#12beersofxmas day 2 Buxton/Omnipollo Rocky Road Ice Cream

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Let’s face it, if anyone had said to me 5 years ago that I’d be sat here drinking rocky road ice cream flavoured beer Id have called them crazy. Yet here I am.

A collab between Omnipollo, Omni meaning ‘one’, pollo meaning ‘goal to make the best, most bonkers beer on the planet’. Sorry what? Is my google translate playing up again?  That’s what that name translates to me anyway.

Married with Buxton, now Buxton continuously bring out consistently amazing beers. Seriously, tell me one of their beers which isn’t amazing. There you go, you can’t.

So putting the two together can only bring great things. Yellow Belly has already proven their quality in collaborating. I’ve had the original vanilla ice cream pale a couple of times and it’s genuinely amazing on keg. I was a little less fussed on the bottles but I guess part of the ice creaminess is the mouthfeel which I didn’t feel had the same quality from the bottle.

Enough about that though, this is a different beast. Aroma is boozy marshmallows, sweet and almost sickly.  But then on first taste the flavours are more balanced.  It’s sweet, oh yes it sweet but then so would a slice of rocky road be! The marshmallow flavours are there, there’s an abundance of chocolate too. Creamy dairy milk not cheap cooking chocolate.  Ooo yes I likey!

 

 

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#12beersofxmas Day 1 – Hardknott Rhetoric edition 4.1

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Here’s a beer that I’ve been very interested to try.  Hardknott are a very good brewery, often forgotten about.  I think what’s drawn me to them over the years are the very open and honest blogs from @hardknottdave giving some fascinating background to the beers that I’m drinking.  That goes a long way for me.

So to the beer.  On cracking the cap, very little ‘pfft’…. on pour, it’s clearly thick, using a spoon to scrape the beer out the bottle!

Oh my that smells good. Incredible chocolate aroma with booze soaked dried juicy sultanas and raisins enticing me to take a sip.

Oh and that first sip doesn’t disappoint. It’s everything the pour and aroma hinted at, but more so!  I’m in a crushed velvet suit, smooth on my skin, toasty warm and cosy. It’s got me planted on the sofa, heart warming glow, feeling all festive and full of Christmas spirit. Tonight would have been a good night for a charitable door knock (thankfully there have been none).

The beer is complex. This has been in the shed for months so is served quite cold which made the lovely initial chocolate flavours prominent. Now that it’s warming there’s more edge to it.  Chocolate and juicy raisins remain in the flavour but the beer warming gives more bitterness to the chocolate, it feels earthy and rounded.

The boozy edge grows too. Proud and unashamed. Fine by me, this isn’t an easy sessionable beer, it’s a full body deep tissue massage, leaving me feeling challenged and energised as a result. You take your time with a beer like this.  Savoured!

Cant wait for tomorrow’s beer now!!!!

 

 

 

Stags and the art of the train beer

What is it about trains?  A couple of years ago through some very random circumstances I found myself having to travel up to the Isle of Skye at a days notice.  Now a journey of that magnitude needs careful consideration!  I looked at all sorts of options to cover the ground, but in the end decided the best option was to get a train to Edinburgh, another train to Inverness and a final train all the way to the lovely little village of Kyle of Lockalsh which is a gateway to the Isle of Skye.

Now the whole journey took well over 8 hours, but any of you who’ve travelled north or Newcastle on the train, you’ll know that its one of the prettiest train routes you’ll ever see.  First part was motoring past the Northumberland coastline taking in Lindisfarne, the colourful houses in Alnmouth, Bamburgh castle and the many stunning golden beaches in between.  Granted it was February when I made the journey so it was bloomin’ cold outside, but on a nice warm train, on a crisp sunny winters day, believe me, this journey was a delight.

I left Newcastle at about 8 o’clock in the morning, reached Edinburgh by half nine, was in Inverness at lunchtime and finally reached Kyle of Lochalsh by mid afternoon.

I find train travel very relaxing.  OK so it’s not always relaxing.  If you have to rely on it and the service lets you down then I can well understand that stress levels rocket!  But in the main my train journeys are pretty dependable and sporadic enough to not be consistently expecting them to be on time!

