Monday, 28 February 2011

A Day in the Life of York Beer


Twissup : (noun) - The peripatetic coming together of tweeting beer lovers in order to indulge in their favourite pastimes of drinking beer and talking hop.

I found myself in a strange town surrounded by people like me with one common interest that bound us together like hops on a trellis - The love of good beer. York was to be the destination for the third Twissup and since I had missed the previous two in Burton and Manchester, this was one that was pencilled into my diary as soon as it was announced. Not for all the Humulus Lupulus in Kent was I going to miss this Twissup.

So, with bag packed and tickets in hand, we set off, Mrs Monkey and I, on the three and a half hours journey south through the stunning Scottish Borders and Northern English scenery along the cliff hugging North Eastern train line. The journey was made even more enjoyable by the couple of cans of Brewdog Punk IPA that I had brought along for some extra company. It felt good drinking nice beer from a can but I was kicking myself for not lifting the can of Caldera IPA that I had also looked out for the journey. Never mind, I thought. I'm sure there will be some lovely beers where we were going.

Brigantes Beer Board

The plan was for everyone to meet up outside York Brewery at midday but since we had arrived an hour prior to this it seemed a waste not to try and find a nice pub and to start the day the way we meant to continue - with a lovely pint in our hand. A quick tweet to see if anyone had had the same idea revealed that there were a few drinking in that York Institution, The Maltings. No sooner had the tweet back come into my timeline, we were in a taxi travelling the 150 yards from the station to the pub. The price of a pint for a two minutes taxi journey was probably not my best move of the day but how was I to know that it was just around the corner from the station?

A pint of very nice Black Sheep Best Bitter was our reward for our inverse tardiness. Smashing. Pint swiftly despatched we made our way up to meet the other beerheads outside York Brewery for our tour and tasting. After a quick half of York's Motueka, which was a nice, light and refreshing single hopped beer, we were shepherded in by Mick, our guide for the next hour, to where the brewing action takes place. Mick gave a dryly funny and enjoyable talk about the brewing process before we headed back to the bar for some rather nice York First Light.

Our beers finished, we said our appreciative goodbyes to Mick and went down some stairs, took a few strange turns in the lane below the brewery, opened a door expecting to be out in to the street but instead found ourselves, Lion, Witch and Wardrobe style, in the back of a pub called Brigantes. They had a good range of European keg beers as well as Cask Ales. The huge assortment of pumpclips adorning the walls and ceiling included some of the finest beers around were a testament to the pubs commitment to serving lovely beer. This was a pub that I could have spent a lot of time in but after a pint of Paulaner and a half of Timmerman's Peche we were off out the pub and on our way to a pub that I had heard lots of good things about and was itching to pay my first visit to.

Pivni, has a reputation far beyond York's city walls for serving a superb selection of world beers and their range when we were in was exceptional. On keg and cask were three Bernard beer including the superb Bernard OX Specialni, Four BrewDog'd including their mild Edge and Riptide, Camden Town Pale Ale and some Belgian Fruit beers. York residents clearly have Viking genes as I witnessed more than a few locals order two pint glass steins of 6% plus beers. They weren't part of our 'responsible' drinking party, I may add.

I contained myself and instead went for a pint that I'm very familiar with due to it's regularity in my favourite London pub, The Jolly Butcher's. Camden Town Pale Ale. It was as stunning as always and it was really good to see quality London beers making an impact outside of the capital city. A few other beers were sunk in here including a lovely BrewDog Edge and some Trashy Blonde.

clean sweep of Hardknott beers

The beer of the day for me was consumed in Pivni but not bought there. It was a pre release sample brought along by Cumbrian Brewer par excellence - Dave from Hardknott Brewery. I was very fortunate to be offered a taste of Hardknott's latest offerings: their Imperial Stout Aether Blaec which has been aged in oak casks which used to contain 27 year old Inchgower and 28 year old Balmenach Whisky. These are strictly limited to 960 bottles and should be available through My Brewery Tap. The Aether Blaec Balmenach just edged it for me with it's more rounded, smoother flavour. A very big thanks to Hardknott Dave, Ann and Sooty for a taste of these cracking beers.

