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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

Sometimes they just ask the wrong question.

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So when was the first beer brewed?

“So who knows when the first beer was brewed?”

I’m not sure if our guide Eva Kočková at the Pilsner Brewery museum knew who she was asking. I was in the company of three of the country‘s best beer writers – Peter Brown, Mark Dredge and Adrian Tierney Jones. Beer writers are a bit like economists – get three together and you will have at least four different opinions.

The craft of brewing is as old as civilization. Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, some people discontinued their nomadic hunting and gathering and settled down to farm. Grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process.

Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, some historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. Here, the oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians or Mesopotamia as Eva told us.

However there is some evidence from  China which shows brewing took place more than 8,000 years ago. And in South America there is evidence of some early civilisations, pre-Columbus, making a fermented drink made from corn. In truth we will never know, but it seems fair to assume that brewing like the use of fire could have developed almost simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Na Parkane, a good place to enjoy a beer and some dumplings

The excellent Pilsen Brewery Museum is housed in an old 15th century maltings, one of the many which were once found in this brewing town. It includes a gothic malt house, a mock-up of the laboratory used by the man credited with developing Pilsner style beers Josef Groll and on the remains of the city walls outside, which kept enemies at bay for centuries, there are small plots of barley and hops.

It really is a pleasant place to wile away an hour or so.

On special days actors create scenes from Pilsens beery history, including the improbable tale of the ale connor – a myth which too can be found in many British accounts of the history of beer. According to legend, the quality of beer was judged by the stickiness of beer and whether the ale connor’s leather breeches stuck to a beer soaked bench. The more the trousers stuck, the better the beer. Well it is a good story.

Hard hats are a necessity for the undergound tour

Underneath, a separate tour, for which hard hats are obligatory winds through a 800m labyrinth of narrow tunnels, linking streets and houses. Hewn from the soft sandstone the first tunnels date from 1290.Here can be seen some of the 360 original wells from which brewers drew water to make beer. The temperature is 7’C perfect for lagering. Here too, the citizens sought refuge when the town was under siege.

Josef Groll's laboratory is recreated in the museum

And to end the tour, what could be better than to visit the adjacent Na Parkene pub for a glass of dark, unfiltered beer, and of course some dumplings. Potato or bread?


Join the search for the Welsh John Barleycorn as Hay on Wye become Beer on Wye

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The town of Hay on Wye on the English and Welsh border is world renowned for its literary festival. But now it is having a rival ale and beer books weekend – 24-26 September – at Kilvert’s pub in Bear Street.

Organiser Ed Davies says he has arranged for some of the country’s best beer writers to come and talk about their work.

Hops and Glory author and beer writer of the year Pete Brown will describe his three month journey from Burton Trent to India in the company of a cask of IPA.

You get two pints for the price one when Adrian Tierney-Jones (1001 Beer You must Try Before you Die) and myself (The Beer Book) debate which are best – ales from North Wales or the South.

Melissa Cole will take the “beard out of beer” and lead a tasting for the ladies and a beer and food matching. And if all of this is not enough, Zak Avery, author of 500 Beers, will describe some of his favourite brews.

From the Wye Valley Brewery Peter and Vernon Amor (brewers of Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout) will be giving readings from the Dorothy Goodbody stories and Breconshire Brewery’s head brewer Buster Grant will talk about the future of beer in the Principality.

Should you tire of the beer, there will be talks and readings by several local authors and poets. And if you want something that goes with a bang the Sealed Knot’s Hay Garrison will be firing their muskets. More than 50 different Welsh ales will be available at the festival.

Tweet it, blog it, tell people about it. Go to www.thehaybrewery.co.uk/festival for more information.