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Thursday 28 January 2010

Next stop Brussels

Well this time in a week I will be as high as a kite. The bag shall be packed and I will be thinking about the day ahead. Brussels is the destination and it will be the first of three for my month off in February. Im headed there with fellow beer geek David Bald and Im sure that Brussels wont know whats hit it with two Scotsmen in town.

We have been planning and have several reccomendations already but this is a cry to anyone who has spent any time in Brussels before.....anywhere we should definately include or avoid? I speak French so I am not too bothered if they are a little off the beaten track, just so long as they are good.

I am just starting to get into Lambics so I am hoping that I can spend some time getting to know them a little better when I am there. It is also my Birthday on the 7th so I am hoping to do/drink something a little special for that.

Any suggestions would be great guys. Cheers.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Videoblog 12

Recorded very soon after No 11, or at least before the booze set in

Videoblog 11

The bottles are weighing me down

Rather than a real blog post like my last rather controversial post about terroir this is a general question to other bloggers out there to see if I have actually gone mad. Ive started to keep to empty bottles of what I've been drinking!

This is a very small amount of 3 months in France

Ive always been a collector of 'excellent' bottles though. For example, when I finished Brewdog Atlantic IPA or Mikkeller Black I decided to keep the bottles as they would not only look good but remind me of when I drank them. The problem seems to be that I now seems to be keeping EVERYTHING I drink (with the exception of doubles or really bad beers). I know I've probably lost some of you already. You think why can I not just remember them in my head or in a review without actually keeping the bottles. The truth is, I kinda like to see the bottles now and again. If Ive had a particularly crap day or I'm drinking a howler of a beer they help to keep the faith that its not all bad. Bottles like Atlantic IPA look good too, and quite frankly at £9 a 330ml I want something to show for it apart from memories.

See even some Brewdog snuck in my suitcase to France

Don't get me wrong, I don't just finish the bottles and let them stack up. They are washed, dried and if I remember to keep the cap, I recap them too. I realise that my collection in France will have to go soon, which I'm quite sad about. Nevertheless, collection at home is slowly growing too and I have no plans to chuck them soon.

Basically the whole point of this post is for someone, anyone, to tell me they do the same......PLEASE! Im not mad. Honest!

Thursday 14 January 2010

Terroir for beer?

Its no secret that I like beer but one of my other big passions is wine and whilst I have no interest in persuing a wine writing career, there is one aspect of wine which I believe can be transfered onto beer also. Terroir ,pronounced[tɛʁwaʁ]. Terroir is an extremely important concept when it comes to wine, especially in France where every wine maker has this word on his lips at most times of the day: James May once famously said that if terroir were to be entered into the French-English dictionary it should read 'French- Terroir, English- Cobblers'.

In fact though the term terroir is used to describe the special characteristics that certain factors in production bestow upon the wine, or in this case beer. Some of these factors may be the angle at which the vines face the sun, the type of soil, general weather conditions or farming techniques. Nevertheless I would argue that the concept of terroir can also be applied to beer. 

Think about the amount of very similar beers that you can find from a lot of the great micro's that we have dotted around our country. Some of these session beers that are made by the micro's are infact being replicated by many other small breweries the length and breadth of the country, the difference? Terroir! For example I have tried many beers very similar to Harviestouns Bitter and Twisted, and infact I know many of them use the same malt and hop combinations. However, because Harviestoun use very pure central Scottish water and they make it in their own way and in their own brewery, it tastes MUCH better. The same principle can be used when you think about beers that are brewed under license. The brewers can try as much as they can to replicate the original taste, but 9 times out of 10 it just isn't the same.That is why I am a little wary of Stone Brewing Co's idea of brewing in Europe. If they can manage to create the same great Stone taste that I love, then great, if not I would rather pay the extra money and have the stuff made in the USA. 

So there are many factors which can effect the terroir of a beer. Water quality, quality malt and hops, the brewer and the brewing environment to name a few. One of the best examples of this that I can think of is Brewdogs Atlantic IPA. I am not sure whether I have ever had a beer with such a great strength of terroir.

