. Fruits, dark chocolate, burnt sugar and a hint of smoke make this an exceptional stout. Lip-smacking sticky with a short bitter finish.

Creme Brulee (8.5%ABV) I’ve been saving this one! It was brewed with the legendary Melissa Cole who I was lucky enough to run into at the launch of the 12 stouts. Like the lady herself, this stout is simply a delight. Don’t expect to be able to stand a spoon in it as you can with the Southern TIer take on this classic desert. This stout is still a force to be reckoned with but it’s far more drinkable. It pours with a lovely light sandy-colored foam which lasts a while. The aroma is cafe au lait with a delicious waft of vanilla and the flavor is voluptuously yummy. There’s a dairy sweetness offset by oak and dark fruits as a result of the two months it spent aging in rum casks. The finish is long and sweet with only a mild bitterness. 

Anything to declare…?

It’s been two days since I returned from Copenhagen and it’s been hard making the adjustment back to regular life which sadly does not involve a steady intake of hotdogs,beer and sunshine.Thank goodness it’s Grillstock Bristol tomorrow! Another weekend of great beer, awesome food and the possibility of sunshine (although more likely rain). Just to tease you before I get round to my write-up of the CBC, here’s a little look at the beery booty I hauled back to the UK.

Didn't she do well!

From left: Stella 4, The Forager, Pastrami on Rye (Pipeworks), Beer Geek Breakfast, Black Maria (with To Øl), Orange Yuzu Glad I Said Porter, Sea Buckthorne ale (HaandBryggeriet), Tequila & Speyside barrel aged Black, In The Name of Suffering (with 3Floyds), Water, Swinging Harry (and a Nøgne ø Dark Horizon which I forgot to include in the picture – it’s in a pretty box too!)

Welcome to the sunny Saison

Saison to be jolly!

Saison to be jolly!

Yay! It’s Thursday evening and the weekend starts here! I’m super-excited as I’ll be spending tomorrow around the fabulous pubs of London town before jetting off to Copenhagen to party with Mikkeller & Co. at the CBC. I have a feeling that my poor old liver might be in for a bit of a workout so tonight I’m being super-healthy! As well as being a beer-geek, I’m also a bit of a juice-monster so tonight I juiced a generous shot of fresh wheatgrass and what better to wash down that wholesome green juice than a delicious organic Saison Dupont Biologique (5.5%ABV) from Brasserie Dupont! Isn’t the label so lovely – you could almost see it on the shelves of a health-food store among the tonics and coconut water. In fact, Saisons were originally brewed by farmers because it was better for their workers to drink than the dirty water which might have made them sick.

Saison is a style I’ve been slightly suspicious of but I’ve been making an effort to try a little more. I just think it smells a bit like a farm yard sometimes. I’m learning to love them for their unusual character and it’s a pretty good thirst-quencher for this warmer weather. This one actually had more of a lager-like aroma when I popped the cork; it took me back to those mornings I spent as a student tipping away dregs from Carling tins as I cleared up from the party the night before. In the glass there’s an additional note of honey rising from the lively carbonation. It’s a pretty beautiful shade of yellow-orange with a generous puffy white head.The flavor is super-crisp with banana and cinnamon and a lot of yeast. There’s a touch of sweet citrus but a lot of bitterness. The wheat and hay combined with the sunshine color and the arid dry finish make me long for a real summer I can spend outdoors.