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!

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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Caught in a Twit-Storm!

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone since I was in beautiful Vancouver but at least I can relive it by sharing it with you in my blog. One of the things I find most bizarre about Canada is that so many websites look like they were made about 10 years ago and a lot of them may have not even been updated since! Many retailers had websites that would make CAMRA websites over here look polished in comparison (for overseas readers, CAMRA UK websites tend to be shockingly bad). However, unlike in the UK, the beer industry and its aficionados seem to have really got the hang of this internet thing. The Most Awesome Website award (which would see the average What’s Brewing reader have the whole bar condemned for sorcery)  would probably go to St Augustine’s Brewpub. Imagine if you could see exactly what beers are on as well as what colour they are and how much is left at a glance before you leave the house. Imagine no more thanks to the Live Beer Menu. As well as on-line, it’s also shown on screens around the bar.

As an avid Tweeter, I didn’t need to be in Vancouver long to find the awesome YVR Beer Tweetup. They’re a

The menu at Smileys

group of craft beer lovers who organise and promote craft beer events such as the Hopscotch event held over two nights as part of the Craft Beer Month celebrations and as a warm-up for the Hopscotch festival. The Tweetup event featured 8 Highwood Distilleries Whisky based casks of amazing beers. On each table, along with the beer menu, there was also a list of hashtags and Twitter IDs to enable drinkers to tweet their opinions and shout-outs which were displayed on screens around the bar. There were also competitions where prizes were awarded to the first person to tweet an answer to a question, Pretty clever since as more people tweet, the event starts trending and this means free publicity – sweet!

The two nights were held at two different bars which are part of the Donnelly chain (like ‘Spoons but with good food and good beer), Smileys and The Bimini. Of all the beers, the best was easily the Lighthouse Imperial Whiskey Marmalade IPA. The bitter hops totally intensified the Seville orange marmalade to the max. This was closely followed by the Central City Spanish Oak Aged Vanilla Bean Whiskey Stout. Hopefully if they ever bottled it they’d have a think about the name, A superb stout with plenty of coffee bean, it picked up a fair bit of the woodiness from the oak which was offset by delicate vanilla. I also loved the Howe Sound Pumpkin Ale Spiced Whiskey. Their original pumpkin was one of my favourites but the warmth of the whiskey and the round woody flavour pushed it over into a new level.

And the winner is…

Armed with tasting notes, I get stuck in!

It was just my luck that the third annual British Columbia Beer Awards & The CAMRA Harvest Cask Festival happened to fall on Saturday October 18th my first full day in Vancouver. We were quick enough to purchase a pair of the much sought-after tickets over the marvellous internet (what did we do before it!). Prior to this I had no idea that CAMRA had distant, younger, trendier cousins in such far-flung and exotic locations as British Columbia. Chapel Arts was the venue for this illustrious shindig which had the atmosphere of a lively but very friendly house party. Walking in, we were greeted with the usual beer list, commemorative glass and starter tokens (plus bonus tokens for our food donations for the harvest festival!). However, there wasn’t the usual line-up of pint or half. These glasses were teeny 4oz tasting glasses which were ideal for sampling all the beer one could hope to try without hitting the floor too early. I’ve always been fond of the ‘tiny glass = more beers’ approach to festivals and I was glad that throughout our stay we discovered this was a common feature in craft beer pubs across Vancouver.

The chill-out-and-eat-pulled-pork room

The crowd was a far cry from the stereotypical beer festival crowd one is probably all too familiar with. These were young, fashionable people all interested in beer, discussing home-brew and their favourite pubs in excited tones. It’s the very first beer festival I’ve been to which made me feel slightly old! Rather than the familiar setup of casks all racked together, the BC folk set up a table for each brewery and it was fun to meet some of the brewers who were happy to chat about their creations to anybody who came along. As a young woman who is often patronised at CAMRA festivals (GBBF being one of the worst sadly), it was nice to not have to negotiate with narrow-minded old men to try the beer I like and it was encouraging to see female brewers at some of the stands. In fact, the brewers were really the stars of the show and were recognised in the awards and their names appeared alongside their beers in the tasting notes. No attempt was made to separate cask and keg either – refreshingly both were listed and shown together.  CAMRA had the usual recruitment table and as a special treat for their members they had an exclusive ale for card-carrying members only. Thankfully, they were kind enough to accept my UK CAMRA card so I was allowed to sample a glass of Driftwood’s crisp and refreshing Sartori Harvest IPA and I also managed to blag a sticker and a pin badge for being such a dedicated CAMRA member.

