It’s not rocket science but it is a craft!

I’ve been finding myself staring into space a lot recently. It’s so awesomely huge that it makes my head hurt to think about it too much but thankfully I have beer so it’s never too stressful. It’s been hard not to think about space, what with real-life Major Tom Chris Hadfield hitting the news with his performance of Space Oddity actually filmed on board the International Space Station! Then the amazing opportunity came up on Kickstarter to back the first publicly accessible space telescope, Arkyd and have a ‘selfie‘ sent up and photographed. In space! Then another opportunity on Kickstarter to support the fantastic band Ananamaguchi in their quest to make even more mind-bendingly colorful beepy awesomeness. What do they have to do with space? See their latest video Endless Fantasy and prepare to be impressed.

Joining the Space Race

Joining the Space Race

I was very excited when brand new Bristol brewery Rocket Science Craft Ales got in touch to see if I wanted to try some of their new beers. Well since they have such a cute logo how could I refuse. After a long day in London seeing the V&A’s exhibition celebrating the original Space Oddity, David Bowie, it was fitting to open a nicely chilled bottle of the IO (6.5%ABV) to unwind. Named after one of the moons of Jupiter studded with over 400 active volcanoes, this American IPA has a lot to live up to. It’s unfined, unfiltered and unpasturised so it’s about as back-to-basics as brewing gets. In the glass, it’s cloudy dark amber – not what I was expecting – and the aromas are fresh, sharp citrus and slightly sweet honey with a touch of pine. It’s a surprisingly really accomplished American-style pale for such a young brewery – the bitter lemons and grapefruit really hit the taste buds hard making the mouth water and the dryness at the back is so crisp, The acidic pineapple brings a touch of tropical sunshine and there’s a little sweetness in the aftertaste like sherbet lemons.

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I was most excited about the Jet Black (5.4%ABV) since it’s a Cascadian Dark Ale which is one of my current favorite styles. I’m fairly particular about Cascadian Darks and very few fit the bill for me. This was a very promising pour, jet black like it says on the bottle with a lovely lasting whispy head and an aroma like a charred hedgerow. The dark malts give a burnt crust characteristic to the fabulously bitter hop but it’s lifted by a delicious fruitiness, like a playful cocktail of lychee and cranberries. This is perfectly balances with deliciously bitter dark chocolate – think of your favourite bar of 80-85% cocoa solids studded with crystals of burnt brown sugar. The finish is wonderfully dry with a bitter-sweetness that’s so moreish. I think I’ll be strapping on my jetpack and blasting off to Bristol very soon – I gotta get stocked up on these! Impressive for such a new brewery!

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.

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. 

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?

Rebel Belle

Taking over the taps!

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go for a day trip to Bristol for the Tiny Rebel tap takeover at the Bag O’ Nails. Having tried only one of their beers previously, the magnificently hoppy Fubar, I had been desperate to try more but sadly none have made it as far as the South Coast. Having never been to the Bag O’Nails before, it was a good excuse to discover another pub in Bristol. I’d heard excellent things about the place so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay them a visit. I was also keen to meet Malcolm, the handsome chap who runs the pub (he’s actually a cat so he has a human called Luke managing the place). I hadn’t expected such a lovely, bustling little pub as the one I walked into. Luckily, we found ourselves a table, although we had to be on our best behaviour as the boss was enjoying a well-earned siesta there.

I started with a lovely Koochie (6%ABV) pale ale which had that lovely fresh and exotic new-world hop flavour. It didn’t take long to feel quite at home. I really appreciate going to a pub where the landlord is as passionate about good beer as I am, although Luke and I do not seem to share the same opinions on Irish craft. One of his other passions seemed to be his music collection; instead of CDs, there was a turntable with a collection of well-chosen classic albums on vinyl from classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and The Doors.

Malcolm wasn’t really interested in the Chocoholic. More for me then.The Doors, Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash.

As I got stuck into my second beer, a delicious Cwtch (4.6%ABV) English Bitter which had that classic biscuity taste with a hint of fruit, I got talking to the guys at the table next to us. I was amazed that they had come all the way from Newport, Wales, where Tiny Rebel is based, to support their local brewery. The OH did have to remind me that it’s not that far from Bristol by train, but still I’m impressed they love the beer so much.

It was an absolute delight to meet the two guys behind Tiny Rebel, Gazz & Brad. We spent a lot of time chatting to Gazz who was such a massively likeable beer geek. He told us about how they started out as home-brewers and we chatted about what we had been brewing at home. It’s always handy to get tips from professional brewers, especially as he still brews small batches to test new ideas. He was particularly proud of the Chocoholic (6.8%ABV) which was a beautifully bitter, smooth, rich chocolate stout. The extreme dark bitterness, I was told, was down to the raw cacao nibs used in the settling tanks.

Before the mad dash for the train, there was just enough time to remind myself of the beer that had made me want to go to Bristol that day in the first place. Fubar (4.4%ABV), with its lovely refreshing hops and really big after taste of bitterness, was just as good as I remembered. Oh and I even managed to grab a growler of Koochie for the train home, although since cats evidently rule the roost at the Bag O’Nails, Luke insisted on a swift ‘customisation,’ covering the Brewdog logo with a Tiny Rebel one. I kinda like it. Although that was also when Brewdog Jonny walked in. It’s a shame we had to catch a train relatively early but you can tell what a fun day out we had by the fact that I didn’t really get round to writing many proper words about the actual beers which is even more reason that I demand that you track some down for yourself!

Bespoke customised Tiny Rebel growler!

