Sunday, 30 April 2017

The 41st Newcastle Beer Festival. Battle of the beers.

I win again. Fourth Battle Of The Beers win in six years.

So it was that time of year again. The trade session at Newcastle Beer Festival is always a great get together for the local industry. From brewers, to landlords, to wholesalers, this year I got to meet the folk from some newer breweries such as Stu Brew and the respective Errant Brewery. Although it seemed a tad quieter this time the stage was still set to unveil this years Battle Of The Beers winners.

This year Battle Of The Beers was a contest of who could brew the best IPA between 4-6%. Being style specific for the first time this removed the 'paper-scissors-stone' dynamic of previous years where if you entered a big porter style beer you automatically had advantage over a mild. So with the many sub styles of IPA the majority of entrants went with US style IPA, followed by some UK style traditional IPAs then the odd farmhouse IPA and even a Peach IPA from Box Socal brewing.

The Mordue entry this year was 5PA a west cost style IPA. The number 5 represents 5% abv and the use of five hops. It's also double dry hopped and unlike most of its competitors it was fined (don't mention this to any unfined elitists they won't believe it). Yet from the brewery I was 89% confident of defeat. Out of the tank 5PA had so much late bitterness it was bound to divide a judging panel. Yet on cask 5PA mellowed into a bold ride of grapefruit and citrus pine, I didn't ever think it would be in such superb form.

This year our very close runner-up was Almasty Brew Co Mosaic IPA, a 6% NZ-US hop combo this time unfined. It was reasonably hazy, bold but mellow with lots of complex Nelson Sauvin over a medley of soft fruit and pine. Since 2014 the ex Mordue and Tyne Bank brewer Mark McGarry, now Almasty's head brewer, has entered the local scene with a resolve for on-trend bold, uncompromising beers. His second silver at BOTB  was always going to look good on paper. Like an old tennis rivalry, the former chef vs the biochemist we have both undoubtedly added a great deal to the local beer scene.

So, after the overwhelming realisation of winning despite being convinced it wasn't going to happen and trying for so long it was time to try new beers. Flash House Iron Giant IPA (BOTB third place) was soft-bodied, unfined and citra led. Yet it got to a point where IPA became tiring and I had to sort myself out with some Leeds Midnight Bell, 4.8% dark mild. Shortly after, the recent SIBA award winner 5.3% Daleside Monkey Wrench was tried with its dark fruit and boozy caramel malts.

Elland 1872 the former champion beer of Britain was also on, another big beer with lots going on. All in all only a small range of beers were tried in comparison to what was available but it was a great day out. I learned Olicana hops are nothing like Jester and that Stu Brew would kindly let us borrow there tiny brew kit to do short run Panda Frog batches. Just splendid.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Beer & Cheese revisited


So this was the first group beer and cheese night in a long time. Beer and cheese has been a common feature on the quest over the years. I've done the one-on-one pairing approach to the freestyle try any cheese with X beer type cheese nights. Some group commercial events also.

This group event was a non-commercial 'parents special' you could say. With the added technicality of five children. Would they stay the distance or would everyone leave early to put them to bed? Or would they put us to bed? I was aware things could have gone either way.


Beer and cheese compatibility guide for the night

Note that this time round a new approach was taken to pairing. Selecting 2-3 cheeses per each beer would allow freedom with a degree of order. A halfway point between beer 1 with cheese 1, beer 2 with cheese 2 etc or the opposite 'everyone just dive in' approach. Nonetheless first in the lineup was Augustiner Edelstoff, a proper German premium Hells lager at 5.6%. Bold yet delicate, both Brie and Gruyere provided little for it. Durham Cotherstone was a fair match.

Next up was the anticipated, never tested Mordue Workie Ticket (easy to get from work, very food compatible but never tried it with cheese). In the red corner; Doddingtons Original (a nutty cheddar, makes sense) in the blue corner; Doddingtons Admiral Collingwood. The original was a tad sharp for Workie but Admiral Collingwood with its mellow centre and rind washed in brown ale worked harmoniously with enough salty, chalky bite on this cheese to parallel Workie Ticket's late bitterness.

Next up was Wylam Remain in Light, a 5% pale ale I have never tried. A very hop forward orange, grapefruit, passion fruit type of pale ale . The idea at this phase was to explore pale ale/IPA type beers with bloomy goats cheese and creamy blue cheeses. This beer struck right on chord with Buche Ruffec. Soft tangy Goats Cheese meets hoppy resiny yeasty pale. Meanwhile Panda Frog 5th Panda found almost surprising affinity for Doddingtons Darling Blue. The more weighty, slightly less resiny character helped marry with sweet centre of what's growing to be one of my all time favourite blue cheeses.

