Edinburgh jaunt

We recently visited Edinburgh for a couple of days and after taking lots of recommendations from folk (thanks @davomanic and @ckdsaddlers), managed to hit quite a few new places both on the beer and coffee, food and beer front. (We found a few bloody awful places too, but we won’t dwell on those) No in-depth reviews of any here really, a few words at most, plus photographs taken hastily, often blurry, using my iPhone of some of the most interesting.

First on my hit list was The Hanging Bat and indeed it was to there we headed immediately after dumping our belongings at the nearby Premier Inn on Lauriston Place, which I have to add was ideally placed to put a lot of places we hoped to try within easy walking distance. The Hanging Bat didn’t disappoint in any way, a lovely looking venue with the aroma of smoke mixing with brewhouse niffs. The beer list was tip-top and I was really happy to find a few new Scottish breweries making the beer list, Pilot and Fallen both hitting the spot several times over the weekend.

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Food was trickier as Mrs H (the wife) doesn’t really like smoked food, which here does not compute, I had the ribs with Vimto glaze which was absolutely beautiful, but left my fingers with a lingering smell of smouldering oak. This is fine until about 3am when you wake up gnawing at your knuckles dreaming about beer post beer munchies..

I was also really impressed by Blackfriars, tucked away a stones throw away from Brewdog and easy to miss unless you know what it is and where it is. Split in two on the ground floor with a restaurant one side and bar the other, but linked at cellar level sharing a kitchen and restrooms. The decor is bright and modern and had a cracking little beer list ably served by cheery knowledge staff.

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The bar, in case you hadn’t guessed…IMG_2869

I have no idea what this was, other than it was sour, murky and very drinkable.
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Stephen….(seagull)

Moving away from beer, Caffiene Drip was very much a Mrs H find and I have to admit on first impressions I was sceptical as we headed in for our first breakfast visit. However all that changed as we went down into the cellar serving and café area which had a really cool “in the know” kind of feel, with rows of small tables set in coffee sack clad walls. The menu was very coffee-deli like, but set at such a high standard.

IMG_2889 IMG_2888I went for the three egg and enormous toast, “pick your own” breakfast, with three superbly seasoned eggs (obviously), toast made from bread to die for and paired it with tasty bacon and local sausage. Such a great feed and extremely filling which is  good thing, but sadly I couldn’t face any of the delicious looking cakes, granola and pastries also available. Of course fresh coffee washed it all down well with the long black my cup of choice.

We spent far more time in Brewdog on Cowgate than I expected and no doubt than was healthy. Despite being small and a little tired compared to some of the new establishments, the beer list was excellent, no doubt aided by the Ballast Point tap takeover we had just missed. It was great to try some of those.

IMG_2873 IMG_2872 IMG_2875One slight disappointment being that nobody had a clue what was in the AB’ bottles in the fridges, consequently I didn’t but any, however the “Mills & Hills” collaboration between Fyne and De Molen plus the Ballast Point “Victory At Sea” amply made up for that loss, both being absolutely beautiful.

I had hoped to write a bit more at this point, but a WordPress “no save” disaster put paid to that as now I am running out of time and about to go for a few days away with the good lady wife. I’ll leave you with a few more pics though and wish you all the best until next time.

 

CHEERS!

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SPIT/FIRE

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Castello Coffee

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A gardening trapèze artistiering genius

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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OX184

 

Pulled Pork Quesadillas!

IMG_2811That’s right, pulled pork quesadillas!

Whoa there vegetarian types! Don’t dash off just yet, we can get around this pig related dilemma, stick with it. Although clearly this dish has meat in it, you can replace it, or just leave it out as you wish.

This recipe isn’t rocket science, but I had it yesterday and just thought “wow, this would be great beer food”, and some folks “may” not have tried quesadillas.

So, clearly my creation requires pulled pork right, but I’m not going to go all in-depth on how to make that or we’d be here all day. But what I will say is that for this recipe it needs to be pretty dry so if yours isn’t, maybe drain it off, or cook it down so it has no real sauce to speak of for this recipe.

In brief, for my pulled pork, I used a large leg joint of “pork” (obviously), although generally shoulder is better.

There’s no magic spicy rub mix required here as I wanted to go a bit less smokey barbecue and more with the apple thing. I just sealed the meat by frying it off with a spray of oil in a deep sided roasting pan to sear all sides, paying extra attention to the skin side to help get all that flavoursome fat rendering down right away. Remove the meat and set aside.

