This Scumbag

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Musician, engineer/producer and former employee at Beer Ritz in Leeds. Enthusiast of extreme metal and beer, which happily go extremely well together. Follow @BenCorkhill

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Beer Alphabet Week 4 - D

The first beer of the evening, La Trappe Dubbel, gives off lovely sweet, spicy aromas of berries and honey. Prickly yet smooth on the tongue, the taste presents a nice juicy blend of those darker fruits, roasted malts and a slight booziness on the swallow. The lingering candy sugariness is not as sweet as I'd expected but certainly present. I've enjoyed this in the past, and am enjoying it just as much tonight.

The amber-brown pour of Stone Double Bastard pushes a large foamy off-white head skyward. Pungent malty aromas of milk chocolate, nuts and caramel. A huge immediate booziness makes way for a smooth caramel wave of malts rolling across the tongue, leaving a lingering boozy sting in the throat. A big, dry bitter finish caps this beer off nicely. I now see what the fuss is about, good work Stone.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Spreading the Christmas Beer

The clear, golden and rather carbonated pour of Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux offers yeasty aromas not too dissimilar from a strong lager or pilsner - grassy with underlying citric fruits. Smooth and fruity across the palate, offering substantial flavour but not much of an aftertaste to remember.

Good, but not great.
I'd saved this beer to have as my 'special' ale for Christmas. Although slightly disappointing, it was a refreshing return to quality beer. Yesterday was Christmas Day, and aside from a couple of pints of Brains Rev James at the pub in the afternoon and a few glasses of port later in the night, I have been drinking mountains of Foster's Gold. Cringe, think less of me, throw your arms up in disgust if you will, I really don't care. Foster's Gold was what was in my parents' fridge, and there happened to be plenty of it. This got me thinking about Leigh's post about Christmas, and how even for a lover of good beer, what you drink is only relevant within the context of the occasion.

So if you've forsaken the values of good beer these last couple of days for the sake of enjoying them with your family, I'm sure you will join me in saying: Fuck it, it's Christmas.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Beer Alphabet Week 3 - C

It's been a looong day at work, and this will be the only night this week that I can sit down and write about a couple of decent beers, so here we go with C (for Christmas, get it?)...

Odell Cutthroat Porter
I've worked my way through a fair few of Odell's range now, yet this one has evaded me thus far. The tempting black pour gives off aromas of burnt and toasted malts with chocolates, a little vanilla and a slight liquorice undertone. The mouthfeel is a lot lighter than I expected but it glides across the tongue, with lovely rich flavours of milk chocolate, very subtle coffee and a soft toasted maltiness. There is not much left over in the throat but the tongue is left with lingering memories of those classic porter flavours

St. Austell Cornish Bock 

An appetising clear amber pour gave off a good sized white head which dissipated to a medium size quite quickly. The fresh lager aromas are laced with a caramel and toffee sweetness. A medium but inoffensive carbonation presented an immediate clean freshness with underlying sugar and sweet caramel. The crisp, dry finish makes it extremely moreish and, frankly, hard to put down for long. At 6.5%, four or five of these would make for a very pleasurable night's drinking (shame I just have the one...)!

The first outside contribution to this alphabet, by the way, has come from the very man who suggested the idea, Steve (@BeersIveKnown) over at Beers I've Known. Last week, he got stuck into a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, so cheers Steve for getting involved!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Beer Alphabet Week 2 - B

It's grey and terribly wet outside. It's been a busy day at work and my belly is full of chip butties and disappointing meatballs; I think I'll drink some beer. Tonight's menu consists of Barbar Bok and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

Contenders... ready!
 The Barbar Bok presents itself in a deep, dark brown pour with a smallish off-white bubbly head. Fresh, very Belgian sweet and spicy aromas of honey and dark fruits. Medium carbonation and medium mouthfeel present sugary fruits with a slight honey quality. The dryish finish doesn't leave much lingering, and the alcohol is barely present; however, this is a very nice drinking experience indeed.

The blend: awesome.
An appetising, thick black pour with a small mocha head is the first offering from the Black Chocolate Stout. Huge aroma of dark and milk chocolates, coffee, slight vanilla, caramel and burnt malts. No carbonation, silky mouthfeel with chocolate, treacle and dark malts. Not as much coffee as I expected actually. There's a slight alcohol bite on the swallow followed by lingering smokey bitterness. Delicious.

Then guess who suggested blending them?* The fresh sweetness of the bok actually overpowers the intense chocolate, surprisingly. It's very candyish, with a cushion-soft mouthfeel allowing fresh chocolate sweetness to force its way through. Very nice blend!

*Our resident apparition, of course.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Golden Pints 2011

Like football, but beer.
I've barely left the comfort of the womb as far as this blogging business goes, but I might as well chuck my tuppence in anyway. Here are my votes...

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer
Winner: Thwaites Our Boys/Our Girls
Runner up: Hawkshead NZPA

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Harveys Imperial Extra Double stout

Runner up: Williams Alba

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Odell Myrcenary
Runner up: Mikkeller Black Hole

Best Overall Beer
Winner: Guinness Foreign Extra
Runner up: Thwaites Our Boys/Our Girls

Best Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Magic Rock (all)
Runner up: Thornbridge St. Petersburg

Best UK Brewery
Winner: The Kernel
Runner up: Williams

Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Odell
Runner up: Mikkeller (if he counts as a brewery!)

Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Arcadia
Runner up: Veritas

Beer Festival of the Year
Sadly I couldn't attend, but I'll say Headingley Ale Festival because of all the hard work Ruth & Kev put in

Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Morrisons
Runner up: Asda

Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beer Ritz
Runner up: Beer Ritz... I don't shop anywhere else!

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Michael Jackson's Beer Companion
Runner up: Man Walks into a Pub

Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Ghost Drinker
Runner up: Cooking Lager (RIP)

Best Beer Twitterer
Winner: Joint @broadfordbrewer & @BeersIveKnown
Runner up: @Tuff86

Best Online Brewery Presence
Winner: Hardknott
Runner up: Broadford!

