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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Not Exactly Beer Garden Weather!

Under cover at Tegernsee

I was beginning to think that weather-wise, our trip to Munich was cursed from the start. Just prior to the weekend we flew out, a weather presenter announced that the “Jet Stream” had suddenly moved south, which meant the summer weather would be coming to an end. On top of that the remains of tropical storm “Bertha” would be due to hit the UK on the day we were due to fly out to Germany.

A brief respite from the rain.
Sure enough we drove up to Stansted through some torrential downpours, but on landing in Munich and walking off the plane into 28 degrees of heat our spirits rose and thoughts of depressions and “Atlantic Lows” quickly vanished. Cue the following morning though and we were greeted by leaden-grey skies and persistent rain. I seriously thought the “Curse of Tandleman” had caught up with us, and we were in for a wet week! (For an explanation, click here.).

As things turned out we had a “mixed bag” weather-wise, although by mid week the temperatures in the balmy high twenties had disappeared, and the mercury was hovering around the mid teens. Not the beer garden weather we had been anticipating, but we still managed to make the most of our time in the Bavarian capital, visiting some fine establishments, enjoying some excellent local beers; combined with a couple of trips out into scenic countryside around Munich and further a field.

Umbrellas were definitely the order of the day.
Things seemed pretty rosy on the beer front, and from a beer hunting point of view there have been several positive developments with the welcome appearance of beers from out of town providing some much needed relief from the monopoly of Munich’s “Big Six” mega-brewers. There is also a small, but growing “craft beer” movement within the city, and I was able to pick up a couple of bottles from one of these – Giesinger Bräu.

For the benefit of the curious, there will be several posts on our visit to follow, in due course.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Return to Munich

A welcoming Maß
The boy and I are off to München tomorrow. This will be my fifth visit to the Bavarian capital in the last nine years and I have to say I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve a rather full itinerary of places to visit that I’ve mapped out, including a few old favourites, such as Kloster Andechs, Liebhards (Aying), Tegernsee and Forschungsbrauerei, but I’ve also included somewhere a bit further a field; namely Mittenwald – right on the border with Austria, and home to the highest brewery in Germany. En route we’ll hopefully get the chance to stop off for a few lunchtime bevies at Kloster Ettal as well.

Beer from the wood
I’m hoping that it will be beer garden weather for the duration of our eight day visit, as there’s nothing better than sitting out under the shade of the chestnut trees, enjoying a Maß or two, However, the 10 day forecast for Munich is looking very changeable at the moment, with cool temperatures for the time of year and quite a lot of rain. Never mind; we’ll just have to revert to indoor drinking instead!

Tandleman wrote recently about Bavarian beer gardens; specifically Augustiner Keller, and if the weather’s good when we arrive Sunday on evening I expect we’ll be calling in there. If it isn’t, then it's Weisses Bräuhaus for dinner, followed by a Maß at the Hofbräuhaus; and that is the beauty of Munich – so many places to choose from that, come rain or shine, we’ll find somewhere to slake our thirst and satisfy our bellies.
Kugler Alm - right out in the sticks

As on previous trips I’ll be including my now rather battered copy of “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich”, written by American Larry Hawthorne, and although it is now in its 6th edition, in probable need of updating. Nevertheless the book is still an indispensable guide to tracking down the best beer gardens Munich has to offer, especially when one considers that many of them are quite tucked away and are largely only known to locals.

On our last two trips we visited some excellent establishments, including Menerterschwaige, Waldwirtschaft Groβhesselohe (Wa-Wi), Hinterbrühl, Hirschgarten, Alter Wirt, Insel Mühle and Kugler Alm to name but a few. Hirschgarten is reputed to be Europe’s largest beer garden, and serves Edelstoff from a wooden cask. We’ve been there a few times and it’s unbelievably busy, and seems especially popular with younger people. There are also several well-known beer gardens in the Englischer Garten (Munich's equivalent of Hyde Park), including Seehaus, Osterwald and the famous Chinesischer Turm.
Chinesischer Turm - Englischer Garten

Gardens such as Insel Mühle, Menerterschwaige, Kugler Alm and Hinterbrühl are all a bit more tucked away, but part of the fun is tracking them down and getting there; a task made easy with the help of Larry’s book and Munich’s excellent, fully integrated public transport system.The system offers various options, depending on the number of people travelling, zones one wishes to visit and also includes a three day option. All tickets allow easy switching between rail (both suburban rail as well as underground lines), buses and trams, and makes getting around the city a breeze.