Peel, core and roughly chop two decent sized apples and one large onion, fry them off a little too in the same pan. Place the pork on top. Add a decent bottle of apple cider, a sprinkle of dried sage, thyme, rosemary, salt, ground black pepper, a heaped desert spoon of dark brown sugar and a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Tightly cover with foil and slow cook for about 4-5 hours.

Remove the pork from the pan and try to take off as much fat as possible, then shred the meat roughly and mix in with the remaining sauce back in the roasting pan mashing the apple and onion mix as you do to thicken. Add a good splash of Calvados or Bourbon to taste. Cover again with foil and return to the oven for a few more hours if possible, basically cook on until there is as much sauce left as you personally prefer. Easy!

If like me though, when you choose that joint of pork, your eyes are much bigger than your belly (a tough act in itself), inevitably you will have loads of delicious meat left over which is where this recipe comes in.

Making these is really easy, the key is to chop everything finely so that the filling binds and those flavours really blend together. It’s really all very slapdash too, so don’t take my measurements as gospel, add or remove things to taste, use leftovers, increase or decrease ingredients as your fridge/larder dictates, it’s all good…

Right, to work. Take a large mixing bowl. Into that, finely chop a handful of spring onions, four or five mushrooms, a fresh chilli or to taste (I used half a Scotch Bonnet which was really zingy, it was just enough) and a roughly chopped fistful of coriander, (I actually used the frozen pre-chopped stuff this time and it worked really well). Grab a heap of the leftover pork and chop/mince with a chefs knife to basically make it less stringy, throw that in too. Season with a little black pepper. Finally, grate in a good hunk of mature cheddar or similar, basically you want a good cheese to additions ratio.. I know, I’m just TOO precise..

Mix all the ingredients together gently, use a spoon and not your fingers, take it steady or else it just all goes into a massive gooey clump!

Take three large tortilla wraps and lay them on a work surface, spread the mixture evenly between them all to take the dry mixture to about 1 cm from the edge. Lay another wrap over the top of each and give them a firm press down.

IMG_2809Pile them on a plate and tightly cover with clingfilm and stick them in the fridge till you are ready to cook. (You can always cook immediately of course)

Using a dry frying pan on a medium heat, cook the quesadillas for about one and a half to two minutes each side, turning as required.

IMG_2807You are aiming for a piping hot melted centre and a nice crispy outer, so try to get the cheese melted a little before the first turn. I suppose you could oven cook or worse, microwave, but I’d definitely recommend sticking with the dry pan option for best results.

IMG_2810IMG_2811Slice like pizza into bite size portions and serve on a warm plate with sour cream and guacamole. It is DELICIOUS!

Beer wise, I’d go with something like a crisp Kölsch, or perhaps a really light hoppy IPA, you could even go mad and sort of mix the two with one of those new fangled India Pale Lagers.

Hope you enjoy whatever you choose.

Cheers

 

Bargain Beverages

Everyone loves to bag a cheap beer don’t they, or at least a decent beer that doesn’t break the bank, a BOGOF, three for a fiver or a cheeky little discount here and there. But how far can it go?

How often do we hear about the demise of the British high street, it’s all over the news, in the papers and on many a documentary.

It’s all too clear when you walk into town too, well it is around these parts at least. Even in Hanley which is known as the “shopping centre” of the Potteries, the place that is credited to have sucked the life out of all the other local towns, walk a few hundred yards from the “Intu” centre and there are more boarded up shop fronts than those open for business.

This is why headlines like this worry me a little:

Lidl embraces craft ale craze following success with upmarket wine sales

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/03/lidl-embraces-craft-ale-craze-following-success-with-upmarket-wine-sales

It’s not that I’m against supermarkets stocking decent beer as such, I’ve been moaning about the piss-poor selection in most for years. In fact even now I still always take a look down the beer aisle just to see if anything decent is in, often wearily trudging away, shaking my head at the assumed lack of thought that has gone into the stock choice.

Going back eighteen months or so, we had the “faux-craft” knee jerk reaction, as some of the big retailers realised how much money was at stake if only they could convince their existing bulk suppliers to rebrand or create something “crafty” at production line prices. Personally speaking I think only M&S managed to pull this of with any success, by selling existing products like Oakham Citra under their own banner whereas others like Tesco for example, chose to go the other way with the “Marstons Revisionist” range, which absolutely sucked among many more.

