Mashtun and Meow

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Following our American dream... an introduction

We have just spent a week in one of the great brewing capitals of the US. Fort Collins, in the north of Colorado, is a true beer destination, with an ever increasing number of craft and micro breweries and a population which is truly passionate about their beer. Many of the breweries are brewpubs, with welcoming tap rooms to serve their range of beers. Having visited eight breweries and a multitude of bars around the city and beyond during our time in FoCo, we found the perfect environment to embrace everything great about the American craft beer scene.

We'll be posting about many of these incredible places over the coming weeks, but in the meantime here's a few photos by way of introduction to some of our favourites...

Downtown Fort Collins

House beers at Black Bottle Brewery

Choice City - a butchers and delicatessen... with 36 beers on tap

Flights at Fort Collins Brewery

New Belgium's enchanting foudre farm

CooperSmiths Brewpub

Barrel house at FunkWerks

The Mayor of Old Town has 100 beers available on tap

Majestic Odell's

The Tap n Handle... this became one of our regular haunts!

Equinox Brewery mid-snowstorm

Nice little brewkit at Zwei

Cheers,

J&L

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Craft: a Publican's Prerogative

With so many great things happening in UK brewing and beer in general, I hope that 2016 brings about a shift in publicans' attitudes. There is a thirst from consumers to drink well-made and interesting beers, and plenty of breweries to make them who do not have the outlets to shift the quantities needed for long-term production. 

There are undoubtedly some cities that have really upped their game in terms of "craft" beer. As an example, Leeds is swimming in indie beer outlets with Beer Ritz, Tall Boys and Little Beer House, plus pioneering craft beer-driven bars such as North Bar, Friends of Ham and Bundobust, who are shortly due to open another bar in Manchester... itself another great embracer of modern beer. Some of the most progressive breweries in the country can be found over the Pennines - Cloudwater and Chorlton amongst a veritable swathe of new railway arch breweries and even the more traditional breweries such as Marble taking steps of progress.

Newcastle plays host to a wide range of brew bars such as the Bridge Tavern and the Hop and Cleaver, plus the Cumberland with Northern Alchemy in a couple of shipping containers on the premises. It's places such as this, making small batches of progressive beer, that could well be the next "big thing" for drinkers. Interesting brews, knowledgeable staff, and an all round great atmosphere.

Aberdeen and Edinburgh are already two places I would wholeheartedly recommend going to for a beer tour. With 60 beers over two bars alone in Aberdeen it certainly is worth a trip. And then there is London which goes without saying (or at least saying by someone who knows it better than this northern monkey) is a cornucopia of craftiness.  

There are also a whole host of cities on the cusp of becoming the craft destinations so many of the "new wave" of beer drinkers crave, such as Nottingham, Bristol, Sheffield and Birmingham. But despite these cities being established as places to consume beer, they still need to give keg a bit more of a big hug and embrace it firmly as a worthwhile and profitable piece of the drinks industry pie. 

It can also be argued that even with the upsurge of interest in better quality beer, some new breweries are struggling to sell their product. With an ever increasing supply of beer, a small number of new craft bars opening but the continual closing of pubs and the ever prominent abundance of tied pubs, it is becoming a real concern for some about how to keep afloat. There are plenty of producers not able to sell their product because of a reluctance on the part of landlords to spend a reasonable price for beer. This is an attitude which for me really needs to change... as a drinker, I would be more than willing to put my hand in my pocket and spend an extra 50p on a decent, interesting pint, and it's time for publicans to realise this. There'll always be a place for a £2.50 pint of generic blonde beer on the bar, but for the beer scene to continue to thrive and grow, the new, "craft" alternatives need to be more visible. This is a call for pub owners everywhere to take just a little bit of a risk, try something new, and take more of an active part in the conversations about the changes to our beery landscape.

Cheers,

Jim

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Our 2015 highlights

We've seen a lot of Golden Pints posts popping up recently, which got us thinking hard about what we wanted to do as a little overview of 2015. We've loosely followed the same format as the Golden Pints Awards as put forward by Andy at BeerReviews, but as we felt that some of the categories weren't as relevant as others for us (also we've missed the deadline!) we've cut some of them out and focused on what we've particularly loved this year.

Best UK Cask Beer

J - North Riding - Red Citra. In this brew North Riding have done much more with this popular hop than simply bunging a load in and expecting the hop to do all of the talking. It's rounded and well balanced with a well selected malt bill backing up the Citra to perfection.
L - Wylam - Remain In Light. A clean, hoppy pale ale that despite this fairly mundane description managed to be memorable enough to make it into this post. Just everything you could possibly want from a pale ale.