I have written before about Bavarian beer gardens, so I won’t repeat previously published information here, apart from saying the beer gardens are great social levellers, attracting people from all ages and from all walks of life. Some allow patrons to bring their own food along, as long as they buy beer from the garden, of course. Most offer inexpensive and hearty food, as well as the choice of self-service or waiter/waitress service.

They are popular with people on their way home from work, and at weekends they are equally popular with families, keen to escape the confines of hot apartments and escape into the fresh open air of the beer garden. There are around 180 such places in the city, ranging from small local gardens, serving a particular area, right up to the aforementioned Hirschgarten, which can accommodate up to 8,000 people!
Empty wooden casks at Hirschgarten

Here’s hoping we spend at least some time drinking outdoors in a few of these excellent establishments; but we are also looking to track down some Bavarian craft beers, as well as enjoy a few beers brewed out in the more rural regions of Bavaria.

For those interested in learning more about Munich's Beer Gardens, click here and the link will take you to an interactive site which lists most of them in the city, and the surrounding area.

Kloster Andechs
I had also intended putting up a link to the Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich website, but my virus checker blocked the link, as it appears the site has an infection. If you are reading this Larry, you need to check your site urgently, as it's been attacked!

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Night with Franciscan Well Brewery – EBBC14

I promise this will be my last post about the 2014 European Beer Bloggers Conference, as I’m certain that the majority of readers, who weren’t at the event, are probably sick and tired of my continual going on about it by now.

On the last evening of the conference, attendees were treated to a 4-course beer dinner hosted by Franciscan Well Brewery, of Cork. Founded in 1998, in the heart of Cork’s historic quarter, on the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery, Franciscan Well is famous for its naturally-made range of Irish and European-style beers. Franciscan Well is now owned by Molson Coors, who were a major supporter of the 2014 European Beer Bloggers Conference.

I also have to declare a personnel interest in the company, as I have a pension with Molson Coors. This came about following the latter’s acquisition of the brewing division of Bass, in the wake of the fall-out from the Beer Orders 1989. I began my laboratory/quality control career working for Bass, at their wines & spirits subsidiary, Hedges & Butler, in London’s East End, back in the late 1970’s, and now I have a small pension maturing somewhere in Molson Coor’s coffers, waiting for me when I retire.

This special beer dinner took place at the EBBC conference venue, The Church, and the kitchen staff there certainly pulled out all the stops to prepare some truly exquisite food. Franciscan Well founder and brewer, Shane Long, hosted the evening, sharing his thoughts on the advancement of the Irish Craft Beer market. Unfortunately I can’t remember much of Shane’s talk, as not only had I stopped taking notes at this stage, but I’d been drinking pretty solidly since lunchtime, and things were slowly sinking into an alcoholic haze! However, Shane is on record as saying:

“It’s Fantastic that the conference is being held in Ireland, a testament to how far we have come in the craft beer world. We look forward to hosting the writers.”

The evening kicked off with a welcoming glass of Rebel Red – Irish Red Ale. I have to confess I’ve never been a fan of Red Ales, but the style is native to Ireland and Franciscan Well’s version was pretty good, and helped to get the digestive juices flowing as we moved onto the starter. 

This consisted of Deep-fried calamari dusted in wasabi and sesame flour, served with a seasonal leaf salad, sweet chilli and aioli dips. The starter was paired with Friar Weisse; Franciscan Well’s Bavarian-style Weiss beer. The food and the drink certainly complemented each other, so full marks there!

Main Course
Moving on to the main course of dry-aged Hereford beef burger topped with Cashel blue cheese, beef tomato, gherkin, baby gem lettuce on a lightly toasted brioche bap with hand-cut chips, we had some rather good Franciscan Well Chieftain IPA to wash the complement the food and help wash it down.

Dessert, consisting of crouchenbouche-profiterole tower drizzled with toffee and chocolate, followed. A difficult mix of sweet, chocolaty tastes to find a suitable beer to go with this one, but Franciscan Well’s choice of their Shandon Stout fitted the bill surprisingly well.