In 2012 I'd Most Like To:
Drink a fuck load of really, really good beer.

Open Catagory
Most improved pub: The Fenton, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. When I first started going it was a smelly, run-down pub with questionable beer. As a regular I have seen a HUGE improvement in the last few months; they now stock beer from Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout to Chimay Red, as well as having had Magic Rock, Kirkstall and BrewDog on cask and is a much nicer place to drink in general. Leodensians, I urge you to give it another go!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Beer Alphabet Week 1 - A

Here we are with the first instalment of the Beer Alphabet. Beginning, as is the norm, at the beginning, we land on the letter A. As I've been drinking a ridiculous amount of stouts and porters recently ('tis the season!) I thought I'd dabble in something quite different. So I'm revisiting two beers which I haven't had for a while, and that I thoroughly enjoyed in the past but didn't make any tasting notes…
Buxton's branding could be a bit better

Buxton Axe Edge
This is one of the beers that stand out to me as a representation of modern, American-influenced, hop-forward British brews that have come into their own in the last year or so. I've had it a couple of times before and was extremely impressed. 

A light orange/coppery pour conjured a large white head, which stayed nicely. Huge aromas of citrus fruits - grapefruit, orange and lime, got my mouth watering like Niagra Falls. These were backed up with a light caramel aroma, it's pretty much like sniffing a bag of sweets. It's intense and complex on the palate, but nicely balanced. There's light carbonation and an initial bitterness with a lovely fruitiness - I got grapefruit, manna, orange and some subtle sherbet lemon(?). Not as juicy as I had hoped, but the dryish finish made it quite insatiably moreish. In fact, this didn't last long at all, it was all gone before I knew it.

Not quite as intensely fruity as I'd remembered or hoped for, but a cracking drop nonetheless. The alcohol is masked nicely making it a real sinker. Interestingly, I put it down for a few minutes during conversation, and as it warmed up a bit it really brought the fruits out in the finish. Absolutely delicious beer.

Schneider Weisse Aventinus Tap 6
I remembered having this beer a while ago, just the once, and my memory isn't great… so what better excuse to try another? It's my day off, nearly ready for my lunch of Blackadder and soup, let's give it a go… 

Not for the faint-hearted

It pours a deep, appetising ruby, cloudy with a large white foamy head. Massive red wine-like aroma, with caramel, raspberry, and toffee apple culminating in a big sweetness. There is instant alcoholic sweetness on the tongue. A light carbonation with intense red grape and dark berries. I had hoped for a bigger body, but it is a German beer after all. There is a sourness in the dry, light bitter finish. The lingering alcohol tartness is reminiscent of a red wine, but much softer. Quite a pleasant drop, but not a light drinker as the Axe Edge was. If I were to have another, I think it would be with an evening meal rather than a mid-afternoon tipple!

Join Me!

So, beer bloggers all, do you have an 'A' beer to contribute? If you fancy collaborating in this glorious run down of the alphabet, email me your tasting notes at and I'll be including your retrospective musings at the end of next week's blog. Cheers!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Turns out the Zebra did it.

This week will see the beginning of a new lease of life for this blog. I've been ashamedly quiet on the writing front of late, simply because I haven't had anything all that exciting to write about. I was planning on doing a big beer blowout post from tasting notes I've been collecting over the last month or so, but instead I had a moment of inspiration (i.e. totally nicked the idea off a customer) - to complete a beer alphabet! 

'B' is for...

So, starting now, for the next 26 weeks (week three, C, conveniently lands on Christmas…) I will be taking you through two or three beers a week according to the most beautiful human creation there is, the English alphabet. After all, who needs SatNav when you've got an A to Z of Beer?!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Sometimes, you just need a beer.

Some things today have made me think about beer, or alcohol in general, and the role it plays in our lives. Today was a sweltering day at the shop. Nowhere near as sunny as the weekend had been, but a close, humid, sticky heat that clung to me like the smell of dog turd on a shoe. So, after nine hours of waning endurance, it was a nice surprise when our resident friendly spectre GhostDrinker popped his head in the office door and asked me if I fancied a pint - to which my retort was "If you're paying!" (rather rude on reflection, but I'm skint).

A humble pint of Golden Pippin greeted me at the bar of Arcadia - but crikey did it serve its purpose. Pale and refreshing, this old favourite of mine really hit the spot and lifted me from my sticky, worn-out state into a relaxed euphoric frame of mind in which it was possible to get lost in conversation with friends and forget any ill thoughts the day had conjured. Coupled with a can of Caldera IPA I had prepared earlier for the walk home (as it conveniently resembles some sort of fizzy fruit juice), this made for a truly positive drinking experience and a good end to a long day.

One happy chap.
So, this got me thinking about how alcohol is viewed by those who really don't understand its relevance. I had also been reading about, and discussing, the increased tax on strong beers today, and conclude that the viewpoints of some people (especially some of those in power) border on insanity. I have had friends and family express concern about 'my drinking' before - nonsense! I enjoy a beer, I enjoy drinking and the benefits that come with it but never has it affected my life or health in a way that could even be considered close to negativity. The causes and effects of drinking are down to the end user, the consumer. If someone wants to get rat arced on 10 pints and cause trouble at the weekend, that's how alcohol serves a purpose to them. If someone wants to relax and enjoy one or two pints 5 days a week then that's how alcohol serves its purpose in their eyes. The quantity is the same, the context is very different. So, for us sensible drinkers, let's just enjoy beer; and as you sink that delicious nectar, let me recite the following lyrics from my favourite band:

Where I'm walking alone, thirst is my worst enemy
My measure of mead, treasure in need, up to the brim
One down on the heart can feel like the rain crying on dry desert sand
My story is sad, nothing to add, days have been dim…
Drink while you are able.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mikkeller Black Hole

