Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for the ‘bitter’ Category

Some beers are so good on first sip that “wow” is the only acceptable description. Windsor & Eton’s Black IPA. It’s a cracker. WOW

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My day had started early, when as I was leaving to take my dogs for a walk and I find a Range Rover was parked across my drive and some strange guy was standing with two bottles of beer in hand. “Here, I have bought you these to try”, says the driver. As Ry Cooder would say “It’s a strange world.”

But, after a long day of news writing the contents of one of the bottles was the perfect end to the day,

Conqueror – it is an awesome brew. It has a fabulous nose. But what gives it that and what is it hopped with? I get a floral, fruity taste from it – what gives it that? The conditioning is fantastic. What yeast is the brewer using? And what is a Black IPA?

Well let Paddy Johnson the brewer, who it turned out was my mysterious visitor at the start of the day tell his own story.

“In the tradition  of a Black IPA it’s brewed mainly with Cascade but also Summit. The yeast was recommended by fellow brewer’s within London Brewer’s Alliance for this type of beer. It is a American yeast known for its cleanness which we want with such a rich beer.

“Black IPA is a relatively new style developed in particular by the Craft Brewers of the US. Those of us daft enough to go for it are trying to produce a beer that is still fundamentally an IPA in strength, dryness, bitterness and hop aroma but with a full roasted malt character that still leaves the beer very drinkable.”

“This is a cask beer that we launched just two weeks ago. So proud of it we got our friends at Kernel brewery to bottles with us one Kilderkin so we could give friends a taste if they couldn’t get to a pub.”

Paddy says it is always likely to be a specialist beer. Having said that sales are taking off and the Bree Louise at Euston is stocking it.

This beer’s name Conqueror was chosen by the brewery’s 2,000 FaceBook fans. It uses five different specialist malts and is hopped at three completely different parts of the process to achieve its full hoppy character.

If you see it try it.

www.webrew.co.uk

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Written by timhampson

November 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Oh to be in Manchester on a Twissup

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So where would I like to be today? Manchester.

The Olde Wellington was moved to its current site on giant wheels

A group of beer writers who are tweeters, well I suppose I can call myself a tweeter now. The old boundaries between the paper and electronic mediums have collapsed like the Berlin Wall did in November 1989. We are all communicators now.

The Twissup group is going to Manchester today and then on to Huddersfield. I am afraid, I cannot spare the time, horses need to be fed and a daughter is returning from Argentina where she has been a contestant on Total Wipeout and I need to pick her up from the airport.

When I was filming for a television programme about 18 months ago, a cock-up by the production team meant a 24 hour trip to Manchester resulted in a four day stay. It gave me a great opportunity to experience just some of the city’s great bars and pubs.

The ornate tiling is a delight

I sure those on the Twissup don’t need my advice on pubs to go to, but some of my personal favourites in Manchester city’s centre which I would love to visit again include the Marble Arch, on the Rochdale Road. A marvellous classic tiled Victorian gem which sells beers from the fantastic Marble brewery. It also does good food. I’ve yet to visit the new Marble brewery, but it is on my wish list of places to go to.

The Old Wellington, Cathedral Gates, is worth it just to enjoy its architecture. It is a 16th century building, which was somehow shifted on giant wheels during a redevelopment to its current location. It serves good Jennings too. Close to the main shops it can get very crowded at lunchtime.

The Britons Protection is a muddle of marvelous bars and corridors

The Micro bar, Unit FC16, Manchester Arndale, High Street, is home to the Boggart brewery and if as many people go on the Twissup as predicted it will soon fill up. It does some good guest beers.

There is a triangle of pubs where it is great to lose an hour or two. Within shouting distance are the Britons Protection, Rain Bar and Peveril of Peak. The Britons Protection, 50 Great Bridgewater Street, is a marvellous collection of small bars and corridors. The Rain bar, 80 Great Bridgewater Street is owned by J W lees. When it first opened in 1999 in a former Victorian warehouse on the Rochdale canal, it was a great example of showing that real ale can be served to a new audience in stylish surroundings and it is still bringing new people to good beer. The Peveril of Peak, 127 Great Bridgewater Street, is worth a visit just to enjoy its exquisite tiled exterior.