An indulgent dessert
After all this rich and some might say pretentious-sounding food, was there room for anything else? Well, as a digestif the company came up with a version of the above stout, which had been aged in Jameson Irish Whiskey casks. A few homemade macaroons were placed in front of us, just in case we weren’t already bursting at the seams, but all in all it was an excellent, if rather indulgent, meal. Our thanks to Shane Long and his colleagues at Franciscan Well, plus the kitchen staff at The Church who certainly pulled out all the stops to create this culinary feast for us, and to make it such an enjoyable evening.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

EBBC 2014 - The sessions

Conference Agenda

So a month on and what was the EBBC all about? That’s probably a difficult question to answer in a few lines, as the truth is the conference was a myriad of many different things. Leaving the important business side of the event to one side for a moment, probably the biggest single thing to come out of the weekend was the discovery (for me at least, and I’m certain many others as well) of the strength of the emerging Irish Craft Beer Movement.

Whether this was by accident or design, or a combination of both, the overwhelming message that came across was that good, and quite often great, beer is alive and kicking in the island of Ireland. We were treated to four separate samplings of Irish Beer; five if you include Friday evening’s visit to the Guinness Brewery at St James’ Gate. Basically we encompassed the entire spectrum of beer in Ireland, from the huge multi-national that dominates the domestic beer market, right down to breweries which were just starting up. One doesn’t even yet have a permanent home, but is turning out some superb beers by “cuckoo brewing” using other people’s brewing plant.

The state of the Irish Craft Beer market is worthy of a post of its own, and hopefully I’ll get round to writing about it whilst it’s still relatively fresh in my head, but for now I’d like to return to describing what the business side of the conference was all about.

A number of different and quite varied topics were discussed, and there were several presentations. Some I found a lot more interesting than others, but one thing they all had in common, and the once common thread running through all of them, was that of beer. Following registration on Friday lunchtime, the conference kicked off with an introduction to Irish Craft Beer, before moving into the adjacent room set aside for the conference proceedings.

Vanguard Beer Collective
Historian, Declan Moore kicked off with his presentation entitled The History of Beer in Ireland. I must confess that despite spending time with Declan later that evening, and finding him positively charming, I found the whole subject of  Stone Age Brewing somewhat of a turn-off. So much so that, quite shamefully, I nodded off! There was just too much speculation and conjecture for my liking, and anyway the whole thing was so far removed from brewing as we know it, as to be of virtually no interest to me. (Sorry, Declan!)

Declan’s presentation was followed by the inter-linked topics of Keg versus Cask and Bottle versus Can. James Winans of the Vanguard Beer Collective and Brian Short from the Brown Paper Bag Project presented the pros and cons of these four packaging methods. I have already covered the Bottle versus Can debate, and whilst some interesting points were raised in the other half of the debate, I don’t intend to cover them here, as they are worthy of a separate post.

I said that there was a common “Beer Theme” running through the various topics, but that wasn’t quite true, as the two presentations on Saturday afternoon were about “How to Enhance Your Blog”, and “Supercharging Your Blogging With”. Both presentations were of much interest to me, and from a practical point of view, were by far the most useful of all the topics covered.

Cindy Molchany, from conference organisers, Zephyr Adventures, kicked off the first presentation with some really useful tips and advice about how to get one’s blog across to a wider audience. She also emphasised the importance of a strategy and covered how to add to its appeal, thereby attracting more interest, and more followers. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say I came away with lots of useful ideas and suggestions of how to improve both my blog and my online presence. So thanks, Cindy.

We were then treated to a real cool Californian dude representing Auttomatic – the company behind My own blog is hosted by BloggerGoogle’s own free blogging software. Now I know quite a few Bloggers who have switched from Blogger to WordPress, so I was keen to discover the pros and cons of both systems.

Derek  Springer (with the hat) from
Derek Springer, an accomplished home brewer, beer expert and programmer from Auttomatic, was very much in his element, and gave an excellent talk about how WordPress operates, explaining how the software has become the programme of choice for many Bloggers. He explored in some depth the ways in which bloggers can maximise the impact and reach of their posts, and like Cindy earlier, presented us with lots of useful tips and ideas.

