Monthly Archives: August 2015

Something Sublime!

We have some great breweries here in the North East. A great variety too. It’s a real melting pot of ideas and innovation. But that’s the same story up and down the UK so it’s important that we really crow about the good things going on here.

Which is why it pleases me no end to be able to write about yet another award winner from the region. For those that don’t know, Anarchy brewery recently claimed the best UK Stout or Porter at the world beer awards. And in 36 days time, it will represent to UK and go head to head with stouts and porters from all over the world to battle it out for the world crown.

Let me give you abit of background. Anarchy Brewery appeared in January 2012 and haven’t looked back. After some issues around its name, they relaunched under the Anarchy brand in September 2012 and launched Sublime Chaos at the same time.

From the outset then, they were producing beers with bold flavours and big character. Not afraid to rub people up the wrong way and get a reaction from their taste buds.

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The beer itself is a breakfast stout, infused with coffee but not just any coffee. The bean used is Ethiopian and of “natural” type, meaning its left out to dry on sun terraces. Not being a coffee expert I don’t know the effect of that but it says to me that the brewer is taking the choice of ingredients very very seriously. That degree of detail wins you awards I guess!

The beer is brewed with New Zealand hops, but carefully balanced to not be hop forward.

As soon as you crack open a bottle of this the aroma draws you in. Smooth sweet espresso chocolate aromas all let you know you’re in for a treat.

Now the bottle says to drink fresh, as all Anarchy’s bottles do, but I tend to leave it a couple of months before opening as I feel it just exaggerates that smoothness. The keg at Craft Beer Calling last year had been ages for 15 months and was the best I’ve had it. Smooth as silk and all the flavours I love, more pronounced.

The head is caramel coloured and thick. Good carbonation which throws those aromas at you from the pour. Then it’s time to dive in.

The texture is smooth, big bodied and bold. The mouthfeel is thick voluptuous velvet. The flavour is a ball room dance of coffee and chocolate in perfect harmony, swirling gracefully across your tongue. It’s a luxurious feel and is a very special beer.

I’ve long since cherished this beer and people who know me are probably sick of hearing me bang on about it, but it’s great to see it getting the recognition it deserves.

This isn’t its first award mind, in 2013 it won gold in the SIBA North East premium strong category. So this is a beer with pedigree.

Other Anarchy beers to look out for include Citra Star, not a single hop beer, but designed to get the best from the citra hop, Knuckle dragger, their double IPA where big hops live and Warhead, the 100 minute continuously hopped IPA.

I will be keeping a close eye out for the results from the world beer awards as I know it’s a real contender. So get behind it folks! If you haven’t already tried this, badger your local outlet to get it in stock, seek it out when pubs in the area have it on keg, this is a beer that makes any journey to seek it out worthwhile.

Pale Ale fatigue?

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As many of you are aware I’m a regular customer of many of the beer bottle shops on Tyneside. I also frequent a great many of the good quality boozers that have set up here. But recently something odd has started happening. I’ll be honest for the last few years I’ve been marvelling at the new, enticed by the different and chuffed to discover what new breweries are bringing to the table.

Lately though there have been a few occasions when I’ve looked at shelves full of beers and just felt abit meh about the beers that I’m looking at. Don’t get me wrong I love a good pale ale but there are so so many on the market that I’m no longer that drawn by new ones. Add to that the fact that the breweries that were new a few years ago have now finely tuned their pale ales to a good high consistent standard. Part of me is turning back to have a regular beer, only there are a few different beers that I go for regularly rather than just having one. How many folk always grab a can or two of Gamma Ray when we’re selecting our haul? That’s no longer new and exciting it’s just unbelievably good, high quality, consistent beer.

There are also the processes to consider. A new brewery, or an existing brewery who has just started bottling or canning, will take a while to get the correct system in place to get the best out of the beer going into the bottles/cans. Again Beavertown were one of the first breweries to get their own canning line in which means they’re so much further down the line with learning how to fine tune it.

Pale ales are the heartbeat of any brewery these days. Quantity wise, they’re by far the biggest seller. Or at least they should be. I’m all for breweries not being profit driven but commerciality has to come into it at some point so that the brewery can survive and thrive. If you can sell your most accessible beer, usually a pale, in quantity it gives you a good basis to experiment with stronger flavours and more adventurous brews.

Maybe this is the first sign of the saturation point. What I want is for new beers to stand out from what’s already on the market. There are a boat load of good pale ales already established on the market so any new brewery has its work cut out to bring something both different and of a very high standard.

Recipe wise I suspect a great many pales are very similar interms of grain and yeast, and the wide use of most hops means we’ve had a great many of the new hops before. Again, very difficult to come up with something new.

Think I need a spell on sours, cleanse the palette and reset my hop clock.

Or maybe I’m just ready for a break after a few months of drinking too much, too often!

Or maybe I’m just ready for Magic Rock cans to set my taste buds aglow again!

Or maybe I’m just being a grumpy bugga sat on a Monday morning train.

