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Saturday 28 May 2011

Beer Bloggers Conference day 2

So day two kicked off with what came to be known as ‘Pilsner Urquell’ throat.  I didn’t feel hung-over but as I munched into my vegetarian friendly bacon roll (ahem) I knew that I had been drinking the night before. So it was with some relief that the first session of the Beer Bloggers Conference on the Saturday was actually a coffee and tea welcome.  Already small groups were forming. Not exclusive groups but rather in a large group of 70 people it became apparent that smaller groups of friends would have to form if we were going to get anywhere.

The day formally kicked off with three breweries talking about how they use social media on a day to day basis in their business. We had a great talk from Dave (and Sooty) from Hardnott. Adnams and Abbaye St Martin also described how they use Twitter to increase business. It became apparent that the three breweries all use twitter in totally different ways and this kept the session very interesting indeed. Next up was a talk from our international friends; Darren from Beer Sweden, Arnoud from, and Alessio from Hoppy Hour in Italy. In this session I learned that beer in Sweden is like porn in the UK (thanks for the insight Darren). In all seriousness it was a great session and all three speakers gave a great insight into beer in their country but a special shout out has to go to the always entertaining Darren.

Next we had some bloke called Martin Dickie from a certain BrewDog. He played some music, showed us photos of his dog and talked about how BrewDog are shaking up the UK brewing scene. I enjoyed it, even if some of Martins dry Doric sense of humour flew over a few heads. Only one question for Martin which I found bizarre; maybe everyone was still processing last night’s Pilsner Urquell. By this time I had drunk most of the 4 litre water jug on the table and was looking for something a bit more hardcore. That was handy as Molson Coors had kindly provided lunch and beers after the talk from BrewDog. 

Tim Hampson and Pete Brown were up next. A nice little plug for both their books and then onto the serious talk of where the future of beer writing is. A very broad subject and, I imagine, quite a hard question to approach but Pete and Tim were very entertaining and insightful. It was almost just missing two large armchairs as I felt more like I was sitting in one of their living rooms listening to them have a conversation rather than in a conference venue with 60 or so others. Next we were ushered back downstairs to the same room that Steve Wellington had given his retirement speech in the previous night. It was for the odious task of matching beer with food; it’s a tough life but someone has to do it. The Beer Academy provided 5 beers and five little pieces of food to match them with. Not all the matching’s were spot on in my opinion but the smoked duck and Budvar Dark pairing was sublime (veggie duck of course!)

The crown jewel of the conference was coming though. There was a bit of anticipation in the air. Speed dating for breweries. Strictly called ‘Live beer blogging’ the idea was simple; 7 breweries, 7 tables, 8(ish) bloggers to a table and 5 minutes to pour and talk about your beer. The breweries were- Innis and Gunn, Wychwood, Adnams, Brains, Windsor and Eton, Abbaye St Martin and Bad Attitude. This was mad! I tried to take tasting notes but after some crude humour from a real live Hobgoblin, talking to the brewers and (of course) tasting the beer, I didn’t have the time. My 3 favourites? Windsor and Eton’s Conqueror, Innis and Gunn’s Canada Day 2011 and Bad Attitude’s Two Penny Porter. I learned that 5 minutes is not enough time to get to know a brewer and his beers but that you can have a lot of fun in the process. I will be taking this idea with me in future and I may use it for a Stirling University Craft Beer Society night........

Things went (once again) from great to bizarre. We were met by four stilt walkers dressed as hop pickers in period costume. They showed the way to Dirty Dicks with the occasional burst of hops into the air. Dirty Dicks is a Wells and Young’s pub and I knew what was coming next. The fantastic new Bombardier adverts with Rick Mayall. I shall be honest; I am not a huge fan of the beer. I find it very drinkable but I feel it lacks in much flavour. The advertising campaign however is BRILLIANT! Rick also recorded a special video message especially for us bloggers which was very nice. Much like Pilsner Urquell the night before Wells and Young pulled out all the stops. We were entertained by snail racing and banter from Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham. We had a Q&A session with the important people in the company and their hop grower! My favourite part of the night though was having the heads of companies and the important people come at sit down at individual tables and socialise. I didn’t expect them to just vanish as the food came out but usually at these events the important people have a private table. It was a real pleasure to be able to sit down and chat with them over one of their beers.