Probably the most bizarre session was the first one on the Saturday morning. Billed as “The State of the Brewing Industry in Ireland”, Dean McGuinness, Managing Director of Premier International Beers, kicked off the day’s session with an insider’s look into the Irish Craft Beer Industry.  Dean used examples from abroad, (primarily the UK, but also, Germany – strangely enough), to illustrate his talk and demonstrate how “craft brewing” had taken off overseas, and was now beginning to establish a foothold in Ireland.
Chocolate Bock from Maisels

Using the examples of  Thwaites, Crafty Dan, and Black Sheep from Britain, plus Maisel & Friends from Bayreuth, Bavaria, samples of beers from these breweries were passed around to further make the point. If I told you this took place shortly after 10am when I was still recovering from the excesses of the night before, you will understand why I gave all these interesting beers a miss. The fact that that they were all strong beers, with the Black Sheep Progress weighing in at 10.0%, and the Maisels at 7.5%, you’ll understand my reluctance to start imbibing even more!

In some ways this was a pity, as the Black Sheep Progress was a limited edition beer brewed to celebrate 20 years of brewing, whilst the Maisels was a Chocolate Bock, (not sure if that’s strictly Reinheitsgebot?). Maisels have also revived some classic German lager styles, under the Aktion banner. I did, however, get to taste the Chocolate Bock later in the day.

The final presentation of the afternoon was all about "Video on Your Beer Blog". We heard from two experts on how to incorporate videos into your blog and how to promote those videos better.  Tomasz Kopyra is a Polish beer blogger who has successfully incorporated video into his blog and has 29,000 YouTube subscribers, whilst Mhairi MacLeod is director at Lux, Scotland’s only creative agency dedicated to food and drink, who carved her career from beer blogging. This was all new to me, but was a subject which left me with a lot of food for thought.

There in a nutshell, is a very brief synopsis of what exactly went on at the conference. Leaving aside the socialising, the beer sampling and brewery visit for one moment, these presentation were invaluable lessons and insight for anyone who wishes to improve, enhance and ultimately expand his or her blog. These sessions alone made the EBBC 2014 well worth attending.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

A Drop of the Black Stuff

Few brands are more iconic and well-known in the world.

The first day's proceedings at the recent European Beer Bloggers' Conference in Dublin ended with a tour around the world famous Guinness Brewery at St James’s Gate. The tour was followed by a beer and food pairing, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Before I go any further, I have to say the Guinness Brewery was not at all like I expected. I had been told beforehand that the site occupied some 64 acres, but it wasn’t until we approached the maze of streets which led to the brewery that I realised just how old parts of it are.

We arrived on foot; having been escorted in a number of groups by guides from the Dublin Tourist Authority. Our guide was quite a character, and on the 20 minutes’ walk over from the conference centre, he pointed out places of interest, including many historic sites. These included Dublin’s two cathedrals, and ranged from the famous Halfpenny Bridge over the River Liffey to the church where Handel’s Messiah was performed for the first time . He also told us some facts about Arthur Guinness. We already knew that the founder of the brewing dynasty had been married in The Church which is now the conference centre where the EBBC took place. But much more was to follow, including the fact that Guinness was the largest employer in Dublin, and at one time it was reckoned a third of the adult population of the city was working for the company, in one capacity or another.

Cobbled streets and an old rail-track, leading to St James's Gate
As we neared our destination, we entered a series of quite narrow cobbled streets, running between stone-built 19th Century buildings. I was glad we had a guide with us, as it would have been quite easy to lose ones bearings. There were several, iconic black-painted gates, emblazoned with the legend St James’s Gate, but after several twists and turns we reached our destination; the Guinness Storehouse.

The latter is the company’s impressive visitor centre. Converted from a former fermentation block, this multi-floored Victorian building is now one of Dublin’s premier visitor attractions. It was still busy with throngs of visitors, despite it being early evening. I suppose virtually all visitors to the Irish capital want both a souvenir, plus a taste of its most famous product; even those people who wouldn’t normally drink Guinness! I didn’t bother going in the extensively stocked shop, although being open plan I could see it was stocked with every conceivable piece of Guinness merchandise imaginable.

