Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Molson Coors still behind Doom Bar

Had the pleasure of meeting the new Scottish team at Molson Coors last night at The Blythswood in Glasgow as they unveiled some research into the Scottish beer market (almost exclusively looking at the on-trade) and rounded it off with a beer and food matching event.
The company's beer portfolio is extensive, in terms of brands it owns and brands it distributes and markets in the UK through various partnerships but of most interest to me is not the raft of big name lagers (Singha, Grolsch, Cobra, Corona etc) but the more flavoursome drops like Blue Moon and Doom Bar.
Distribution for Blue Moon is getting better and better north of the border, certainly in the on trade, and it's quite easy to find a pint in Glasgow's west end for example. Doom Bar is another story, with its heartland being in its native south west of England, though it won't take you too long to find a pub selling it in London these days either.
A tiny bit disappointingly, Molson Coors Scotland MD Phil Whitehead told me that Doom Bar won't be making its way to Scotland any time soon - but only because the brewery is already toiling to keep pace with demand. A fairly chunky recent investment should improve that situation and, having previously expressed concern in this blog about the future of Doom Bar post-acquisition [Doom Bar beached?], it's great news to see that all of that investment was actually made at the original brewery in Rock in Cornwall, and Whitehead told me they've no plans to move brewing of the beer anywhere else.
The amount of interest in non-lagers and more interesting light beers is quite encouraging though - a focus shared to a certain extent by SAB Miller - so maybe the market is shifting a little.
I remain convinced that 'craft beer' is something that marketers can sell to younger drinkers in a way they never could with 'real ale' with its chronic image problem and the obdurate reluctance of those looking after its wellbeing to adapt in any way to the world they find themselves in. You really have to worry for CAMRA sometimes.
Other than that I got to try the three Animee beers aimed at women drinkers - I'm not convinced that women are interested in things marketed 'for women', but we'll see - and found them not at all to my taste. Overpowering and sweet and oddly labelled, but then I'm not a woman so what would I know?
The beer and food matching was hit and miss, as these things often are - but that's as true of wine as it is of beer.  Doom Bar and some ice creamy pastry dessert thing worked well enough, Grolsch and mature cheddar and blue cheese categorically didn't. I get the 'crispness cutting through the fatty, oiliness of the cheese' principle, but no. Just no. Oddly enough, to my taste the Doom Bar went far better with the cheddar - but I suspect the Doom Bar would have gone better with most of the food served.
For whatever it's worth, the new team at Molson Coors seem like a good bunch and it'll be good to see them get a bit more of a sweat going in the Scottish market. They've still got their work cut out up here with Carling though. Good luck with that, guys.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Stumbling across Oslo's only microbrewery

Great pub, even better beer - shame about the barman.
It's been a few years since I've been in Oslo but I've always had a real soft spot for it so it was great to spend a few days over there a week or so ago - even if the trip was booked just a couple of days before the various atrocities. Thankfully the unique atmosphere that Oslo has doesn't seem to have been too badly affected.
While I was there I stumbled across Oslo's only microbrewery. I didn't know it was Oslo's only microbrewery at the time - only discovered that after a bit of online research later that day. But it was a cracking little gem to discover and I lost a lovely little hour with a dark, malty, liquoricey, sweetish porter that was made on the promises, literally at the end of the bar. A little glassed-off high tech very microbrewery with a couple of pristine stainless steel tanks - you can just about see them in the pic. Oddly, the barman showed absolutely zero interest in encouraging my interest in his brewery. "So you actually brew all your beers right here then?"
"How many do do you brew?"
"These ones" he says, pointing to the founts on the bar then walking away to read his paper.
OK, fair enough - maybe he's just the barman and has no interest in beer or customers. Maybe time for a new job? Shame, because it is not too far away from my (admittedly old school) idea of the perfect pub. Lots of wood, horseshoe shaped bar, no gimmicks, free newspapers to read and moderately full of people drinking quietly, thoughtfully and everyone in the room reading something and busy just being. My kind of pub. And what's more, not a light coloured beer on show.
Anyway, managed to deduce from my barman's helpful wave of the arm that they do a porter (delicious!), an IPA, an Imperial stout and a pilsner-style beer. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get back and work my way round the portfolio. Always good to leave something to do next time, though...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tasting notes: Hopping Hare

