Saturday, 28 May 2016


Hiver is contract brewed in West Sussex. Hepworth's, the brewer, produce some beers under their own name, but the vast majority of their output must be other people's brands. These range from the high end Curious Brew for Chapel Down Wines to Gurkha lager for Nepalese curry houses.

I normally give trade samples to staff, as a sort of pub trade equivalent of gold stars in primary school. This was an exception: there's a serious prospect the company I'm working for will be buying a quantity of Hiver to serve in some sites.

As such, this tasting was strictly professional. I even did it with a clean palate at 11am, as if it were something serious like wine.

I have to say I like this: it's a proper English golden ale, though with an amount of fizz which serves to prevent the sweetness becoming cloying. The honey flavour builds nicely with successive sips but never overpowers. The lower hop level is entirely appropriate, giving the adjunct its time in the spotlight, though there's still some bitterness present.

In summary, I don't think you could execute a beer of this style any better. The bottle presentation is marvellous - embossed label, lovely design - and I look forward to trying it (and probably serving it) on tap.

You definitely aren't allowed to say Hiver was designed to appeal to women. That would definitely be an unacceptable thing to say, so don't even whisper it.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Sex on the Beach

Much as I love them, we all know the Germans sometimes get a bit carried away.

A shandy's fine - perhaps the only socially acceptable beer cocktail - but the way pretty much all German breweries sell their beer pre-mixed with lemonade in bottles and cans positions us at the top of a slippery slope.

Yesterday a pal who's just arrived in Munich sent me this:

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Carlsberg 1883 Re-Brew

Last week I attended a beer tasting and dinner at Carlsberg in Copenhagen, in celebration of the 140th anniversary of the brewery's research laboratory.

Although large-scale brewing has moved away from Copenhagen, the Jacobsen craft brewpub is still in the original Carlsberg complex. Additionally, hidden away in the lab, there's a tiny test brew plant where Erik Lund and his team carry out test brews.

Erik Lund shows us his pilot brew plant in the Carlsberg Research Lab

To celebrate the anniversary, Erik used live yeast isolated from an 1883 bottle of Carlsberg, one of a clutch discovered perfectly preserved in the brewery's cellars last year. Old brewing records were utilised to match the recipe and water as closely as possible.

One of those old bottles from 1883

After two months of lagering, the brew was racked in an oak cask and a week later served to a group of eager beer writers from around the world. I was there too.

Erik was bare bricking it as he tapped the barrel in front of the assembled rabble, his chairman and CEO.

Erik Lund, the brewer, nervously pouring the Re-Brew

Thankfully, it neither gushed due to over-carbonation, nor tasted oxidised. What we got was a very softly carbonated beer that looked and tasted more like an English strong bitter than any Danish lager you can think of. When they inevitably tweak this and release it commercially, fizz will lift the sweetness and improve the experience considerably.

Dinner in the evening was a real treat: sat between Erik the brewer and Mark Dredge (lovely lad), I enjoyed several courses of new Nordic cuisine prepared by a former head chef from the world-famous Noma, who now has his own Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant, Studio.

A sample of the Re-Brew, served as an aperitif

We started with another sample of the Re-Brew. After that, bottled Jacobsen craft beers were paired with the dishes. The food was sublime and the beers were all good.

The Crown Prince of Denmark was present at top table (Carlsberg must be the country's premier homegrown brand, which would explain His Royal Highness's presence). Smiling throughout, he looked a bit bemused by the whole thing and left behind his gift: the first numbered bottle of the Re-Brew.

A Royal gift
FULL DISCLOSURE: As well as providing all that beer and food, Carlsberg laid on my flights and two nights in a very nice hotel. They also paid for the very bemused taxi driver who took me back to the airport, still drunk at 8am and inexplicably dressed in my gym kit. The freebies definitely had an effect on my opinion: I now think Carlsberg are boss because they're very nice people who paid for me to have a luxurious mini-break in a European capital. Anyone who enjoys so much generosity and then pretends to be impartial is telling fibs.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Apostolic beer

I'm always on the look-out for the ultimate bevvying vessel. When you run a bar it pays to have your own personal mug. That way you won't get your own pish mixed up with the riff-raff's, and can keep it cold when the duties of bartending unexpectedly cause a hiatus in the proper business of boozing. Also noone can tell whether you're drinking a beer or a massive gin and tonic.

