Sunday 25 November 2012


Transatlanticism n. The state of being in a long-distance relationship with another person over the Atlantic Ocean, for example, with one participant living in the United States and the other living in the United Kingdom, along with the emotions that accompany such a state, such as the desire of physical intimacy, melancholy and hope. Coined from the song of the same name by Death Cab for Cutie (source: Urban Dictionary).

I've no idea if David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) named this beer based on the above, or if perhaps the meaning was derived from the marrying together of the two styles (London Porter and US IPA) it draws from. What I do know is that the beer was brewed specifically for a competition run by Rooster's Brewery in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire for Leeds home brewersAs I've acknowledged in previous posts, David has been hugely supportive of my own first steps into home brewing, and for me is the very definition of the friendliness that underpins the UK scene. As he explains in his post about it, "the beer is a hop forward porter, meaning that in the first instance I aimed to brew a Black IPA, made it too roasty (possibly) and viola!". 

To those who've tried some of David's brews, it will come as no surprise that the beer wowed the judges and won the competition. The judges noted that "the beer screamed HOPS at you from the glass. Bursting with juicy fruit aromas amidst a touch of coffee, backed up by a big hit of roasty bitterness". David's prize was to have the beer brewed commercially in collaboration with Roosters, who made it clear on the brew day that they wanted the scaled up version to closely match the flavours and aromas of the original brew. Fast forward a few weeks, and the commercial version of this beer hit the shelves of Beer Ritz in Leeds, where a whole case was sold in about 2 hours! Now, having been lucky enough to sample a few of David's brews in the past and having enjoyed everything I'd tried from the Rooster's brewery, this was something I had to get my grubby mitts on.

I placed an order (If you're quick, you can still grab some from their mail-order site here) and waited for it to arrive. I didn't have to wait long. The service from Beer Ritz was excellent as always and the bottle arrived at my door some 19 hours after ordering - impressive!

The beer pours an opaque black colour, although if you hold it up to the light, the edges turn a transparent dark golden brown. It had a thin magnolia coloured head that subsided quickly. The initial slow pour produced no head, so I switched to a more vigorous pour towards the top of the glass.  Holding the glass up for a sniff, I first picked up the pine and citrus (especially orange) notes produced by the Centennial and Cascade dry hopping, but swirling and sniffing more I was able to pick up a roasty smoky quality beneath the hops, with a distant hint of caramel. As a huge fan of the Black IPA style, it smells delicious. 

In terms of initial mouth feel, there was very little carbonation to speak of. If you hold the beer on your tongue, you get a subtle fizz that soon subsides. There's plenty of body to underpin the flavours, which start out with hints of roasted coffee before subsiding into a lovely fruity hop bitterness. The orange I picked up in the aroma carried through to the middle of the beer. I can see why this is described as a hop-forward Porter. It certainly had plenty of dark roasty flavour to support the description, but this is first and foremost a hoppy beer and the finish has the perfect amount of hop bitterness for me.

All told, I think this is a very good beer (it certainly disappeared quickly, despite being a large 750ml bottle!) but I feel more carbonation would make it a great beer. It's possible that the lack of carbonation may have been specific to this bottle. The good news is I ordered two, so watch this space!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Adnams - Social Media and Sole Star

Adnams is a brewery with a lot of history. However they are a brewery that has also shown a desire to move with the times, be that through the beer they're brewing, their branding, or how they engage with their customers. They produce a range of traditional ales, interspersed with some interesting, modern twists and the occasional special release. Since being acquired by the Adnams family in 1872, they've remained independent and focused on retaining their links to their Southwold, Suffolk home, although their beers are available nationwide these days.

Over the past few years, I've enjoyed a good number of their beers, with the delicious Ghost Ship on cask (first sampled in a Wetherspoons in a West London business park of all places) being a particular favourite. Fittingly, it's a recipe based on one from Adnams' archives with Citra and other American hops providing a modern twist. This was originally a seasonal beer intended to available in the Summer months. However, the response of the drinking public saw it become a permanent fixture and made available in both bottle and more recently canned form. 