We were running late.....almost an hour I’m told. I bundled into the back of a taxi with my 4 bottles of French beer to take to the ‘Night of Many Beers’ at Camden Town Brewery. 6 of us (including Hardnott Ann and Dave) piled into a cab with the most annoying ‘taxi man’ I have ever had the (dis)pleasure of meeting. There were roadworks and we disagreed about which alternative route he should use. As a Scotsman I shall blame the London 2012 Olympics for tearing up the roads. As a Frenchman I shall blame the London 2012 Olympics from cheating and stealing them from Paris. Moving on..........I arrived at Camden Town (eventually) and stashed my beer in the big outside fridge. Then the tasting began. I really can’t remember everything I had but I do remember being far too close to the Swedish and Italian beer a lot. I also had lots of tasty Rogue beer. 

People seemed to enjoy the French beer and I have already had some very nice messages to say thanks for bringing it. For me this is what my love of beer stems to; sharing. It was great to see people enjoying the beer I had lovingly packaged and stared at all the way to London on the Eurostar (just in case someone thought the gun case I was carrying them in actually had guns inside) The sours went down very well and there were only a few people who fell on the dislike side of this marmite beer. The night got a bit hazy from there on in......a side by side imperial stout tasting with one from Dark Star and two from De Struise (was I mad?!?!) A quick jump on the tube and a taxi later I was back at the hotel looking forward to the next day at Fullers.

Another great day sharing great beer with great people. More to come.........

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Beer Bloggers Conference- Day 1

So here it is....part 1 of 4 of my time at the first ever Beer Bloggers Conference. I thought I would post this in four parts so that I don’t miss any important parts or people out of my write up of what was a fantastic weekend. I am going to split it down with one post about each day and then one overall sum up post of the whole event.

I arrived earlyish to the conference. Nervous. I don’t really know why but maybe it wouldn’t be what I expected and maybe I would be too out of my depth. The first face I saw (after the nice gent with the bowler hat who greeted me) was Mark Dredge. Ever the professional he seemed to be hovering near the welcome table with Mark Fletcher making sure that everyone had a friendly face to see when they arrived.
The welcome event was a low key sort of thing.  7 or 8 breweries with PR staff pouring their liquid friendship for all the thirsty but noticeably reserved bloggers. I was already starting to recognise faces and twitter names. The latter mostly involved squinting at peoples name tags to see who they were. We spoke and made friends during lunch and then moved upstairs for the first talk- A welcome by Molson Coors. Whilst I was already thankful to them for having stumped up the cash to pay for the venue, I was a bit reserved about what they would say. It turns out Scott from Molson Coors was a great guy and had lots of very interesting things to say. He did waffle a little and maybe got a touch defensive over bloggers attacking big brewers but he really changed my mind about the role that big brewers play in the brewing community. We, as bloggers, should sometimes search a little deeper before we slag off the big guys with no justification (I have been guilty of it many times in the past).

I was already feeling relaxed and next up was Peter Haydon from Meantime talking about the history of brewing in London. Despite the fact that he looked crazily like Morrissey and seemed to style himself on him, he was a very entertaining and interesting guy. He is the sort of person that looks as if he would never brag about his immense knowledge but suddenly just pull an amazing fact from nowhere. Next a little talk from the British Beer and Pub Association. It wasn’t quite as enthralling. It wasn’t bad but I did feel like there were people sitting in the audience who could have done the talk better. After a short break (for tea don’t you know) we moved onto the ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Blogging’ with three giants of blogging; Pete Brown, Melissa Cole and Mark Fletcher. I learned a lot from this. Even small things like write your posts in word first as its better at finding mistakes! Who’d have known?! It was very informative and Pete proved that he was going to be a plethora of knowledge over the weekend.

Then the fun really kicked off. Whilst the presentation lacked some depth in knowledge FlavourActiv gave an interesting tasting on identifying off flavours in beer. My very large nose managed to get all six right (thanks Dad for the big nose gene).  An interesting experiment but maybe some more expert knowledge wouldn’t have gone a miss in a room full of bloggers. Then the night went from bizarre to magical. Listening to Steve Wellington, the master brewer at Molson Coors, retire felt like a door closing. He was inspirational, captivating and interesting to the last word. He quite rightly made everyone in the room feel like they were part of something special and he got a massive minute long standing ovation, which, dare I say it, brought a lump to my throat. 

Then Pilsner Urquell stepped up the game. They transformed the venue into a slice of Pilsen. It was like walking into something from Charlie Wonka and the Booze Factory (That’s right? No?) From flying the head brewer, Vaclav Berka, in from Pilsen to bringing us massive amounts of unfiltered Pilsner in the oak barrels (3rd time in the UK) they really topped off a great first day. 

 Think I might get killed for this!

