All I want for Christmas is…

pie.jpgI’ve been a good person this year. I’ve supported and promoted pubs and shops selling good beer, I’ve recommended beautiful microbrews to people who might not otherwise have drunk them, and I even got round to joining CAMRA.

I don’t really want much for Christmas, aside from the odd nice beer, and peace and goodwill to all men, but here’s my fantasy Christmas wishlist:

  1. The hop and grain harvests to be full and plentiful this year. I don’t think the smoking ban will kill pubs, but £4 a pint might.
  2. UK brewers to do more porters and stouts year round and less summer ales. Oh, and pubs to stock them. I find it strange that even in really good “real-ale” pubs you rarely find a stout that isn’t Guinness.
  3. My local supermarket to change the beer selection more than once every couple of years.
  4. Pubs that don’t want to do good cask ale to discover the wonders of bottle-conditioned beers.
  5. A home-brew shop that gets round to processing your order perhaps the day after you made it, rather than waiting three days before phoning you to say they don’t have the stuff. Thus making you miss your brewing schedule.
  6. The BBC to commission and show a beer appreciation programme. Or any channel really. Get Oz Clarke to team up with some beer writers and see what happens.
  7. CAMRA to stop wasting my subs money on the campaign for a full pint and focus more on the quality of said pint, i.e. perhaps visit a few more of these allegedly good pubs in the Good Pub Guide? See superb rant by Pete Brown on this a few months back, one of my favourite blog posts of the year.
  8. Our first-born lager to work.
  9. To discover that the wild yeasts in the Lea Valley are capable of spontaneously fermenting a tasty beer, thus starting a craze for London lambics.
  10. All the fabulous pubs, breweries and beer shops we’ve mentioned (and many more we haven’t had a chance to) to have a productive and profitable new year. Cheers!

Brat

Pretentious? Watashi?

Stout and Oysters is a classic combination. The problem is, neither of us much likes oysters, which is just as well, as they’re bleedin’ expensive.

But we do like sushi — especially the stuff that comes in polystyrene trays from the Japan Centre on Piccadilly.

bbporter.jpgLast night, we tried homemade “junkfood” salmon rolls with Black Boss, one of the Polish porters we picked up at the Great British Beer Festival.

We’ll tell you more about the beer in our forthcoming Baltic porter round-up but, for now, what we can say is: sushi and porter is a combination that works.

There didn’t seem to be any competing flavours, so both the beer and the food tasted distinct from each other.

With hindsight, we’d drink something a little drier and a little weaker — Titanic Stout would probably be perfect.

St Bernardus Abt 12 v Westvleteren 12

What beer-lover isn’t intrigued by the history and production of Westvleteren beers, the12s.jpg most reclusive of the Trappist producers? The angle that always caught our attention was the similarities (or not) between St Bernardus Abt 12 and Westvleteren 12. The St Bernardus brewery has its origins in a commercialisation experiment by the monks at the abbey of St-Sixtus in Westvleteren, whereby they licenced commercial production of the abbey’s beers to an enterprising cheese producer. The licence ended in 1992, and since then the St Bernardus brewery has continued, removing references to St Sixtus and Trappist beers.

There are various rumours about the similarity of the recipes; that they’re the same but the yeast and water are different; that once they were exactly the same but now they’re different for various reasons etc. We’re not beer historians, so don’t know what’s true and what isn’t; if you want to read more, an old article by Stonch with related comments and links is a good place to start.

12s3.jpgWe thought we’d try the two together and see how similar they were. We tried to make the experiment as fair as possible, serving them in identical glasses at the same temperature etc. However, our Westvleteren has been “aging” in our “cellar” for about five months whereas the St-Bernardus was bought last week.

There’s an obvious difference in that St Bernardus is 10% whereas the Westvleteren is 10.2%. Interestingly though, the St Bernardus (right on our photo) has a stronger body and better head retention.

As for colour – there is a slight difference, with Westy being more brown and St Bernardus being more red-black. But that could be down to the amount of yeast shaken into both.

There is a stronger aroma with the St-Bernardus – it smells like a good sherry, with lots of fruity flavours. As for the taste – we always struggle to describe the flavour of Belgian beers, but here goes. We’d describe both as fruity, but Westvleteren had more milk-chocolate flavours, whilst the St-Bernardus had more tangy apple overtones. St-Bernardus was both sourer and more bitter (though in a very balanced way). As you go down the glass, the St-Bernardus gets more tangy, whereas the Westvleteren gets sweeter.

We concluded that we would be pretty happy to be served both; Bailey had no preference but Boak preferred the St-Bernardus. But they’re definitely different beers with their own identities.

Of course there is a slight possibility we mixed the two up during the photo-shoot…

Notes

The Westvleteren website is here and has got to be my favourite beer related website… You should go there to purchase your share, but you could also have a look on the “top shelf” of various touristy beer bars in Brussels.

St Bernardus site is here. Their products are available in a few more locations, including Quaffs in London where we got ours.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

brooklynipa.jpgBoak’s collossal haul from Quaff’s included one beer we were both excited to try — Brooklyn’s East India Pale Ale. We’re huge fans of the ubiquitous Brooklyn Lager, and of American IPAs, so it seemed certain to appeal.

I’m sure this is the kind of thing that our friends in the US can find fairly easily, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen a bottle in the UK.

We thought it was delicious. It’s a lovely burnt orange colour, with sweet malt and incredibly powerful American hop aroma and flavour.

The obvious comparison is with another favourite of ours, Goose Island IPA. We actually struggled to work out how, if at all, it tasted different, eventually deciding that we thought it was a little more bitter — slightly “crisper”, to get all la-di-da about it.

It’s also stronger than Goose Island IPA (6.8 per cent compared to 5.9) so it might also stand to be compared to Titan IPA which we’ve had at the famous Rake bar.

But… Goose Island might still have the edge.

Quick pre-Christmas plug for Quaffs

quaffslogosmall.jpgAll you London beer-lovers will no doubt already know about Quaffs. It’s a market stall within Spitalfields market, 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station.

I was there yesterday, buying beer for Christmas, and I can heartily recommend the selection and the service. Good to see a wide range of glasses too – perfect for making up gift sets. Who wouldn’t want to receive a hand-prepared selection of Brasserie Ellezelloise (with the fabulous Hercule Stout) with one of their nice chalice glasses?

I bought enough beer to get a free carrying case/bag/suitcase. Very good marketing trick that!

Oh, and I forgot to tell them Stonch sent me. Would I have got a discount if I did?

Boak

Notes

Details of beers in stock, opening times and how to get there are available on the Quaffs website here. It can be difficult to find – it’s sort of opposite the entrance to Canteen, backing onto where the food market is going to be.