More recently of course, things have started to look better, with Waitrose, M&S, and even Tesco and Morrisons trying a little harder, with a small range of decent UK and International breweries finally getting shelf space, the two premium retailers taking the lead. Not forgetting Sainsbury’s of course who made strides with “the great British beer hunt”, but still seemed to favour current supermarket brands when choosing winners.

Looking at the picture which came from the Lidl headline though, my eyes were immediately drawn to the “Boulevard Tank 7, Single Wide IPA” and “La Chouffe” bottles. I’ve always been a fan of Chouffe beers especially (Houblon) and although only trying it recently for the first time, Tank 7 was absolutely lovely, Single Wide IPA too.

Maybe those beers had just been casually “prominently placed” in the shot, yes, it could be that…

It is worth noting that (unless I’m very much mistaken) all these brands are owned by Duvel Moortgat, having being acquired at various stages over the last 10-15 years. Amongst others not shown, including Bernard, De Koninck, Maredsous and Ommegang of whom I also think they held a founding stake.

Is that itself a good thing? I still like most of the brands listed above, but it’s not rocket science to see that a deal has clearly been struck here between multi-national beer giant and huge discounter, to supply to a bargain hungry beer guzzling public. But then who is next to be swallowed up, the “small micros” also mentioned, or even bigger “cult beer” fish?

Then of course there are the independent specialist beer retailers. Shops, micro-pubs and bars. Those places that folk either really want nearby on their high street, or has, and perhaps complains that they do, but can only rarely visit because the prices are just too high and so are “forced” into supermarket purchases. What of those, how long before the huge purchasing power of the shopping giants starts to close those one by one because they simply can’t compete on price?

Déjà vu, or pessimistic scaremongering?

It is fair to say that I have completed no real in-depth research to back any of this up and as such it is pretty much only my own thoughts/concerns. It is also worth pointing out that I’m not knocking any of the few breweries lucky/successful enough to secure a supermarket deal either. As an argument for, you could say for example, deals like this make good beer accessible to everyone and in doing so, gets more people interested in trying something new. Maybe the only way this ever expanding growth in beer can continue is that some do fall by the wayside, or the reverse, are bought out and go mainstream replacing existing big brands. Although, I definitely hope that this isn’t the future.

Personally speaking I’ve just taken a decision to try really hard to support local high street traders where possible, not just in beer purchases, but for as much as I possibly can on everything. Which speaking from the town officially listed as having the most empty shops in the UK this year isn’t easy, but seems the only way to encourage positive change or face the consequences..

What are your thoughts, is the discount store the way to go, your only route, or a potential disaster in the making?

Cheers

 

 

What’s in a rate?

60302320The problem with rating anything is that it is personally subjective, plus there are so many variable external influences that can, or could, influence the reviewers score or comments either consciously or unconsciously. Rating beer is no different.

Mood, location, are you too warm or too cold, is the beer to warm or too cold. Is it lively or flat as a kippers dick, is it supposed to be lively or like the other.

Knowledge, personal preference, location, experience, expectation, loyalty, brand perception, the unknown, peer pressure.

The last drink you had, that bag of spicy Space Raiders you just ate, or the delicious cheese you are eating right now that just pairs so well.

Who brewed it, when did they brew it, how was it shipped, is it fresh, is it old, is it “meant” to be drunk fresh or is it better to save it until it is old, if so for how long, how long is too long?

Where was it stored, how was it stored, how did you pour it, into what, was it clean, did you bother to pour it into anything, a can is for supping from right, did I see you just chugg that Orval??

Too bitter, too sweet, too hoppy, “hoppy, this isn’t hoppy”? Wow that’s strong, pfft too weak, way too much whisky barrel, it’s cloudy, that’s haze, too clear, I love unfiltered, this is boring, too brown, why is there fruit in here, can you taste phenolic sweetcorn?

What you just read on Untappd, Ratebeer, Beeradvocate and such?

Then there’s the actual rate, how do you rate, what is “good” for you, a three, a four, a FIVE, in that case what is exceptional?

Untappd Groupie!

Untappd Groupie!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking folks who rate, I personally use Untappd for example, and as such am at times (and definitely without any positive thought going into it), a certified “badge wanker”.. It was during such activity last night that these thoughts were pondered.

