I’m a reader. I stick to non-fiction over fiction and this probably explains why I chose to study history in college. Books on beer are a popular preference but I read it all – politics, business, history, various biographies and the like.
When travelling, I usually duck into the bookshop at the airport or train station to buy the paper and the occasional longer read. The range of nonfiction books is limited and with the exception of the latest releases, they rarely change. I don’t know who puts the range together but there’s always a heavy emphasis on motivation and self-help. This indicates that the modern traveller needs all the help they can get. One book regularly features – The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck.
This particular book has influenced a lot of those motivational posters and countless more PowerPoint slides used in business training seminars. They all seem to focus on a fork in the road leading to choices having to be made. Thankfully for a few people in Stratford, Connecticut this meant taking the leap and opening a brewery four years ago. They went one further and actually named the brewery after this principle – Two Roads Brewing Company.
Recently, I got to try their Worker’s Comp Saison. First of all, this is a great name for a beer named in honour of the saisonaires. It may be a saison but it’s not a seasonal offering. This style is quickly replacing wheat beers as a year-round staple of US craft breweries.
The beer’s appearance was of a late-summer sun haze. For the aroma, think big, funky farmyard aromatics along with fruity esters. The fruit aromas were a complex blend ranging from an expectant lemon citrus right through to more exotic, topical notes. This beer is peppery carbonated tartness in a glass. There’s a bitter lemon twist to this beer. There’s a big dry, peppery finish to this beer. It’s almost as if you’d lightly seasoned your tongue.
The flavours and other characteristics of the style are wonderfully pronounced. At only 4.8% abv, this is a wonderful session beer. I had no regrets in selecting this beer from a few other local offerings and other high profile but hard-to-get beers on this side of the Atlantic. I was my own “road less travelled” moment I suppose. My only regret is that I only had time for one.
Sadly, I’m not in Philadelphia this week for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®. Fortunately, I was able to visit the city last autumn. Ten years has passed since my one and only visit to the city. Regeneration has played a key role in its revival and it has become a good stop on one’s beer travels. I had less than 24 hours to take in a couple of beer destinations and see some of the sites.
Yards Brewing, now in its 22nd year, is in easy reach of downtown. It is one of those breweries that suffer unfairly from being one of the early movers on the craft beer scene. Familiarity can count against you in the craft beer movement, even one that holds “traditional” as key tenet.
It’s a short walk from the Spring Garden metro stop. The first hundred yards or so is a tiny bit sketchy but the entire area is up and coming. You’ll see just how far it’s come on when you get to North Delaware Avenue, with the condo developments. This used to be the nightclub area of the city but with close proximity to the river front, land prices are going through the roof. The vacant lots won’t be there for much longer. This part of the city has one added benefit. It comes complete with the smell of wort emanating from the brewery.
Yards Brewery focuses on traditional beer styles but they can have a twist. The branding, like its beers, reflect traditional British ales, a likely a nod to the revolutionary routes of the city. It also doesn’t hurt to compete with the British imports like Sam Smiths. The brewery operates Monday to Friday before opening up for tours on the weekends (12-4). Apparently people line up before it opens but they run every 20-25 minutes. Oh and it’s free!
It’s worth visiting due to a good tap room and getting to meet the regulars, many of whom drop in on their way home from work. The tap room offers a window into the brewery so you don’t have to be there on a Saturday to get a view of the operations. Of course, visiting brewers and beer tickers stop by. A group from nearby Conshohocken Brewing were in visiting. The tap room’s a great place to chat to the brewery staff. They can be found enjoying a post work pint at the bar but at times ducking back into the brewery to check up on things. Work never stops.
First, up was Brawler a 4.2% abv English Mild. It was rich mahogany in colour with excellent clarity. As you’d expect the aroma was malty with slight coffee and nutty aroma. As a session beer, it was smooth and almost milky in mouthfeel. Toasty with a hint of caramel roasted nuts in the finish. Next was the Extra Special Ale (6% abv). Its appearance captured the colours of Philly and Pennsylvania perfectly – copper and chestnut. Think Liberty Bell & rusting factories. I’m partial to an ESB and this beer is interesting. There’s a lot going on. Spicy, nutty, dark chocolate flavours complete with a slight, citrus bitter bite. It has a big finish building intensity of the bitter malt. I would love to try this on cask but sadly they didn’t have it on when I was visiting.