I stood with a glass of unfiltered SABMiller beer in my hand listening to a four piece band playing Lounge whilst Kristy McCready from Molson Coors lounged on a chaise long and wondered to myself when beer became so cool. Day one was free of socks, sandals and (mostly) beer bellies. What I saw on display was a group of clued up, modern and trendy people who are setting the industry standards. I don’t want to get too reflectionary in this post (I’m saving that for the round up) but day one was a great start to a great weekend. Main lessons from day one? Big brewers don’t equal brewers with no social conscious, who are only concerned with profits and also beer bloggers are very cool people. Oh and that Pilsner Urquell is too tempting when standing next to the barrel.

More to come tomorrow.........

Wednesday 18 May 2011

My top 4 French beers for London

Ive chosen a selection of 4 French beers to bring to the Beer Bloggers Conference in London. French you say? They make beer? Well yes they do and very well indeed. I could have brought tens, maybe hundreds of beers. But I have my bank balance and my back to think of when getting the Eurostar. So I chose the following four to bring to London (I should point out at this stage that they are all 750ml but still wont go around everyone so sorry if you dont get to try)

First up is a Belgian Style strong ale. Saint Rieul Grand Cru. For me a great example of a French brewery making a Belgain style. Its 9% so it a big hitter but its very,very tasty. Here is what she looks like

Second is one of my personal favourites from my time here in France. Its brewed by a Scotsman at DeProef in Belgium but he lives in France. Confused? Me too.....Not strictly French but the recipe was made here at least. Its called Agent Provocateur (yes like the ladies knickers) and it is described as  ' a hybrid of an IPA and a Belgian golden ale ' but I would probably call it an IPA. Its 6.5% abv and she is a beauty. Here is how she looks

Next is proof that French brewers can also make up styles. Fleurac make a Triple Dark IPA. Confused? Me too......Its 8% abv and mighty tasty.  She looks like this

Lastly is my favourite. This is a special one. It takes 24 months to make and it is aged in oak wine barrels. It starts of as a sour beer and becomes more funky and a little woody over time. The bottle I am bringing is one of only 500 made this year. Its pretty young but still tasting fantastically complex and interesting. Bulles de Vignes is 6% and will probably be sure to split opinion.Here is my photo of year 2011 in the shop they all came from

And finally I might have a couple of little bottles of something from a brewery called De Struise but I am sure nobody would be interested in that!

Here is what they all look like (and hopefully will still look like tomorrow)

If you are going to the conference, hunt me down at some point and I will try and make sure you get some. 



This week- My return to cask and grim reality..or not?!?

For the past four months I have been (once again) enjoying life in France. This time I have been based in Paris and my beer experience of France has been better and much more varied than when I lived in the South. I went from a great selection of Belgian beer in the South to having a massive choice of French, Belgian, Dutch, American, British and Danish here in Paris. It has been a blast I have to say. I've met some of the coolest beer geeks, drank some of the worlds best and rarest beer and generally had a lark of a time. I should point out at this stage that my life isnt all sunshine and lollipops and that I have also had lots of university work and been through the wringer personally. However on a beer front its never been better.

So it is with a mixture of excitement, fear and confusion that I shall return back to the UK this week. On the one hand I am returning to the first ever European Beer Bloggers Conference . I think it will be a great time and the attendee list and the list of breweries has got me mega excited. Whislt I dont update this blog as much and offer such industry knowledge as some of my peers I have always loved writing this blog and hope to use my time at BBC to learn and grow my knowledge and skills. I will be bringing some French craft beer to the conference to share with others, I shall post about this later tonight.

On the other hand, in a few weeks I shall return to the UK for good. No more study abroad on the horizon, no more beer trips (currently) booked. So I am a little sad to be leaving. Plus I have yet to secure a summer job and that is going to have to be my focus after this conference (or during if I meet some nice brewers).

But you know the one thing I cant wait to do tomorrow? Is have a pint of cask beer. Shock! Horror! Have the French killed my love of keg and bottle? Well no, actually, but the thing is, the French just dont 'do' cask beer in the same way we do. Don't get me wrong..... I don't hate cask beer but it probably only accounts for 25% of the beer I usually drink in the UK. I do a lot of home drinking and I am lucky to have kegged WEST beer on my doorstep.  I do really miss cask though. Its hot here today in Paris and that made me miss it more. A nice pint of citrusy, easy drinking but flavoursome beer (served with a sparkler of course, Im from the North). I think it might be the first thing I do when I arrive in London tomorrow. In fact, I dont think; I know it will be.

For all those attending the conference I shall see you all on Friday and for those who arent well.........

Cheers and beers



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