The enigmatic branding works well
Only my second post of this month - apologies for the absence, but I've had a pretty busy schedule recently. Plenty of work but, somehow, no money to buy beer with! Well, that's a lie… I've bought loads of beer, just nothing tremendously exciting that you may not have tried before. Until now. I say now, I actually drank this beer over a week ago on the 16th and have only just found the time to write about it. But here we are - Mikkeller Black Hole Imperial Stout. Like many of our lesser-spotted imports at Beer Ritz, the Mikkeller bottles we got in were gone before any of us could blink. Amidst the excitement, however, I managed to grab myself one of these bad boys, and it had come on the highest recommendation…

The pour was black, with medium carbonation and a small brown head that disappeared pretty quickly. Surprisingly, the very first whiff presented an aroma akin to an American amber. However a little swirl revealed dark chocolate, liquorice, treacle and woody alcohol presence. On the palate, the initial impact was not as huge as expected. In fact, it glided quite effortlessly across the tongue, leaving me thinking for a brief second 'what have I just spent several quid on?!' But then it came; only on the swallow did the flavours rear their heads. A massive chocolatey alcohol bite accompanied the swallow. Lots of chocolates thereafter, with caramel, brown sugar, toffee and vanilla. There were some hints of coffee, but not much considering the size and complexity of the flavours. This was actually more to my taste than other stouts I've tried, although a little too mouth-suckingly sweet in places; despite this, it was extremely manageable and well balanced. Overall, a lovely beer and well worth a go should you ever come across it.

Something I've noticed about my personal taste recently: stouts are gradually becoming top dog...

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Kernel - Amarillo Cascade & Centennial 100

Excellent branding too!

Everyone loves The Kernel. It's undeniable that they are producing some of the best, most exciting and most talked-about brews in the industry today, and their reputation has been built on nothing but great beer - no clever marketing or gimmicks, just awesome products and word of mouth. So tonight I thought I'd try a couple of new additions to our Kernel range at Beer Ritz (and new to me, too) - Amarillo Cascade 50cl, and the brewery's 100th beer, Centennial 100 33cl.

First up was the Amarillo Cascade. It poured a lovely clear golden/orange with a large white head that dissipated quickly. A hoppy aroma of apricot, melon, orange and citrus hints worked up my appetite for this beer. On first thoughts, it was much lighter on the palate than expected. With a soft carbonation, subtle lemon and grapefruit flavours presented themselves with a dry bitterness on the tongue. To my disappointment, the swallow didn't leave much presence in the throat, with a crisp bitterness remaining. While lovely and refreshing, this beer wasn't as full-on as I had hoped, but at the relatively low (for cutting-edge brews these days) abv of 5.8% this was forgivable. It reminded me of the Mallinsons Hopped, albeit a far, far superior version. It was interesting to note that the aftertaste was more fruity and lingered for longer as the beer warmed up (I had initially put it in the fridge for a short while before drinking) - further proof that in my personal opinion, ales should not be refrigerated!

Milestone 100th brew
Next up, the big boy beer in a baby bottle. Coming in at 10.1%, the Centennial 100 promised to be a much bigger animal. A coppery orange pour with a medium head which was thicker than that of the first beer. The aroma, unsurprisingly, had a lot more hop and malt presence. Fruity, but more 'green' fruits as I call them - grapefruit, melon, also caramel and a woody grassiness. There was almost a sourness to the aroma, reminiscent of a Belgian style. On the tongue, it's very smooth and quite floral. Soft to medium carbonation works well for this beer, reserving some of its aggression. There is earthiness and notable pine flavour. A big alcohol bite on the swallow resolves in a dry bittersweet finish with a lingering boozy aftertaste. This is good stuff! As the beer develops and warms up a bit, there is a noticeable syrup/caramel quality coming through.

Overall, another resounding success story for The Kernel to put on their CV. I was expecting a little more from the Amarillo Cascade, but that's not to say it wasn't a good beer - I'd happily buy another were it not for the fact that I need to progress through their range before they disappear again! The Centennial 100 was a great way to mark the milestone of one hundred brews, and although very different to my expectations of it, was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Well done, Kernel! Keep up the good work.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Stout Hearted Sunday!

This night had been a long time coming. A couple of weeks ago, GhostDrinker was good enough to bring me back a little gift from GBBF; and what else would he have chosen to indulge me in than a Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout that he described as the best one I'll ever have?! Yet it wasn't until last night that I finally seized the opportunity to sit down and drink it alongside a Carnegie Porter and Guinness Special Export in the right way - comfy sofa, good company, laptop at the ready...

First up was the Carlsberg Sverige Carnegie Porter. A typically thick black pour gave a medium off-white head, while the aroma was not as big as I had anticipated but nicely balanced nonetheless with a malty dark chocolate and raisin combination with a slight booziness. On the palate there is an immediate red fruit sweetness, not overbearing but very noticeable. The mouthfeel is very full with a rather oily texture. The overall taste is quite malty, small hints of liquorice and a very slight smokiness in the throat. I like this beer rather more than I was expecting actually; it's pretty light in aroma and flavour for a porter, to be honest I was expecting a bit more from it, but at a modest 5.5% it is entirely drinkable and sinks a bit like a mild! Good stuff.

The Guinness Special Export followed. I wasn't sure what to expect from this, as I'm a massive fan of their Foreign Extra, but I knew that being a Belgian style beer, this would be a very different beast. With a black pour, lightly carbonated off-white head, it already creates certain preconceptions. And they were not wrong. As soon as this hit my nose my first thought was "Belgium". There is a slight spiciness in the aroma with some chocolates. On the palate the beer presents a medium carbonation with a complexity of flavours. Coffee, chocolates, biscuit and raisin all dance together on a medium bodied, smooth mouthfeel. A dark chocolate aftertaste resolves in a lingering roasted bitterness. Interestingly, the aroma seems to become somewhat more sour as the glass reaches the bottom, however this doesn't have a noticeable effect on the taste, although the chocolate aftertaste does linger for longer as the beer develops. This is a nice drop at 8%, but given the choice I'd still go for the Foreign Extra!