19th Century tunnel under the brewery

Once the various parties were all assembled, we were told we would be getting a sneak preview of Guinness’s brand spanking new brew-house; which is still not fully commissioned. So after donning hi-visibility jackets and safety goggles (talk about OTT!) we were led across to the new,  No. 4 Brew-House. On the way we passed through a 19th Century underground tunnel, constructed to give workers safe passage from one part of the site to the other, avoiding both roads and the narrow-gauge railway which once criss-crossed the site. We also passed the No.3 Brew-House, constructed in the 1980's, which is still in operation, but due to be de-commissioned once the new plant comes fully on-stream.

The entrance to the shining new No.4 Brew-House
Once in the new brew-house we ascended to the top floor of the building where we were met by Fergal Murray, Master Brewer at Guinness, along with several members of his team. As the brew-house is still being commissioned, and the fact that we were the first outside visitors to be shown the plant, we were asked not to take photos. This didn’t bother me, as apart from the tops of a series of stainless steel vessels, which could have been coppers or lauter tuns, there was precious little to see anyway. I have to say new, hi-tech breweries don’t do much for me; in fact they’re a huge turn-off. Give me a working Victorian brewery any day, complete with levers and pulleys, plus various wheels to turn, rather than a soul-less steel-framed shed, and I’m much more interested.

Fergus and his team bombarded us with various facts and figures, but as I wasn’t taking notes most of them went completely over my head. What I do know is the new brew-house is extremely versatile and is capable of brewing both ales and lagers. When it comes fully on stream, not only will the adjacent No. 3 Brew-House close, but so will a number of parent company, Diageo’s other smaller, Irish breweries, including those at Dundalk, Kilkenny and Waterford, with hundreds of job losses. As well as stouts and Harp lager, St James's Gate will now brew both Bud and Carlsberg under licence, plus the Smithwicks ale brands.

There are a few crumbs of comfort in relation to the new brew-house, and these are that Diageo’s original plan was to build a new mega-brewery, elsewhere in Ireland, on a green-field site, and then sell the historic St James’s Gate site off for redevelopment. Fortunately, for Dubliners, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 intervened, forcing the company to change its plans. The construction and opening of the new brew-house confirms Diageo’s affirmation to continue brewing in the heart of the Irish capital for many years to come.

Walking back to the Guinness Storehouse
After our brief tour we retraced our steps to the Guinness Storehouse. As mentioned earlier, this visitor centre has been converted from a former fermenting block, but what I hadn’t realised was that the Perspex construction, which takes up the central core area of the building is actually in the shape of a gigantic pint glass. We were ushered into a lift which took us to the top of the building – all very “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Here, several floors up, is one of the best views over Dublin to be had anywhere in the city.

I believe they call the area we were shown into the atrium, and it was here that we were to be suitably fed and watered. The Guinness management had pulled out all the stops to lay on a “beer and food pairing” for us. Starting with oysters and bottled Extra Stout, we moved on to fish and chips with Smithwick’s Bitter, followed by some superb steak burgers with Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Finally there was chocolate mouse with Special Export Stout, brewed especially for the Belgian market.

All the pairings worked well, although I skipped on the oysters; raw shell fish have never struck me as a particularly good idea, and I didn’t want to risk a dodgy stomach spoiling the rest of my stay in Dublin!  After the food, Fergal gave a presentation, followed by a short question and answer session. One of the topics which came up was the special Guinness concentrate, or “essence”. This is sent overseas to be added to locally brewed Guinness, especially out in Africa, where the “base” beer is often brewed from more locally available materials, such as sorghum. The concentrate imparts the true Guinness “flavour” to the locally brewed stout.

Shortly after, we said farewell to our generous hosts at Guinness, and were whisked off in a fleet of coaches to begin the Pilsner Urquell party, I posted about earlier, where there was yet more food and yet more beer!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Can the Can

One of the most interesting presentations and discussions that took place at the European Beer Bloggers Conference in Dublin last month concerned the humble beer can. The discussion was led by James Winans of the Vanguard Beer Collective; a “one stop shop” organisation for the promotion, and supply of Irish Craft Beers. The presentation kicked off with a bit of history to set the scene, then examined the relative advantages of cans over glass. I have added some of my own thoughts and views on the matter, and have also researched the rise of the beer can in slightly more depth.