Food was needed and we found it in The House of Trembling Madness which sits above the beer geek nirvana of a bottle shop appropriately called The Bottle. A palete cleansing glass of the German classic, Jever accompanied my Hunter's platter of delicious cold meats and salad. A cheeky half of Kwak followed and a chance meeting with some great folk from York Uni Real Ale Society. Barely in their twenties, their passion and enthusiasm for great beer was superb and we were all soon on our way to our next rendevous, a pub on the edge of York City walls called the Rook and Gaskill which is a nice enough pub with a wide selection of over a dozen pumps serving mainly castle Rock and Ossett beers as well as a handsome selection of U.S. and European bottles.

We had now hooked up with Gav Aitchison, The York Press's Beer and Pubs writer, and he promised to take us round some of his favourite pubs. We headed next to the Waggon and Horses where I had a Braun Ale called Kraftwerk by a West Yorkshire Brewery, Revolutions. They have an interesting beer concept. They only produce beers of 3.3%, 4.5% and 7.8% which are "inspired by, and pay homage to, music from an analogue age". The beer was very nice.

The Phoenix Pub which sits almost on the shoulder of the city walls was to be our penultimate pub and was an absolutely stunning example of a Victorian era town pub. It date backs to 1830 and is now in the hands of a retired maths professor who has made some minor enhancements to the pub but has kept it true to the spirit of a genuine victorian bar. It is not hyperbole to say that it's possibly one of the finest pubs that I have had the pleasure of being in. It was homely, inviting and I could spend a lifetime there.

The Phoenix

We were all beginning to flag now as it approached the witching hour and it was nearly time to crash but not before a night cap in the Golden Ball. I wish I could tell you more about it but to be totally honest, I have some photos and a note of what beer I had, Ilkley Leeds Pale, but my 'tiredness' has affected my memory.


It was time to retire but I went to my bed very happy to have shot the breeze and drunk some very fine beers with some lovely knowledgeable beerheads.

Special thanks must go to Mark and Andy for organising it, Gavin for being our impromptu evening beer guide, The York Uni real Ale people for their ale enthusiasm, Richard from The Beer Cast, Tom from Pivni, Rob from Beer Lens, The Hardknotts and everyone else that we met who made the entire day so enjoyable.

Oh, and Johnathan Queally for being a 21st Century Beer Legend.

Until the next one...........

Footnote - Apologies to the The Swan and Slip Inn for neglecting to mention them in the write up. They were the last two that we visited however a combination of too much beer and pickled eggs had wiped that part of the evening from my short term memory. Thanks to Gav and The Swan for reminding me. I suppose that sort of sums York up. A fantastic friendly city with simply too many pubs to remember. It's a great beer drinker's city and one you should consider paying a visit.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Single Hop Celebration - BrewDog's IPA is Dead



One of my  favourite books as a child was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I'm sure that you are all familiar with it so you don't need me to retell the story to you. I often imagine that BrewDog's brewery resembles the Chocolate Factory with penguin shaped Oompa Loompas running around fulfilling the beer whims and wishes of our very own Willy Wonkas of the 'Craft' beer world, BrewDog's Martin Dickie and Captain James Watt as they create their boundary busting beer equivalents of Whipple Scrumptious Fudge Mallow Delight and other eccentric gems.

Some of their beer creations are almost Wonka-esque in their marriage of weird and exotic tastes and flavours. A quick look at their latest Abstrakt : 05 beer confirms this - It's a Belgian Imperial Stout aged on toasted coconut and cacao. BrewDog are clearly not afraid to take risks when creating new beers and the introduction of their new four pack merely reinforces this philosophy.

The four pack is collectively and provocatively called IPA is Dead and contains beers singled hopped with Citra, Bramlin X, Nelson Sauvin and Sorachi Ace hop varieties.

The concept behind the BrewDog's single hopped beers is simple. Each bottle contains the same malt backbone, the same 75 IBU's and all have 7.5% ABV potency rate. The only difference in the beers occurs during the kettle and dry hopping stages where a different single hop is used for each. The four hops come from different parts of the world with BrewDog's aim being to showcase and show off the flavour, power and aroma of their favourite, different hops.

So, with nothing better to do, Mrs Beer Monkey and myself set about sampling the four different beers over the space of an evening to discover whether any, some or all of the single hopped beers led to us experiencing the '100% hop awesomeness' that BrewDog claims on the bottles.