I don’t normally post comments, or at least anything worth reading tasting note wise, maybe an expression of delight or at worst a “meh”, but last night reading down some of the others below before I “tappd” I was a little bemused by some of the comments, so I did:

“Fucking hell there are some odd remarks about this beer on Untappd, it is ace, end of :-D #justsaying” I said, exactly.

The beer in question being the Buxton-Evil Twin collaboration “Anglo Mania, described as an English Barley Wine.

What made me think that more than anything were the two comments on separate rates below.

“My rating is based on expectation of a smash English Barleywine. Way too hoppy. It’s more of an American Barleywine.”

“Love a good barleywine but I feel this could do with some big piney American hops.”

One was expecting an English Barley Wine and clearly didn’t get one, too damn American tasting, what WERE those brewers thinking!?! The other bought an English Barley Wine and wanted it to be bloody “Merican”, maybe that clue in the title just wasn’t clear enough… For me, I don’t really care which style it was, it tasted great, I loved it.

Then of course there’s the marking system, (if you use one). I do, but it’s hardly rocket science and probably changes several times a session depending on many things including alcohol and memory. It goes something like this.

1-1.5. Shite, drain pour, why me..

2-3. Meh, below average, probably wouldn’t drink again.

3-4 Decent, rising through regular standard, I like sorta beer.

4.5. OOOOOH, really good, I could drink loads of this.

and finally

5. Fuckadoodledoo, call the registrar and arrange a special licence, I’m in love and we are gonna have ourselves a wedding. (I actually rated this as a five, it was probably only a 4.75, so put away that wedding dress Mr Stronge.) 

But then of course others rates are totally different, as again was evident in a conversation with a good mate who I know, knows his beer. He (Rich) said “I gave it a 3.8 so it was quality”. On chatting he clearly loved it, but obviously has a different, perhaps more in-depth (or less haphazard) way of logging what he’s tried than I. Different strokes for different folks…

Then do you share your thoughts on social media, or keep them to yourselves? Personally speaking I rarely share these days apart from the odd one or two and of course the obligatory “badgewankery”. Some do though and at times I think for slightly unscrupulous reasons too on occasion.

The thing is, people do read these comments and can pre-judge by what has been said and/or for low or high scores. I know I have, especially if it relates to an unknown brewery or perhaps a particularly expensive beer, where I will have a quick peek at what people are saying before deciding on whether or not to buy. I’m not proud of it, and dread to think of how many really good beers I’ve passed by in doing so.

So, what’s in a rate, a personal opinion of a moment in time is all it is. So keep an open mind when you next read beer notes and be mindful of what you write.

Cheers

Talking to the dead…

logoA blast from the past this, as I wrote it almost a year ago as a follow on to a write-up on the Los Muertos tap-house. It’s been sat in my drafts box since July 2014, needs airing, so here goes nothin’. Please note though, that may things may have changed since then as the bar and beer range has no doubt grown, a year is a long time…

I met Conner Watts, owner and master brewer at Los Muertos briefly and perhaps not in the best of circumstances for which a chat, and of course an accurate recollection of said chat could be relayed here. Nevertheless, I’ll try to recap and capture the essence of the conversation, assisted by a few emailed notes from Conner himself.

It was a busy afternoon at the Los Muertos Brewpub, the football world cup in full swing, with the USA versus Belgium game being shown live that afternoon. The bar was full of American supporters, plus two others, us, shouting for Belgium in the cheap seats. By this stage we’d pretty much gone through the beer menu and it’s fair to say that I was a tad tipsy at this point. I’d seen someone who I assumed was the brewer dashing around the place doing this and that, chatting to customers and I’m glad to say, trying to get some of the folk still drinking local bottles to at least sample something from the range on tap. Finally I caught him standing still at the bar and wobbled across to introduce myself.

We chatted a little about the beers and what I thought of them and about the bar, food etc and I duly sang their collective praises, whilst giving him my thoughts on what I had enjoyed the most, plus those that I’d found lacking a little. Conner explained that they were all pretty much works in progress, with some being closer to being exactly how he wanted than others. The problem being that he was trying to be slightly conservative in some aspects, wanting to get more interest locally with Mexican nationals rather than only appealing to the tourist trade. The range of beers that locals have been exposed to are pretty “safe” lager/beers and ambers, mass-produced offerings you might say, so there would be little point brewing only beers to the massive “hop-head” market.

I mentioned that I’d spotted him chatting away to folks at tables drinking bottles, and he confirmed that basically he was aiming to educate them slowly as to what he was about, in the hope that gradually folk would start to try other things and spread the word. A slow battle, but one that was reaping some reward.