Persuading consumers to accept beer in cans proved a long and painful process; a process which only really started to take off during the late 1930’s, in America. Although cans were in every day use for the mass distribution of foodstuffs during the late 19th century, it wasn't until 1909 that the American Can Company made its first attempt to can beer. This was unsuccessful, and the company would have to wait for the end of Prohibition in the United States before it tried again. Finally in 1933, after two years of research, the American Can Company developed a can that was capable of withstanding pressurisation and which had a special coating to prevent the beer reacting chemically with the tinplate which the can was made from.

Some rather non-PC 1930's cans from Krueger
Canned beer finally made its debut in 1935, when in partnership with the American Can Company, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale to faithful Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia. It is claimed that over ninety percent of drinkers approved of the canned beer, giving Krueger the green light to continue production.

The concept of canned beer proved to be a hard sell, but Krueger's overcame its initial reservations and became the first brewer to sell canned beer in the United States. The response was overwhelming. Within three months, over 80 percent of distributors were handling Krueger's canned beer, and Krueger's was eating into the market share of the "Big Three" national brewers--Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Schlitz. Competitors soon followed suit, and by the end of 1935, over 200 million cans had been produced and sold.

The purchase of cans, unlike bottles, did not require the consumer to pay a deposit. Cans were also easier to stack, more durable and took less time to chill. As a result, their popularity continued to grow throughout the 1930s, and then exploded during World War II, when U.S. brewers shipped millions of cans of beer to its armed forces,

After the war, national brewing companies began to take advantage of the mass distribution that cans made possible, and were able to consolidate their power over the once-dominant local breweries, which could not control costs and operations as efficiently as their national counterparts.

Today, canned beer accounts for approximately half of the $20 billion U.S. beer industry. Not all of this comes from the big national brewers: Recently, there has been renewed interest in canning from micro brewers and high-end beer-sellers, who are realising that cans guarantee purity and taste by preventing light damage and oxidation.

Cone-top cans from Felinfoel Brewery
The first British brewery to try tinned beer was Felinfoel of Llanelli. Canned beer was introduced as a means of  boosting the local tin-plate industry, which was struggling at the time. I have seen photos of some of these early cans. They had a conical top, and were sealed with a traditional crown-cork. Whilst growing up I can remember certain items being packaged in these sorts of tins, although as neither of my parents were drinkers, I don’t ever recall seeing beer cans of this sort. From memory it was substances like furniture, or metal polish (Brasso), that were filled into these cone-shaped containers; perhaps this is why I have always associated tinned, or canned beer with having a metallic taste.

I do remember having to pierce cans with a pointed instrument, specially designed for the purpose, and it was necessary to make two holes; one to let the contents out and the other to let air in. I am talking about soft-rinks here, but beer was also marketed in these sorts of cans, which by now had lost their conical top, and looked just like any other ordinary can.

Aluminium cans first became available in the United States, during the late 1950’s. Their lighter weight, and greater durability meant they rapidly replaced the older, heavier, tin-plate cans. Then in 1959, Ermal Fraze devised a can-opening method that would come to dominate the canned beverage market. His invention was the "ring-pull-tab". This eliminated the need for a separate opener tool by attaching an aluminium pull-ring lever, with a rivet to a pre-scored wedge-shaped tab section of the can top. The ring was riveted to the centre of the top, which created an elongated opening large enough that one hole simultaneously served to let the beverage flow out while air flowed in.

The first “ring-pull” cans I was aware of, featured in an advertisement of  Long Life beer; Ind Coope’s premium pale ale brand. The ad made great play of the ring-pull, and of the fact the beer was designed and packaged for home-drinking, and the voice-over said, “Home is where you drink your Long Life; the beer brewed specially for the home, in ring-pull cans.” Unfortunately, the only clip I could find of this advert on You Tube was of such poor quality, that it wasn’t worth including a link to it.

By the 1970s, ring-pull cans were widely available, but they came with a significant problem, as people would frequently discard the ring-pulls on the ground as litter, or drop them into the can and risk choking on them. Towards the end of the decade, Daniel Cudzik's invention of the non-removing "Sta-Tab" solved the problem. The ring-pull was replaced with a stiff aluminium lever, and the removable pull-tab was replaced with a pre-scored round tab with a riveted lever which pushed the tab open and into the interior of the can.

