Thursday 27 May 2010

The Politics of Tweeting

There's a stark contrast between judging in America and over here, which I wrote a piece on for the British Guild of Beer Writers newsletter and have pasted below, however, I'm also struck by the fact that I feel slightly uncomfortable with the concept of tweeting during the judging process.

I don't know whether it's because often my first thought when I'm unsure about something is to put myself in the other person's shoes and if I had entered some of the categories in recent competitions and heard them so roundly slated before the results were even out I'd be a lot less inclined to enter the following year or whether it's just because I don't think it's professional.

I think the mobile ban at both the GABF and the WBC is well worthwhile, partly because you often think that you know a beer and end up being completely wrong and could tweet about it being in fine form and give false hope too. My best example of this is that one beer competition I was convinced I was drinking Deus, as it's such a distinctive beer, and it turned out I was actually judging Eisenbahn's Lust - so it just goes to show how wrong you can get it!

I think part of the problem I also have with the social networking during competition is the flaw in our systems and this is that the brewers rarely get a copy of the judging feedback in the UK, which is totally opposite to the US, where the judging sheets make carbon copies of all your notes, which also makes me question slightly why you'd even enter as a brewer if you can't find out why or how your beer won/didn't make a medal.

This is not a pop at anybody/competition in particular by the way, quite a few people have done tweeted/Facebooked during these comps and I'm not even entirely convinced I haven't, but I've decided definitively I won't be doing so in future, I'm just airing my views and wondering what you think about my points both below and above?

Brave New World
You may be aware that nothing is done on a small scale in the States and in keeping with that Herculean sense of bigness the GABF is the GBBF super-sized. And I’m not just talking about the festival itself, but also the judging. The sheer level of professionalism at the GABF is something to behold and I believe all of us who run, or participate in, beer competitions can really learn from this.

Here’s just one example: on the night before judging commenced we attended the judges’ briefing session, which took us through the whole process and provided us with our categories. Then, and here’s what let me know straight away I was in a different league, we were given some sensory training using different hop products and asked to rank them in order of bitterness — at this point I’m thinking okay, a little bit nerve-wracking for the new girl, I’ll give it my best shot. 

So after tasting all these products and ranking them I begin to relax a bit when the majority of the show of hands in the room agreed with my assessment… only for the presenters to announce that these compounds were actually all the same IBUs and to be careful about using our ‘perceived’ bitterness in beer as an absolute benchmark; this was fascinating, insightful and extremely valuable. 

And when it comes to the physical judging itself, there are 78 different beer-style classifications, some with sub-categories, to be judged — and okay we may not have, or be willing to, break down our beers that minutely, in the UK but I feel we are currently failing to accurately reflect the diversity of beer styles available and that this needs addressing. Without doubt the most useful tool of all is the style descriptor sheet you get and this is something I’d really like to see adapted and adopted over here — here’s just one small extract:

Bohemian-Style Pilsner: Bohemian Pilsners are medium bodied and they can be as dark as a light amber colour. This style balances moderate bitterness and noble-type hop aroma and flavour with a malty, slightly sweet, medium body. Extremely low levels of diacetyl and low levels of sweet corn-like dimethyl sulphide (DMS) character, if perceived, are characteristic of this style and both may accent malt aroma. A toasted, biscuitlike, bready malt character along with low levels of sulphur compounds may be evident. There should be no chill haze. Its head should be dense and rich. Original Gravity (degrees Plato): 1.044-1.056 (11-14 degrees Plato); Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (degrees Plato): 1.014-1.020 (3.55 degrees Plato); Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.8%-4.4% (4.5%- 5.5%); Bitterness (IBU): 18-25; Colour SRM (EBC): 4-5.5 (8-11 EBC)

Now I’m not necessarily advocating this as the definitive format, as the technical aspect may prove overwhelming for some, but what I wanted it to demonstrate is the gulf between our methods and
those in the US. Here in the UK we quite often don’t even provide the category descriptions the brewers
were given to enter the competition, and whilst I applaud the fact we have significantly more focus on drinkability in most of competitions, there’s also a lot to be said for raising the professionalism of the industry as a whole by ensuring beers do meet the criteria set for their entry.