The Jolly Angler, 47 Dickie Street, a back street pub, it is a slightly old fashioned place, and one that is now a rarity. The Hydes Original Bitter might be seen as a retro beer, but when it is good it is very good.

Rain's bought real ale to a new audience

Knott, 374 Deansgate, there is something for everyone in this bar. It is a great place to meet up with friends, have a beer and then a second before deciding what to do next.

I’m dying to know where the Twissups goes, I’m sure they’ll find different places to drink which will equal and even better my personal choices. Manchester is that type of place.

Written by timhampson

October 23, 2010 at 6:57 am

An old friend returns

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Courage Directors - "actually it's really rather good".

One of the best things about old friends, is that sometimes you don’t see them for years, but when you do meet you immediately feel comfortable in each others company. There doesn’t even have to be lot conversation, you just enjoy the other’s presence.

So it is with Courage Directors. Once the beer was one of the strutting stags of British brewing and stood tall alongside great English ales like Bass and Pedigree. This was in a time when drinkers did not have the lavish choice of style and beers now compete for our attention.

A traditional dark bitter, at 4.8 per cent ABV, it was first brewed (I think) at Alton in Hampshire and so the legend has it was brewed exclusively for the company’s top brass, and not for public sale. For many year’s it was brewed in Courage’s famed ale brewery in Bristol.

The story of the Courage mirrors the decline of the country’s old brewing companies, when takeovers, poor marketing and bad business decisions saw the disappearance of many household names.

Courage & Co was started by John Courage at the Anchor Brewhouse in Horselydown, Bermondsey in 1787. Skipping a couple of centuries, in 1955, the company merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd to become Courage, Barclay & Co. Only five years later, another merger with the Reading based Simonds’ Brewery led to the name changing to Courage, Barclay, Simonds & Co. This was simplified to Courage in October 1970 and the company was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group two years later.

Imperial Tobacco was acquired by the Hanson Trust in 1986 and they sold off Courage to Elders IXL who were renamed the Foster’s Brewing Group in 1990. The following year, the Courage section of Foster’s merged with all the breweries of Grand Metropolitan.

Its public houses were owned by a joint-company called Inntrepreneur Estates. Scottish & Newcastle purchased Courage from Foster’s in 1995, creating Scottish Courage as its brewing arm, which was itself then bought a consortium comprising Carlsberg and Heineken in 2008.

Sadly, during the 1990s and the early years of this century Directors fell on troubled times, it wasn’t promoted as it could have been as different owners concentrated on the sale of lager and how much money they would make from asset stripping and the sale of their shares. But the iconic brand was rescued in 2007 by Wells and Young’s Brewing The Bedford company set up a new joint venture business called Courage Brands, in which it has an 83 per cent stake with Scottish & Newcastle the previous owner of the brand. S&N holds the remaining equity in the company. But enough of the history.

Some old tasting notes of mine describe Directors as a full-drinking and complex ale with a full malt taste and an intense bitter sweet finish.

Comparing a draught beer with its bottled version is rarely ideal. But the current bottled Directors, which was given to me by Wells and Youngs, is a distinguished beer. I don’t trust my on taste memory and our palates change over time anyway, but it has a marvellous bitter sweet intensity and almost a honey flavour. It ends with a satisfying, longish dry salty finish.

My daughter Ruth (aged 24) took a sip of it – ooh that got some citrus, grapefruit flavours, “actually it’s rather good” as she finished the glass. I think that sums it up, it is  indeed rather good.

Written by timhampson

October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Old if might be, but that doesn’t stop Dusseldorf’s alt beer from being served fresh

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Alt beers are poured fresh and fast from wooden barrels

 

The beer world is getting smaller – today we can drink an American IPA brewed in Yorkshire, a pilsner produced in the Cotswolds and English bitter made in northern Italy.