But on this particular journey, I had a 20 minute change between trains in Inverness, and given the time I figured I’d nip out and grab some lunch to eat on the remainder of the journey.  Train stations being train stations, there was an M&S very handy.  So I grabbed a few edibles to pick at, and scooped up a couple of bottles of M&S beer.  This was in the days when they only sold their own stuff, so I got two from the single hop range, including their derivative of Oakham Citra. 

That final stretch of the journey was the very epitome of what a train beer is all about.  As the almost empty two carriage train meandered through the highland countryside, along the edge of lochs, passing stunning heather patches and rolling moorland, we came upon a section with an open hillside no more than 500m away, the train slowed to stop at a small simple station platform and in the distance a stunningly regal stag stood up, looked at the train, sniffed the air and then got back to eating the foliage.

Throughout all this, I sat with my train picnic, a pork pie, scotch egg, some cheese, crackers, chutney and a packet of crisps, and I supped my way through a few beers. Loving the moments, loving the view and loving the enjoyment that the beer brought to enhance that journey.  Now I know there are better beers, and I’m pretty sure there are better trains, but for me that journey was majestic!  I imagine it was those wonderful citra hops that the stag was sniffing out!

img_4629And that’s what I seek in a train beer.  The good thing with train travel is that you don’t have actions to take, you simply climb aboard and relax.  And I think that aim to relax for many people is enhanced by a good train beer.  It can’t be any coincidence (ok maybe it is) that Marks & Spencer have become a train beer provider of choice, if it was a deliberate business plan (I know the food supply was and maybe the beer supply has piggy backed on that, but hey ho, indulge me a little), but having a broader range of beers available in train stations has been a real boost to the train beer community!

The availability of cans helps.  I was always conscious that the image of cracking open a bottle when sat alone on the train looks like you mean business with your drinking.  Cans nit so much, mainly because a can appears more suited to travelling, it opens with its own mechanism for starters, you don’t need an additional opener.  Obviously there’s a weight issue too, no not what the calories will add to your waistline, I mean carrying cans is far lighter than carrying bottles ergo much more suited to travel with.

img_4628But above all else, I often feel a tinge of guilty pleasure to a train beer.  For me it still feels like a recent phenomenon and I always imagine those around me would be surprised if they knew what I was drinking.  I say that because I am happy to carry any beer as a train beer.  One of my favourite was after a stressful 24 hours working in Edinburgh, I found a bottle of Brewdog Born to Die which was delicious, but swigging from a big bomber on a busy train felt abit odd!  Another example was when I had Cloudwater DIPA’s (believe it was versions 6&7), on a train so packed that I had my case on the floor between my legs and literally had no space what so ever.  It didn’t stop me cracking them open, I even took a tulip glass to make the most of them.  Again, the traveller in the seat beside me was abit taken aback by it but for me, it was a tremendous use of my time!

I would encourage you to welcome train beers.  However, I have been on the early train to Leeds on a workday, full of suited commuters and had a suited man sit next to me with an accompanying aged sweat aroma (*shudders*), who proceeded to crack open a can of Carling for the journey, at 7 o’clock in the morning.  Obviously this kind of train beer is associated with bigger problems and I quote it as an extreme, but I did imagine that some people’s judgement of me swigging from a big bomber bottle of Born to Die, will be tainted in a similar way to how I felt about seeing this gentleman and his Carling. 

img_4630Maybe its that acting against convention that adds to the appeal.  I often wonder how many people in the carriage around me recognise the beers that I’m drinking.  My instinct is none of them, which makes it feel all the more like it’s my little secret.  If they only knew how good this beer was, but all they will see is a man drinking beer and assume the same level as that man with his can of Carling.

That said, I think if you acted based on the potential judgement of others you’d barely do a thing.  Life’s not about doing the things people won’t react to, it’s about the experiences you give yourself.  And that Citra in the highlands with that regal stag is one of the greatest beers I’ve ever had.

