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Wednesday 31 March 2010

Brewery visit- Harviestoun

It was the 17th of February and I didnt have many days left of my 9 day visit back home to Scotland. Along with seeing all the family and close friends it was important to get a few beer related things done too. Thats why on Monday the 15th of Feb I went to visit James and Martin up at BrewDog in Fraserburgh. Not content with just one brewery visit, on the 17th I set my heart on visiting two of Scotlands best breweries. I visited Williams Brothers which you can see here and also the wonderful Harviestoun.

I've been trying to make a visit to Harviestoun for a long time. For two years I lived just ten minutes away but yet I still never made it along. Ironic being that I now live about 1,200 miles away and I only visit now. I look forward to living ten minutes away again after september. Anyway, all that aside, the guys at Harviestoun were very welcoming. Stuart Cail, the head brewer, showed us around this small brewery tucked away at the bottom of the Ochil hills in central Scotland. The day we visited they were brewing bitter and twisted and the unmistakable smell of it was in the air. Bitter and Twisted has always been a session favourite of mine. Some people say its a little bit 'girly' but I like it and it was one of my first real session loves. Although I now might rather a glass of Schiehallion, I still remember my first pint of B&T like it was yesterday.

One of the things that I have always loved about Harviestoun is their ability to make consistantly good and flavoursome beer. Ok it might not have the highest ABV or the most hops but it has a real sense of drinkability and enjoyment about it. I have tried a lot of Harviestouns offerings, including their seasonal stuff like Mae Best and Mr Sno'balls and I havent really ever had one that has been off or on the turn. Thats usually because they dont last long enough.

Considering that we really just dropped by to take a few photographs and see the place we spent a long time in the brewery. We smelled hops, we tasted malt, we talked about the costs of brewing these days. All in all it was a great time and even although I'm sure Stuart was very busy that day, he took an hour or so out of his time to show us around and make us feel welcome. I picked up a few bottles and Stuart very kindly gave us a bottle of Ola Dubh 40 to take away and taste. I havent opened mine yet as I am in France and the bottle is in Scotland (there is a small problem there) but expect to see it on review anytime after May.

If you are in the Stirling area this place is a must visit Brewery. I will hopefully be persueding some of our new members at Stirling University Craft Beer Society that this is a good place for a visit after we start meeting in September. If you havent been along, give the guys a phone as Im sure they will be happy to show you about. If not, look out for Harviestoun specials at a pub or beer fest near you.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Task for today- Get students interested in craft beer

When I woke up this morning I felt inspired. I have no idea why, I just did. Its been playing on my mind for a while; When I get back to University in September how can I get other students interested and involved in craft beer and real ale?

For some of you, you may think the question of how to get students interested in alcohol is a silly one. It is infact much harder than you think though when you consider the masses of drinks promotions that are thrown at students on every night of the week to attract the student pound. Afterall we have all seen the horrific binge drink statistics for 18-25 year olds (however wrong these are). The task though is to get young drinkers to switch from a pint of stella for £2.25 in the Union for a bottle of something made by craft brewers that tastes of something. Do not get me wrong, I do not want my horse to be too high. I know that some people simply prefer a pint of fizzy blandness. The same way that I might prefer a bottle of Lambic to a bottle of Mild. So the most important thing I need to remember when I start on my crusade is that not everyone will jump on the bandwagon.

The first step is to set up a craft beer society with the university officially. This is something I started today and we will be officially called 'Stirling University Craft Beer Society'. I have avoided the use of 'real ale society' for two reasons;
1) We have previously had a group called SURAS and they vanished off the face of the earth due to a mix of bad management and people moving on
2)Students invariably associate the term 'real ale' with socks and sandals, if you know what I mean

So I have now set the ball rolling and through a dedicated team of students at SUCBS I hope that we can get a few more people convinced that the best beer in the world is not infact a 'Danish' lager marketed in green. We plan to do brewery tours, beer swaps, craft beer campaigns (alongside national groups), beer tastings, pub tours and much more. Its my challenge for the next year at uni (along with my degree of course).