Of course, the brewery’s pale ale and IPA offering is part of the signature flight. Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv) pours an incredibly clear golden colour. The aroma is of freshly squeezed oranges, thanks to being dry-hopped with simcoe. It’s certainly easy drinking with notes of fresh tangerines in the flavour. It’s reminiscent of orange squash with a pleasant dry, bitter finish. The IPA is called IPA because let’s face it, why bother coming up with a name for it because it’s a beer style that people just ask by style rather than name. At 7% abv it falls outside the session beer category. The colour is polished brass with orange on the nose. The fruit flavours continue with a sherbet-like mouthfeel at first before being hit by a big, bitter punch. There’s a sticky sweetness and pine notes in the finish. It’s hopped with chinook and amarillo.
Of course, you’re bound to take in some of the historical sites when in the city. If you’re not in the mood to actually venture into Independence Hall, you can smooth you conscience somewhat by trying beers inspired by three founding fathers as part of the brewery’s Revolutionary Flight. These beers are inspired by historic recipes of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.
General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv) has an aroma of roast coffee and beef. It’s smooth with a smoky body before a big dark chocolate and caramel finish. There’s also a bourbon barrel-aged version, which I have yet to try. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale on the other hand is a strong golden ale (8% abv). It pours a clear, copper colour. The aroma is of lightly toasted wheat, red fruit and spice on the nose. The flavour and finish is of spice and honey.
Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv) is apparently based on a recipe of Benjamin Franklin. Billed as a historical style, it’s brewed with molasses and local blue spruce tips. Amber in colour, there’s ginger and vinous notes on the nose. The flavour and finish is of ginger and pine; a really interesting beer. The final beer of the flight is Love Stout (5.5%) named for the City of Brotherly Love. A nitro pour, it’s almost jet black topped by a creamy head. The aroma is of powdered milk chocolate. It’s creamy, with a coffee hit in the finish. I understand there’s a variant of this beer containing 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate.
The final flight consisted of four refreshing seasonal and small batch brews. Beginning with Hefeweizen (5.4% abv). It was 24ct gold in colour, if it was any clearer the guys on TV’s Gold Rush may finally retire. There was plenty of banana and clove on the nose. At first it comes across as a tad over-carbonated, leaving it too dry. It finishes in the opposite direction, however, with sweet banana flavours lingering long after. Saison (6.5% abv) also pours a lovely, polished gold. There’s banana, clove along with other saison yeast notes. It’s sweet, cereal with lemon and honey blending into a pleasant finish. There’s a dash of pepper and bitterness too.
Yards, like other breweries, are keen on giving back. They are passionate about supporting charities and what better way than through brewing beer. You should check out their Brew Unto Others initiative. Part of the proceeds from PYNK (5.5% abv), a tart berry ale, goes to support breast cancer research and awareness. This is a pink beer, no doubt about it. What’s better is that the colour is natural thanks to the cherries and raspberries. It’s none of that artificial colouring for green beer. It’s amber with a big splash of pink. For the aroma, think raspberry yoghurt. Upfront, there’s pleasant fresh sour cherry in the flavour before a brut, dry finish. The palate isn’t overpowered by the tartness.
The last beer of the flight was Cicada, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with local honey (8.5% abv). This bronze ale had a big Juicy Fruit aroma. It was hard to pick up the Belgian yeast aromatics; only the slightest banana esters could be detected. Drinks bitter at first, then floral and honey notes take over. There’s a warming bitter tropical fruit and herbal bitterness in the finish.
I couldn’t leave the brewery without trying Olde Bartholomew Barleywine (10.3% abv) on cask. It pours lovely, clear amber. The aroma is a wonderful medley of marzipan and grapes. It’s not overly sweet, one might say medium-dry. The flavour is penetrated by pleasant hints of fruit. It finishes dry and spicy.