First out of the bottle was -

Bramling X - This smelled really lovely when I popped the cap off. It had a delightful layered complex nose that gave off an unctious sweet aroma of tinned pineapple and blackcurrant Tunes that lightly dissipated to reveal  barley sugar and candy floss. It's taste was just as nice. It had more pineapple and barley sugar that was balanced superbly well with the strong malt alcohol bite that nicely toasted the throat on the way down. It had a burp inducing lively carbonation not seen since Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe's visit to the Bubble Room to sample some of Wonka's Fizzy Lifting Drinks. It also had a nice lingering bitter finish. This beer is an extremely drinkable and enjoyable beer. So much so that Mrs Monkey proclaimed that it was the 'nicest BrewDog beer that she has ever tasted'.

Next up was -

Nelson Sauvin - This was another nice beer but the Bramling X edged it for drinkability and balanced flavour. The Nelson Sauvin smelled and tasted of candied grapefruit, mango with shards of sharp grapefruit bitterness. There was also some Kiwi fruit and more citrus bitterness that masked any semblance of a boozy, alcohol bite. It was an initial full on hop assault on my tongue and tastebuds that diminished gradually to leave a lovely lingering bitter tingle.

Sorachi Ace - A strange one this and quite beguiling.  Both of us didn't particularly enjoy our initial glugs of this beer. It smelled and tasted strange. It was a mixture of floral, caramel and wet grass with a tinge of musky mildew. Perhaps it was a little bit too fresh but five minutes after it had been poured, it had transformed itself into a rather nice beer. The initial strangeness had gone and in it's place was a delightfully subtle and very lovely blackcurrent jam flavour that gently filled my mouth that gave way to a soft, unobtrusive bitter linger. I still can't work it out.

Citra - And now on to the final beer of the night. This one uses a hop that seems to be the current hop du jour - Citra. It has been used by quite a few breweries recently and there are some fine examples of the style out there, most notably Fyne Ales' Jarl and Oakham's Citra. So how did the BrewDog Citra shape up? It had a punchy citrus nose full of ripe mango and pineapple with fresh, resinous hops pretty much apparent from the off. More pineapple in the mouth accompanied by some chewy fruit salad and a pleasant balance of sweet malt and some hop bitterness. The flavour  reminded me of some Nelson Sauvin beers. I was expecting more a grapefruit citrus but instead it was totally tropical citrus and pineapple notes. It gave way to some alcohol but not much in the way of a bitter finish.

Which one did we prefer? Both of us agreed that the Bramling X was not only the stand out but also the outstanding beer of the night. That's not to say that the others didn't have their merits. I'm particularly looking forward to trying a bottle of the Sorachi Ace in a few months hence to see if ageing it slighty can buy it the time it needs so it can finally work out what kind of beer it wants to be.

Overall, the four single hopped beers are an interesting and exciting experiment which proves that when it comes to creating tasty and adventurous beers, BrewDog may just be holding the Golden Ticket.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

In Praise of.......Online Beer


Welcome to the third in an occasional series in which I heap praise, pile on the plaudits and generally blow smoke up the arse of those beers, brewers and beery people who have, in their own way, contributed to and enriched the lives of the many, many drinkers who like a glass of something well made and very refreshing every now and again.

Today, I want to doff my cap and say a big, hearty thanks to those online beer retailers who have made it just that bit easier for the legions of good beer drinkers to get their hairy palms on some of the finest examples of quality, well made beer from not only the UK but also from the other three corners of the globe. I stay in a big city but even then I often find that the supermarkets and beer retailers around my way tend to offer a choice that is resticted, repetitive and often uninspiring.

So, thank heavens for some beer savvy folk who clearly know a cracking beer from a crap one and are committed to sharing their passion and purchases with other beer lovers. Two online retailers deserve special mention for the wide variety and eclectic selection of bottles and cans from some of the world's finest breweries.