I will let you all know how it goes.

p.s if anyone has experience in this sort of thing leave a comment or email me at michael at

pss We are looking for Brewery sponsorship/association if anyone is interested please email me at the above address

Monday 22 March 2010

Meet the Beer Wench

It's Monday and that can only mean one thing; its time for some unashamed self publicity. I have just been featured on a fellow beer bloggers site as part of her 'Meet the Blogger' series. Its been really interesting so far and I urge you to check it out. Click here to read my interview


Friday 19 March 2010

Its Christmas....

Ok so maybe it isnt Christmas.....but It will be sooner than you know. Its been a while since I actually did any reviewing on the blog. There has been lots of articles about Brewdog, my trips for beer and some general discussion starters but a lack of actual reviews as of late, and for this I am sorry!

It was a cold night when I had this beer. I may have had it in the south of France but it certainly was not T-Shirt weather this night. I had been looking at it in the beer fridge of The Gambrinus bar in Avignon for weeks. I had heard rumors about this beer. Some said good things others were not so nice. I went into the tasting with a very open mind. Samichlaus, meaning Santa Claus in Swiss-German, is a 14% lager brewed once every year on the 6th of December and is allowed to age for 10 months before it is bottled. This is really a beer to age but the bottle I could get my hands on was only from 2008 but at least thats had a year and a bit of aging behind it.

It poured into the glass you can see above with absolutely no head. It was thick and a lovely hazelnut colour out of the bottle. The smell wasnt overpowering like I thought it might have been. There was a nice alcohol smell but nothing to destroy the senses. Straight away I could smell figs, over-ripe red fruit, a jam of sorts and something I described as 'sugared blackcurrants'.Ive never had a sugared blackcurrant, but Im sure thats how they smell.

Dont worry, I didnt drink two!

Taste- So finally after taking ages trying to pick out the smell of blackcurrants 'sugared' or not, I tasted this bad boy. In a I totlally wasnt what I was expecting and although my first words were ' it could do with aging more' I did really enjoy it. The taste of figs, candied apples, caramel and a sticky-sweet malt hit you first and then it gives way to a warming alcohol burn. Its not the smoothest high ABV beer I have tasted but I think thats something that would get better with age. It warmed really nicely and was overall a very pleasant drinking experience. It is definately a sipper, maybe round the fire with a good album on in the background. I really enjoyed it and I will revisit Samichlaus but I think in future I will maybe age the bottle a bit first.

Well there it is, the first review in a while. Not long left in France now and I will be back to bombard you with lots of videoblogs as there are boxes and boxes of stuff to try back at home. Hope you have a good beer in hand and enjoyed reading!

Monday 15 March 2010

Best beer in the World.........NOT!

This discussion has been going on for a VERY long time. Probably since they first started making beer. Which one of the thousands of choices out there is actually the 'best'. I would like to argue that there isnt one and even if there is, it certainly isnt what we all think it is. Recently a wonderful beer called Pliny the Younger from Russian River took over the title of 'Worlds best beer' on some beer review sites. Usually this place is reserved for Westvleteren 12 and on it still reigns as the best.

Ive had Westy and to be quite honest it was good. Very good indeed. Nevertheless, it just can't be the best beer in the world. Im not sure that anything can be really. Beer is such a fickle thing; mood, place, temperature, how its kept, glassware. So much can change the feel, taste and overall experience of a beer. I don't want to sound like Im reading off the back of a commercial lager bottle too much, but a lot of it does come down to the overall experience of the beer. Maybe for some people Westvleteren is the best they have ever had. Maybe thats because of its rarity, its reputation or maybe it is the taste. For a lot of people it could be that they try it in Belgium, near the brewery or in a backstreet pub somewhere. This of course will add to the whole experience and the allure of the beer. Drink a bottle of Westy in a Wetherspoons in the centre of a British city on a warm saturday afternoon with a game of football between Aberdeen and Dundee United and its unlikey to gain the same praise. I know that the same can be said for any drink but to me when it comes to beers like Westvleteren it might be more about the allure than anything.