I had only planned to stay an hour or so in the taproom but I was there far longer than that. As I mentioned before, the taproom has a real “local bar” vibe to it. It’s a friendly place, whether you’re from the city or just passing through. And of course, the beer is good.
It seems that the supermarket chains are getting in on this craft beer game. We’re familiar with Aldi stocking O’Shea’s stout, pale ale and red ale produced by Carlow Brewing Company. A more recent entrant to the scene is Rye River, somewhat double jobbing with its Crafty Beer (Lidl) and Solas (Tesco) ranges.
Of course this is nothing new. The tactic of ‘own’ or indeed ‘exclusive’ brands has been used for decades. Think of cans or stubby bottles of cheap own-brand cheap lager that have littered many a student party or bbq over the years. In fact it would appear that there are even more own-brand lagers appearing on supermarket shelves. And it is a pattern replicated for cider as well. So should we be worried when more and more ‘own-brand’ craft beers start appearing?
Well naturally it all comes down to quality. And given how price conscious supermarkets are, we have to ask, can the two be combined? The Carlow Brewing Company has demonstrated that it can with its O’Shea’s range. The beers are great value and have introduced more people to the world of craft beer. I know of one person, a die-hard Guinness drinker, often the hardest to convert, who when at home, drinks nothing but the O’Shea’s Irish Stout. And he tells me that he’s tempted to explore different stouts as a result. So if the supermarkets adopt a similar approach to the one they use when considering wines for beer, well it could be a win-win. For example, how many times are we told that the ‘own-brand champagne is the one to seek out for value and quality?
Supermarket chains are more than likely to partner with larger craft brewers that have the necessary production capacity. They are more likely to focus on session-type beers rather than extreme ones; although, BrewDog produces a “variant” of its 9.2% abv Hardcore IPA for Tesco. For the brewers, it can be a valuable source of revenue; also regular and sizeable orders from large multiples can impress the banks when looking for loans to expand the business. It is no surprise that lenders prefer big, dependable orders over smaller, though numerous accounts.
So why am I writing about this now? Well recently I had the chance to try a number of supermarket-brand beers. It will come as no surprise that some were better than others, but what struck me was that some of those were considerably better than the rest. I then recalled one of the first ‘own brand’ beers I had ever tried. Perhaps it was time to refresh my memory.
The ‘Revisionist’ range is produced by real ale behemoth, Marston’s and Tesco has an exclusive on the bottles. It’s worth noting however, that beers like Craft Lager can be had on draft in the likes of Wetherspoons. My local Tesco stocks the Red Ale, Rye Ale, Dark IPA and the Wheat Beer. The range also includes Steam Beer and Saison in bottles. These beers are produced at the different breweries within the Marston’s stable (Bank’s, Jennings, Wychwood, Brakspear, Ringwood and Marston’s itself).
The Revisionist American Hop Rye Pale Ale – to give it its full name – was as I say, the first beer from the range which I tasted. And if I’m honest, it is also the only one on which I have notes as I tried some of the others while judging a beer competition.
Firstly the branding is certainly interesting and certainly catches the eye, while scanning the shelves. The beer pours an unsurprisingly amber colour with good clarity. There are sweet tropical fruits and a hint of spice on the nose. The beer was dry hopped with citra® and amarillo so that explains the fruitiness and the rye gives the spicy notes. Initially, there is fresh citrus on tasting but a dry, almost Bombay mix-inspired spiciness takes over. It is however, let down a little by the fluctuating carbonation levels. The dryness of the rye also leaves it tasting a little flat at times. It finishes quite dry.
It’s safe to say that the ‘Revisionist’ range encapsulates a problem for both the real ale brewers and for the retailers across the water. Are they edgy enough in today’s fickle craft beer world? Five years ago Tesco used to be the go-to place in this country if you were looking for English ales. But now that range is dwindling, and not only in Tesco. Yes, it’s a good thing that some of the space is being occupied by local Irish offerings, but part of me is sad to see that English brewers are being sought merely to imitate rather than innovate in terms of the beers to be stocked. And yes these beers are fine, they do the job. But I would argue that unfortunately they come in at too high a price point in Ireland to be deemed as good value.