Then out came the big guns. I've really been getting into stouts recently, and Ghostie had promised me the world with this one. The Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout (what a name!) produced a black (you know, REALLY black) pour with a large brown head. The photo doesn't really do it justice, but the head was pretty much cocoa-coloured. A massive aroma bombarded me with treacle, liquorice, dark berries and dark malts. There is a soft carbonation on the palate; brown sugar is there, milk chocolate turns into dark chocolate balanced with dark berries, and ghostly hints of liquorice and caramel peep through. Leave it in the mouth for a few seconds to get an incredible juiciness that just engulfs your tongue and slips nicely down the throat. At 9%, the alcohol content is masked well, making it a nicely balanced, very drinkable beer. There is a punch of sweetness in the swallow followed by a smokey chocolatiness up the throat. Overall, though I have been exploring dark beers a lot recently, I am still not the hugest fan of the more intense ones; however, this beer is something else. Ghostie was right! This one has a nice lingering aftertaste that makes you want another, and a real kick as it warms up - the further down the glass you get, the more you will notice a massive booziness developing. Awesome stuff. London Imperial - king of the stouts?!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

No Remorse: Black Tokyo Horizon

BrewDog/Nogne-Ø/Mikkeller Black Tokyo Horizon

Much like a corpse, it comes in a box.
No blog for a while; I've been waiting for something interesting to come along so I can write about it. Well, my wait was over when GhostDrinker messaged me to say he was opening a bottle of Black Tokyo Horizon at the shop on Saturday. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the tasting, so I asked him to leave me some in the fridge for my shift on Sunday. I was half joking to be honest, but he kindly obliged and actually left me a pretty substantial amount.

I've never been a massive fan of really dark beers, but as I've been getting into stouts a lot more recently, I was pretty intrigued by this one. I had never come across any of the three beers that had been blended (not even Tokyo, which we stock - the shame!), but I did my research and each one had scored ridiculously highly on ratebeer, which of course boded well. As soon as I flicked the top off the bottle I could smell this monster. Once poured - an oily black with a distinct lack of head, which was forgivable considering it had spent a night in the fridge - you could smell it a mile off; damn, what an aroma! Massive alcoholic sweetness, some coffee with hints of smokiness and a shed load of dark berries. I knew this would be a big beer, but I was not expecting what was about to follow: a big alcohol taste hits the tongue with minimum carbonation (which I prefer in dark beers) and an all-round overpowering sweetness. This is sweeter than Ryan Sweeting celebrating his sweet sixteen in the sweet shop on Sweet Street… you get the idea. Loads of red fruits in there. Leave it in the mouth for a few seconds for milk and dark chocolate flavours to start melting over your tongue with hints of black liquorice. After the swallow, there is coffee in the throat and a strong aftertaste of alcoholic fruitiness in the mouth. 

No head. Get it?
With a strawberry trifle. Tasty!

This is without doubt, and as was to be expected, a huge beer. However, having never been that into the darker end of the beer spectrum, it wasn't entirely to my taste. It was good, no question, but a bit too (yep, you got it..) sweet for my liking, and I felt the alcohol taste was slightly intrusive. My theory is that if I want to get punched in the face, I'd rather it was by a boxing glove made of hops and lighter fruits than an iron gauntlet made of dark fruits, coffee and chocolate. It was like something between a strong London porter and an Aventinus Eisbock, which for many is, I'm sure, a tremendously appetising thought. However, in true big beer style, it is uncompromising, unapologetic, unyielding and a truly intense experience. And at 17.2%, it's bloody relentless. Should you come across it, give it a go; it might broaden your horizons…

…sorry, had to end on a pun.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Yorkshire Day!

Yesterday, as we all know (and if you didn't, you do now; remember it), marked the annual Yorkshire Day celebrations. It also marked the first day I could drink after being off alcohol for a week while on antibiotics; this was a tough journey - try working three consecutive nine-hour shifts at Beer Ritz knowing full well you can't even touch a drop at the end of it - but I'd made it, except a few cheeky tasters such as our home brew and some Rudgate beer at the brewery. 

Beer. From Yorkshire.

Anyway, it was a perfect excuse to drink some Yorkshire beers, beginning with a bottle of Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout at bang on 5pm (didn't want to wait til I'd walked home to crack this open... a week can do that to you). If you have come across this stout before, I'm sure you'll agree it certainly is an interesting drop. I poured it into a large wine glass, a typically black pour with pretty much no head unfortunately. The first thing I noticed was that it was quite highly carbonated for a stout - not necessarily a bad thing but certainly unexpected. This is a beer that develops massively as you drink it, each sip is different from the last, different aromas coming to the fore with each finger. Chocolate, coffee, dark fruits and a nice maltiness all make appearances, a classic stout really. I'd heard good things about this beer and was expecting a little more, but it was a really nice and interesting one nonetheless. Give it a try!

New face of the Town Hall Tavern
Given the occassion, I thought I'd try the recently refurbed Town Hall Tavern, which coincidentally my old colleague had just started at full-time; even more coincidentally, I'd heard Timmy Taylors pints were £2 for Yorkshire Day. I couldn't say no. I hadn't been to this pub for about two years, and the last time was a quick afternoon stop. What had once been a rather traditional boozer has been transformed into a modern day 'bar' (they're still pubs dammit!) akin to Veritas and the like. It is now very well presented and nicely laid out, utilising modern decor interspersed with tradition such as old Taylor's posters, photos of old Leeds etc. The Ram Tam and Golden Best (only the latter of which, as it turned out, was £2) were on fine form, both delicious pints. However, there was a distinct lack of custom. Town was dead in general, to be fair, but only a few business-looking chaps and the two of us made up the entire clientele. Perhaps it was just a Monday, perhaps it's the recession, or perhaps it's the pub's location. Who knows, but that place should definitely be attracting more than several punters a night.