All this aside, the most lasting impression that I got from the overall experience I feel is the most important one that we can learn from in the UK — and that’s the positive attitude. Glenn uses the word collegiate and I can’t think of a better term with which to describe the brewing community out there; people work together so closely, they care about what happens to their neighbouring brewery and they refuse to give in to any doom and gloom.

I know we’ve been having a rough time here over the past few years but the outlook is brighter now than it’s ever been, with more craft breweries in the UK than at any other time since 1945, and I strongly feel it’s time we started focusing on that and sending out the good news stories.

Monday 17 May 2010

Happy Birthday & Discount Beer!

A little newsette for you! Sorry it's a bit press-release-y but I only had time to tinker with existing copy they sent - busy getting set for big tasting with Alec Stewart tomorrow night! Discount details at end.

This month, Twickenham-based Real Ale Ltd. celebrates its fifth Birthday.  Since opening the shop doors on 14 May 2005, the company has grown steadily, now supplying people all over the country with its large selection of ales and ciders from micro-breweries across Britain, Europe and the rest of the world.

Operating part of its business out of a warehouse, close to Twickenham Green, the company has used its experience to choose the right beers from an ever-growing number of micro-breweries as well and running not only its own successful ale club, and has also recently taken over the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Beer Club, which boasts nearly 1,000 members.  

Nicholas Dolan, managing director of Real Ale Ltd., comments “Since the beginning I’ve always wanted to give customers the opportunity to try interesting and different beers, which would otherwise be hard for them to find and the development of felt like the obvious next step, offering a next day delivery service nationwide.  

“Being able to work closely with Marks & Spencer’s to source and develop their beer range, with small brewers, has been a unique experience and has undoubtedly taken us to the next level”.
Also, for the past three years Real Ale Ltd. has been supplying Marks and Spencer’s with bottle conditioned ales from regional brewers.

Dolan continues “We work in conjunction with M&S to find regional breweries that produce beers that represent their regions. All of which are brewed exclusively for M&S.”
The nine beers supplied include Scottish Ale from the Cairngorm Brewery, Yorkshire Bitter from Cropton, Norfolk Bitter from Woodforde’s and Cornish IPA from St Austell Brewery.

As Real Ale Ltd. continues to grow, states Dolan emphatically, everyone in the business is never complacent and still feels passionately about the importance of their shop on Richmond Road; he adds:
“Promoting small and medium-sized breweries, in many cases from rural communities across the UK, is fundamental to our ethos.  We are very keen that the current momentum behind the real ale sector continues for the many years to come." will be celebrating its 5th anniversary throughout May and will be offering all of its customers 10% off any purchase. 

Friday 14 May 2010

A Large Offering of Otley

Those lovely boys at Otley are having an almighty beer festival this weekend at their brewery tap the Bunch of Grapes if you happen to be around the Pontypridd area.

I'm hoping to get them to London for a meet the brewer soon to showcase what I hope will be an awesome ale I'm off to brew with them soon.

For the first time, the entire range of Otley beers will be served at the pub over the weekend, including its latest seasonal beer –O-Mai, a 4.3%, light amber, hoppy ale flavoured with hints of raspberry. The pub, run by Otley, will be setting up a festival bar to serve the range which includes:

Otley O1
Otley O2
Otley O3 Boss
Otley O4 Colombo
Otley O5 Gold
Otley O6 Porter
Otley O8
Otley OG
Otley Dark O
Otley O-Garden
Otley 11O38
Otley Croeso
Otley Motley Brew
Otley O Mai
Otley OF
Otley O HO HO

Wednesday 12 May 2010

This Rulles

Despite taking on board recent comments on other blogs about not just saying 'I drank this, I drank that', I don't do straight beer reviews that often so I'm going to share this one anyway!