Today, most people, particularly in the UK, associate canned beer with cheap, tasteless lager, or equally cheap and tasteless bitter. However, in other countries cans have a much better image, and have become very popular in the United States I have written before on this subject; something which was prompted by my visit to Japan last year. There cans are extremely popular, especially on environmental grounds. But cans score highly in other ways too, being light and therefore easier to transport. They chill down quicker than glass well, and are ideal for taking on picnics, due to less weight. Finally, cans are often permitted at events where glass bottles are not.

Cans therefore win on cost, convenience, ecology and taste.  Although canning costs a lot to set up initially, once the plant is up and running the ecological advantages of the can really start to creep in. Advocates of the can, and brewers who are choosing cans, say there are clear advantages over bottles: The beer in a can cools quicker. The can protects from beer-degrading light. Beer cans are portable and take up less space, advantages both for retailers and for consumers who want to take them camping, hiking or fishing, or to sports or other outdoor events.. There is also more space on a can for wraparound design and decoration.

Retro-style Pilsner Urquell cans
Some quite large brewers are pushing ahead with promoting cans as the ideal way to store and transport beer, and this was brought home to us in Dublin at the Summer Barbecue on the Saturday lunchtime, hosted by Pilsner Urquell. There, in the courtyard, was a huge stack of cans, on display,  ready for us to take away and try. What’s more the cans were decorated with some old designs taken from the brewery’s archives, giving them a real retro look. I brought my cans home with me, but then, rather foolishly, drank them all without carrying out a taste comparison with the bottled version of Pilsner Urquell. 

A choice of container from Crafty Dan
However, all is not lost as those good folk at Beer52 have come up trumps by including both a bottle plus a canned version of Crafty Dan 13 Guns; Daniel Thwaites’ recently launched American IPA in the case of beer they sent me recently. I tried both versions side by side, and have to admit I found it difficult, to tell the difference; certainly so far as taste is concerned, although I did prefer the mouth-feel of the bottled beer, which was tighter, if that makes sense. The canned version seemed looser, and what I think this conveys is that the dissolved gas within the beer was present as much finer bubbles in the bottles than in the cans.

So much for my rather inconclusive verdict, but from what I read and hear I would say that the jury’s definitely still out on this one. What do other people think?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

40th Kent Beer Festival

The Kent Breweries bar

Following on from last weekend’s SIBA South East Beer Festival, this weekend saw the Kent Beer Festival taking place at Merton Farm, just outside Canterbury. The Kent Beer Festival is the second oldest CAMRA festival in the country, and this year the event celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Serving the thirsty  punters
The first festival took place back in 1975, and was held in Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens. It continued to be held on this site until 1984, when it moved to the Kent County Cricket Ground for a two year spell. In 1986 it moved again to Gravesend’s Woodville Halls; the only time it has been held outside of Canterbury. The venue didn’t prove to be a success, and the following year it moved again to its current site at Merton Farm, just outside Canterbury.

All 40 festivals have been organised by Gill Keay, formerly Knight; but this will be her last event in charge, as she is standing down for a well earned and well-deserved rest. There can be few, if any, other people, who have served such a long unbroken stint as Gill, and she describes in this year’s souvenir programme, how 40 years ago she had to drive round to various parts of the country in a van, to collect the beers herself, as there were no beer agencies, in those days. Gill also mentions that in 1975, there were just two breweries in Kent: Shepherd Neame and Whitbread-Fremlins; both of Faversham. Forty years on and there are now nearly 30 in the county; how things have changed!

Four of us from the Tonbridge area travelled down to Canterbury, by train, on Friday to see what was on offer. It was one of the hottest days of the year, so far, and after overnight thunderstorms and heavy rain, it was particularly humid out. I always enjoy the train ride to Canterbury, especially the section of line north from Ashford, along the Stour Valley. As the train approaches Wye, the first station from Ashford, I can just glimpse the solid square tower of the Norman-built, Brook Church, across the fields in the distance. I spent my teenage years living in Brook, and my friends and I would often cycle to Wye, in order to catch the train for a day out in Canterbury.

Canterbury is an obvious popular tourist destination, and the centre is invariably crowded with throngs of visitors from both home and abroad. In previous years we have walked up from the rail station to the city’s bus station, in order to catch the free shuttle bus which runs back and forth to Merton Farm. This year though we decided to take a taxi, and split four ways between us, it only worked out at a couple of quid each. It not only saved a walk through the sweltering heat, but it meant we arrived bang on opening time.