Another point I have to make on 'the best beer in the world' is that surely we cannot group beer together when we talk about it being 'the best'. Sure I'd be happy enough with someone saying 'The best stout I have ever had was.........' but I just do not think you can really compare that with a Belgian quad or an American IPA. The different styles of beer are so very different and I dont think that it is really fair to try to compare them. If I were to try and compare Hardcore IPA from BrewDog and Rosé de Gambrinus from Cantillon I would be a nutter. They are just so different that I dont really think it does any beer a favour to try to put them in a table.

Sure Ive got a list of beers that I like and lots of them are totally different from the next. I honestly do not think I could put them into a top 10 list though, its just not fair on the brewers that work hard to make them so great. Fair enough if I only ever drink Lambic for the rest of my days but I can't see that happening anytime soon. I really wish that people would stop attaching so much importance to these lists. I see them for what they are, a little bit of fun. I honestly do not think anyone will ever make 'The Best Beer in the World'

Monday 8 March 2010

My visit to Cantillon

The other week I started to write a post about how my new 'thing' was lambic beers. I started to write and then I kept on removing and adding bits and now it seems as if the original feeling of the post is totally gone. I decided to scrap that post for the time being and then I remembered what it was that got me really excited about Lambic in the first place; The Cantillon Brewery.

Me peering into a very scary machine
Some of you may have read about my trip to Brussels. That seems like such a long time ago now. I did lots of great things there and I visited many great watering holes. One place sticks out for me during my trip though and that is the Cantillon Brewery. They claim to be the last traditional brewery in Brussels and they make the love it or hate it style of beer, Lambic. Personally I love Lambic beers and when I say Lambic I mean traditional stuff like Cantillon and not overly sweet Krieks that you can find in almost every French and Belgian bar and in many British supermarkets. Don't get me wrong, there are good krieks out there but probably not in your local Tesco.

Our trip was on foot from the centre of Brussels right out into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We thought we had got lost but all the street signs still had the right names from my very sketchy written directions. We turned down Rue Ghuede and there it was, Cantillon.

Our welcome was short and sweet and we were let loose to have a look around the brewery on our own. We had chosen to go early and this seemed like it payed off as we were the only two people looking around the brewery at the time when we first arrived. We took our time and peered into every vessel and looked at every piece of machinery going. I dare say we may have even tasted some malt (just dont tell the brewer). It was great to see inside a live working Lambic brewery. Ive seen quite a few 'regular' breweries now but this was the first Lambic one I have seen. Everything was so natural, from the cobwebs that hung from the walls to the Cantillon cat that one day may be as famous as the dog from BrewDog. A little note about the cat, if you do see the cat on your travels around the brewery it is nowhere near as friendly as it looks, just ask my mate. 

Im sure you all know how Lambic is made so there is no point in launching off into a discussion about that but it is fair to say that the whole self guided tour, for a mere €5 was well worth it. At the end of the tour and after having looked at every corner of the brewery we were rewarded with two tasters of the beer that they make. On the day we were there it was their 100% Bio Lambic and then a choice of either Cherry or Raspberry. Natually there being two of us we had one of each fruit beer and swapped to compare. I think Raspberry wins but thats because Im a bit sour that way.


At the end of the tour we bumped into some fellow beer tourists from St Albans CAMRA. Oh joy I thought! They turned out to be very nice guys and we shared a bottle of Saint Lamvinus between the four of us. This lambic is my idea of heaven as it mashes my two favourite drinks, beer and wine. Made with Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes it is the perfect blend of beer and wine (I could work in marketing, that honestly did not come from the bottle). After that bottle we all toddled off on our own seperate ways. They were in search of more Lambic and we were in search of Westvleteren (more about that later in the week). 

If you havent been to visit Cantillon I really recommend it. We had a great time. Ive heard that the busier it is the less fun the tour actually is, so maybe visiting off season is a  good idea. Cantillon has really sparked my interest in a style that I never even dreamed that I would like and I would really love to see a UK brewery try their hand at making a Lambic. Go on prove those Belgians that say 'it can only be made in one area' wrong. I want to see a bastardised UK lambic. Anyone else?

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Williams Brothers tour

Video from my trip to Williams Brothers. Its a bit noisy but thats how Breweries work. Enjoy.


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