My Brewery Tap is a cracking site that allows you to buy difficult and hard to find UK beers directly from the brewery. Their product list contains some of the best regarded and 'cutting edge' UK breweries such as Thornbridge, Oakham, Hardknott, Marble, Crouch Vale and Fyne Ales. They also have a fine selection of international beers from countries such as the USA, Germany and Australia. My Brewery Tap have also just introduced the appropriately titled 'Beer Geek Pick n Mix' that allows you to choose individual bottles from excellent UK and US brewers. Recently listed in the Beer Geek selection include beers from Mallinson's, Rogue, Smuttynose, Stone and Great Divide.

Beer Merchants is another site that has been partly responsible for opening up my beer horizons and my taste buds to some stunning Danish, Belgian and British beers. Their recent choice of  Mikkeller and Kernel offerings has been very exciting and has included a wide selection of Mikkeller and almost all of Kernel's full range including their sublime Black IPA. They have a growing list of lovely American beers too.

I know I said two retailers deserve special mention but I must also squeeze in a thumbs up to Brewdog for making 2011 quite an exciting and interesting time for internet beer buying. As well as their own beer options which, in the past few months, have seen loads of their own new additions and one offs on their site including Alice Porter, IPA is Dead, Punk X, Euro Trash and Canned Punk they have also began listing some of the beers that Brewdog's Captain James Watt and Martin Dickie personally consider to be some of the finest examples of 'craft' beer available in Europe and the U.S. These include Maui's Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter as well as beers from The Bruery, Alesmith, De Struisse, Nogne and Port Brewing Co.

So, let's praise and take our hats off to those online beer retailers who have now given us a reason never to visit a pub again.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Clever Beer Names


A couple of blog posts ago, I vented my spleen and named and shamed those beers that I considered to have names that were shamelessly sexist with dire double entendres and silly smutty puns. Crap beer names so toe curlingly embarassing they repel you from the product. There are, however, some beers out there that have rather interesting and, in some cases, inspired names.

So, in the interests of beer balance, I think it's only fair that I list those beer names in this year's Good Beer Guide that I think are ticking all the boxes in terms of having a good name. Some are straight down the middle 'what you see is what you get beer names', others have involved a little bit more thought in the naming process.

So, in no particular order, I give you my delightful dozen of Clever Beer Names -

Bartram's - Comrade Bill Bartram's Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout

Kelburn - Pivo Estivo

Cheddar Ales - Gorge Best

Bob's Brewing Co - Chardonnayle

Tottenham's Redemption Brewery - Hopspur

Marble - Pint

Lymestone - Ein Stein

Brewdog - Tactical Nuclear Penguin

Stewart's - Cauld Reekie

North Cotswold - Hung, Drawn and Portered

Anglo Dutch - Tabatha the Knackered

Severn Vale - Severn Sins

There are loads of foreign beers that have great names too but I've stuck to just U.K. breweries and beers.
However, special mention must go to the San Francisco based Shmaltz Brewing Company that produce Kosher beers that go by, what I think is, one of the most inspired names ever for a beer range;  He'Brew.

What's your favourite?


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tasting Notes - BrewDog Punk IPA in cans


A few blogposts back, I had the pleasure of trying some Maui Brewerie's canned offerings, Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter. Both were nice and the novelty of having lovely beer from a can was not only different but also very refreshing. Since then, I've managed to get my hands on some more great cans including Caldero IPA and Pale Ale as well as Buckbean's Black Noddy Schwartzbier. And now Brewdog have just released their signature beer Punk IPA in a wee tin in their quest for global beer domination.

It would appear that good beer in cans is a bit like waiting for a bus - none for ages then suddenly a whole load of different ones turn up trying to tout for your business.

I'll cover the Caldero's and the Buckbean in a later blog but for just now, I want to crack open the rather alluring Brewdog can, get it poured and give it the once over.

This is a 5.6% ABV brew as opposed to the 6% of it's previous bottled incarnation. It also is slightly stronger than the 5.4% Cask version of Punk I had tasted at the launch of their Alice Porter last month.

So how was it?

The ring pull quickly flicks backs to reveal a lovely nose of fresh resinous fruity hop aromas. Given that these were canned less than a week ago, I had expected it to smell fresh but not as lovely and juicy as this was. It was bursting full of gorgeous mango and peach notes that enticed and enveloped my nose and mouth. My taste buds were dancing with excited expectation that demanded to be sated.