The All-Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival has attracted a lot of attention online and save from repeating a previous post, I have opted to provide a series of short observations on the festival. Oh and did I mention that I attended all four days because where else would I be!
In no particular order:
Biggest festival yet! Huge crowds over the four days (over 10,000 according to Ruben @TaleofAle). It was packed on the Friday and many had made their way up from the Aviva after the Ireland-Sweden march but Saturday was something else. The crowds simply kept on coming with a queue to get in and an even bigger one at the token stand. if keeps growing like this, it’ll probably have to move into the main hall next door.
Two collaboration brews can be best described as sweet. The O’Hara’s/JW Sweetman’s version containing honey. There’s a story to be told about it but can be best summed up as there’s a group of people out there nerdier than beer enthusiasts – honey people! Troubled Hooker from guess which two breweries (see my previous post if you can’t for the life of you work out who it is) was a mistake gone well. It was supposed to be a Double IPA but became almost a sweet Belgian Tripel, even sweeter than Kwak.
Dry-hopped Irish reds, what’s the point? The malt sweetness is there for a reason. Leave the hops for the “Irish” pale ales & co.
The Hop Randall festival goes to try the Kinsale Pale Ale with added Simcoe, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. The Hop Randall has now been introduced by the Bull and Castle and the Bierhaus in Cork . Has it already been condemned to the realm of gimmick?
Franciscan Well wasn’t picketed by members of the craft purist front and the casks ran dry fairly early on. Punters weren’t put off by this big beer-owned concern.
In previous years Dungarvan trialled their seasonal beers for the following year (Comeragh Challenger and Mahon Falls). Cormac brought six variants with him, including a Saison, Amber Ale, Mild, session DIPA, Wit IPA and an IPA. I still don’t know which or if any are scheduled for release in 2014.
Every time the show the All-Ireland Hurling Final On festival Sunday, it ends in a draw.
In past years people flocked to the White Gypsy stand to imbibe on the stronger beers available. However, I don’t know what is happening down in Templemore as a string of very fine session beers turned up at this year’s festival.
Did every band at the festival do a cover of The Lumineers’ Ho Hey? Don’t get me started about the Johnny Cash covers!
Two barley wines at the festival and two were duly sampled. I know barley wines are known for their port/sherry like comparisons but I’m not going to go into how one was sweet (Porterhouse) and one was dry (O’Hara’s). That’s just going too far!
Putting the newer breweries in one corner (although Brú was across the way) grouped in one corner was a great way of concentrating interest in them. One thing noticed is that the newer breweries have fantastic branding and T-shorts for sale (in the past this sort of behaviour was confined to Metalman and the Porterhouse).
Beers to look out for include Eight Degrees’ Amber Ella (might give Howling Gale Ale a run for its money in the popularity stakes), Kinsale Pale Ale (a great beer to show to festival novices that Ireland can match Sierra Nevada et al), Mountain Man’s Hairy Goat (nice copper ale for the autumn) and hopefully Five Lamps will release the darker version of their Liberties Ale (they have a lager so why put out a golden ale?).
August marks the annual pilgrimage to London for fans of real ale. The Great British Beer Festival (or GBBF to its friends) now in its 36th year features over 800 real ales. This was my second experience of the festival after having combined it with tickets to Katie Taylor’s gold medal winning fight at London 2012. It was most certainly a great way of continuing the celebrations. In 2013, the festival was once more held at the Olympia in Kensington, having returned here the previous year because Earls Court was being used for Olympic events. Accompanied by Cillian on this occasion, it was to be his first experience of the GBBF.
