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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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!

What was your Alibi tonight?

Spoilt for choice!

As you can probably tell by now, Vancouver is pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to beer and also cool places to drink. The Alibi Room was one of the bars I would say belongs on everybody’s ‘must do’ list if they are planning a trip. The bar is adorned with 50, yes 50, taps of local and imported beer! It’s so pretty – the taps aren’t the generic uniform taps we are used to in the UK with a pump-clip on the front. Each brewery seems to have its own tap handle design and some even have a special handle for individual beers.They’re like quirky little works of art! Thankfully, the bar made it easy to try many beers at once by offering ‘flights’ which are four small glasses slotted into a wooden paddle.

The first one that jumped out from the menu was the Storm Imperial Sour Flanders Red (11%ABV) since the sour cherry we had tried at the BC Beer Awards was so impressive. It was such a lovely dark, cloudy ruby orange but the aroma was almost like cider vinegar and the taste… jeeez I felt like my face would implode every time I

Soouuurrrr!!!

took a sip. I really am trying to learn to love sour and the OH said I should toughen up if I want to come to Brussels with him to try the ones there. It really was just sour, sour sour, braying and snarling right on the edge of the vinegar abyss.

After that little shocker, it was definitely a good time to go for the girliest-looking beer on the flight. The Unibroue Ephemere (5.5%ABV) Belgian ale with apple intrigued me because it’s apple, but it’s beer and not cider. It actually looked like cider with the same cloudy yellow which was sightly confusing. The aroma was more like candy and it tasted like candy too, but so fresh there was almost a touch of minty candy cane to start followed by gorgeously dry apple. It was almost alco-pop sweet but refreshingly well-done. I had been wondering about using  apple in beer only a few days before but it would seem these Canadians got there before me!

Where will your flight take you?

The OH’s rather awesome parents had actually recommended the next beer which had impressed his mother on a previous trip to Canada. North Coast Old Rasputin Nitro Pour Imperial Stout (9%ABV).was a proper Irish style stout with a really big, tight, light tan head .It was so satisfyingly thick with real dark roasted malt aroma and flavour and a creamy lingering bitter cacao. A real rainy-day winter warmer of a stout.

The final beer I picked for my flight was the JJ Bean Imperial Espresso Stout (7%ABV) by Conrad Gmoser (of Steamworks) which used coffee from a much-loved local chain. The gorgeous colour was black coffee but I was slightly suspicious since it appeared so thin and there was no head. However, even though there wasn’t the big mouth-feel of a lot of coffee stouts, the coffee aroma was knock-your-head-off strong and it tasted crisp enough to crunch. Clean, pure coffee bean with the tiniest touch of vanilla.

Four down, only another 46 more on the bar to try… Lucky for me I was able to share with the long-suffering boyfriend and there was always time for another visit…

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