It tasted of even more fruit than the aroma with grapefruit, passion fruit and yet more mango and peach to the fore. Some Kiwi fruit was also present but it was noticeably sweeter than any of the cask, keg or bottle versions of the Punk that I had tried before. I'm not sure if this is a good thing. It was okay with the couple of cans that I tried but it's sweetness could be an issue if you are planning on sinking a few of them.

The finish was not as dry and cheek clenchingly bitter as previous versions and again, I think this is to the detriment of the beer. It's all a matter of personal taste but I like my beers with a nice long hoppy dry finish and this doesn't have it in heaps that the original version had. It's a nice beer, don't get me wrong, but I think that it lacks that certain something that usually defines a BrewDog beer.

For a BrewDog beer, but it's remarkably unremarkable. It smelled divine but disappointed with the sweetness and the lack of a long dry bitter finish.

For a company that bases it's marketing strategy and brand identity on being uncompromising, I fear this beer does the opposite.


Monday, 14 February 2011

Crap Beer Names


As someone who finds himself staring at the beer boards in my local pubs more often than I should, I'm frequently struck by how shit, sexist or simply embarrassing some of the beer names are. On the one hand you have the plain and straight down the line beer names that tell you simply the brewery and the style of beer, such as Redemption London Porter. Occasionally, the name may indicate the type of hop used,eg, Oakham Citra or Crouch Vale Amarillo. These are good names because they give you an indication of what you can expect when you buy your pint.

However, there are beers out there with names so skin crawlingly cringeworthy they do the opposite from what was originally intended and rather than entice you in to try and buy them, I find they force me away from them. I'm sure you have all seen them in your visit to the pub.

These are the beers with silly puns, double entendres, smutty Spoonerisms or just plain shit names. Some of them are usually accompanied by pumpclips that would bring a smile to the face of Benny Hill's corpse or strike a chord with sacked Sky Sports presenters.

So, in no particular order, here's my Dirty Dozen of Crap Beer Names -

North Yorkshire Love Muscle

Houston's Helga's Big Jugs and Top Totty

Ho Hum.....

Nelson's Friggin' in the Riggin' and Spanker

Great Oakley's Gobble

Northumberland's Cupid Stunt


Fuzzy Duck's Cunning Stunt

Cairngorm's Sheepshagger

Sandstone's Buxom Barmaid

Art Brew's Spanked Monkey

Suthwyk's Old Dick

Going by some of those names, I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs Grimshaw's Poorly Packed Kebab IPA makes an appearance soon in pubs around the country.

It must be a hoot for female barstaff when asked for the 15th time that night, "Can I have two Gobbles and a Spanked Monkey, please?", "Would you like a taste of my Old Dick?" or "Are you pulling my Love Muscle?"

There are no doubt worse beer names out there than the ones I have listed but as long as it gives the punters a laugh and the opportunity to snigger up their sleeves, then that's alright then?  Or is it? With more females trying beer isn't it time that these type of beer names got consigned to the past? My partner likes beer and so do some of her friends. They shy away from these beers simply because of the name. How many more feel the same way?

Quite a few I would reckon.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Hopping All Over The World - Brewdog's new beers



Fraserborough Upstarts, Brewdog have just launched their new single hopped range of beers that aim to showcase the variety of hops available around the four corners of the globe.

The beers are collectively called 'IPA is Dead' and contain the same malt skeleton of Maris Otter, Crystal malt and Caramalt, have 75 IBU's and come in at 7.5% ABV but each are individually hopped and then double dry hopped with either Bramling Cross (UK), Nelson Sauvin (New Zealand), Sorachi Ace(Japan) and Citra(USA).

I'm particularly looking forward to trying the Citra version to see how it fares next to my current Citra favourites of Fyne Ales Jarl, Kernel Citra IPA and Oakham's Citra.

You can get the BrewDog single hopped range here


Friday, 11 February 2011

Defining Craft Beer


Mark Dredge from Pencil and Spoon has thrown the question "Is there such a thing as UK Craft Beer?" out into the internet ether.

This has been discussed with some people arguing that the craft beer moniker for some British beer is a misnomer and should only be used when in reference to beer produced by our American ale cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. This is a rather knee jerk, rigid and dogmatic response that maintains that under no circumstances should the term "craft beer" or "craft beer revolution" be used to describe the product or the upturn in interest and sales of some of our most exciting and progressive brewers and breweries.