The festival filling up
A couple of friends who had arrived even earlier  had saved us some seats at a table, so after purchasing our glasses and beer tokens it was time to head for the bars. As might be expected, there was a strong emphasis on Kentish beers, with brews from all the Kent breweries currently in operation showcased on the Kent Breweries Bar. There was also a 40 Favourite Festival Beers Bar, with the top 40 beers, from previous festivals, as voted for by customers at these events. Of more interest though to those of us who wanted to try something new, there was a further bar dedicated to Other Breweries, from across the UK. My favourites amongst this section included Cheddar Ales-Gorge Best, Wylam-Gold Tankard, Great Oakley Wot’s Occurring and Black Hole Bitter from the Burton-on-Trent brewery of the same name.

In keeping with the farmyard setting
For those who have never been to Merton Farm, the festival takes place in a massive cow-shed. This year, given the warm weather, there was a definite “farmyard” smell about the place, but my main gripe was it was stiflingly hot inside. I countered this by nipping outside from time to time, as despite the searing heat from the sun, there was at least a cooling breeze blowing.

A tasty and filling Goan chicken curry helped soak up some of the beer for me, but there was also the option of fish and chips, pork pies, Bratwursts or Scotch Eggs to assuage people’s hunger. We saw Gill wandering around the shed, checking on things in this, her final time as Festival Organiser. The festival will continue in its current form, and at the same site, next year, and hopefully will carry on for many more years to come.

The Friday lunchtime session finishes at 4pm, and the festival then re-opens at 6pm. The evening session is traditionally “ticket only” and, as in previous years, all tickets had been sold out weeks in advance. We therefore caught the first shuttle bus back into Canterbury. On the bus we met up with some CAMRA colleagues from neighbouring Bromley Branch. They were keen to try some Canterbury Brewers’ beers on their home patch, but we knew from previous experience that the Foundry Brew-Pub, where the beers are produced, would be packed. Instead we headed for the company’s other pub, the City Arms, close to the cathedral. There those who had missed it at the festival were able to try the Kent 75 beer, specially brewed to celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary. Although only 3.6% in strength, it certainly packed in a lot of flavour, and appropriately was hopped using only local East Kent Goldings and Challenger hops.

Our Bromley colleagues departed soon after; heading off to Canterbury East station for a train back to Bromley. Our trains, on the other hand, depart from the city’s West station, at the other end of Canterbury, so as we made our way slowly back towards it, we decided to take in a couple of extra pubs on the way.

The Old Buttermarket is just a few minutes walk from the City Arms. It fronts on to a small pedestrianised square, right opposite the cathedral gate, and the tables and chairs set outside the pub looked very inviting. My friends though managed to find something even more welcoming given the fierce heat outside, namely a large air-conditioning unit, in the back room, blowing out some lovely cool air. We sat at a high table, just below it, after first grabbing ourselves a few beers. 

The Old Buttermarket, Canterbury
The Old Buttermarket is a Nicholson’s pub which means it serves a diverse and changing range of interesting beers. For this reason, the pub is quite well-known to us, as we have stopped there on several previous visits to Canterbury. I went for a couple of halves; the first being Hadley’s Blonde from Great Yorkshire Brewery; a 4.0%  refreshing blonde ale, brewed in conjunction with, and named after, Tony Hadley, former singer with Spandau Ballet. The other beer was Xingu Gold, from Everards; a golden ale, originating from Brazil, specially brewed for the World Cup. (Not always a good idea, given our national team’s inevitable early exit from the tournament!). Despite the inclusion of Nelson Sauvin and Cascade hops in the brew, this beer failed to deliver for me; certainly in comparison to the Hadley’s Gold. Still, you can’t win them all, and after an afternoon’s steady sampling I can’t say my palate was at its best!

Our final port of call, before the train home was the Unicorn; an unspoilt, traditional city-centre pub just across the tracks from the station. I was pretty much “beered-out” by this time, but the half of Whitstable Brewery’s Citra did at least refresh my palate.

On the short walk back to the station we shared a couple of bags of chips between us, and watched the skies steadily darken, and the wind getting up, as a thunderstorm approached. Fortunately we were on the train by the time it hit the city, and when we arrived back in Tonbridge it had more or less petered out. Another good day out, and hopefully we will be repeating the process in a year’s time.