Image courtesy of Brewdog ©

This beer was aged like the traditional IPA's; at sea. 8 barrels were loaded onto the North Atlantic fishing trawler where Brewdog co-founder James Watt spends a month at a time on. The 8 barrels did not survive though and only 7 made it out into the North Atlantic. 2 months later and Atlantic IPA was ready for the bottling line. I can quite honestly say that drinking Atlantic IPA was a journey, I could litterally taste the salt as I guzzled the bottle. Although it wasnt the best beer I had in 2009, I can probably say that it was the one with the greatest sense of time and place. Many people are still going to argue that this notion of terroir is in fact a lot of old cobblers. It genuinely isnt though. There is a reason why there can be a £100+ price difference between bottles of wine that are grown in adjoining vineyards and it all boils down to this concept of terroir. The product, whether it be beer or wine, adopts heaps of different characteristics from all the different factors it is subjected to. It doesnt matter if this is as subtle as drawing the water from a different county to make it or as extreme as sending it to sea for 2 months, it all makes a difference.

As I argued above, this is why I worry about breweries such as Stone changing their game plan too much. Geography is the most important issue when it comes to terroir and I worry that they may not be able to recreate some of that magic that they previously have done. Im sure they will do well though, even if their beers do not have quite the sense of place they once had. I think place is everything though and I firmly believe that the concept of terroir is a very important one for the beer industry to think about. Maybe thats just because Im a converted wine ponce! Lecture over!

Thursday 7 January 2010

The TNP Videoblog has arrived!

Its taken my sanity, but it did upload!

Whats in store for 2010?

I realise this is quite a late look back at the year past and ahead to this one and Im sorry for that! To be honest, Ive been travelling back to France and settling back in and just didnt get around to it till now!

Anyway 2009 was a great year of beer for me. 2009 was really the year that I can say I 'got into' beer. Im still a young drinker and I only turned 'legal' in 2008, so 2009 for me was a real year of taste discovery. That discovery ranged from generally trying beers to find out what I liked and what I didnt to making a 320 mile round car journey to see the BrewDog brewery in the North of the place I call home (thats Scotland by the way!!). I think I tried a lot in 2009, from all corners of the globe, some close, some definately not as close.

To have thought 3 years ago that I would be sitting with an American beer that wasnt some mass marketed rubbish in hand would have been crazy. I suppose it shows how quickly the craft beer bug can actually take over. I didnt even drink really before I turned 18 and now only two years later I can pick out flavours, scents and sometimes hop varieties . I always thought beer was 'just a drink', something to wash away a bad day with. How wrong I was!

Beer means so much to me now. I realise that not all of my friends and the people around me understand this (you all just think I like a good drink, which isnt that far off the mark) but genuinely beer has become such a huge thing for me. Bests of 2009, well I named a lot of those in the previous golden pint awards post but if you ask me to name drop; BrewDog, Mikkeller, Stone, Trappistes Rochefort and Westmalle have all been tried and tested with thumbs up in 2009. I realise I am making sweeping generalisations and just naming breweries and no specific beers, but thats what my reviews are for!

Hopes for 2010? Well I have a box of Thornbridge beers to try and I cant wait. Marble is another that is right up there on my must do list. I am also making a trip to Belgium this Feb and I will obviously be making a little search for the holy grail, need I say more? Obviously I will be trying lots of other fantatic Belgian beers there too so I am looking forward to this. Also on my way back to France in mid/late Feb I will be making a stop in London for a few days and hope to check out the much hyped bars I have heard of; The Rake, The White Horse etc. Anyone who lives around the area and would be willing to show me the ropes would be much appriciated (leave comments if you think you can help, or just want a piss up in London). Im back to Scotland in late April and I think I may have something very exciting lined up for the summer, all Im saying right now is that I think I may have a much better understanding of beer when Im done! After that? Who knows? Back to the grind at Uni I suppose, fitting in as many beer trips and tastings in between work.

Finally though, all I can ask for in 2010 is to try as many new beers and breweries as possible. Broadening my horizons has been the challenge for 2009 and I think Ive done it, so I want to make them even broader in 2010. The best of health and happiness to all the readers of the blog, thanks for your support in the first few months of this blog. Its nice to know people are reading! Cheers



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