Best UK Keg Beer

J - Beavertown - BA Moose Fang, an imperial brown ale aged in Armagnac barrels. The description alone got my mouth watering, and it did not disappoint - rich and nutty with a massive, rounded malt backbone. Complex and absolutely delicious.
L - Hawkshead - Chocolate & Tonka Bean Imperial Porter, enjoyed at IndyManBeerCon in Manchester (a fantastic event!). Beautiful sweetly spiced rich aroma, that I can conjure up in my mind just from thinking about it, with a silky mouthfeel and an almost Mexican hot chocolate flavour, with cinnamon, vanilla and dark cocoa vying for attention. Sublime.

Best UK Bottle or Canned Beer

J - Buxton - Ace Edge. We love a bit of Sorachi Ace in this house and Ace Edge encompasses everything that's great about this hop. Buxton's Axe Edge is one of the best IPAs out there, and for me the addition of Sorachi just lifts it into that next dimension.
L - Weird Beard - Defacer. More Sorachi Ace in absolute spades (told you we liked it here!). Tropical, piney, oodles of that gherkin flavour that I always get from Sorachi hopped beers and which I simply love. We wrote more about this one here.

Best Overseas Draught

J - Omnipollo - Magic #90000, a blueberry/pecan/almond/vanilla smoothie IPA, enriched with lactose. Everything you'd expect from the name, a brilliantly crafted beer.
L - I've gone for Omnipollo too - Magic #3 Protein Shake IIPA. Never had a beer like this before, it just completely blew my mind... sort of like hopped up Ovaltine?! 
Both of these beers were part of the Omnipollo Buxton Tap House takeover - read more about it here.

Best Overseas Bottle or Canned Beer

J - Against the Grain - London Balling. Every sip of this wonderfully balanced and massively boozy English-style barley wine all the way from Kentucky was a delight. Barrel aged for 3 months in bourbon cask which gave a truly enormous flavour that took me two and half hours to drink. I enjoyed every second.
L - De Molen - Ball & Chain. Smoky yet sweet, sort of like a really good ham. What more could you possibly want from a beer?!

Best Collaboration Brew

J - Weird Beard/Brodies - Weird Brodmance. A big imperial stout enrichened with maple syrup and lactose. The balance between the dark malt, rich sugar and complex hop nature lifted this to being far more than just your "normal" impy stout.
L - Abbeydale/Hop Hideout - Marshmallow Meltdown Stout. My most "tapped" beer of the year! A really fun drink... boozy, chocolatey, gorgeous coffee notes in the backbone and sweet hints of marshmallow to finish. Excellent pump clip, too.

Best UK Brewery

J - Buxton - simply because I don't think I've ever had a bad beer from them. Their consistency and commitment to quality (including their arguments for ceasing making cask beer earlier this year) enables them to stay right at the pinnacle of British brewing and remain entirely relevant in a changing market.
L - Mad Hatter. I was drawn in to Mad Hatter's beers right from their start up simply because of the Alice in Wonderland-y link (it's my all time favourite book) and since then they've quickly become one of the most exciting breweries out there. Always imaginative and often outrageous, their concoctions never fail to deliver on flavour and to top it off they're bloody lovely chaps too. 

Best World Brewery

J - Crooked Stave. Some of the most interesting beers I've drunk this year - Nightmare on Brett springs immediately to mind. Progressive and exciting, it's great to see their stuff appearing on the shelves of bottle shops in the UK. We're lucky enough to be heading over to Colorado this year and a trip to their brewpub is sure to be one of the highlights of the trip.
L - Got to be Firestone Walker for me, quite simply because I've hugely enjoyed everything I've tried from them, with their Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA being a particular highlight of Matt Curtis's brilliant bottle club event at Hop Hideout earlier in the year. They seem to have a go-to beer for whatever mood I'm in, from their Easy Jack IPA perfect for a summer barbeque to the vintage series which demands thoughtful sipping.

Pub/bar of the year

Unanimous and instant decision on this one - Six° North Bar in Aberdeen played host to a phenomenally good afternoon for us, which ended in Laura singing along to Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights at 7.30pm (at which point we decided heading back to our hotel was probably a wise idea...). An absolute plethora of beers available on tap, with hundreds more featuring on a bottle menu, excellent food and a laid back atmosphere with friendly, enthusiastic staff. Enough said.

Cheers,

J&L

Saturday, 26 December 2015

A Beery Advent - The Finale!

And so here it is, merry Christmas! Well, actually, it's now Boxing Day as we were too busy drinking and eating yesterday to finish this post. Hope you all had a good one, folks!

