Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

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Archive for March 2011

Has Chicago’s Goose flown the nest?

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The blogs will be busy tonight with the angst of those who think that Goose Island has sold its craft-brewed soul.

The Chicago brewer has released a statement saying it has sold control to Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, Bud Light and Stella and at times it seems like just about every other beer on the globe.

Goose Island’s founder John Hall and the creator of some fantastic beers is keeping his desk in the brewery and says the move will give the brewery the money to expand its production.

Hall doesn’t think move is the end of the world or a Faustian pact, but he is looking forward to spending $1.3 million on a new brewery. And says the brewery’s recipes will be sacrosanct.

In 2010, Goose Island sold approximately 127,000 barrels of Honkers Ale, 312 Urban Wheat Ale Matilda and its other brands.

The deal is no small beer as AB-InBev has paid $38.8 million in a two-stage sale for Goose Island. It paid $22.5 million for the 58 percent owned by Fulton Street Brewery. And it paid $16.3 million for the 42 percent stake owned by Craft Brewers Alliance.

Goose Island is no small backyard brewer. It hasn’t been for year. It is already a massive brand – and it might indeed have a craft brewed soul – but there comes a time when a company to continue to expand a business and develop new recipes has to look for investment from elsewhere. So what does it do?

Time will tell of course and already I have an image of “craft beer” fans shaking their heads and saying the beer isn’t what it used to be. However, I am certainly looking forward to my next bottle of Honkers Ale. Long may it continue.

Written by timhampson

March 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Duke’s Head, 8 Lower Richmond Road, SW15

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Great for watching the Thames flow by

Duke’s Head, 8 Lower Richmond Road, SW15

The front bar, of this smart, hard-working pub, has commanding views over the Thames and it would have heaving yesterday for the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race. It is said that the roar from the crowd, who have a grandstand view of the universities’ boathouses and the start of the race can be heard all the way up river at the finish in Mortlake. However, race fans will get a better view of the action from the terrace of the White Hart on Riverside SW13.

On a near perfect spring Sunday it is a glorious place to be. Younger drinkers particularly enjoy the back bar or the basement and it is said to be the place where many a young man takes his future wife on a first date. Because of its location it is busy pretty much all year around. On days like today drinkers stand out on to the footpath and even further across the street, until passing walkers, joggers and cyclists and customers become one big party.

Part of the pub’s charm and the reason why it can serve many people quickly is the large and elaborate bar. Island bars were very much a mid-Victorian innovation and owe their invention to the famous engineer Isambard Kingdon Brunel. Passengers travelling on Brunel’s Great Western Railway often faced a wait at Swindon, and the railway’s bar was too small to serve all the thirsty passengers at once before the train continued on its way. Brunel realised that an island bar maximised the available bar footage in relationship to the number of people waiting for a drink and the staff serving, meaning that more people could be served in the same time with lest frustration. The idea caught on and boosted the trend of the 1870s and 1880s for pubs to be divided into rooms and snugs. The pub still has much of its original ornate glass, polished woodwork and smart Victorian fireplaces.

The food is adventurous pub grub and includes good fillet steaks, braised pork belly and grilled fish and the pint of Wells & Young’s Bitter was just glorious.

Written by timhampson

March 27, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Beer comes the bride as I get the birthday blues

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I was really pleased when it was decided my birthday on 29 April was to be a national holiday. Quite right too, as everyone would be able join in on my celebrations. But I now find the day has been hijacked by Will & Kate. And even brewers have changed their minds on producing some celebratory brews and are producing royal wedding ales instead.

Castle Rock brewery in Nottingham is celebrating the marriage with a commemorative brew called Kiss Me Kate. It will be available on draught for a month in the run up to the wedding. A limited amount will be available in bottles for memento collectors and for laying aside to toast future royal events. Castle Rock’s head brewer Adrian Redgrove said it will be a great British beer full of British hops and barley. “Kiss Me Kate will be elegant, tasteful and British to the core,” he said.