From there we headed up to the curiously named Nation of Shopkeepers; but as you've probably all made up your mind about the place already, I won't bore you with the details. Also, I was drinking Anchor Steam Beer, and there's not much Yorkshireness to that is there?

Happy (now belated) Yorkshire Day :-)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The BrewDog Saga: Is Punk Dead?

Tip of the Tongue

You are not worthy.
For a while now, everyone has been talking about BrewDog. The self-proclaimed Beer Punks have certainly caused quite a stir in the industry since their arrival a few years back, as we all know. Inevitably, as any well managed business should, they have grown year upon year and is now a household name in craft brewing across the world. But have they stuck to their controversial ideologies right the way through? Is there such thing as punk beer? Let's look at the obvious aspects of BrewDog. For a start, they do make some incredible beers, and also some not-so-incredible beers (but good ones nonetheless). They have received several awards, their beers are consumed internationally and they have created the strongest beer in the world not once, but three times. That's a pretty impressive track record for just four years of brewing. Whether or not the amount of hype around these guys is a product of their superior beers or their in-your-face, arrogant marketing techniques is a matter of some debate, but for now let's just agree that they do produce good stuff.
Tesco Finest American Double IPA

Declaring war on mass produced lager was pretty punk. Bottling beer inside stuffed animals was pretty punk. Using adjectives like 'explicit' and 'iconoclastic' in beer descriptions is pretty punk, I suppose. But - and sorry if I'm getting a little deep here - is describing yourself as 'punk', punk? Surely the entire concept of being punk is not to label yourself as anything, but allow others to label you according to what their rigid rules of society deem you to be… Yeah I guess that was a little deep, but hopefully it made sense. My point is, do you consider their ideology to be genuine or just a clever and exciting marketing ploy? 

Money Talks (and drinks)

Then there's the business side of their operation. Fair play to them, they've come a hell of a long way and done great things while maintaining their high standards of beer quality, but is producing a beer for sale as a Tesco home brand punk? The positive aspect of this is that it's probably introducing a lot of people to a great craft beer without them realising it; the negative is that it somewhat undermines their anti-establishment stance so carefully nurtured since their inception. Their latest venture, selling shares of the company, is one that has raised a lot of discussion. Most people I've spoken to about it have thought it was a great idea - to be honest I think I'd get involved if I had the money - but it's the phrase 'Equity for Punks' that makes me a take the kind of inward breath a mechanic would if your car was slightly damaged. The word 'equity' itself conjures images of being sat facing a financial adviser, nodding obliviously and giving the occasional "mmm…" as if you know what the fuck he's on about. As I say, I think it's a good idea with advantages for both the brewery and its customers/stakeholders, but you can't just sugarcoat what is blatantly a capitalist venture by sticking the word 'punk' next to it. Nor does hiring several models to dress like Nancy Spungen's nightmare and pose in London hide the fact that BrewDog is at the top of its game financially. Sooner or later, the ugly truth has to be faced that this brewery is getting bigger and bigger, and its reputation as an angst-fuelled anarchy machine is being somewhat eclipsed by a giant pound sign. James Watt described Equity for Punks as "punk rock to the banks' Celine Dion", but I can't help but think the guys are leaning more towards the comparison of Green Day to craft brewing's Sex Pistols…

I imagine this post will spark a bit of reaction, but I'm not slamming BrewDog at all. Aside from probably not being as in-the-know about them as many of you are, I think their beers are good, I hope they continue to do well and raise the profile of craft beer; but the question has to be asked whether they can convincingly keep up the anti-everything sentiment while conveniently using the tools of capitalism to do so. Perhaps it'll be up to us to decide for ourselves.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Odell St. Lupulin & Myrcenary

Aesthetics are everything folks!
Art Attack

Well, there was much buzz and the Beer Ritz Twitter feed was in overload again this week. That's because Zak popped in on Tuesday to, among other things, deliver us some cases of the most recent Odell imports! First let me talk about the artwork: just take a minute to admire these bottles. Odell are clearly a brewery that take immense pride in their beer (rightly so), and what better way to display that than by presenting their beers in the most interesting, unique and attractive ways possible? This brewery produces some really distinct artwork and labeling that you often just don't see these days. Odell's branding reminds me of a post by GhostDrinker last month, highlighting the importance of presentation. The Yanks are getting everything right at the moment, let's admit it. For example, although Buxton Brewery beers are obviously turning heads in the UK at the moment, I can't help but think their labelling is just too bland to do any justice to the delicious contents of the bottles. Same with Mallinson's of Huddersfield, while their next door neighbours Magic Rock are really making an effort and, in my humble opinion, attracting a lot more attention in doing so. So, if any brewers are reading, please take note that presentation counts for a hell of a lot; that's not just coming from me, it seems more and more evident that people are easily swayed by inventive and aesthetically pleasing branding.

St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale & Myrcenary Double IPA

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to tasting these beauties. I love Odell's beers, and this particular night I was extremely thirsty for something pale and hoppy. The St. Lupulin was up first, pouring a nice clear golden colour with a pretty decent head (which unfortunately shrunk rapidly), showing obvious signs of lively carbonation. The aroma was very pleasant, dry hops at the forefront with some honey, soft citrus and a nice maltiness. That carbonation makes itself known immediately, also present is a mellow fruitiness and big, but unobtrusive, tasty hop character. The swallow left me with a lingering crisp bitterness, with hints of peach and apricot in the throat amid a slight grassiness. This is a good, refreshing summer beer with a nice overall floral quality in the aroma and taste. Worth the hype, but I will admit I expected a little more; still, would definitely buy again!

