Monthly Archives: October 2017

Socks, sandals and searching for bitterness….

My beer journey was on a very steady path. I was a fan of good quality cask. There were, at that time, a growth of new ‘microbreweries’ as we called them back then. I opted to join CAMRA as I was a fan of real ale. By that I mean I wasn’t a fan of lager, I wanted something with more flavour and if I’m honest I found the texture of cask beer far more to my liking.

Then the world turned. There was a point where beer growth gathered real momentum and in particular quality keg beer became more and more prominent. It soon became apparent that people would tend towards one type of dispense over the other. If I’m honest at this point the lure of hops grabbed me and challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and you know what, I loved it. I soon became obsessed by hops. The more vociferous the bitterness the better.

This rise in keg beer represented a problem for those loyal to a CAMRA past. Many of the members had spent so long fighting the cause of real ale, being a cask offering, that they weren’t able to give credit to the great many quality keg beers that were now on the scene. Add to that the fact that many of these drinkers weren’t drawn to that extreme bitter assault. So rightly they stood loyal by the cask offerings.

From my perspective, it felt like the new age modern take on beer, ie hop forward keg beers, we’re stepping away from the old fashioned image of the cask beer on offer. Style wise many of the branding at that time reflected that. Cask badges would have a heritage feel, trading off built up reputation and proud history. Keg fonts were far more an expression of modern art, bright colours and fashionable image references.

Objections were raised by those who were stereotyped as CAMRA members. New age drinkers didn’t really understand what their problem was with keg beer and conversely those people didn’t understand why anyone would consider non-cask beer to be better than cask.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become increasingly aware that the beery tectonic plates have shifted again. The style which has driven that is the New England IPA. All of a sudden west coast IPAs have been pushed out of the limelight. Breweries are overlooking them when choosing their line ups for significant beer festivals. Instead they have two or three (or more) of New England style IPAs or derivatives of.

And you know what? I’m left longing for the experience of that bitterness again. I fully appreciate that your palate develops and your tolerance to hop bitterness increases making that experience more and more difficult to achieve, but that doesn’t stop me seeking it.

And that’s another thing, my understanding of New England IPAs is not great. I’ve had many versions but a lot of those are UK breweries having a first stab at a New England style IPA, without sticking rigidly to the core parameters of what the original IPAs from New England were brewed to. So my opinion of the style is clouded by poor representations. But I’m not really in a position to be able to call out poor representations, as I’ve never actually tasted an original NE style IPA hailing from New England. The US breweries who have driven this style are small in size and their beer is highly desired. So they don’t reach these shores in great numbers. I imagine that the examples Cloudwater produce are true to the original style, but that’s as close to a reference point as I have.

And you know what’s worse, I almost feel like the beer scene has moved on from my tastes. I’ve become old fashioned, talking of the good old days when beer was bitter! I’ve become the equivalent of what I saw as blinkered opinions to keg beer way back when.

So what have I learned from that? I open my mind. I explore and embrace the new styles. That doesn’t mean that I’ll love anything which sticks NE style on the label. But I want to truly appreciate what the style is and experience the good examples. Only then will I truly be able to give an opinion as to whether the style suits me or not.

For what it’s worth I can see the NE IPA saturation point approaching. Good examples will last beyond the era of fashionable, and some other style will steal the limelight for a few years.


Craft Beer Calling: What to expect…

Tomorrow night marks the 2017 launch of the magnificent Craft Beer Calling and I cant wait to get inside.

So what’s so good about it?

IMG_3249Firstly, the setting. Before you even get inside you can’t help but be put at ease by the impressive Palace of Arts sat gently next to the lake with its swans and ducks in residence (Some info on the venue: Wylam Brewery: Palace of Arts). Wander through Exhibition Park, it’s a very relaxed approach which is fully carried through once you’re through the doors. The lay out is well organised, so you’ll have your tickets checked and you’ll receive your commemorative souvenir glass. Then you’re off to buy your tokens. I understand that there are two size of tokens available this year, but I’m sure it’ll all be pretty self-explanatory once you’re in there.

And then you can explore! Sneak peak of plans indicate that once again every corner of the Palace will be utilised to the fullest to house breweries from all corners of the world. There are two permanent bars in the main hall of the building which will be fully stocked, but also breweries themselves will have their own bars scattered around the building including through in the brewery itself. There’s a magical feeling to getting a beer served to you next to the shiny fermentation tank that it was once nurtured in!

imageAnd as for breweries, the mix is a good core of the breweries you’d expect/hope would be there, so think Magic Rock, Beavertown, Wild Beer and the likes, but also some more unusual/not as common breweries too. These are the gems, these are where the excitement comes in for me. My top tip, there will be many a high abv beer about but go and see Track Brewery for some of the best session beer being brewed in the UK right now, Sonoma is an absolute delight! They also have breweries from overseas, including Dry and Bitter from Denmark who are brewers of really high quality.

IMG_3203The biggest change in Craft Beer Calling last year was not only the move of venue, but also that the bars themselves are all staffed by people from the individual breweries. That’s massive for a geek like me, but also far better for the newby. The bar staff have a tie to the beer they’re serving.  If you’re alittle timid and abit confused by the language and terminology of modern beer, the idea of a beer festival could seem really intimidating, but with this approach, firstly there are loads of bars so you can always find one without a queue and also the knowledge of the staff serving is a massive aid to your enjoyment. They can and will take all the time you need with them to find out what you like and don’t like.  Don’t be afraid to ask them!

That’s where a festival works for breweries. Obviously it’s a sales point for them, but it’s also about connecting with the customer base in a more direct way than they normally would. Personally, I’ve always said that I am drawn more to breweries when I know the people behind them and not just the corporate brand. Here you can talk and pick the brains of the characters who help define the brewery and its culture. I have been to many festivals where I’ve not known a brewery beforehand but having met them I’m far more likely to try their beers afterwards. That reputation building and ongoing customer retention, even on a small scale, is very valuable for the breweries.

So get involved, get into conversations with people. The building will be full of people there to enjoy the banter and enjoy the beer. We’re a friendly bunch here on Tyneside and if you are coming from out of town you can expect a warm welcome.

I’ll be floating around too, if you see me, please do come and say hello!


Just as an interesting contrast, here’s my review of the first ever Craft Beer Calling, whilst so much has changed the core character of the event is very much the same: Craft Beer Calling review