The coveted awards

The awards ceremony was the highlight of the day. Beer-loving star of film and television, Jonathan Lloyd Walker who I believe is best known for his role in sci-fi show Continuum but has also appeared in the film Red and the Flash Gordon TV series amongst others, was a very charming and funny host. A beer awards bash is probably the best event to get in to at the start of a trip to an unfamiliar country. Although I recognised a few of the names from a previous trip to Vancouver, it was a great way to find out about the beers and breweries to watch out for. The judges came from a host of backgrounds, from qualified beer judges to sommeliers to ordinary bloggers and foodies and sat down to the gruelling task of tasting prior to the awards. The sleek tap handle trophies were awarded to the top three beers in 12 distinct categories in addition to the Homebrew award and ‘Best in Show’ which, to my surprise, went to a Pilsner from Steamworks. Of course Steamworks do make fabulous beers. You can see a full list of the winners here.

So what did Bierebelle spend her precious beer tokens on?

Big Ridge Brewing – Tariq’s ESB (5.9%ABV) by Tariq Kahn

Lovely clear amber red with more of an IPA than ESB character. Pink grapefruit citrus thirst-quencher with lots of carbonation. Part of the MJG family of brew pubs along with Flying Beaver, Whistler Brewhouse and Yaletown. Normally only brew for consumption on-premises so nice to see them at a festival!

Dead Frog Brewing – Hop Forward IPA (7%ABV) by Timmy Brown

Big bitter hop assault. The lemon sharpness takes a hold on the taste buds and doesn’t let go through the warmingly alcoholic bitter finish.

Driftwood Brewing – Sartori Harvest IPA (7%ABV) by Jason Meyers

CAMRA Exclusive! Very overtly hopped with a lot of citrus in the aroma. Refreshing, crisp and clean lemony liveliness.

Howe Sound Brewing – Imperial Pumpkin Stout (6.5%ABV) by Franco Corno

Heavy burnt treacle on the nose with almost a hint of tobacco. Really thick mouthfeel with pumpkin pie spices, burnt sugar and rounded out with earthy cacao nibs.

Lighthouse Brewing Company – Belgian Quice IPA (8%ABV) by Dean Mcleod

All I knew about quinces before is that posh TV chefs like to put them in jelly but it turns out over in British Columbia they have an even more totally righteous use for them! This easily won the People’s Choice award of the festival. A sharp candy aroma intensified by a fistful of hops, this pale and cloudy wonder had a remarkable combination of cranberry and rhubarb yumminess with a long bitter finish.

Parallel 49 – Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (6.5%ABV) by Graham With

Interestingly slightly sharp dark malt aroma. Very dark opaque brown with quite a bit of carbonation. Really bitter dark chocolate and a little touch of the vegetable,.

R&B Brewing – Cucumber Mint IPA (6.5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Imagine Thornbridge Wye, but add a trace of subtle mint and a more sturdy, robust citrus hoppiness. It’s a very cloudy yellow amber which is almost like a saison in appearance. The initial feeling is a big juicy bite of beery cucumber with a tingly mintiness at the end, exaggerated if you stick your tongue out (which was pretty fun). This was probably second only to the Quince IPA in my view.

R&B Brewing – Seasonal Squash Ale (5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Another cloudy one but a beautiful dark tan colour. I found this one rather zingy for a squash ale and not much spice was evident but there was still a lovely earthiness imparted by the squash. Interestingly it also shared characteristics with a cream ale.

Steamworks – Espresso Stout (9%ABV) by Tak Guenette

Mmmm… a real espresso stout with bitter coffee and a lactose sweetness at the end, although interestingly the OH was not too fond of the high acidity in the flavour. I thought it reminded me a lot of Titanic or Dark Star.

Storm Brewing – Imperial Sour Cherry Stout (11%ABV) by James Walton

I loved Storm and especially this one – they excel at pushing sour beyond the brink. James is pretty much the rock star of the BC brewing scene with crazy bleached spikes and awesome punky style. The aroma on this one was almost eye-wateringly sour cherry and citrus and the flavour was unbelievably sharp with a candy aftertaste that leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been eating sour laces.

Townsite Brewing – Porter (5.5%ABV) by Cedric Dauchot

Wow this took me back to Ireland! Very carbonated with a massive head and properly bitter.

Tree Brewing – Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale (6.4%ABV) – Stephan Buhl

This very dark golden amber ale was initially slightly disappointing with not much aroma but it was definitely a grower. More heavily hopped than others of this style, initially there was not much spice but this developed further down the glass and complimented the delicate pumpkin flavours.

The beautiful beer-loving crowd

Somebody had to…

Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks

Every beer festival needs pulled pork sandwiches