Onto the Myrcenary, and I was certainly very intrigued by this one. My experience of double IPA's so far has been altogether brilliant, and this one basically sells itself. Again, it poured a clear golden colour, but with a marginally bigger head and much softer carbonation than the St. Lupulin. It did present a very similar aroma, except for having a more full frontal hoppiness. My immediate thought as it hit my tongue was 'fruits, lots of them… but which ones?' I picked up some grapefruit, but there were more that I just couldn't put my finger on - tasted like something in between pear and banana (perhaps something like a kiwi?), especially noticeable in the finish. When left in the mouth for a few seconds, a lovely lemon citrus flavour starts seeping through and the swallow leaves a pleasant flowery bitterness in the throat. Big hop presence, good stuff. I enjoyed this one more than the St. Lupulin; it's a very complex beer with a GREAT aftertaste which is immediately fruity, leaving a long floral bitterness. What a beer!

If there's still any left at Beer Ritz, get your hands on some. I'm yet to try the Double Pilsner (can you just use that prefix on anything these days?) but judging by these masterpieces, I'm sure it will be another resounding success from Odell. Cheers to them!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Zak Avery Homebrew: Hopfen-Weisse

"That one's got my name on it"
Another beer post, another beer I've never tried. In fact, only a few have tried this one! This is Zak's home brewed Hopfen-Weisse, generously given away on a first-come-first-served basis at work. I was really looking forward to this as it's also actually the first proper home brew I've had the pleasure to try. Not to mention I was ambushed on my way home from work and forced (FORCED!) to drink two and a half refreshing pints of EPA at the Oak, paid for by my assailant/friend [delete as appropriate]. Needless to say my thirst for beer needed further quenching by the time I'd walked back to Woodhouse. It's a hard life eh…

A 'puddle of mud', but tasty!

This bad boy poured cloudy as hell with not much head, but with a rather strong immediate aroma, very interesting looking indeed. The smell was quite appetising, nice and citrusy. Bit of lime, grapefruit and a small amount of banana in there. As soon as it hit the tongue I got a really nice soft fruitiness, and lots of it. Initially it was citrus fruits, but towards the end of the glass the banana was really taking over. The mouthfeel was very good indeed, nice thick texture with a lovely soft carbonation, very inoffensive. There was a bit of a spice bite in the swallow, followed immediately by that banana rearing its not at all ugly head up the throat, accompanied by a hint of orange too.

Final thoughts: Deep down I wanted to be controversial and slag it off, but the truth is that this was an extremely pleasurable drinking experience, seconded by my housemates who both had a sip and seemed suitably impressed. This is an all round mellow, easy drinking beer that I would happily pay real life human money for - a couple of people have already expressed similar opinions on Twitter, so it's now up to the man himself whether it will appear on the shelves or not! A nice label (i.e. not people's names scrawled in chalk pen by Ghostie) would see this beer right. There are still many details I don't know about the brew though, the percentage for a start! But judging by its taste and my post-beer clear head I would say it's not overly potent.

Mmm, Orval... why not?
Keep your eyes and ears out for Zak's home brews then, because if this was anything to go by we have some ruddy good beers to look forward to. Nice glass of Orval to end tonight's festivities, what a beauty.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sense and Sociability

The Importance of Social Interaction

Bloke Walks into a Pub...

Over the past five years or so I have been meticulously developing and honing my social and conversational skills out of equal parts necessity, natural conditioning and, more simply, the love of social interaction. Let me introduce you to the old me: aged 17, I was still doing my A Levels and working part time as a pot wash at my local. Not being old enough to drink in the pub or work the bar, and at the time still a very shy lad, entering the bar area (especially the tap room) was always rather daunting - even though I knew who a few of the drinkers were and they knew me, we have never conversed, as back then age difference remained entirely relevant. This continued until the pub was taken over by a new management team. Not the kind of management team that ruin (ahem, typo, run) city centre pubs, this was a lovely family from Leeds who had taken on the lease and genuinely wanted to make a go of a village watering hole. Although they knew I was under age, they invited me to stop for a couple of pints after every shift; initially I would shuffle nervously into the tap room and try not to make eye contact with anyone, but it was only a matter of weeks before I was singing and dancing (seriously) away with the local boozers at silly o'clock in the morning (seriously). The average age in the room was probably about 36, but already in those short few weeks I had learned that age was just not important anymore.

The Half Moon, Collingham - where it all began...
So there the tale begins: in the pub. This was my awakening period as I transcended into the adult world. After my A Levels, me and a couple of my best friends avoided reality for a while by travelling the world for three months. This was a secondary wake up call as to just how important and enjoyable socialising is. I'm not talking all the "So what are you going to study? Oh really, sounds good (mental note: does not sound good at all)" bollocks, I mean forging real bonds and friendships that would continue to be relevant outside of the confines of overtly forced friendliness.

Mixing Business and Pleasure

For my musical/production aspirations, interacting with people is now probably the most integral part of my career progression. As a fan, I have tried contacting artists and bands before, and when I have gotten no response I have truly lost a little respect for the musicians in question. Fair enough, you won't get the time of day from a band plastered all over the magazines, but there have been much, much smaller acts I have contacted and received nothing from - I don't think that's on really. When someone from some far corner of the world contacts me with words of praise and support, it truly is a humbling experience and I make every effort not just to respond, but to stay in touch with them. Being in touch with fans on a personal level is an amazing thing. I have also met alot of people at gigs and festivals, whether I've been playing or just attending. Most of these people I now consider friends and am still in touch with regularly, and it certainly helps for getting gigs in and out of town. On the 'business' side of things, here at Beer Ritz we have a good relationship with our regular customers as well as more far-flung enthusiasts who like to stop by every so often. This is helped massively by the fact that Will and Zak both run very popular blogs and Twitter feeds (Twitter and its partner in crime, Facebook, of course play key roles in modern networking), which serve well to attract custom to the shop.