#BigBeeryNight16

There’s little in the world without those around us and Im sure a great many of you know or have known someone who was battling cancer. I think its one of the most feared words. As a youngster I was aware of it, but didn’t really appreciate what it meant, the media would often refer to negative issues as being ‘a cancer on society’. I fully understood that it was a negative thing but didn’t realise just how negative. Im now at an age where I do understand. Ive seen the physically exhausting battles that people go through to try and fight it, Ive seen the cruel aftermath that it can leave on a family when one of their own is taken from them, Ive seen the life changing impact which even a short and successful battle can have.

Im very much a people person. I cope with challenges in my life by gaining support from those around me. My life is enriched by the daily interactions with the people who make up the fabric that the tapestry of my life is played out on. For me, Im starting to see the people who have given me that support, are starting to be taken from us, with cancer being by far the most common reason.

There have been some brilliant scientific breakthroughs in recent years and in this country we have some of our best scientific minds dedicating their entire careers to battling cancer. Here in the North East we have within the Centre for Life some of the most focussed research going on anywhere across the globe. The work done within those four walls may one day prove to be the catalyst for humanity to battle back and overcome the odds.

But they need our support. Without funding these people cannot continue to push the boundaries of our knowledge.

This is a big beery week for me, I’ve got a lot of interesting things bubbling which will come together this week. But the pinnacle is building up to this coming Friday, which is #BigBeeryNight. Now this is in the main a twitter event. On the night there will be some spectacular packages made available for auction. And by auction I mean it’s going to be an on line bidding system, live on the night, via twitter, to the highest bidder the spoils! And when I say spectacular, in many instances we’re talking items which money simply cannot buy, bespoke pieces, brewery packages, world class beers. If you have any interest in beers, these are the prizes you want to be following. I would suggest that in beer terms, there is no greater auction anywhere in the world.

And what better way to raise money than to simply connect as a beer community. All we ask is that you sit down, crack open a beer or two and follow the action online. The idea of the night is to donate the value of the beer you’re drinking, so dig deep and enjoy a few beers and raise money for an incredible cause!

Full details are here: http://bigbeerynight.co.uk/

Filling the Indyman void.

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Certainly the highlight of 2015 for me was the Saturday daytime session at Indyman. So many beery folk to talk to, so many great characters to trade stories with. It’s a place that really makes you feel at home. It’s credit to the friendliness of the industry and the consumers that the cold walls of the Victorian baths become a warm cosy place to be.

But there’s a sadness in me. As much I would love to be there, I simply can’t make it this year. And it’ll kill me to hear about everything going on there and hearing about all the amazing beers being consumed (will this year see a record number of double IPA’s I wonder?!).

The world has a habit of lifting you from low ebbs though. And my wife and I have determined that we’re gonna have a day out on Saturday anyway, and I while away on holiday last week I got a lil message from my favourite bottle shop. That message asked me if I would like to come along to the grand launch of their new tasting room!

Now this is a big deal for Coppers of Gosforth. If you’ve ever been in on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon you’ll know the beer bunker can be a busy ol place! It’s such a cool place to hang out and chat beer with fellow enthusiasts. And the list of enthusiasts very much includes the staff. They’re all passionate about their beer and well informed too.

The overriding sense with Coppers though is that there is a community around it which they have developed. That’s what will make it a great place to go and hang out in. It’s very much the same embracing atmosphere that will make Indyman a fantastic event again this year.

For me though, I may not be going to Indyman but I feel as if in going to the next best thing.

Can’t wait to see the place!

Manchester, hype, hype, hype. Manchester, hype, hype, hype.

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. The pinnacle of the current scene. Never before have such a blend of ingredients come together to create this! I’m sooo excited, everyone’s full of excitement, we’ve all been talking about this day for weeks, months, ok not quite years but it’s felt like it! Ever since the schedule was drawn up and the media made known what elements were going in the mix, there have been many many folk salivating at the prospect of what’s to come. Well it’s finally here, the big reveal, the grand launch, time for kick off!!!!

Yeah so today’s Manchester Derby is quoted as the most expensive game of football ever assembled. Sky sports have been whipping up a storm for weeks. Guardiola v Mourinho, Imbrahimavic v Guardiola, Manchester city v Manchester United, there is no game with greater sub-text and more narrative than this one. The fact that it’ll probably be a tentative cagey affair that’ll end 0-0 doesn’t matter in the build up.