Harvey’s is to mark the wedding with the tastes of Sussex. Its wedding brew uses malting barley, grown on the Duke of Norfolk’s estate in Arundel, hops from Bodiam, Burwash, Robertsbridge and Wadhurst and honey from Hassocks. Royal Nuptial Ale is described as “an ale for honeymooners – and all romantics – wherever they may be”. Head brewer, Miles Jenner said: “The inspiration for the beer came from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play is set amidst royal wedding celebrations and highlights the eternal hope of romance.”

Ascot Ales is getting its Royal IPA on time to all Nicholson’s London pubs. Brewer, Chris Gill said: “As we are named after the royal town of Ascot, we had to brew a wedding ale. Royal IPA is a refreshing copper pale ale at 4.6 per cent ABV with a soft hoppy nose. Brewed using malted barley and full flower hops Sovereign and Pioneer from the UK it’s the perfect, quaffable celebration ale to toast the happy couple.” A limited edition bottle conditioned version will also be available.

The Wold Top Brewery, in East Yorkshire has created a special wedding ale called I Will. Brewer Tom Mellor said: “It’s a great beer to help celebrate the Royal wedding and afterwards, we can also offer it to brides and grooms a bit closer to home.” The ale is brewed using wheat and cara malt, Goldings and Styrian hops, Wold-grown barley and chalk-filtered water from the brewery’s own borehole.

Beer comes the bride says a Staffordshire brewer as it raises a glass to the Royal wedding with its William Wins-Her special ale. Quartz appealed for a wedding inspired name for the beer on its Facebook and Twitter pages. Quartz master brewer Julia Barnett said the winning entry was chosen because it immediately stood out from other entries due to its originality. “It was a really tough decision to choose the winning name as we had some fantastic suggestions from both Facebook and Twitter,” she said.

Windsor and Eton Brewery, the closest brewery to Windsor Castle, has revealed plans for its own commemorative brew. Brewer Paddy Johnson said: “Yes we’ll be doing a wedding beer but we haven’t got our act together yet on final details.”

To celebrate the day St Austell in Cornwall is relabeling Admiral’s Ale in commemorative bottles as Wedding Ale.

And Adnams in Suffolk has confirmed it will produce a wedding brew too, but has yet to finalise the details.

Wychwood is planning some alternative wedding magic of its own on 29 April. The Witney brewer is offering one couple a wedding feast to remember at its alternative wedding of the year. The day includes a procession from the brewery, to the nearby 5th century Old Swan & Minster Mill, a blessing in a woodland temple and a wedding breakfast of hog roast. The couple will toast their celebration with Hobgoblin, a beer first brewed in the 1980s to celebrate the wedding of an Oxfordshire landlord’s daughter.

Written by timhampson

March 25, 2011 at 11:41 am

Posted in ale, Royal wedding, wine

Budget flies in the face of facts

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Unless something changes George Osborne will put beer tax up again next year - inflation plus two per cent

In truth the rise in excise duty on beer come as no surprise. But that doesn’t stop it being a blow that will hurt some pubs and beer drinkers.

The harsh reality is that the average duty and VAT on a pub pint with now exceed £1. Beer tax has now been increased since 2008 by two successive Governments by over a third. The Prime Minister has promised a “pub friendly Government” with the pub at the heart of the Big Society.

Brewers and pubs are the kind of businesses this government says it wants to see prosper – they create jobs for local people and contribute to the local and wider British economy by using home-grown ingredients. Yet the current beer taxation regime is killing off the route to market for most brewers – the pub.

The simple pleasure of sharing a beer with friends is being taxed out of existence. The treasury loses, brewing loses, pubs close.

The harsh fact is that unless the Treasury changes it course – in 12 months times the tax on beer will once again increase by the rate of inflation plus two per cent.

The duty escalator moves inexorably on – and it is ever upward.

Written by timhampson

March 24, 2011 at 10:05 am

Posted in duty escalator

It’s time for the Budget to give beer a break

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Even if Chancellor George Osborne says not one word about beer tax in the Budget the price of a pint will go up.