Working on the premise that no excuse is too thin to drink beer on a school night, a new label seems as good a reason as any to crack open a bottle of Badger Hopping Hare, especially as the PR company for Dorset brewers Hall & Woodhouse were kind enough to send me a few sample bottles. To be fair to Hall & Woodhouse (and the BrandOpus design agency they used) the new labels do look rather nifty. Traditional yet modern was the brief, I'd guess, and they've succeeded. I know there are a lot of sandals and socks traditionalists out there that think that flash labels and high spec printing is not in the spirit of real ale, but I have to say I think that's a lot of bollocks. There are a lot of great ales out there and customers have more choice than they've ever had - which is great for all concerned - but not everyone that walks into a store is a beer anorak with a tick list in a grubby notepad in their paw. Lots of them will try beers simply on the strength of the label and let's be honest, we've all done it.
There's also the small consideration that Badger Ales have long done well in the supermarkets (boo, hiss) where a decent looking label is a pre-requisite for a listing. Good luck them too because I'd far rather be able to buy a bottle of Hopping Hare out of Sainsbury's than be reduced to a four-pack of Carling and a free t-shirt.
Anyway, onto the beer, which is 'thrice hopped' using Goldings, Cascade and First Gold hops...

Badger Hopping Hare, Hall & Woodhouse, golden ale, 4.4%, gifted
Lemony gold in the glass with a not much of a head going on, it has an interesting and difficult to pin down aroma. Faintly floral with a some citrus fruit, some grassy hop resins and maybe even a biscuity hint. Not surprisingly, it kicks off with a big hoppy assault in the mouth, bitter and crisp but with a surprising amount of underlying sweetness. More lemony fruit and some spicy notes round off a proper mouthful. A little greasy (or perhaps oily is a better word), if I'm being hyper critical but enough body to carry it all off and a good, firm hoppy finish with some floral notes. Not a bad drop at all.
Score: 3/5

Friday, 25 February 2011

Arran set for expansion?

Great to see Arran Brewery in the midst of raising a chunk of money (£1.6m to be precise) to fund an expansion that will allow them bring the bottling of their beers back up north (they're currently bottled by Marston's in Burton on Trent). Check out this article in the Herald for more info.

New brewery, new brews...

Happened to stumble across a brewery that's apparently new. It's definitely new to me but that doesn't necessarily mean it's new to the world of course. Website's not very helpful as yet - - but seems to have three brews worthy of a nosy.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Tasting notes: secret threesome Tryst

Desktop printer labels outside. Top notch beer inside.
Having recently discovered The Lade Inn's fantastic online Scottish Real Ale Shop I succumbed to the urge one night last week of ordering a mixed case after discovering Tryst Brewery's legendary Carron Oat Stout on the site. (Oatmeal stout is right up my street, you see. There's not enough of it in the world.). Having stuck 4 bottles in the mixed case I decided to fill the other 8 gaps in the case with a selection of more or less randomly chosen ales from Tryst. A brewery at a time is a good way to work your way round Scotland, I reckon. Needless to say, when the case arrived a few days later I had completely forgotten what I'd ordered so it was like Christmas morning when I opened it up. (Full marks to the guys at The Lade for prompt delivery and for clever use of a couple of old copies of The Daily Record and lots of bubble wrap. No casualties at the hands of the courier, I'm pleased to report.)
And now, a week later, I've had a punt at every beer in the case and it's safe to say I'll be back with a new order soon. Every beer is chock full of character with not a dull one among them. They're not all to my taste, which is fair enough, but every one is a wee journey in itself. The labels on the bottles are frankly awful, even by bottled real ale standards, but in its own curious way that only seems to magnify the appeal of what's inside - and at the end of the day that's all that really matters, right?
Tryst Brewery came to life in the early 1990s when John McGarva bought the remnants of the now defunct Berkley Brewery in Manchester and shifted the brewing kit (10 barrel gas-fired boiler, hot liquor tank, 2 fermenting vessels, conditioning tanks, pump and "loads of pipe work") and shifted it up to Larbert, near Falkirk. Since then, the brewery has grown and gathered gongs along the way for its hand made, lovingly turned out ales and for this session I was looking at a couple of them: Carronade Pale Ale, a 4.2% offering made with Washington state hops (the brewery has an interest in more unusual hops), and Drovers 80/-, made to a traditional Scottish 80/- recipe. Both are bottle conditioned.

