Saturday, 20 April 2013

With Glowing Hearts we See Thee Rise

British Columbia is a charming place. Canadians are a charming and welcoming race. So welcoming in fact they even named a street and a brewery after me. 
 My trip took in 7 breweries, 68 different beers (not all pints!) in 3 days and was pretty much wall to wall pleasure albeit experienced through the jaded lens of jetlag.
My most Canadian moment was in a Canadian brewpub, surrounded by ice hockey fans listening to Bryan Adams, drinking a beer made with maple syrup. I only needed to get arrested by a Mounty for assaulting a moose with Celine Dion to complete the set.

Turning Point in all its glory

Beer-wise the highlight was a Flemish Oud Bruin (tasted more like Rodenbach Grand Cru than Rodenbach Grand Cru) from Yaletown Brewery and a staggeringly accomplished Pilsner and Amber from Turning Point. My namesake brewery Howe Sound made some crazy, crazy brews such as the Megadestroyer Imperial Stout brewed with star anise which helped me forget how tired I was. Franco and Dave there were so impressed with my reaction to it they gave me a T shirt! My Molson Coors Craft comrade Vern Lambourne at Granville Island made an excellently balanced Imperial IPA and was very generous with his time.
Vern Lambourne and an ugly English bloke

There were some beer low points. All the smaller breweries seemed to me most comfortable brewing hop forward beers. I didn’t taste a poor example of an US IPA or Imperial IPA at any of the brewpubs. UK brewers could learn a thing or two about this style from these guys. This was not always the case with the other styles. Obviously in keeping with national politeness I will not name names but a couple of the brewpubs’ attempts at lager were so heavily polluted with diacetyl that you could smell them from 10 yards away. I can only assume that the entire brewing team, serving staff and managers are anosmic to it. Aside from the Yaletown Oud Bruin the Belgian strong style beers seemed to be the biggest challenge, two tripels and a saison were horrific.

Back to the UK and Monday saw the last in the 2012 Connoisseur’s Choice beers return from bottling. Dubbel Coffee Stout is better than it was when it left and it was pretty bloody good then if I do say so myself. I have to admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of stouts. Monolithic, uber-hopped, black-as-pitch imperial stouts which are so thick they resemble a non-Newtonian fluid are probably my least favourite beers. They seem to me like a teenagers half-pissed cookery experiement where they put as many ingredients in as they can in the hope the positive aspects of each ingredient combine to make the perfect combination. 

My stout therefore had to embody the elements of a strong dark ale which I enjoy most yet retain my beer’s trademark subtlety, balance and finesse. I wanted the beer to be fruity, rich, sweet and warming but to finish cleanly with a moreish linger. The selection of one the world’s fruitiest yeast strains was intended to boost ester levels to compete with the malty and burnt notes from the special malts. I also used a vigorous 2-hour boil to flash off the most fervent burnt aromas. The coffee was used to work with the esters and alcohol to give the beer an Irish coffee feel.

So far those in the brewery and the flavour panel who have tried the beer have enjoyed it. Some have loved it. A lot of people have started off feedback with “I don’t usually like dark beers but…” This could be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not likely to prosper in competitions where styles must be adhered to but should hopefully convert some people to the dark side.

With the tropical weather we are currently enjoying, spontaneous Panzerfaust has awoken. There is a good 10cm head on the beer and it is smelling like a very musty brewery fermentation. As long as it doesn’t start to head down the rotting meat/faecal route Adrian and I could be onto a winner.

Next week, not only do I get to receive Sharp’s IBA medals at London’s Guild Hall but I also get to visit the palace of ultimate brewing excellence that is Duvel-Moortgat and meet St. Hedwig Neven and thence head down to Leuven for the Zythos Bierfestivaal. Can’t type…. any.....more….. too……… excited!   

Monday, 1 April 2013

Respire-t-elle? Oui, mais tout bas

It doesn’t seem like a fortnight since my last post. Time flies exponentially these days, and we will soon all be dead! A couple of exciting bits of news to share. Firstly I am off to Canada next week to see some beer friends and plan to sample my way around Vancouver. From what I can make of it the Canadian beer scene is just about to blossom so it’s a great time to go. Any recommendations from you beautiful people for places to go and things to do would be very welcome.

Secondly I am in the midst of universe-demolishing excitement about and invitation from THE Hedwig Neven for a tour and a beer at Moortgat. I make no secret of my undying love for Duvel. To be able to learn about it and walk in the glorious palace of brewing excellence that produces this liquid miracle with Mr Duvel himself is as close to heaven on earth as it gets. In fact I’m not sure that celestial heaven would measure up particularly well to this. There was also talk of a Californian craft beer road trip with Jean-Marie Rock and Hedwig later in the year. It is best that I do not contemplate such a thing as spontaneous combustion through overexcitement would be on the cards. 
My blog title is now out of date. WIGIG  has now been rechristened craft discovery brand. Marketing are aiming the range exclusively at Range Rover drivers in order to control demand.

My latest discovery brand is being brewed with Lucy Britner, winner of the Drinks Writing Industry Award for most relevant hairstyle 2013. I’ve known Lucy for nearly a decade. We share a sense of humour and a love for Morrissey and Linton Travel Taverns. She introduced me to my favourite film and I introduced her to Paddy Considine. Lucy is not a beer writer and focuses more on spirits. It is fitting then that our beer has a link to the distilled. Lucy has managed to get her hands on some of the juniper berries used at Plymouth Gin to flavour their spirit. I’ve got a few kilos next to my lap top at the moment and the smell is bloody wonderful. I am hoping that with Lucy’s connections and my charm (just her connections then) I may be able to get into Plymouth Gin and do a short run of hopped gin. I’ll let you know how I get on.  

Our beer like Ms Juniper’s hair will be flaxen due to using only pale malt along with some low colour cara malt for sweetness. To this I am adding 2012 crop (just in!) Cascade and Citra and fermenting it very warm to encourage an ester fruitiness. The beer will then be spiced in conditioning with the Juniper (about 2 berries per litre). I want to achieve a really sweet and fruity beer balanced with the natural dry acidity of the spice and the citrus of the US hops.