Don't be that dick
Suffice it to say, the old saying 'it's not what you know, it's who you know' is absolutely 100% true! Meet people, don't be a knobhead (unless you're genuinely just a knobhead, in which case you're a bit stuck), find some common ground, establish a bond, keep in touch and you'll open yourself up to a world of opportunities. Some fantastic things have happened to me over the years as a result (mates rates and so forth...), and it's now something I thrive off. My mum always tells me I'm just like my old man: among the various traits I've inherited from him, I now realise I am developing his ability to seemingly be able to bump into someone he knows no matter where he is in the world. So, I encourage you all to socialise, interact and network as much as possible because it really does come with a whole load of benefits. But be sure to make it genuine and on a personal level. Don't be the person that appears to know everyone but blatantly doesn't feel the need to make time for them, displaying thinly veiled false delight upon bumping into them, ignoring their messages and such. No one really likes that person.

Friday, 15 July 2011

UK Black Metal: Pushing the Boundaries

Putting the Foot (of Heritage) Down

Winterfylleth live at Metal Camp
What with Winterfylleth's recent excursion to Slovenia, I thought it was time to reflect on just how important it is that we are being represented on foreign fields by not just an underground UK band of any calibre, but a black metal band. There's no point going over the ins and outs of what happened with the recent UKBM explosion - we were all there, we all saw it happen; the question is did we, or the rest of the metal world, see it coming?

For years, the folk metal jollies were sweeping the nation (as well as most of Europe and America) which was all well and good, until there seemed to be in the air a craving for something a little more serious by nature. Picture the scene: a bikers' pub just outside Leicester. A few fairly decent folk metal bands have just performed, with a good reception, when six woad-painted warriors take the stage. At the time, they are known by name and reputation, but their praises are seldom heard being cried from the rooftops. What then ensues is a cosmic barrage of relentless black metal savagery coupled with beautifully executed ambient passages. Haunting riffs create cavernous depths from which the archaic screams of the past are heard, urged forward by the precision battery of war drums, enriched by the enchanting spells of synthesised mysticisms… You guessed it; this band is Wodensthrone, and I imagine that for many present, myself included, this is the first glimpse of what the most recent wave of UK black metal is all about.

Here in the UK, we seemed to be just that little step ahead of everyone else with all this. While our European counterparts and American cousins were mostly stuck comparing battle axe sizes, there seemed to a be a definite and noticeable subconscious shift in the way we were thinking about the scene. Folk metal and black metal had long been brothers in arms, yet slowly the dominant brother began to get more of the attention, attract more pretty girls (or, rather, bearded men) and generally find his way to the forefront of people's interests. Perhaps it was indeed our yearning for something that bit more complex, more deeply rooted and more revolutionary that black metal began to take the UK metal community by storm. Don't get me wrong, black metal has always had a huge underground following here, but this particular surge in popularity was being led by none other than our very own, home-grown breed of bands. It's hard to define the attraction; for me, I believe that what was so exciting about the emergence of this new wave was the overwhelmingly distinct sounds being created. Credit where credit's due, bands like Drudkh, Emperor, Negura Bunget, Wolves in the Throne Room (groups I consider to be firmly rooted in the more 'ethereal' side of things) certainly paved the way for what was being written on these shores, but the passion and ferocity with which our boys were delivering appeared to set us worlds apart from the largely stagnant worldwide scene.

All Inclusive Deal

Darlington's Old Corpse Road
For me, one of the most remarkable things some UK black metal bands seem to be doing these days is not giving a solitary fuck about going out of the way to look or act like a black metal band 'should'. Take Winterfylleth as prime example, with the guys simply rocking up in band t-shirt/jeans/trainers combinations - would that be allowed in the European black metal rule book? I doubt it, but they pull it off by simply playing music that is distinctly above average. There they are on stage, just four normal fellas playing incredibly well-written, passionate, intense music which carries itself. I often get the impression, without over-inflating our collective head, that perhaps we British are on a higher level of thought when it comes to black metal, that we appreciate it purely for its intellectual and emotional values; I'm not saying all Europeans are only interested in blasphemy and corpse paint, but hopefully you understand what I mean… This goes for UKBM fans too; I noticed at one point that black metal over here almost became the new 'in' thing to listen to. I remember at work once, a lad came in wearing a checkered shirt, skinny jeans et al - but underneath was a WITTR shirt. This guy would have looked pretty at home at some hipster gig (nothing wrong with that, like), and there he was brandishing his love for atmospheric black metal, shock horror! To see someone like that at a black metal gig in the UK these days is pretty commonplace; catch them at a death metal gig and you'd immediately think "scene poser wanker". Go on, admit it, you would. He didn't have a fringe though, to be fair. The point is, for a genre that has always given such a cut-off-from-the-world impression, we in the UK seem to have carved out our own little niche which is seemingly, and proudly, very much inclusive. Ironic, given the spiel that some over-conscious ignorant beings come out with whenever some of these bands are mentioned, eh? But I won't go into that old business…  

Fyrdsman 'Forgotten Beneath the Soil'

Another great aspect of UKBM, I think, is that there are just the right amount of bands doing the right amount of different things. Waving the banner with ferocity are Manchester (featuring all of one Mancunian :-P) boys Winterfylleth, sailing off to Holland and Slovenia to show them how it's done; cryptic Sunderland clan Wodensthrone are leaking early promises of their next album (let's hope it's as good as their debut 'Loss', widely regarded as the best UKBM release to date); stalwarts Iceni, Old Corpse Road and Cnoc an Tursa maintain their powerful presence on the underground gig circuit, building solid reputations. Dig a little deeper and studio-based Fyrdsman, Ealdulf and forthcoming Desolate Winds projects display incredible skills and true ears for pushing the boundaries of black metal, seldom broken by European bands (obvious cases excepted). And all these are only examples of the pagan/heritage-influenced ilk. More gothically inclined theatrics can be found in Victorian-themed Eibon la Furies and A Forest of Stars, who both display class and progression in equal measures. 