Paul from very kindly gave me a bottle of Jean Chris Numero 1 from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles and it is utterly delicious!

It's almost a saison/biere des gardes/Belgian blonde hybrid with an American hop influence but, unless you know what those are, I'd better elaborate because there's nothing more annoying than style comparison, up-your-own-bum beer writer know-it-all nonsense like that!

So, to put it in real world terms; the gorgeous cloudy amber colour is backed up by a nose full of orange blossom honey, with a hint of an earthy spice. The beer then develops a BIG orange & candied tangerine peel on the palate with a very pleasing hint of dill that arrives just before the serious citrus bitter kicks in, it's not an unpleasantly strong bitter but it's pretty prevalent nonetheless.

My attempts to pair it with last night's curry went by the wayside, not because it didn't go, but because we'd drunk the bottle before the beef had sufficiently softened, but a Gouden Carolus stood us in good stead in its place! Oops!

But I will say I think this would be magnificent with dark chocolate or perhaps even a classic poached salmon with dill & lemon butter or something rich like pork belly, perhaps in the Szechuan style with some jasmine rice & steamed bok choi with garlic.

Monday 10 May 2010

Under the Influence of Influential People

There are wonderful moments in life that bring you back down to earth with a bump, that knock any delusions of grandeur out the window, that make you realise you don’t have as much influence as, perhaps, your slightly over-inflated ego suggests – and this happened to me last week.

So, as a result, the person who resulted in me being taken down a peg or two must be mocked – it’s the law!

So, Mr Pete Brown, stand up and take a bow as an ‘influential beer writer’! Me, I get scumbag journalist, but Pete, he gets ‘influential beer writer’!

All right, the scumbag bit might have been my inference but with Mr Brown getting ‘influential beer writer’, I’ve clearly got to up my game people!

With this kind of accolade bestowed on him at a SIBA event, no wonder there are people now looking at his influential beer writer words in light of theories and expostulations by French philosophers & theorists like Roland Barthes or compared to cloud-based projects on the web, or the wisdom of crowds by James Surowiecki, the influential New York Times writer.

In fact, his recent rallying cry to improve blogs, to make them more than just ‘I drank this, it tasted like that’ could even be looked at through the schools of thought of Motivationists, Consequentialists and, at a push, could even be glanced at through Kantian theory if you look a bit sideways!

But, however you look at it, that particular post is certainly having an influence on the blogosphere, so his accolade is correct and when I have the time to post more it will be with that bold statement in mind.

Anyway, there was another reason for this ramble (apart from taking the mickey out of myself and poke a bit of good-natured fun at Pete), I had a bet with manager of the Rake Glyn Roberts that we could both write a post about this event and get influential beer writer in to it as many times as possible in around 350 words!

Sorry, but after a few beers these things seem like a good idea, and at least I tried to give it some sort of relevance!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Come to the Dark Side

Legendary Sussex brewery, Dark Star, is striking back at lovebeer@borough on May 15.

After winning hearts at last year’s Valentine’s tasting, head brewer Mark Tranter returns with award-winning beers and some special brews just for you!

Currently the line-up is semi-secret, as there are some rare beers coming we know you'll love, but we can confirm we will be tasting:

The icon that is Hophead, American Pale Ale (voted Britain's best golden ale), the World Beer Award-winning Espresso Stout and the rare as hen's teeth 10.5% Imperial Stout

Entry, as ever, is just £15, sessions are at 1pm and 3.30pm and you can buy your tickets from the Rake or by calling 020 7378 9461 between the hours of noon and 4.30pm.

lovebeer@borough is based above the Rake on 14 Winchester Walk, Borough Market, London, SE1 9AG WWW.LOVEBEERATBOROUGH.NING.COM

*this post is for my beer tasting business in Borough Market, which is a commercial concern*