Others, Mr Dredge included, consider it an apt name to describe and quantify the new brewers on the British beer scene who embody, exhibit and bring new levels of passion, creativity, experimentation and eclecticism into their beer craft. When I hear these words referring to British beer, I think of the following breweries - Dark Star, Thornbridge, Brewdog, Hardknott, Fyne Ales, Kernel, Marble, Moor, Redemption among others. These breweries are pushing the beer boundaries and are radically different from what has gone before. Many have been inspired by the U.S. and are using a range of hops and flavours that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. They are clearly doing something radical, something different and distinct from many other UK breweries.

Should we therefore create a new category of definition to differentiate these beers and breweries from the rest?

Yes. I think so. But I don't think that it should be the term 'Craft Beer'


Well, I've always been wary of the U.S. linguistic imperialism that seems to be creeping into the lexicon of our language. Words and phrases such as '24/7', 'Step up to the Plate', 'OMG', 'Awesome' and 'Craft Beer' are Americanisms that deserve to stay on the other side of the Atlantic.

Personally, I prefer the phrase 'Artisan Ale' or 'Artisan Beer' rather than 'Craft Beer'.

It conjures up an image in my mind of people making beer for the sheer love, pleasure and passion of it. Making it to be enjoyed and experienced and the beer produced being an end in itself and not simply a means to an end.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter what it is labelled or pigeon holed as.

Good beer is good beer. Just get it opened, poured and enjoyed.

Have a nice weekend.


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Molson Coors' Ale Agenda


I notice from today's beer press that multinational brewer, Molson-Coors have consolidated last week's £20 million acquisition of Cornish Brewer, Sharp's by announcing the launch of a range of their own brand guest ales over the course of the coming year.

The move, which can be interpreted as further proof of Molson-Coors seriousness about building up an ale profile and achieving increased market share within this growing sector, will see 16 different beers being available. Included in these will be four seasonal beers from the Worthington range as well  sports event one offs and Mitchells and Butlers flavoured ales. I'm not too keen on the sound of the M&B's flavoured ales as the mere suggestion reminds me of Walker's crisps one offs. Anyone up for baked ham and mustard or roast turkey and stuffing beer?

Thought not.

I have my concerns about big beer co's trying to go for a slice of the cask cake and I dont think they are doing it for the love of the ale but, instead, as Coors Sales Director Simon Cox says, the introduction of these beers "is the perfect addition for any business looking to increase profitability and footfall." The bottom line it would appear is the bottom line.

Had it been another multinational then my concerns would be magnified but to be fair to Molson Coors they have maintained the history and brand intergrity of the cask beer that they currently have in their product portfolio, Worthington's White Shield, and I hope that this philosophy is continued with their new beers.

Time will tell whether they are in the cask sector for the duration or whether they are a here today, gone tomorrow beer merchant trying to make a quick buck out of an expanding market.

The ball is in Molson Coors' court and it is now up to them to prove themselves.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Fyne Ales Competition winner is.....

............ Mr Dave Lozman.

The correct answer was -

C. Citra Hops.

many thanks to all who took part and to Fyne Ales for the beer.

Look out for another beer monkey competition next month.

Jarl and Hurricane Jack are available from the Fyne Ales Website


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Stella - Beer Blaggers and Cider Chancers


A great deal has been written about Stella Artois and InBev's rather opportunistic attempt to break into the 'expanding' cider market with the launch of their Stella Cidre. However, I wouldn't be too worried about their foray into the cider world as Stella has a proven track record of jumping on various beer bandwagons with reassuringly expensive and hyperbolic press and PR campaigns only for them to spectacularly fall off a short time later.

I mean who could forget such Stella classics as Stella Black, Eiken Artois. Artois Bock, Stella 4% and their Peeterman's wheat beer?

What do you mean, you've forgotten them already?

Artois Bock was introduced in May 2005. It was a 'Bock' style 'brown' beer based allegedly on a recipe dating back to 1892. It emerged into the sunlight in a blaze of slick marketing and publicity including, appropriately enough, a poster campaign titled 'No Respect'. Poor sales led to it being dropped in January 2008 and replaced with Eiken Artois.