Of course, we all know there are many fantastic black metal bands doing things a little differently on the Continent, but in my opinion a large majority appear to be stuck in a cycle. To be fair, the current wave of UKBM might not even have come to exist without the influence of some of these groups, but our scene is upping the ante, it has to be said. As a nation we've always been bloody good at leading the way in metal - all in all I'd say we have a pretty good thing going, and it's only getting bigger.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Big Bad Yank

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest

So, here we go with my first beer review - and what a way to start than with a beer everyone's been talking about recently (and which spent less time within the walls of Beer Ritz than a bottle of Crumpton Oaks), it's Sierra Nevada's Southern Hemisphere Harvest! The label, the bottle, the description - this beer presents itself as a huge deal in every conceivable way, which got me incredibly excited (admittedly, the bottle spent a while sat in my cupboard, but I was saving it for a special occasion). The buzz surrounding this ale in the build up to its arrival at the shop spoke volumes about what was in store, and I can reveal now that it certainly was not a lot of fuss about nothing…

This monster was desperate to be drank; as soon as I opened the bottle its aromas leapt straight out and rammed themselves up my nostrils with relentless ferocity. This roused my insatiable lust for beer as I emptied some of the bottle's contents into a Tripel Karmeliet glass - my latest vessel of choice. It poured a fantastically tempting light orange, with a lovely big white head which stood its ground nicely (long enough for it to pose for the camera, as you can see). It looked like it had a nice amount of carbonation. Man was I thirsty by this point!

Just look at this monster!
 Already I could tell that this was the real deal. The immediate big hoppy aroma also presented what I perceived as a fresh maltiness with a good amount of citrus in there. As soon as it hit my tongue, I picked up a nice soft fruitiness - I'm thinking melon, grapefruit and a very slight hint of apricot. The mouthfeel is incredibly smooth and, for lack of a more specific term, lovely! Nice and soft on the tongue, leave it in the mouth for a few seconds and there's some nice caramel hints in there. After the swallow, an immediate yet soft aftertaste of those ever-present fruits is noticeable in a dry, slightly bitter finish. That fruitiness once again comes back up the throat, accompanied by hints of pine reminding me of my all time favourite beer, Alba Scots Pine Ale; this, of course, is a very positive attribute.

At 6.7% this isn't massively alcoholic for an American beer of this immense nature, but what alcohol is in there is masked beautifully; it certainly tastes huge, but in various combined subtle ways… if that makes sense. It's amazingly balanced, and the consistency of the head is a big plus in my book. It has an overall light floral quality to it and is just generally a delicious pleasure to drink! In fact, I wanted to spend a bit of time drinking this beer, but it was too nice to put down for more than a few minutes. And even at the (relatively) low abv, after two weeks of taking it easy on the beer front due to the antibiotics course I've been on, I'll admit it did leave me a little light headed, and incredibly thirsty for more. I now wish I'd taken Ghostie's advice and bought two…

If you ever come across this beast, buy it. Over and out.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Beer Tasting...?

I am, by rights, a serious beer drinker. I mean this in the sense that I, like many others, drink more often than not for the sociability, the relaxation, the temporary loss of care for life's trivial pursuits, and of course for the taste of a good beer. This hasn't always been the case - who can honestly say that taste has been the number one priority since the very beginning of their drinking careers? Of course we used to use our fake ID's to buy 24 crates of Castlemaine XXXX, and of course we used to raid our parents' drinks cabinets for some naive drunken experience the moment they turned their backs. But these experiences, for me at least, were lessons in drinking, and eventually I grew up and into the mindset of simply enjoying a nice night with friends while getting suitably intoxicated, but not hospitalised. Some people, unfortunately, have still not learnt these lessons as you well know. But I digress - this piece is about drinking beer for pleasure.

As I mentioned before, I consider myself quite a competent beer drinker. But does this mean I am good at tasting beer? I personally don't think so. Don't get me wrong, I know what makes a good beer and could happily use recommendations to steer someone with less knowledge in the right direction and, as part of my job, I do this on a regular basis. However, articulating what I am tasting has never been my forte. Some people may, at this point, accuse me of having a wooden palette (re: Zak Avery's recent online war of words with one particular 'beer elitist'); however, I simply put it down to inexperience and the fact that only recently have I started to 'taste' beer (note that I am attempting to make a clear distinction between beer drinking and beer tasting here!). Yes, I can tell you what a beer tastes like to a certain extent, but I can't specifically pick out a hint of gooseberry because I have never tasted gooseberry. Nor can I pick up on subtle hints of orange peel, as I have never thought to myself that licking an orange peel would be a reasonable thing to do. Nor can I clarify what particular hops from a particular part of wherever are used in the beer, as I haven't sat down and tasted every single hop.

I suppose my main point is that beer tasting, and articulating what I am tasting, is something which I am developing a stronger interest in. Working at Beer Ritz is certainly an enormous benefit, as my colleagues are better versed in this subject than I, and are seemingly more than happy to offer pointers on how to hone my palette to different flavours. At the end of the day, I can certainly give you my opinion and recommendations on beers, but it may take some time before I can offer a detailed analysis. So join me, if you wish, on my tasting voyage across a sea of beer on the good ship Discovery. Feel free to offer your thoughts on my beer-related posts; but bear in mind that friendly encouragement is far better received than elitist attacks. Besides, "beer is for everyone… right?"

Happy drinking!

Monday, 27 June 2011

An Introductory Disclaimer

This is not a music blog. Nor is this a beer blog. Nor is it any specific kind of blog, for that matter; so if you're after either of the above, look away now.

I've never blogged before. I've blagged a couple of times, but that's an entirely different thing. Yes, there will be music and beer stuff on here (I plan on having a regular band of the week, beer of the week and album of the month) but they will undoubtedly be crude and biased pieces serving merely to satisfy my own desire to share my skewed opinions with the online world, on the pretense that anybody actually cares. Which they probably won't. This blog will also include some general musings about the world around me; things that piss me off, things that don't, things that interest and intrigue me... all firmly underlined with my world famous sarcastic cynicism.

So, welcome to Hails 'n' Ales! If you care in the slightest about what I have to say, that's great, keep coming back. If not, you're probably of sound mind. 

Happy reading!