Because of a pernicious tax ruse called the “escalator” there will be an automatic increase of seven per cent in beer duty. This comprises an inflation increase plus two per cent.

The raising of beer duty year on year in the form of the beer duty escalator is a lazy and thoughtless policy. Like it or not the government must face two stark facts – increase beer tax and tax revenues will fall and more pubs will close putting people out of work.

Freezing duty could generate up to £40 million in extra tax revenues say the enormous brains of researchers at Oxford Economics, which should be good news for everyone.

The British Beer and Pub Association www.beerandpubjobs.co.uk has undertaken an excellent survey of Parliamentary constituencies and the impact the beer and pub industry has at a local level.

I recommend everyone check out their own constituency. The Oxford West and Abingdon page shows that just in this area the 70 pubs pub employ 1,566 people, pay £23 million in wages and contribute £35 million to the local economy (something called gross value added) and there is one brewery.

If beer tax goes up, jobs will go, pubs will close and many communities will be immeasurably damaged not just economically but socially.

Come on politicians its time for a people’s budget which gives a lifeline to the place most of us socialise in – the pub.

Written by timhampson

March 23, 2011 at 9:22 am

The saison of the of the Welsh

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To parody the singer-songwriter Donovan it’s the Saison of the Welsh. Adrian Tierney Jones http://maltworms.blogspot.com/ is one the best of the current beer writers, who differentiates himself by consistently looking for new ways to describe beer and bring the suds to a new appreciative audience. While most of us are still grappling with largely useless terms like malty and hoppy, Adrian is developing a new and exciting lexicology to describe beers.

He is also has a very acute and discerning palate. Well those good guys over at Otley Brewery http://www.otleybrewing.co.uk know a thing or two about  style and they asked Adrian to put his taste expertise where his is reputation is and create his own beer. Adrian is well known for bending people’s ears about saisons. So he set himself the task of creating his own dark saison.

Saisons are linked more by culture than a specific style. They hail from farm houses in Wallonia in Belgium. A saison was the beer brewed by people for their own consumption. It perhaps has some similarities with biere de garde from France. It was a spring time, summer beer, intended to be refreshing, thirst quencher, which provided energy and was robust enough to prosper on warm days. The style had all but died out – but thanks to the creativity of American “craft” brewers the style has seen a small resurgence in recent years.

But now Wales can say it too has it own saison. A bit like Trappsit beers, anything goes with a saison – some contain herbs and spices, others use candied sugar as a fermentable material, but they all share mouthfuls of flavour which might come from the use of an ale yeast. And then there are hops, flavoursome noble hops such as styrian or goldings. Add to this some acidity for a slightly soured taste and you might get the idea.

The result is big and complex – wider than found in most beers and a balanced complexity of tastes and flavours that should inspire even the most jaded drinker’s palate. And it should be refreshing, crisp, dry, yet have a spicy, fruity complexity.

I was privileged to sit in on the first tasting of Adrian’s as yet unnamed dark saison. So there I was in the marvellous Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd, sitting with Nick Otley and Adrian, doing what comes naturally – drinking beer and having an articulate conversation about flavour profiles, ingredients and food pairings.

And like all good saisons Adrian’s as yet unnamed beer has a long memorable, finish and not the short ending one can expect from too many beers. It was a slightly tart, sharp, spiky beer with an acidic sourness. Zesty and refreshing it was in wonderful condition. The colour was reddish brown not black. It was a fresh, refreshing and multifaceted beer full of spice and fruit.

I didn’t detect kiwi, passion or pomegranate fruit flavours, others with better palates than mine can try and do that.

So if you are in London on 25 March the saison of the Welsh could be coming to a pub near you.

Adrian Tierney Jones and Nick Otley will be tasting the dark saison – with as yet no name on 25 March at various locations in London

3pm – White Horse, Parsons Green.

5pm – Cask Pub and Kitchen, Pimlico.

7pm – Rake, Borough Market.

9pm – Southampton Arms, Islington.

Written by timhampson

March 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm