I wish I was in Cologne

cologne1.jpgIt’s Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day). I love pancakes, don’t get me wrong. But isn’t Shrove Tuesday in Britain a pretty tame celebration, compared to the multi-day benders that go on in many parts of the world?

The Rhineland goes in for carnivals in a big way. Whilst we were in Duesseldorf a few weeks back, we saw plenty of posters advertising the big events to come. The Cologne carnival is even more famous.

I wish I was in Cologne, drinking koelsch tonight.

And that reminds me — we haven’t posted our postscript to our trip to Duesseldorf — a brief round up of a couple more cheeky koelsches downed between train connections.

On the way out, it was a visit to the Gaffel brewery tap in the Alter Markt. Gaffel’s pleasant enough, particularly when it’s the first beer of the trip. However, more exciting was the fact that we saw the very waiter from the photo that illustrates the “Cologne and the Northwest” section of the Eyewitness Guide to beer.

On the way back, we thought we’d pop into the famous Frueh am Dom, which had always looked too touristy/busy to visit on previous trips. It being a wet Monday afternoon in January, there was plenty of room, even with all the businessmen and their suitcases, awaiting their train connections. It’s a nice place. The brew itself is a very clean, crisp koelsch, very refreshing but not one of the more interesting ones (in our humble opinions).

Highlight this time round was Peter’s Koelsch, from their outlet in the old town. We seemed to have missed this on our first crawl round Cologne. You can definitely taste the ale in this one — fruity and almost sulphurous. We liked it.


A map containing all of the places mentioned here and in our previous post can be found on Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide, here, which also has stacks of other interesting information. You can also follow this link for Ron Pattinson’s various koelsch crawls, all entertaining reads.


Our IPA worked

ipa2.jpgIt’s been a steep learning curve, but we now seem to be able to brew decent beer. Our lager was great and, tonight,  we drank the first bottle of our IPA . We’re delighted with it.

We can’t really give you objective tasting notes. Suffice to say, it has a really nice fruity, malty flavour, and tons of hop aroma (which we’ve also struggled to achieve in the past). Having been in the bottle for a mere 10 days, the yeast hasn’t quite compacted at the bottom of the bottle, but there was a lovely dense, long-lasting head. We normally just get fizz, so things have definitely taken a step forward for us.

We’re giving most of the credit to liquid yeast — it seems to add a certain complexity we were missing.

Next up, a mild.

Eichenblatt bitte from the Oakleaf Brewing Company

eichenblatt.jpgTandleman‘s not the only one to feel a bit let down by microbrews recently. However, after trying a number of rather disappointing British micros in the last couple of weeks, we finally hit a good one worth writing about.

Eichenblatt Bitte is produced by the Oakleaf Brewing company in Hampshire. It is, as you can see from the label, a Bavarian smoked wheatbeer, something you might expect from our wilder American microbrew cousins but is dangerously radical for the real ale market.

It didn’t look inspiring at first; the label could best be described as charmingly amateur, and when it poured, it had almost no head and resembled dirty dishwater.

BUT… it tasted lovely. I’ve never had any kind of smoked wheatbeer, and wasn’t sure how it would work, let alone what a bottle-conditioned English take on it would be like. It had the banana flavour you would expect from a German wheatbeer, with a subtle smokiness that took away the excess sweetness.

Very interesting. Nice to see a British micro experimenting (and more to the point, succeeding) with unusual styles, and I’d certainly like to try more from this brewery. It looks like they have a huge range (not always a good sign!) but I don’t think I’ve ever come across them before. You can find out all about them on their website, here.


The etiquette of complaining to your homebrew supplier

We’ve been let down by homebrewing suppliers in the UK on several occasions now.  You place your order, and hear nothing.  Perhaps a week later they may ring you up to explain that they don’t have everything you wanted, and is it OK if they wait a week or two until the rest of the stuff is supplied?

By which time, a precious weekend or two has passed, and you’ve had to postpone your brewing plans.

Now I appreciate that if you’re a small business, you might not be able to afford a just-in-time stock system on your website to make sure we don’t order stuff you don’t have.  You may not have the particular obscure liquid yeast strain we want right at that very moment.  But I don’t see why you don’t ring us up to explain the situation and discuss ways around it.  Instead, we can’t brew at all, because you’ve held up the entire delivery.

This has now happened on three occasions, with three different (small) suppliers.  And although I‘m willing to complain about a bad pint, I’ve never yet managed to explain my displeasure to one of these suppliers.  Possibly because they seem mystified that I might object to additional delivery charges, and seem to think I should feel grateful that they’re bothering to supply me at all.  Instead, I cross them off the list and try another one, next time.

So, homebrew suppliers, if any of you happen to stumble across this: if you really want to compete, you’re going to have to pick up the phone occasionally and attempt to please your customers.

Sorry if this is a bit of a rant but we’ve been waiting three f*cking weeks for the last delivery and can’t even bottle our latest batch because we’re waiting for caps.

PS – sorry, I know The Session was tonight.  Unfortunately, there are very few pubs in London that serve Barley Wine, and we weren’t in one tonight.   We were in a lovely Sam Smith’s pub, serving all sorts of BJCP-compliant styles such as brown ale, pale ale and oatmeal stout. But that’s neither here nor there.


Are family breweries really such a great idea?

marcaurel.jpgThere’s been lots of talk in the UK press this week about inheritance, in the wake of Nigella Lawson’s decision not to leave her wealth to her kids.

In their coverage of the story, the BBC came up with a piece of research by Economist Nick Bloom which suggests that businesses where the CEO is the oldest son of the founder aren’t likely to be the best:

We looked at 5,000 companies and we found that around a third of medium-sized manufacturing firms were family owned. In about half of them the eldest son was the CEO. They are very badly managed.

There is a perception in the world of beer that family run breweries are good; breweries run by accountants and marketing people are bad.

Although there are some breweries where the heirs do seem to have a real passion for brewing, what happens if the son just isn’t interested in beer or brewing, or is rubbish at running a business? I was at university with the scion of a great British brewing family. He was the thick, boorish product of a boarding school; prone to shouting homophobic abuse at people for drinking orange juice, reading books, not vomiting enough and so on; and didn’t show very much interest in ale at all, preferring alcopops and pound-a-pint lager, from what I recall. He will almost certainly end up running the family business one day. I shudder to think.

People should learn from the Five Good Emperors of Rome. They chose their heirs from outside the family and trained them from youth. When Marcus Aurelius broke this unwritten rule and handed control over to his son Commodus, the Roman Empire began its long collapse and 2000 years later, we were forced to endure Ridley Scott’s abysmal Gladiator.