21. Wiper & True - Plum Pudding Porter, 5.9%
Chock full of festive spices from the opening of the bottle to the final sip. This porter has the balance just right - it's fruity without being overly sweet. Roasted malt flavours combine with coffee and chocolate notes to give a rounded mouthfeel with a lovely dry finish. We got to try this one twice as it formed part of December's Karma Citra beer club! Nod to the beautiful branding, too.

22. Art Brew - Christmas Tree Beer, 6.0%
We reckon this is the only beer we've ever come across where an entire Christmas tree got chucked in the brew. Normally, resinous and piney notes in beer come from the hops... and whilst that may also be the case in this instance, it's full on "Oh Tannenbaum" on the nose which completely knocks the socks off any hop aroma. On the palate it's a different story, with enormous, stonkingly bitter hop character working in perfect harmony with the sweet, spicy, sappy spruce. Reminiscent of toffee and ginger too, this is one very unusual and complex beer. A delicious revelation.

23. Dubuisson - Bush de Noel, 12.0%
We couldn't do a beer advent calendar without including such a classic Christmas beer. This certainly did not disappoint on the festive front - vibrant with quintessential Christmas spices, wafts of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger all coupled with a bold Belgian backbone, sweet esthers and a great malty character. Warming yet lightly refreshing.

24. De Molen - Tsarina Esra, 11.0%
This particular beer was a Christmas gift last year from our good friend Sean at Beer Central, and so we thought it was only fitting to save it for a special festive occasion. For an 11% beer it is delightfully well balanced, not too heavy on the malt but holding strong with a major roasted character. Stewed plums, black treacle, and dark chocolate are prominent throughout. The bottle we had was bottled mid 2014 and had a recommended drink-by-date 2039, so we drank it pretty young... the flavours will only grow and develop as it ages, but we are impatient! An utterly scrumptious and dangerously quaffable imperial stout.

25. Ruhstaller - DiGregorio Barley Wine, 12.0%
Big guy for Christmas day! We bought this on our first trip to the excellent Junkyard in Nottingham earlier this year. On the palate it's resinous and full-bodied with a mammoth malt character. Layers upon layers of flavour - hints of pine wood and citrus come through along with dark fruit and rich toffee. A pleasing level of sweetness is balanced by punchy hop bitterness. Big, boozy and bold - an excellent match for our roast duck Christmas dinner.


Cheers,

L&J

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 4

So the big day is almost upon us and we're definitely raising the festive stakes with this one...


16. Mikkeller - Beer Geek Big Blend, 8.0%
A coffee oatmeal stout with a barrel aged twist... in fact more of a rollercoaster, with bourbon, brandy, cherry wine, cognac, tequila and whisky aged beer all blended together. The result is c
omplex and ornate, much like an "Edwardian armoire" (said Jim, unusually verbose for midday). A beer in harmony - not one of the barrels takes precedence over the others, but each adds another layer of depth and texture. The body of the original beer is still apparent, and is absolutely lovely, but undeniably bolstered by the oaky character of the wood and most of all the time spent in there. One to sip on and savour.

17. Weird Beard - Black Christmas, 4.5%
We've spoken before about our love for Sorachi Ace - an adoration we share, it seems, with the guys at Weird Beard. This festive stout is full of this intriguing hop, which in this context provides an utterly divine coconut rounded nature - we imagine this is what a fruity Bounty bar would taste like. It's a little more difficult to pick out any specific cranberry tartness, but the fruit juice added to this brew provides a welcome lightness and delicate balance. And it's sessionable! Could quite easily polish off a good few bottles of this. Laura's highlight of Beer Advent so far, hands down.

Tosin thought some Beercat modelling was required for this one
18. Red Willow - Baubleless, 6.0%
A trip to Macclesfield earlier this year was predominantly comprised of drinking beer and gin in Red Willow's brewery tap... a great way to spend a day, I'm sure you will agree. This beer is one we've had in since last Christmas, and having enjoyed a couple of bottles a year ago decided to cellar one to see how it would age. Our experiment went pretty well - sweet maltiness provides a lovely boozy backbone to this barrel aged stout, with the tannins from the oak providing a richness which is almost oily in nature. Thick and tasty - a good one to sip on with the fire roaring away.

19. Great Heck - Black Santa, 5.4%
We've been consistently impressed by Great Heck's output over the past couple of years. This brew holds roasted flavours and oaty richness coupled with a vanilla sweetness, lifted by delicate but unmistakably Belgian yeastiness. This is deep yet light somehow both at once. There's something a little bit synthetic tasting in there though that's not unpleasant but just a bit puzzling, given that the brew reports to have used proper Madagascan vanilla pods. An enigma of a beer.