This example at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge is perhaps my favourite yet. Dating from the late 17th century and originating from near Bayreuth in Franconia, it features all Twelve Apostles and a merchant's monogram ("HB"). Delightful.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Two Copenhagen brewpubs (incorporating Beer of the Week #15)

This week I visited Copenhagen for the first time. I was a guest of Carlsberg, invited to a very special event and dinner at their old brewery complex. More on that later in the week (they spent a fair whack entertaining me, the least I can do is give the whole thing a write-up).

Whilst in the Danish capital I visited two brewpubs, consecutively, on Tuesday afternoon. Let's go.

A freshly poured "Lazarite IPA" at Warpigs, Copenhegan
A joint venture between world famous Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeler and Three Floyds of Indiana, USA, Warpigs is as hip as can be. It's housed in long, thin premises in a former wholesale unit in the meat packing district.

It had friendly American-accented staff, very agreeable American music and American barbecue food. I didn't eat, but it smelled delightful, and the chefs looked very industrious in the open kitchen, despite there being only three or four takers at 1pm.

I hadn't had a bev in three days, so the first beer didn't touch the sides. Both of the house-brewed IPAs I tried were tasty, but came with barely any head at all, served in squat tumblers at a high price even by Scandi standards (about £7 for 40cl).

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my visit. Warpigs is undeniably likeable: a warm welcome from genuinely enthusiastic staff goes a long way.

Sadly, as in many of the trendier brewery taprooms in London, what you're presented with as a beer just isn't good enough for those of us who aren't new to this lark.

A perfect strong stout at BrewPub København
Situated at lower ground floor level on a street of tall, distinctly belle epoque architecture, BrewPub København was less American Midwest and more Mitteleuropa than where I'd just been.

Inside, it was far more expensively appointed - and far less cool - than Warpigs. A few tourists picked at meals as a lone barman took care of the tail end of lunch service.

I tried their Copenhagen Lager first. It was unfiltered, hazy and refreshing. But sadly it suffered from a crippling fault: a phenolic flavour I've always understood to be the result of a mishap at the fermentation stage.

By this time I was in conversation with the barman. He was certainly the manager, if not the owner, judging by his commitment. He poured me generous tasters of their American inspired hoppy ales. I enjoyed them, but was drawn to the brown ale and the stout on offer.

The Smoked Brown delivered what it promised, though not in spectacular fashion. As my host explained, it wasn't intended to emulate Schlenkerla's forthright bacon flavour, but instead had a restrained note of tobacco on top of a solid malt base. Decent stuff.

The 6.8% CPH Stout was tremendous, however. It was definitely my Beer of the Week. It's hard to describe a perfect strong stout without using the same old descriptors - dry, roasted etc - but this hit the spot in every way.

Best of all, the beers at BrewPub København were poured in the correct manner: a proper head, beer mat underneath, a look of pride on the barman's face. That stuff's all very important to me, and if you want to appreciate beer it should be to you too.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Achtung, Hofbrauhaus!

I missed this in last week's news: the owner of the Hofbrauhaus in Munich has lost a court battle after trying to cancel an event booking he'd taken. A judge ordered Herr Steinberg to honour the contract. The Guardian covered the story.

There's going to be hell on here, guaranteed.
Why's that so interesting? The booking in question was made by Alternative für Deutschland, a populist political party frequently described as "anti-immigrant" by its opponents. The beerhall owner regretted his decision after realising protests from left-wing activists would surely result if the event went ahead.

You'd think, considering Hofbrauhaus is known as having been a haunt of Adolf Hitler, Herr Steinberg would have been more careful before scribbling the AfD's details in the reservations book.

I doubt the whole affair will put the hordes of tourists who pack the place out throughout the year, though. He might need a few extra lads on the door that night though: there's bound to be a bit of chew.

What this whole affair demonstrates is a simple rule I've learned the hard way a a pub landlord: people who try to make bookings are far more likely to be a pain in the arse than walk-ins.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Beer of the week #14

A revival of this feature from last year: the best beer I enjoyed this week on draught, in a pub or bar. This is unlikely to happen every week, but let's see how we get on.

Troubadour Obscura
Imperial Stout
One half at the Dovetail, Clerkenwell
8.5% abv, £4.80 a half

A glorious beer, poured beautifully: a typically Flemish riot of flavours, including some dark fruit, nuts and even a touch of aniseed, all finished off with a really stout-y dry finish. Obscura was satisfying from beginning to end.

If the staff hadn't rung the bell early and made such a show of trying to shut the bar before actual time I'd have lashed into another.

This is why Belgian brewers deserve such respect: they create truly complex beer to be sipped and savoured.

In contrast, when craft brewers in the modern, international mould produce something strong, as often as not one doesn't get an increased range of discernible flavours: everything's just amped up a few notches, with the addition of harsh alcohol burn.