However, there is something special about finding a beer which is enjoyed by people of all ages in its home town. The best bars are like good friends – be it the first time you have met them or a reunion after many years – the mood is comfortable and relaxed, but coupled with a frisson of excitement.

The German town of Dusseldorf in Germany is renowned for its dark Alt beers.  One translation of the alt might mean “old”,and it is said these beers are so-called because they predate the “newer”  pilsner which in many parts of the world have seemingly swept all before it. However, more likely is that the word has a Latin root and it would be better translated as “high”, denoting that the beer is top fermented, with a yeast head forming on top of the fermenting beer

 

Alt beers are topped by a fresh white head

 

A Dusseldorfer alt is served fresh and fast from a wooden cask. Brown in colour, with a large white foaming head, they have a refreshing bitter sweetness –not as bitter as English ale – they have the full maltiness one comes to expect from a German beer.

The beer is a great soul mate to plates of local sausages or even a hearty Rhineland variation of a steak tartar, which is served with raw onions on a crispy roll. Vegetarians do not fare well in Dusseldorf.

Within the bustling streets of the Altstade – or old town to you and me – there are a trio of three brew pubs – Füchschen (Ratinger Str. 32), Zum Schlüssel, (Bolkerstraße 41-47) and Uerige (Berger Straße 1) –whose beers can be found in other pubs too, along with beers from Schumacher (Oststraße 123) which is just outside the old area.

 

The food is hearty and robust

 

Inside these glorious, coliseums to the art of craft brewing, the beer is mashed like an English ale and then top fermented in open vessels. Here ale and lager production meld into one as the beer is then fermented and conditioned or 15/16 days before being decanted into the wooden barrels and lagered for up to four weeks at a temperature close to zero centigrade.  The beer is served straight from the wooden casks.

The waiters’ prowl through these bars, with rapt concentration watching those they are serving. Empty glasses are soon filled, a pen puts a mark on a beer mat recording accurately how many you have had. It is a curious process, but one which becomes clear, when you realise the waiters, often known as kobes, are self employed, they buy the beer from the bar and sell it on to customers.

There is always something special about sitting in bars, where in the shadows there are generations of drinkers who have come before – all who have indulged in the same simple pleasures of conversation, friendship and good beer. And that is the glory of the old town bars.

But how should an Englishman abroad finish off the evening? Locals point me towards a bar selling Killepitsch, a herbal liquor with 42% alcohol content, it is a digestif made of 98 different essences, herbs, berries and fruits. Better than a dessert, the Schnapps based drink, is said to settle nerves and prevent indigestion.

 

It might not be a beer but a glass of Killepitsch, served through a hatch and drunk from a plastic glass is a perfect end to a wonderful evening

 

And if it is late and the Killepitsch bar is closing, lucky drinkers can be served a through a hatch in the window and just “tip it back” from a small plastic glass before heading back to their hotel.

Written by timhampson

October 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Turtley Corn Mill, Avowick is the cream of Devon

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A former chicken hatchery has been transformed into a fine pub

You do not have to be driven to the Turtley Corn Mill in an open topped car on a still warm, end of summer’s day, but it helps as is it is a glorious, exhilarating ride though the undulating Devon countryside from the city of Exeter.

The mill wheel remains as a tribute to its former life

The location is idyllic; the original mill is set in six acres of grounds bordered by the River Glazebrook, in Avonwick, South Brent. It has its own small lake complete with an island, perfect for sunny days, idle wandering, the watching of quacking ducks and people playing lawn chess.

Check mate?

Once the site sounded to the clucking and chirping of fowl as for many years it was a chicken hatchery before becoming a pub in the 1970’s. The former mill was transformed by a radical refurbishment in 2005, which has introduced oak and slate floors, bookcases, old furniture and loads of local pictures. However, the old mill wheel remains as a striking reminder of the building’s previous existence. Inside, the style is light and fresh with no music, fruit machines or pool tables, just newspapers to read, books to browse, good food and great local beers.