So staying with the cost cutting beer from work tactic we next had Panda Frog Hibernator Bock (6.3%) with Old Amsterdam, a nutty, crunchy Gouda. This textbook pairing went down a treat. Unsurprisingly the fondness for beer and cheese was growing. More surprising was the amount of stamina groups of under five year olds can have when it comes to staying up past bedtime. At this time the children had ceased control of much of the house (living room, kitchen, bathroom, Bridge, engine room), or at least the chocolate stash.

Onwards to Chimay Tripel with Reblochon. This gooey washed rind cheese meets 8% boozy carbonation match was originally meant to be Tripel Karmeliet with Delice de Borgogne, a lovely cheese that didn't really pair with anything. Delice was just too funky. Chimay Tripel played its part but a more exciting chemistry was to found in the final round of pairing.

Allendale Barrel Aged Export Stout (7.4%) is a lovely if expensive take on one of the region's finest strong beers. With Stilton there was good chemistry but I felt a less aged original version Export Stout would have done a better job. The beer needed more booze, more bite or rougher edges to go toe to toe with big old salty Stilton.

So it seems beer and cheese has always had an unpredictability factor. Regardless of how many beer author opinions you take in pairing beer X with cheese Y often get; 'well you would think that but actually'. Instinct is probably an equally as useful as literature. Overall this beer and cheese night was a great success, one of the best ever. The great company also made it so.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

5 Years of Panda Frog

The 5th Panda is an anniversary IPA that's pale golden, brewed with five different hop varieties; Simco, Equinox, Citra, Chinook and Waimea. Aiming to divert from my often Centennial heavy approach to the likes of Pandamonium IPA and X2. Despite being a similar abv this beer is paler than Pandamonium and about 40% less bitterness units. Fruity, tropical, sweet lemon and light bodied for drinkability.

So Panda Frog has officially  been a commercial entity for five years. I often wonder where all the time went. Originating from my humble brew kit the oddly named 'Panda and Frog brewery' was the starting point of the Panda Frog adventure. When the name was adopted by Mordue brewery as a side project it became 'Panda Frog brewery' which later became 'Panda Frog Project'.

Filling kegs

Different from regular seasonals Panda Frog beers are conceived as more expermental, personalised recipies usually designed a year in advance of brew day so the wait is long. It's often interesting nearer the time to rejuvenate the past vision of what the past version of oneself was thinking back then.

Our label artist Oliver Fowler has undoubtedly done us proud. I will never forget Pandazilla winning at SIBA north or Dartfrog-48 Dunkel Rye Weizen getting beer of the festival at Durham beer fest ether. These days the project is fronted by Pandarillo, Allelic Drift and Pils holding the line. Whereas back in the day it was rare to see more than one PF beer in the brewery at any time. Some points in the year there were none.

Where it started; fermenting buckets on the living room floor 

I would also note that a lot of Panda Frog goes to wholesalers so it could literally appear nearly anywhere in the UK. Beer 52 and Flavorly have distributed our bottled beers far and wide and we're also getting kegs to SIBA Beer X this year.

So yes five years have certainly gone quick.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Beer and burgers

Admittedly I'm not really a beer and food expert. At times I may have been obsessed with it but more specifically beer and cheese was my forte. On beer and food the majority of the time I normally stick to the book (be that Garret Oliver, Dredge, Cole or whoever). However, when you don't have the book or their isn't any 'textbook' pairings on hand, one develops a sort of instinct.

You mentally line the chosen food option with the array of beer options available and take an experiential shot at pairing. Recently I discovered imperial stout doesn't really go with roast lamb dinner. Yet sometimes you find a winning combo from instinct alone. This was how I discovered the delights of cheeseburger with premium brown/Dark ales, and with bacon cheese, chips and coleslaw involved it's even better.

This comes after years of following the textbook consensus of big hoppy pale ale/IPA with the all American burger. It seems as with pizza, cheeseburgers are a highly beer compatible food stuff.
Though hoppy pale beers do pair great with burgers. Hop forward beers seem to carry big flavoursome dishes well and even salads. Here IPA tends to contrast the fat from cheese and bacon.  The premium brown ale latches on to the meaty flavours of the burger.

Although my two best experiences of this have used Hobgoblin and Riggwelter I'm sure more craft elite friendly options like India Brown ales would work just as well.