That’s hype. That’s where a commercial enterprise is taking a product to the masses and building it up to be near nirvana in an effort to sell and attract customers.

In contrast, in a small corner of Manchester tucked away from it all is Cloudwater. Now I have heard a few interviews recently with Paul Jones and in each and every case he’s asked about hype. I can really sense that the term is becoming a real frustration to him.

It’s become such a dirty word in the modern beer scene. But actually, in contrast to the way others promote their products I think beer is the least hyped industry out there!

I had originally wanted to get to the crux of what constitutes hype. Which elements are perceived to be hype and which elements are perceived to be negative traits. But actually, who cares.

My wife said to me that for her where hype is a negative is when the product doesn’t live up to expectation. Oversell and under-deliver. Isn’t that the same in every walk of life. Craft beer isn’t heavily promoted by individual breweries. It’s far more organic than that. And if I’m honest as a consumer I would say Cloudwater are the least likely brewery to under-deliver.

I’m sure there are many breweries who do under-deliver but they ultimately won’t survive as commercial enterprises.

So for me, it’s hype schmype….. Don’t let that word become an albatross.

North East Beer Scene: Almasty Brewing Co

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I’ve spoken many times about wanting to raise awareness about the North East beer scene and this year it’s my mission to raise the profile of the breweries which are creating the fantastic beer scene here on Tyneside. So to kick it off in style, here’s my profile of Almasty Brewing Co, enjoy!

Out of a pretty innocuous lock up, tucked away on an industrial estate, great things are coming…

As you wind your way into Algernon industrial estate, you pass many industrial units all of which have the same uniform, low key facades, very much functional and expressionless, but as you turn the final corner an Almasty lurks. You may not see it yet, but it’s there….

Filled with images of mysterious misty forests, Almasty brewery has created a brand around the tag line “ale exploration”. This isn’t human exploration, its nature exploring its own back yard. There is a down to earth, connected to its own habitat, natural and organic development to the Almasty brand. Almasty is an old Russian term for a Big Foot or sasquatch. And this is a powerful beast, who lives in the shadows, perfectly suited to its environment. It’s elusive and mysterious, it’s much talked about but rarely seen. And when it does raise its head, its big news, it captures the public’s interest. It draws in officiandos from all over to come and investigate the sighting. The fascination is only strengthened by the mystery that surrounds it. Hopefully I won’t ruin the allure by telling you alittle bit about our Almasty, the brewery!

imageHere is a brewery which recently celebrated its 2nd birthday, and yet it’s a brewery which has been in the making for far longer than that. The Owner/Head Brewer/Tsar (OK OK I get it, that’s enough of the Russian references) Mark McGarry has a strong track record brewing for some of the region’s best known breweries. Somewhat inevitable that one day he was to take the step to open his own brewery.  Your own brewery allows your own ideas to flourish that bit more and he’s taken the lessons he’s learned from his past and is brewing beers of impeccable quality. There is no core range. There are some pretty consistent styles but they are subtly varied to explore different nuances in the style, which keeps things interesting for the brewer and interesting for the consumer too. His IPA for example is delicious, whichever Mk you try. They each bear the hallmark of Almasty quality and yet the ingredients used will vary from Mk to Mk. The variations are openly noted for all to see, it’s not simply badged up as IPA its MK I, MK II, MK III and so on etc etc so for us consumers we can see the variations and how the beers evolve as Mark works around with them. The other style which I personally particularly enjoy are his stouts.

I have to admit, there has been a recent demand for what I see as American sweet imperial stouts. Thinking of Buxton’s Yellow Belly & Oscar Blues Ten Fidy being two examples of this. I liked these beers, but didn’t love them, experience dominated abit too much by the sweetness for me. My personal preference is the bitter, bold roast coffee, espresso of a stout rather than anything overly sweet. What struck me early on about Almasty is that Mark brews stouts exactly how I like them. I love that in this day and age there are such a broad range of imperial stouts, it’s a reflection of the current market place as a whole.