There is plenty of space in the garden for drinking

My friend opted for a cream topped hot chocolate. I preferred a glass of Otter Bitter from a farm based brewery in East Devon’s Blackdown Hills. The Otter Brewery was set up in 1990 by the McCaig family. Its eco-systems should make most people green with envy. It has a semi-underground eco-cellar built with clay blocks and a sedum roof. And the effluent safely flows out into its own reed bed. I have a particular liking for a bottled beer Otter brewed for sale in the US, Hoppy Otter at 6.8 per cent ABV, which I do not think was ever sold in the UK. However, for me the really great British beers are brewed at about 3.6 per cent ABV. It needs real skill to get so much taste into something we often call in an understated way “ordinary bitter”. There is nothing ordinary about Otter’s Bitter, it is complex and full of ripe fruit notes. With my lunch, I had a glass of St Austell’s IPA, it went well with the local haddock fillet fried in a real ale batter. Well I know it is not a proper IPA, but it is an easy drinking malty –and toffee flavoured beer balanced by some refreshing citrus hops.

Many fine walks surround the pub

After lunch we took a 15 minute walk alongside the river, joined by fellow customers trying to wear dogs and children out. Then back to the car and shunning the A38 we took the winding b-roads back into Exeter. http://www.turtleycornmill.com/

Written by timhampson

September 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Wadworth goes green

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Fresh, green, plump and full of citrus zest, fresh green hops.

For the last 18 years, at the start of England’s hop harvesting season, a van has left the Wadworth brewery in Devizes to drive to a hop garden in Herefordshire. Its mission is to collect a vital ingredient for the Wiltshire brewery’s Malt & Hops seasonal beer– fresh green hops. The quest means an early start for someone from the brewery, as the hops have to be harvested and transported back to the brewery in time to be put into the first brew of the day.

Wadworth head brewer Brian Yorston has been making the run for the last three years, continuing a tradition started by his predecessor Trevor Holmes. “We think we were the first brewery in Britain, to produce a green-hopped beer,” said Brian.

Hops are normally dried before use – reducing the water content from 70 per cent to 10 – importantly they are analysed so the brewer knows more about their aromatic or bittering characteristics.

Brian Yorton assesses the hops as they grow on the bine.
But fresh hops beer are undried, crisp and full of the season’s flavours and are something of a flavour lottery when added to a beer.

This year I had the privilege of travelling with him to collect the hops – an aroma variety called Early Choice a member of the Fuggles family of hops. Brian is looking for enough hops to brew 270 barrels of beer –some were picked yesterday and lightly dried, while the rest was picked this morning as the dew lay heavy on the hills, which surrounds the Newham Farm hop garden, owned by Ian Ibbotson. Suddenly summer seems to be ending and autumn is rushing in. “We use the same mash each year, and the same quantity of hops but what the beer will be like will be a complete surprise,” said Brian.

Inside the hop back, the ripe hops are spread out before they are covered by boiling wort. Brewing beer in this way is hard physical work.

“I have no idea what the beer will taste like,” confides Brian. I do not know what the alpha content of the hops is.”

The amount of alpha present in a hop is what contributes aroma to the hops. Analysis of the hops to find its alpha levels will take five days, but waiting for an analysis of the hops to return from the laboratory, will be too late for the hops to be used and still be fresh and green.

“You can look at it, you can smell it, but that only hints at the surprise to come,” says Brian.

And what of this year’s harvest – as I smell it I am assailed by wonderful fresh citrus aromas and a zesty tangerine flavours. To brew the beer he uses 500lb of the hops together with 6,500kg of Optic malt – comprising 98.5 per cent pale ale and 1.5 per cent crystal. We taste the hot, sweet wort as it runs out of the mash tun. It is sweet and sticky, with an overwhelming nose of rich Horlicks. Then we try the hopped wort as it comes from the cooler. The tart bitterness of the hops has subdued much of the sweeter flavours.

But what will the beer taste like? I will find out on 16 September, when this year’s Malt & Hops is tasted for the first time.

