Bristol Beer Week Festival

I wasn’t able to attend too much of this year’s Bristol Beer Week but I managed to get up there for the Friday, heading round the back of Templemeads for the start of the Craft Beer Festival.

Organised by the same people that put on the London Craft Beer Festival it brings together around 30 breweries from around the world. Adopting my favourite format for modern festivals, entry provided a small glass and freedom to try any number of 90ml tasters form the small, approachable bars set around the edge of the ‘rustic’ warehouse setting.

Bigger or well known breweries included Sierra Nevada, Brewdog, Stone, Beavertown, Kernel, Magic Rock and Thornbridge, whilst those that were new, local, growing or unheard of (to me) made for a great mix.

As a fan of Northern Monk, Yeastie Boys, Cloudwater and Wild Beer it was great to try some of their beers that were new to me, whilst it wouldn’t have been Bristol Beer Week without locals Left Handed, Good Chemistry and Lost and Grounded.

However, that said, my stand out brewers were all from outside of the UK. The rather talented Swedes on the Dugges bar offered the bold, fruity Tropic Thunder, a rich barrel aged quad and the aptly named elderflower Dream Beer. I have little experience of modern French breweries so the FR Indie stand was a revelation. Adventurous, well made and totally unexpected, Amorena (La Debauche) was a rich, 14% number that provided the deep, raisin and malt you’d expect from that strength whilst the barrel aged Berlinerweisse from  was outstanding. Starting off light, zingy and tart as you’d expect, it had a deep, robust body into the finish that I hadn’t experienced from this style before.

Top 5 beers of the day:

  • Mont Salève BA Berlinerweisse
  • Dugges Tropical Thunder
  • Northern Monk Patrons Coffee Porter (1.02)
  • Wild Beer Sourdough
  • Good Chemistry Morello Theory

All in all a great afternoon. Nice atmosphere, minimal queues and good company (in my case at least). See you there next year – I may even take some photos next time.

Beer of the month, July

DSC_0503Northern Monk are a relatively new brewery, and whilst their regular beers are pretty good, it’s the specials that continue to grab my attention.

Happy to brew flavours that sit at the edges of what is usually expected in a beer, I’ve found some of their recent efforts equally surprising and impressive. A 6.2% Pale brewed with vanilla, strawberries and chocolate, everything about Neopolitan shouldn’t work. To my mind it should be a sickly, sweet mess of excessive dessert flavours, so once tasted I was pleasantly surprised at how it all came together. Rather than a confused wave of tastes there was a clear, sequential set of flavours – the initial bitterness making way for light, sweet vanilla, which is in turn replaced by chocolate and strawberry. It’s not a session beer and it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but when someone creates something this unusual but still manages to technically pull it off it’s worth a try.

Alternative summer beers

Finally, it feels as though summer is here! The temperature is hitting 25 degrees and my attention is turning to something for drinking in the sun.
Summer beers
Summer beersAfter a quick visit to see Chris at Hops and Crafts I had a trio of beers that showcased some new twists on the classic soured style, gose, plus something completely different, so it was time to sit down, relax and enjoy – sours, it seems, are the new saisons. Which were the new pale ales, which were the new golden ales, which were the new lagers. I think. Either way, the range of variations, styles and intensities available now make for great drinking.

Up first was the modern classic and, thankfully, now more readily available Wild Beer C0 Sleeping Lemons. They have been in my BOTM more than once and considering they are just over the county line it would have been criminal not to include them here. I won’t repeat myself after previous write ups, but suffice to say it’s great – tart, lemony brilliance. I can’t wait for the bigger, 6% winter version, Hibernating Lemons.

DSC_0496Second was Victory’s Kirsch Gose, a salted, wheat and malt-based sour with the addition of cherries. Whilst Belgian cherry lambics (krieks) are well known, a German gose with added cherries is a new one for me so I was excited to try it. It was certainly refreshing – crisp, light bodied and with a lovely balance between the sourness and the salty finish. The slight downside were the cherries themselves, the juice used coming across as slightly artificial toward the end. That said, I’d happily have one again.

DSC_0500Next was a collaboration between Hawkshead Brewery and Stewart Brewing, but this time based around the classic Margarita. Using Kaffir lime leaves and rock salt to create a nod toward the cocktail, this beer works really, really well. The sourness is present but not dominant, allowing the lime to come through nicely and for the salt to gently build toward the end of the mouthful. A cracking beer and one I’m going to need to get a case of!

DSC_0503For the final beer I went for dessert instead of sour with a Northern Monk Neapolitan Ice Cream Pale Ale. A totally unexpected glass of flavours it masterfully manages to provide a light bitterness that is followed by a vanilla sweetness, smooth strawberry and milky, chocolate. It’s not beer I could drink several of in one go, but as a journey through flavours it’s brilliant. Each element works in harmony with the others but manages to stand out and define itself, leaving me with a finish reminiscent of a strawberry cream Chupa Chup lolly. That may not be a good thing for everyone, but I ate far too many of those growing up and, as it’s not a taste I ever thought I’d see in a beer, I enjoyed every drop.

Beer of the month, May

Cloudwater beerNormally when I’m about to open up a second, third or fourth version of a particular beer it’s an annual release, but not this time. Since starting up about 18 months ago Mancunian outfit Cloudwater have produced a range of beers so varied the only word that adequately describes them is prolific, with over 50 different types that covers styles that go from the common to the unheard of or obscure.

My beer of the month is their DIPA v3, which follows hot on the heels of 1 and 2, has already been superseded by a limited run of 4/5 and will see 6 coming out soon. Cloudwater have managed to build a great reputation in a short amount of time, and it’s easy to see why. Pouring a rich copper, this 9% IPA is brilliant – even through a developing head cold I get buckets of clean, fresh pine, citrus and orange, smoothly countered with a decadent, slightly spicy malt that finishes with a satisfying tingle around the mouth. The aroma is my favourite part, coming through with a freshness of hops and biscuit-sweet malt that could fool you into thinking you had the raw ingredients under your nose.

Cloud water breweryI’m a huge fan of breweries that experiment with new flavours and styles, always offering their drinkers something more to explore or experience. Because of this it’s not always easy to get hold of all their beers, noticeably so in my local bottle shop as once they are in they don’t hang around for long. v4/5 of this beer are due out shortly but in much more limited quantities, so if you see one get it! At last check you couldn’t buy directly form the brewery, so if you don’t have local stockist it may be worth checking out the individual (and ever-changing) options online, or get a box in from eebria.

Going wild with the brewing

It’s not very often that Ceri and I do something that brings together our respective passions – she’s into botany and I’m into beer. Her hobby seeing her roaming the natural world whilst beer keeps me in pubs, breweries and libraries, which is why I’m especially excited about the next few months.

Beer and botany books

Since moving I’ve been steadily revamping my home-brew setup into something more manageable and controllable, and now things have settled down it’s time to start tapping into her knowledge and brew a series of beers that are closely related to our natural environment, history and wild culture. Aside from hops and the historical uses of certain plants in brewing my knowledge of local flora is limited, whereas Ceri can take 20 metres of hedgerow and, depending on her mood, find a mind-boggling array of edible salad leaves and flowers or several ways to kill you within 30 minutes.

Needless to say there will be updates about the progress of the series, but I’m really excited about creating some genuinely unique beers with flavours and combinations that haven’t been explored yet.

Of course, if you have any experience in botanical brews and experimenting with traditional or contemporary floral beers please let me know – it would be great to hear your experiences, good or bad!