Mark had an Almasty Brewing Co bar at Indyman last year and I was lucky enough to sample the imperial stout he was serving that day, he also had a cherry version on and both beers were deliciously smooth, deliciously luxurious, with a big bold mouthfeel and well balanced roasted coffee/chocolate notes and it felt very satisfying to drink.

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Recently, I was able to get myself along to Newcastle Beer Festival where the biggest draw for many was the Almasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Again, this was delicious, but felt bigger, more rounded and the bourbon in it warmed the cavities of your nose and kept the cold out. Delicious beer. But what I hadn’t appreciated was that this was infact the same beer that I had sampled at Indyman. It was freshly brewed for Indyman with some of it set to one side and barrel aged in various barrels to experiment with different flavours. Fascinating to see how the barrel aging process had changed the beer. It’s not just a case of the beer taking on the flavours from the wooden barrels, the beer itself changes over time too. So its smoother and different flavours come to the fore.

There are further barrel aged versions to come aswell, so keep your eyes peeled for those! Mark is very much an experimenter with beer. He has solid brewing experience and applies quality workmanship to his product, which allows him to experiment with less risk. He is more likely to produce something good when he has a sound knowledge and yoda style foresight to see what each adjustment will do to the ultimate beer. He recently produced an Irn Bru sour for the Newcastle Brewdog bar’s birthday celebrations. And I’m told it was a cracking beer. But a real step away from the norm, there is no norm for Mark, the norm is experimenting with beer and his ability makes each beer appear effortless.

I often get asked to pick out beer for people to try and my golden rule is if you see Almasty, drink Almasty, such is my regard for the beers. At many smaller beer festivals I go to its noticeable that hop forward beers usually served on keg, aren’t always able to translate that quality into a cask offering where there is no chiller. Almasty is one brewery that I know the IPA’s and Pale Ales do translate well. They have an overall quality to them which adapts well. And it’s noticeable that you see a lot of cask Almasty beers around the pubs and clubs.  I have heard a few brewers, most noticeably Buxton Brewery, dropping their cask offering to all but their own tap house. Without getting too drawn into the reasons for that, I think it’s great to see breweries still developing great cask beer. I’m not blinkered enough to say keg is best, while I mainly drink keg I love a good quality cask beer. The trouble is cask beer is prone to being poorly kept which ruins the drinker’s perception of all cask beers and also the perception of the brewery itself. But that’s an argument for another time.

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So what of the beers. With the beers not being widely bottled, I took it upon myself to get out and about into the pubs and clubs of Newcastle and sample the beers on draught.

Mk 7 IPA

Here is the flagship IPA range in all its glory. Almasty is a brewery as dedicated to cask as it is to kegged beer. I had this from cask in the Free Trade Inn and it’s an incredible beer. It leaves you with that feel good aura like you’ve just given blood. Order a pint, prepare for the big bold hop assault and follow it with some sweet biscuit malts to balance it all out. Delicious!

APA Classic American pale ale.

At 5% this packs a punch, delicious piney grapefruit and sweet mangos all blended together wonderfully. This is a real refreshing, sessionable beer. In a time when there are a million pale ales on the market its difficult to stand out, but this genuinely does. That’s testament to the quality of the beer, the quality of the brewer and the quality of the full package.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

imageMark was incredibly kind to provide us with some bottles of this to review on the Beer O’Clock Show and what a beer!  Here is a beast of a beer. I think it’s the hedonist in me that has a love of good quality high abv beers. I’m not a lover of abv for abv sake, the art of a high abv beer is usually to mask the alcohol burn. However, when you barrel age a beer in bourbon barrels you kinda want that bourbon to be prominent in the flavour or else the type of barrel used becomes irrelevant. I also see with all beers that setting is key. For me an imperial stout is the perfect nightcap. I like a big thick boozy imperial stout and to sit and slowly sup infront of an open fire.

Almasty is a key brewery to watch out for. Seriously high level of expertise employed here and the more Mark experiments the greater his beers will become. And to reiterate, if you see Almasty, you should drink Almasty. You can thank me later.

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