Eiken Artois' launch saw another heavyweight media campaign which led predominantly on the 'oak aged' nature of this 4.6% lager and the claim that the hops were 'hand picked'. The name Eiken is Flemish for oak and InBev's hyperbole extended to proclaiming that this beer was taking lager to a 'new dimension' and that it would help retailers 'premiumise' their beer sales. By December 2008, it too had gone the way of the 'Bock' and was dropped from their product range.

Also dropped around the same period was Peeterman's Artois - a 4% wheat beer which was InBev's attempt to capitalise on the trend at that time for lower strength lagers. The wheat went out and in came Artois 4%, which was introduced in response to Beck's 4% offering, Vier. I'm getting confused now by all this chopping and changing on InBev's cooking lager conveyor belt.

And to make matters even more confusing InBev launched, in Summer 2010, Stella Artois Black lager. It's not black but it is 4.9% and is marketed as a 'deluxe' lager for 'posh' people which is 'perfect for those special occasions when consumers want to try something new and different.' Again, this was backed by a huge cinema and magazine ad campaigns.

Can you see a trend developing here?

At every step of the way, they have been behind the curve and playing catch up with the market. No originality, no innovation. Just a vain hope that throwing mega amounts of cash at campaigns can convince drinkers to change their ways and buy their product. Judging by the beers I've listed, it doesn't seem to be working.

Now Stella makes the move into cider in an attempt to take a piece of the market created by Magners and Bulmers. It's quite laughable and all rather desperate and very probably far too late in the day to be thinking about tapping into this market.  The cider with ice market surely peaked a couple of years ago, didn't it?

How long before Stella Cidre goes the way of the Bock, Eiken and Peeterman's and is consigned to the dustbin at InBev's Head Office marked 'Cynical and Opportunistic Failed Products'?

I give it a year from launch.


Friday, 4 February 2011

The Session - All Hands to the Pump?


As part of beer bloggers Friday, I thought I'd chip in my two pence worth regarding the topic of the day -  Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

I'm a fan of nice, tasty, well made refreshing beer. There is simply no finer feeling than the first gorgeous glug of a lovely beer as it makes it's way from the glass into your mouth and fills it with a variety of lush lupulin flavours and tastes. And more often than not, it's cask that fulfils my beer needs. That's because it's what I want when I'm out. It's what I go out for: a lovely pint.

That's not to say that every pint I've had on cask has been lovely. They have not. Many have been stunning and gorgeous examples of the brewer and cellerman's art and craft. Some have been poorly made or poorly kept. Others simply not to my taste. I'll take that risk and if good cask beer is on sale in a pub that I'm in, that's what I have. If there is no cask on, I'll find another pub. Unless they have a magic fridge dispensing untold gems of bottled U.S. and German beers like a stunning hybrid of Glasgow's Allison Arms and Blackfriars pubs.

Which leads me on to bottles. Bottles are great and my bank statement and heaving cupboard are testament to my fondness for impulsive yet deliciously enjoyable internet beer buys. The bottles I have are different from the cask beers I usually drink when out. They tend to be beers or from breweries that are harder to come by other than via the net. Bottles suit my purposes when at home and want a nice relaxing beer during the evening.

I recently dipped my toe into U.S. Craft beer in a can virtue of Maui breweries Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter. The novelty of drinking quality beer from a can was a great feeling and although I was fearful prior to pouring that the beer would have a tinny taste my fears were misplaced. The Big Swell was stunning. The Porter was just okay. The method of dispense paid no part in the differentiation of my enjoyment between each. I just thought the IPA was a much nicer beer.

Which I think answers the initial question.

Cask, Keg, Can,  Bottle - Does dispense matter?

Ultimately, the method of dispense is important but more in terms of where you are and what's available. What's more important is what ends up in the glass and how it tastes. A bad beer dispensed by cask, keg, can or bottle is still a bad beer. Similarly, a good beer is still a good beer and a beer of quality should shine through regardless of what it's poured from.

Tasty beer is tasty beer.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

Competition Time - Fyne Ales bottle it.



It's competition time, folks and your chance to get your hands on some utterly gorgeous Fyne Ales bottles courtesy of the beer monkey.