20. Brass Castle - Christmas Kitty, 5.5%.
It's been quite a week for dark beer chez Mashtun as we build up to our festive finale! Bad Kitty is one of our ultimate go-to beers (the cat approves of it too) so the Christmas edition was a must-try for our household. And very merry it it indeed - rich, heady, cinnamon-y aroma that's just like Christmas pudding, and a dark fruit palate with creamy hints of vanilla and festive spices. Bold without being cloying, this is a deliciously well-crafted beer.

Cheers,

J&L

Monday, 21 December 2015

Sprout bhajis and bacon jam

Our Christmas Day starter! Inspired by Bundobust and Fat Hippo, both of whom have provided us with excellent sustenance and a bloody good time during 2015 (see also here and here).

Bacon jam (makes 2 jars)
400g of bacon
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1tsp paprika
1 chilli
100g brown sugar
A generous splash of cider vinegar

Cut the bacon and onion into 1inch pieces and chop the garlic. Fry the bacon until golden brown. Remove from the pan and fry off the onion, garlic and chilli, until the onions are translucent. Then add the paprika and continue to fry for a couple more minutes. Add the bacon back into the pan with the brown sugar and vinegar. Bring everything up to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes to thicken, stirring every once in a while to prevent the sugar from sticking or burning. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then blend to your chosen consistency - we went for chunky. Decant into sterilised jars. This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Sprout Bhajis (makes a starter for 2)
200g cornmeal or gram flour (plain flour will do in an emergency but won't provide the same colour)
A generous handful of sprouts
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1.5tsp coriander seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
2 cardamom pods
1 dried chilli
1tsp salt
1tsp turmeric powder

Add your whole spices to a hot, dry pan and toast until the mustard seeds start to pop. Grind them up in a pestle and mortar. Once ground, add to the cornmeal or gram flour with the salt and turmeric powder and bind together with cold water - enough to transform your spicy flour mixture into a light batter. Chop the sprouts into slices and stir them into the batter. Deep fry in hot oil until golden and crunchy.


The combination for Christmas day is perfect for us - traditional ingredients that you'd expect to see on a festive table, with a definitely non-conventional twist!

Enjoy, and merry Christmas!

Jim and Laura

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 3

This week sees the passing of the half way point of our very beery advent. Here's another round up!

11. Buxton - Ring Your Mother, 9.5%
This beer aims to bring an old recipe to the modern brewing age. Initially we were expecting a darker beer, but over the years the term mild has been used to mean a plethora of different things. This iteration has a light in colour malt base, which provided an interesting backbone to the beer, but with the flavour boosted by a great hop character more akin to our understanding of an IPA. Overall, light and quaffable which completely hides the ABV. Wonderfully surprising and interesting on so many levels.

12. Mad Hatter - Cranberry Rye, 5.9%
Our beers are starting to become a little festive with this one... we are almost half way through advent after all. A great nose of cranberries and a wild yeastiness, that probably comes from the character provided by the fruit. The inherent cranberry nature remains on the palate as the beer is drunk, but takes a little step back in place of a massive, bold rye character which invokes charred biscuits and leaves a dryness on the finish.


13. Doppelleu - Whisky Ale, 7.5%
This is a beer for the whisky lovers in us - intensely whisky-ey (definitely a word) from the opening of the bottle right through to the final sip. On the nose, lightly peated with sweet oaky tannins and sticky raisins. A slightly medicinal, almost briny quality comes through in the taste, which reminded us of a coastal aged island whisky. It was the perfect accompaniment to our pulled pork BBQ sliders.

14. Odd Side Ales - Mayan Mocha Stout, 6.0%
Odd Side are a brewery we have not often seen in bottle shops around the UK; this bottle was gifted to us by our bosses at work following a trip to Michigan. The beer pours dark and sticky with a deep coffee aroma - this continues on the palate with rich coffee and toasted malt on waves of velvety texture. A prickle of heat comes towards the end from the habanero chillies used in the brew. Delicious.

15. Mordue - Imperial Raspberry Porter, 7.3%
Another gift from a colleague, brought direct from the brewery! Sweet and syrupy on the nose with a fruity tang creeping in. The flavour is classic porter, with a delicious ripple of raspberry sauce and cocoa. The kind of beer that deepens as you drink, the flavour enriching and coating the palate. We had some of those posh M&S mini glittery chocolate and raspberry meringues in the cupboard, which were a total joy alongside this. Decadent and boozy.

Cheers,

L&J