The Great British Beer Festival is a mecca for real ale lovers and is the annual pilgrimage for CAMRA members. Over 55,000 patrons were expected through the doors of what is effectively Britain’s largest pub (for the guts of a week at least). The attendee numbers are testament to both the work of CAMRA in promoting the popularity of real ale as well as the general growing interest in different beers across all walks of life. However, attending the festival one is reminded just how strong the stereotype of the real ale drinker is. Bearded and sandal-wearing, these attendees can be spotted as far away as Earls Court station and grow in numbers the nearer you get to the venue. Some are dressed accordingly for the festival and wouldn’t be out of place on safari, complete with tasting glass tied to clothing. Think plenty of beards coupled with sandals and I haven’t even gotten to hat day (oh yes Festival Thursday is Hat Day).
It is not a comfortable festival and requires a fair bit of stamina. Given the sheer vast range of beers on offer, it was hard not to imbibe on all the strong and rare beers on offer early on. Also, the lower strength ales quickly begin to blend into one another. To get around and taste as many while still staying fairly upright, ordering thirds was the name of the day (because often you ended up getting a half for the same price). Thirds tended to be the selected measure that the rarer of award winning beers were served in. However, at times half or full pints were ordered on favoured beers. For those who haven’t been, Pete Brown has put together a survival guide for the festival which gives a flavour of what attendees face. I even came across a few regular attendees that have deck chairs and provisions in tow. These are the particularly hardcore element that are settling in for the week because season tickets can be purchased.
There is of course a serious competitive element to the festival with a handful of beers in line for the coveted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain, an accolade that can change the fortunes for successful breweries Think of Timothy Taylor Landlord, the winning-est beer in Britain having scooped the title on no less than four occasions. Success for a particular beer style will also see many other breweries try to emulate the victor. There was a noticeable increase in barley wines on foot of Coniston’s victory last year with No. 9 Barley Wine (coincidentally the blend contains Bluebird Bitter, which won in 1998).
The announcement of the champion beer of Britain takes place on the afternoon of the first day of the festival. A large crowd gathers around the main stage and Roger Protz runs through the category winners before moving on to the overall winner. A succession of cheers takes place as each medal is announced. Most of the gathered audience seem to be just happy to have either tried the beers or failing that having heard of them, whereas others support particular breweries/beers like their local football team. The best description of the whole ceremony was provided by Cillian who summed it up as all “very British”. One of those phrases that no one can define but understand what it means.
This year Elland 1872 Porter from West Yorkshire took home the prize. As soon as it was announced, a number of regular attendees soured the festival programme and made a beeline for the bar that was serving it. I had a feeling that this was going to be the year for stouts. Besides the competition winner, those that I particularly enjoyed were Ascot Anastasia’s Exile Stout, London Fields Porter and of course Courage Imperial Russian Stout is brewed by Wells & Young’s in Bedfordshire.
Besides porters and stouts, there was of course the opportunity to indulge one’s moreish side by availing of a range of strong ales on cask. Particularly enjoyed were Hogs Back A over T and one of the much publicised pre-festival ales, Fullers Vintage 2013. I have a soft sport for Fullers’ beers and more than a few ESBs, 1845 and Old Burton Extra were consumed during this trip to London.
This year, the international beers featured prominently. It was hard to keep ones self-discipline and not to over-indulge on the foreign beers that all tended to weigh in at higher strengths than their British counterparts. Also, the prices at these bars show the increase in excise duties in the UK that has taken place over the last number of years. Beers that I allowed myself to consume include two different Dutch beers Joppen Mooie IPA, De Molen Rye IPA, one from the US in the form Allagash Brewing’s Confluence from Maine and a Belgian saison from De Ranke. The international bars proved extremely popular amongst patrons and the largest queues were found at them. This didn’t go down well with the more traditional real ale attendees and even with the organisers based on the number of pleas on twitter over the course of the event asking people not to just frequent the international bars. Perhaps they had a point because after-all the festival was to promote the real ale in Britain.
All in all, the festival is firmly on my annual to-do list and I think it’s now on Cillian’s as well. It was definitely worth going earlier in the week because it was slightly more relaxed. However, I fear I may have over dosed on scotch eggs during the festival and will have to get in better shape for next year. This is definitely a festival that one shouldn’t miss.