Up for grabs are a bottle each of Fyne Ales' latest offerings. The superb Hurricane Jack and one of my beers of last year, Jarl. Jarl has turned heads and set tongues wagging since it's cask introduction last summer. It went down a storm at the Great British Beer Festival in August and in a very short space of time it's built up phenomonal fan base.

The success of both beers, up and down the country, has convinced Fyne Ales of the necessity of not only making these beers part of their regular cask canon but also bottling them and make both available on their website alongside old favourites Avalanche, Vital Spark and Highlander. This is the first time these beers have been bottled and if they are as good as the cask varieties, then UK beer drinkers are in for one helluva treat.

What have you got to do to get your hands on these littles lovelies?

It's simple.

Simply answer the question below -

  "What hop is used in making Fyne Ales Jarl?"

A. Nelson Sauvin

B. Perle

C. Citra

D. Fuggles

Choose one of the options and email with your answer by 7pm on Sunday the 6th of Feb. I'll choose a winner from the correct answers and announce it soon after.

It's as simple as that.

Don't say I'm not good to you.

Good Luck.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Shouting........lager, lager, lager


When it comes to the lovely wet stuff, over in Beer Monkey Mansions, we are always keen to try something new or different. Much more so if that means challenging our assumptions, questioning our beliefs and pushing the boundaries of our own beery understanding.

We are also forgiving souls, always willing to give people and things the benefit of the doubt, a second chance and to try to see things from their point of view. Indeed, we subscribe to the notion that in order to fully experience another perspective we not only have to walk a mile in another's shoes but also see things through their eyes.

Confession time. I used to drink and rather enjoy multinational, stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap cooking lager. Is it not what we all drank growing up? It was, round my way. I started off my drinking 'career' downing Tennent's, McEwans and even Kestrel Lager with my mates before heading out. If we were really lucky and were flush then our beer bag would contain Colt 45 and Breaker Malt Liquor.
During my clubbing days and trying to look cool, I'd often be propping up the bar with a can of Schlitz or Red Stripe in my hand. Or, maybe the bar was propping me up. It was a long time ago.

So in an attempt to recapture those heady days of when the quality of a pint was measured by the amount of bubbles and the size of the head; and the excellence of an evening was measured by how many you sank and how little you remembered, I've decided to go back, way back and with no expense spared (well, £2.84 actually), to jump feet first into the shallow end of the beer spectrum and revisit some old friends that used to keep me company during my formative drinking days of my late teens and early twenties and give them a second opportunity to win me over and regain a place in my beer soaked heart.

Coming home tonight with me for a proper slurping are the beer behemoths of Tennents, Skol and Carling and to tell you the truth, I'm quite looking forward to it.

First up into the glass is some Skol. It pours a golden colour with a soft white head that shrinks to nothing very quickly. A quick swirl and all I can smell is a faint tin aroma and not much else. It's cold, wet and fizzy and has a very thin mouthfeel.  Not much in the way of clear, discernable taste although there is a tinge of grain. I took another sip no more than a few minutes after the initial pour and it was dull, lifeless and lacking in any of it's initial carbonation.

On the can, it says that it is brewed using only the finest ingredients yet carelessly forgets to list them anywhere. It also describes itself as light and refreshing quality lager. I describe myself a handsome, charismatic, square jawed Adonis. Self description is an easy game and usually doesn't stand up too well to the scrutiny of others. Except in my case, naturally.

It left a nasty, lingering artificial aftertaste and wasn't pleasant.  My initial enthusiasm was beginning to look a little misplaced.

Glasgow's own, Tennents was up next and it's been a while since I have had a can of this. It poured golden and had a strong head that, along with the carbonation, maintained itself moderately well. It had a malty, grassy and strawish taste that is sweet and sticky on the lips and mouth. It had some dry bitterish finish that would indicate that some hops had been close by when this was being brewed. Possibly, in a store next door. It was okay in a bland and inoffensive kind of way.

I had intended to open up the Carling but, after sampling the first two, I decided to leave it for another day or until I've got a visitor in need of a thirst quenching fizzy brew provided they're not that fussy.

What have I learned from this experience? Not a lot that I didn't know already. Comparing mass market multinational cooking lager to find out which one is the best is a bit like comparing serial killers or dictators. You can do it but, like the lagers, it's a pretty tasteless activity.