Yo ho hop

 

Bierebelle has a new brewery to add to the list of favorites.OK, the label might not be terribly glamorous but my goodness they make an amazing IPA. I’m talking about Arbor Ales, yet another exceptional Bristol brewery. I was hooked the moment I tried the Yakima Valley IPA. Looking at the list on Rate Beer, I was dismayed to see how much I’ve missed already. Apart from one of the most extensive back-catalogues of single-hop beers in the history of brewing, they also produce special limited ‘Freestyle Friday’ editions which is just whatever they dreamt up at the Friday meeting. I wish all Friday meetings were like that.

When I saw Albion (6.7%) on the shelf I was intrigued – surely a rum belongs in a darker style right? Wrong. Dark rum + IPA = genius. It pours a really gorgeous cloudy gold with a big, generous head as foamy as the seas. The typical IPA aroma carries just a hint of raisin and biscuit and the flavour is really very bitter and an alcoholic burn at the back. The wave of big, dry citrus hops carries the warming, woody dark fruit of a navy style rum. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have cared much for the rum on its own; I prefer the smooth, light Venezuelan and Panamanian styles but blending a robust navy style with an ipa was a master-stroke.

I’m now very excited about trying more from Arbor and the good news is that they seem to be getting easier to find. This one came from Corks but I was delighted the other day to see a wide range in Bitter Virtue which is just round the corner from me. The problem is deciding which one to try next…

Bristol barbeque time!

After our beery afternoon at the Volunteer Arms, we headed over to Cotham in search of food and more beer. The last time the OH had been to Bristol, he had stumbled upon a rather excellent little off-licence stocking some of the finest beer of the region. Corks of Cotham looks from the outside like the average wine and spirit merchant, but if you venture to the back you will find an absolute treasure trove of Bristish ale as well as a well-picked selection of American and Continental beer. I originally planned to call in for another bottle of the Bristol Collaboration but was seduced by the selection and came away with a couple of Hardknotts and very special Arbor Ales bottles, both of which are impossible to get where I live.

The haul from Corks!

Since we were in Cotham, we decided to call in at Beerd, Bath Ales’ new concept craft beer and pizza joint. Although the bottle menu was a bit run-of-the-mill, the taps boasted a prettty nice selection of local ales as well as some keg from further afield. They have resident beers as well as guests so make sure you scan the bar or ask somebody before you order! I went for a pint of Bristol Beer Factory No7 (4.2%ABV), their Best Bitter which was a fairly pleasant, biscuity bitter with a citrusy hop. Unchallenging and a pretty good choice to go with my exceptionally delieious anchovy pizza!

Well-fed, we went for a night-cap with our friends who had just joined us from London at the lovely Colston Yard which had one of my favorite Bristol Beer Factory regulars on, their rather delectable Milk Stout (4.5%). A pretty drinkable sweet stout; just right to unwind for the meatfest ahead! We were up super-refreshed and ready for the mighty Grillstock the next morning. The moment we were got through the gate we were handed tokens for free Jeremiah Weed which was the only thing stopping me from making beer the first drink of the day. The main event at Grillstock is the King of the Grill competition which sees the international superstars of barbecue and amateur teams battle it out to be the Grand Champion and win the opportunity to compete in the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City. The judging panel is an impressive mix of award-winning experts including Dr.BBQ, who has been involved in cook-offs as long as I’ve been alive, and guests from the world of food and food writing. Throughout the weekend, they are presented with entries from each of the teams for seven rounds including brisket, ribs and desserts. As well as the competition, there’s a rather punishing chilli-eating contest, stalls where you can buy high quality goodies to cook with at home and live bands all day.

Wandering around the cooking village with a free Jeremiah Weed in hand, the day was

Dr.BBQ serving up in the Chef’s Choice round

already off to a good start when I was offered fresh-off-the-barbeque lamb ribs which were just astounding – you must try them! One of the things that makes this event so awesome is that, alongside the competition entries, the teams cook all manner of juicy meat-stuffs through the day to offer to the happy crowds and will happily talk about what they are doing and offer useful tips. The highlight had to be from the Bad Byron team member known on Twitter as @racksofruin who had created an extravagant beast from cheese and veg, encased in meat and all rolled up in bacon. Sweet! There’s also rich pickings hanging at the judging tent since once the judges have taken what they want the rest is offered to spectators! I managed to score an absolutely immense beef rib from Dr.BBQ himself as well as pulled pork and lots of pit beans.

The BBQ village where all the magic happens

The official beer supplier, Bristol Beer Factory, brought a nice selection to wash it all down which included Milk Stout, the mighty Southville Hop, Acer and Bitter Californian. Although the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, the hoppy delight of Southville more than made up for it. I was slightly disappointed on day 2 when a large amount of the beer had run out including my favorites. Lucky for us, the new Bristol Farm Shop were selling a lovely selection of local produce including beer so the day was saved. Of course, we were reminded that it was not meant for consumption at the festival and we did spend a lot of time trying to hide it like kids whenever we saw security! I was particularly taken with the Arbor Yakima Valley IPA (7%ABV) which was a joyful explosion of hoppy candy sunshine. Arbor’s dark ruby old ale, Old Knobbley  (4.5%ABV), also proved to be a pretty good choice. I found the burnt woody taste slightly unusual since it gave a bitterness quite unlike the IPA I’d had previously!

Another fabulous weekend in Bristol then. Admittedly I came away a lot heavier but full of ideas for cooking and even found a couple of new favorite breweries to add to the list. I’ll definetly be back soon – very soon indeed for the Beer Factory tour. I can hardly wait!