Its permanent launch in May of this year was marked with an innovative social media campaign, #showmetheghostship, which had a huge online response. Adnams worked with Spring Agency (case study here) to come up with the content, which climaxed in a ghost ship being projected onto the side of the brewery at a special launch event. Adnams (@Adnams) gained over 1000 twitter followers during the campaign, which can be seen in the graph below:

@adnams twitter follower over time,  graph courtesy of wildfire
Adnams, in my view, have a fantastic online and social media presence and are one of the most engaging of the breweries I follow across all platforms. As an example, a couple of years ago, a friend mentioned in a tweet that he was looking forward to visiting the brewery on his birthday. Their marketing team saw this tweet and made him feel special on the day, sending him away with a few beers to celebrate. That kind of engagement is priceless in terms of driving loyalty and he still talks and tweets about them. Sarah Howe (@sl_howe), who tweets for Adnams, attended the European Beer Blogger's Conference this year (coincidentally, also in May) to present the newly launched Ghost Ship as part of the speed tasting session and it was interesting talking to her about the importance they attach to how they engage with customers on social platforms.

Anyway, on to the beer in hand! With increasingly high beer duty being a hot topic at the moment, the recent halving in duty for beers below 2.8% ABV has provided a rare break in the storm. The fact it was offset by a huge increase in duty for high strength beers is not lost on me, but the cut, most likely made to favour supermarkets and other mass producers, has provided an incentive for brewers to innovate in arguably the most technically challenging of categories - flavourful low strength beer. With no significant malt base to underpin them, low strength beers can be watery and can also struggle to maintain mouthfeel, head and any lasting flavour on the palate. A guardian blog post discussed some of the products released in light of this drop in duty, and it doesn't make good reading. 

Adnams' effort, Sole Star, is described in their tasting notes as a 'full-flavoured and great tasting pale amber beer, with a light floral/citrus aroma, gentle caramel notes and a good level of bitterness'. It comes in at 2.7%, so qualifies for the lower duty rate, enabling Adnams to sell it online at a very reasonable £10.99 for 8 bottles.

So, what did I think of it? The beer pours a very clear amber/copper colour with a small white head. The floral/citra aroma is certainly there amongst some caramel notes from the malts, which also carries through to the initial flavour. It has a nice bitterness, which is well balanced and not overpowering, but it fades fairly fast, which is to be expected given the thin body. Here's a wordle word cloud pulling together the collective view of those who've reviewed the beer on ratebeer:

The bottle I sampled was decent enough, and my glass emptied quickly and left me wanting another, but in all honesty this is not probably a beer I'd drink lots of. If you go up another percentage point, you'll pay more for the pleasure given the standard rate of duty, but can enjoy much more flavour in beers such as Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Redemption's Trinity and Kernel's Table Beer in what I'd still consider the sessionable 3.x% ABV bracket. I applaud Adnams and other breweries who've released products in the lower duty bracket but hope and pray that the government increases the lower duty threshold an extra ABV percentage point (or even half a point!) in future. Flavourful beer within this lower duty rate category remains something of a holy grail.

Thanks to Adnams for sending the bottle through for sampling.

Update on home brewing exploits

After the relative success of my first two adventures in all grain brewing, I've really caught the bug. The idea of making tasty beer at home at a reasonable cost is one thing, but having my eyes opened to the infinite possibilities accessible through four simple ingredients is a different thing altogether. Brewing has, of course, been around for thousands of years and yet styles continue to evolve with commercial brewers always willing to push boundaries in search of The Next Big Thing.