“Last year’s was very bitter – said Brian, “It is quite different every year he says as he promises to see if he has any previous brews left so we will be able to do a comparison.

But with rich, ripe barley delivering sweet malt, hopefully balanced by the tart, zesty hops it should be a winner.

Malt & Hops, at 4.5 per cent ABV, is available in bottle and on draught.

www.wadworth.co.uk

Written by timhampson

September 2, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Weltenberg Kloster – is this the most beautiful location for a brewery in the world?

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Many come to enjoy the Kloster's garden

I first visited this brewery when researching for The Beer Book, published by Dorling Kindersley.

For people from the UK, Weltenberg is not immediately on the beer tourist trail. However for people in Bavaria it is a popular and much loved destination.

Can there be a more dramatic or magnificent location for a brewery in the world? Located on a bend in the Danube, the beautifully decorated baroque Benedictine abbey is literally hewn from the 150 million year old Jurassic limestone rock, which forms high towering cliffs on either side of the river, running from its source in Germany’s Black Forest on its way to the Black Sea.

In a courtyard, where giant chestnut trees grow, the church of the Weltenburger Monastery and Kloster brewery stand side by side.

The brewery stands close to the monastery

Weltenberg was founded in the 7th century by two monks, Eustasic and Agilus followers of St Columban – one of the patron saints of brewing. Manuscripts in the monastery’s library show that beer has been brewed here for over 1,000 years, with production only being halted from 1803-1846.

But though the site is old and redolent with tradition, there is nothing old about the brewery, which is a modern, automated, hi-tech brewery able to brew both bottom and top fermenting beers using water drawn from the brewery’s own well.

The Kloster’s brewmaster is Anton Miller, at 25 years of age he is looking forward to a long career at the brewery. His predecessor worked at the brewery for 49 years.

Inside the brewery everything is scrubbed, polished and scrupulously clean and even the stainless steel mash and lauter tuns which were installed in 1982 look as shiny as the day they were commissioned.

“We might be the oldest brewery in the world, but we use the newest techniques,” said Anton. “Quality beer needs the equipment and ingredients,” he said.

The commitment to quality certainly seems to be paying off as the Weltenburger Kloster has added to its growing list of awards after Barock Dunkel took the Gold Medal in the dark lagers category at the World Beer Cup 2008 in San Diego, USA.

Anton says that the Dunkel, which has been brewed for more than 150 years, is the beer the monks usually choose to drink. However, while fasting for 40 days and 40 nights during Lent they prefer the stronger Asam Bock. “It is their liquid bread,” he said.

Anton prides himself on the brewery’s close links with local Bavarian farmers – every June he visits the barley fields to choose the grain which will be malted in Bamberg. The sweet and spicy Perle Hallertau hops, which are used in pellet form, come from three farms near Munich.

The brewery produces seven beers – Weissbier Hell, Urtyp Hell, Barock Hell, and Pils, are top fermented at 8C for seven days; and Weissbier Dunkel, Barock Dunkel, and Asam Bock, are bottom fermented at 22C for four days.

Deep beneath the ground, under 40m of limestone rock, can be found the brewery’s lager store.  Here the Dunkel is stored at zero centigrade and sometimes lower for at least three months. A process that slowly releases the Barock Dunkel’s aromatic, malty flavours and well-balanced richness.

Visitors to the brewery can enjoy this beer, which is pumped directly into its own bar.

The brewery’s beer garden is open throughout the year and is renowned not just for its beer, but also its extensive menu of Bavarian dishes including Klosterwurst, a spicy home made sausage, suckling pig and boiled beef.

The brewery is open to visitors at weekends. Nearby, there are many fine walks and cycle tracks and the best way to arrive at the brewery is said to be by river from nearby Kelheim.

Is this the most beautiful location for a brewery in the world?

Weltenburger Kloster

Asamstrase 32, 93309 Kelheim, Germany

www.weltenburger.de

Written by timhampson

September 1, 2010 at 10:15 am