Discovering new horizons #canarycraft

On the island of Lanzarote, and as we pass the house that Omar Sharif famously lost in a poker game, my pal tells me he has sadly passed away that week. When Im on holiday all comms are off, the closest I get to the outside world is helping my son write a postcard to send back to his nursery. And Lanzarote feels isolated, stuck out off the coast of Africa, far away from its Spanish roots. We then pass the large swirling Cesar Manrique statue which is twirling like billy-ho in the strongbreeze. We’re on the outskirts of Costa Teguise, not to be mistaken with the market town by the name of Teguise further inland. After asking a local restaurant for directions, we eventually find the little unobtrusive restaurant at the side of the road which was our goal. We wandered inside and again nothing out of the ordinary here. Just a nice little well-kept restaurant. However, head out the back of the restaurant and you discover a stunning volcanic crater which basks in glorious sunshine and provides shelter from the aforementioned breeze. On further inspection you notice the sunken warehouse next to the restaurant which houses several shiny stainless steel vessels and eureka, you’ve stumbled on lanzarotes first shoots of craft sprouting up from the volcanic landscape. This is Los Aljibes!

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On arrival we discovered that the front of house spoke no English, but no matter we had with us my pal Steve who has lived in Lanzarote for 6 years now and while he hasn’t dropped his Geordie twang, he has picked up a fair bit of Spanish. So after a quick chat with the waitress we deciphered that they had two beers on, a Helles and an American pale ale. I was keen to chat to the brewer but sadly he wasn’t in so the waitress was grilled via my Spanish speaking compadre. That quickly led to us being taken to the brewhouse door and let loose to wander about as she got back to looking after her customers! As respectable folk, we didn’t touch a thing but had a good nose at the equipment, which I would reckon on being a 2 and a half barrel system? More educated readers may be able to tell me. The brewery area did reveal a hopback and a bottling plant as well as sweet little swing top bottles which seemed to only contain the American pale ale for now at least.

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After a neb round the brewery we headed back to the sunshine and refreshment. We ordered three pints of helles and when it arrived it was brilliantly cold and crisp and very welcome. Light in colour, slight haze, brilliant white lasting head. First taste was biscuit, pilsner-esq, slight banana ester, good carbonation. Nice beer. Very Germanic.

Ive chatted with Steven for many years about beer. He’s a real beer fan and is himself a frustrated homebrewer. I say frustrated because he’s tried brewing on the island, but the price of delivery for the grains has gone through the roof making it not a realistic hobby to have. But interestingly the beers Ive had from him when he was able to get the malt, was all german sourced produce and had a very distinctive Germanic flavour. The hops are saaz-esq, the malts are all pilsner type malts and low and behold the end product is very german style in flavour. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In this Helles it was fully expected and seemed very appropriate for the style.

Next up we ordered a round of Aguita, their American pale ale. Here we go I thought, the one thing every hophead misses when you hop out of the country and to a hop wilderness where the beer contains no hops, is a pint of something cold, crisp and hopped to high hevaens to smack you round the chops like a tangoman face slap. My expectation was moderated by the realistic understanding that this was a new brewery, Steve guestimated that they’d been in place only a few months so to expect a top drawer refined cannonball competitor was probably abit of a stretch. However, that didn’t stop me from getting excited at the prospect.

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Our beers arrived. First thing I noticed was that it was darker in colour than I expected. More Landlord in colour than Sierra Nevada pale ale. It had a large off white head which didn’t dash away in the heat. First taste, initial hit of carbonation, thicker mouthfeel than the helles, stronger malt backbone, more bittering hops in the boil. I got a hint of wheat to the flavour, but aside from that Im afraid the flavour was all too similar to the Helles. Same Germanic malts, same Germanic hops.

Problem here was my expectation. I expected an American pale ale like the ones I drink regularly back home, this wasn’t of their ilk. Once you get over that however, forget about what style this beer is pertaining to be, and actually this is a very tasty pint indeed. Like I say strong malt backbone, real caramel biscuit sweetness which is countered by the hops so as not to be sickly. You find that by the time you reach the bottom of that first pint you’re enjoying it. You simply don’t get other beers on this island with quite such pronounced flavours so for that I applaud them.

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The Aguita is also available in bottles to take home so I took a couple home as a momento.

As visitors to Lanzarote soon realise, the vast majority of things in Lanzarote are imported at great cost. They are very isolated off the coast of Africa which gives great weather all year round but is no good for trade routes. So for any beer at all to be being brewed on the island is a minor miracle. There’s clearly a goal here to brew genuine artisan craft beers and while it’ll take time and commitment, the passion is there and these first beers are both of good quality. I will make sure I visit every time I head to the island and I would encourage any of you reading to head there if you’re on your hols and want a break from bland generic lager. The staff are all very welcoming and friendly and will take good care of you while you’re there. As I said earlier this is the first green shoot of craft on the island and I think we all want to nurture it and watch it bloom