As a home brewer, I started out brewing stuff in styles I like drinking. AG#1 was a shameless clone of Green Flash's excellent West Coast IPA. I like to think of it as a sincere form of flattery of what I consider to be absolutely the best IPA coming out of San Diego. Best drunk fresh, of course, but more on that later. The support I received before, during and after that first brew really pushed me on to brew more. The brew itself wasn't great. It was decent, and I'm still drinking it, but I know I can do better. Like most things in life, there's always room to improve. That brew taught me that dry hopping doesn't just involve sprinkling hops on top of a fermenter and hoping for the best - you need to get the little bleeders actually suspended in the beer for good results and that's not as easy as it sounds.

The second brew, Nelson Saison, was my contribution to SupSaison, a celebration of the style hosted by top beer blogger Phil Hardy. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. The wonderful Nelson Sauvin hop turned out to be a good bedfellow for Wyeast's 3711 French Saison strain, their aromas and flavours sitting together very nicely in the glass. I drunk about half of it and gave the other half away and people seemed to like it, which was very rewarding for me. I can understand why some brewers read their reviews on ratebeer and similar sites, especially if that's their only window for feedback, but in my view you can't beat face to face (or tweet to tweet) personal feedback to learn how to improve and know what people really think. I've certainly learned the most from talking to other home brewers and commercial brewers, and they're a very supportive bunch.

The first two brews were pretty big (8% and 7% ABV respectively) so for my third, I wanted to try something a bit more sensible. Here's the recipe:

The brew day was a bit of a disaster. Actually there were two brew days. The first involved me flooding my kitchen and the second saw the hose attaching the false bottom of my mash tun to the tap fall off during the mash (twice). I fell out of love with the brew from the outset and, convinced it was spoiled, left it far too long in secondary fermentation. My second lesson in dry hopping is that you can't leave a beer on hops for weeks on end. It'll end up smelling like vegetables. In a miracle of brewing science, the beer itself isn't too bad. Yes, it smells a bit odd (that may settle down) but tastes pretty nice. A lovely pale colour, decent body and rasping but not overwhelming bitterness. I will revisit this recipe and try not to mess it up next time!

My fourth brew was a revisit of Nelson Saison but with a pomegranate twist. I had intended to brew a beetroot Saison, but couldn't get the juice I wanted to go along with the veg itself. Instead, I opted to brew something similar to my first Saison but use pure fruit juice to hopefully add some flavour and colour to the beer. The recipe was similar to the first attempt but I substituted Maris Otter for the Pilsner malt and used Nelson in flower rather than pellet form (can't find the latter for love nor money!) and toned the bitterness down a bit. As I write, that's in secondary fermentation which saw me add some more Nelson Sauvin hops for aroma and another bottle of POM brand juice, which handily is chock full of sugar.

My fifth and most recent brew was an Imperial Stout. This is my wife's favourite style and I wanted to brew something for her to enjoy. Here's the recipe:

I'm planning to split the batch and age some on French Oak chips soaked in Maker's Mark bourbon and some on Coffee beans with Vanilla pods. This brew was the first where I'd used a yeast starter, following the excellent instructions David Broadford Brewer Bishop wrote up here after a talk at the Leeds home brew club from the ever helpful Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge Brewery. The brew day was my smoothest yet but I did lose some gravity points from running off too quickly, so the beer started off at 1.085. Two days in the fermentation is going great guns (pic to the right) so I'm hoping to be able to transfer it this coming weekend, which will also see me bottling the Pomegranate Nelson Saison (it's all go!). 

When I wrote last December (as part of my Golden Pints submission) that the beery thing I'd most like to do in 2012 was to start home brewing, I had no idea how fun and rewarding I'd find it. I've met new people, learned an awful lot about the art and craft of making beer and most importantly, found a new passion to get my teeth in to. This Sunday (November 11th) I'm entering my first home brew competition, organised by London Amateur Brewers, having entered my West Coast IPA and Nelson Saison in their respective categories. I'm really looking forward to getting some judges feedback as well as spending the afternoon chatting to fellow home brewers and I'm sure sampling some wonderful beer. Home brewing is on the rise in the UK and I, for one, am happy to be involved in the vibrant, supportive and sharing community that underpins it.