Carronade Pale Ale, Tryst Brewery, pale ale, 4.2%, Scottish Real Ale Shop
An unusual, soft yellowy gold in the glass, it has just the slightest yeast haze and a head of very dense and small bubbles. On the nose it gives off the loveliest reek of soft lemon and lemon-flavoured boiled sweets, possibly even honey and lemon Lockets, which sounds bad but isn't at all - quite the opposite in fact. It's all very gentle and rounded, characteristics that are carried into the taste. Lemon citrus with honey notes again and an underlying hoppiness not quite getting through as well as it might have. The lemon flavours are maybe short of some crispness and bite that would have really lifted the whole bundle, but that's just my taste. The finish is more of the same: lots of soft, lemony loveliness but not enough bite for my taste and kind of tapering into nothing a bit too quickly.
Score: 3/5

Drovers 80/-, Tryst Brewery, heavy ale, 4.0%, Scottish Real Ale Shop
A classic example of the style known in Scotland as heavy, this 80/- pours a lovely dark, nutty brown, rich and silky. Drinking chocolate and molasses and toasty malt on the nose - utterly lovely. Once you get a mouthful, it's off in another direction. Plenty of sweet maltiness, yes, but the almost overwhelming sweetness on the nose is gone and you're left with a rich, deep, multi-layered delight bouncing between more bitter dark chocolate, some coffeee, a bit of orange and maybe some toasted nuts. It's quite light in the mouth at 4% so this plethora of potentially overpowering flavours just ends up filling your tastebuds with really well-balanced flavours. The finish sees an initial hop burst that than fades up against the stramash of flavours before tapering off slowly and leaving a lingering glow. My only very slight issue was a lack of tightness and shape in the finish but this ale is what an 80/- is all about for me.
Score: 4/5

Friday, 18 February 2011

Keeping it local

While 'local sourcing' might be the buzzword of the minute for everyone from global lager giants to national supermarkets, the real ale brewing industry has always had locally-sourced product at the heart of what it's all about. OK, a chunk of hops might be flown in from Eastern Europe and further afield but most of the barley and all of the water is locally sourced - and it's maybe something that small brewers should be making more fuss of when talking to consumers.
So it's great to see some small brewers across the country working a bit harder to a) source more barley locally and b) let the world know.
St Austell head brewer Roger Ryman (2nd left) in a
field of Maris Otter. With some farmers.
The biggest brewer in Cornwall, for example (St Austell) has announced that it intends to increase its use of Cornish sourced Maris Otter barley from 20% in 2009 to 60% by the end of this year (representing about 1,000 tonnes of the stuff). Up near Kidderminster, Hobson's Brewery contracts with a collective of 12 local farmers with the area given over to Maris Otter rocketing from 40 acres in 2008 to 90 in 2009. This year they are looking at 300 acres, all within 10 miles of the brewery. And being in prime hop-growing country, the brewery also sources hops locally.
What's not to like about lovingly crafted beer, made by people who care about the quality of their produce using ingredients sourced from within a few miles of the brewery? And this is the way it's always been done, not simply because local sourcing is now trendy.