Lastly my biggest gripe, an odd one for most, but something I have just gotten used to over recent years, that being serving measures. Pints or 16oz glasses of beer are great for slipping down the session pales, lagers and the like, ideal in fact for the hot and humid temperatures of Puerto Vallarta, but if you want to try a few different beers, can be hard work.

It was explained that smaller glasses and even flights were on order (and should by now be in place), always being part of the plan but slipping down the pecking order of all the things that were critical in getting the place into shape.

In an earlier life, Conner had been a restaurateur in a ski resort in Park City back in USA before moving to Puerto Vallarta. Why Mexico? Well, simply because his wife was sick and tired of the cold! What they missed most after a few months was the variety of beer, so they said to each-other “we can do something about this” and set to work.

“I’d been home-brewing beer myself ever since I was at school in Colorado, so I went back and spent a summer there brewing commercially, trying to refine my knowledge and expanding it to cope with the economies of scale before jumping in with both feet. Once back in Mexico we set about making the brewery happen, the rest is history”

IMG_9605On asking about the challenges he’d faced along the way? “Our biggest challenge getting started was temperature. The original brew house had a really poor cooling capacity, so we had issues from knocking out to maintaining appropriate fermentation temperatures to crashing our tanks and dispensing beer.

The result was mediocre beer at best. We were able to get that fixed and now I’m extremely proud to serve ALL our beers.”

As a footnote to this post, you may, especially in the UK and US, have heard about another beers with a very similar look and branding to Los Muertos, “Cerveza de los Muertos” being one as written about by Philip Montoro of “Chicago Reader” here.

These beers are not from the same stable and I am reliably informed that “los muertos” can’t, or at least would be tricky to copyright. However, as with most things, although established first, Los Muertos do not have the financial backing to be able to fight the might of the likes of Coors who are said to own the other “Mexican Craft” brand, so just have to suck it up and carry on. An all too familiar story..

Cheers

Positive Waves….

IMG_2622Things have been quiet here on the post front for several months you may, or may not have noticed. For lots of reasons, most of them personal and not for discussion here, but basically a lack of drive or inspiration to write anything worth reading (which may well still be the case)..

Part of that too was a feeling that blogging (for me at least) had become a little stale and for want of a better descriptor, “samey”, which doesn’t really mean anything at all.

If I did feel the urge to engage brain to pinkies, it was inevitably about something negative. So I refrained from doing so in an effort to not piss people off, and in doing so save my “iKeyboard” from being fist-mashed into something beyond the recognition of even the late Steve Jobs..

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So why now, I hear you collectively cry? (thanks to both of you for crying that by the way)

Well, a few things really. Weirdly the first was the second anniversary of Simon #Scoop Johnson’s death (which doesn’t seem that long ago at all). I was reading some of his old posts and it made me think, I miss these. Simon’s writing was informative, witty, farsighted, grounding and sometimes (perhaps always), absolutely bonkers. His posts generally made you feel happy or at least able to laugh at even serious issues, beer and blogging about beer should be fun.

Exhibit A: Harrumph

Exhibit B: Money For Old Rope…

If you never got to meet Simon or in particular read any of his work, go and have a good rummage through his blog, time well spent I assure you.

IMG_2637The second was this last weekend and an impromptu visit to both BlackJack and Runaway Breweries as part of the Manchester Brewery Expo, to quote the latter twitter profile “Manchester Brewery Expo is a collaborative, open door event to celebrate our brewing community, shared goals, and unique characteristics”.

The Expo included and just happened to coincide with BlackJack’s own monthly brewtap weekender, which I heartily recommend. But my attendance wasn’t planned. Two brief early morning comments sparking an idea that grew quickly to become a wonderful afternoon where I met so many good beer people, friends, enjoying their company and conversation. I felt that dark cloud lift for a while, thinning and rising ever higher, bright warming rays starting to peep through the gaps.

(For reference, in terms of the whole event, there was so much going on that I didn’t get to see over the weekend, but in any case I completely forgot to take any pictures… However, for a flavour of that, check out this fine photoblog by Mark Johnson).

The final thing though, was a most timely email last night from some social media site congratulating me on the fact that the blog was “3 years old today”, it even had a cartoon cake!

“Wow” I thought “three years, it feels longer than that”.

It was, my first post on Beersay was actually February 2011, so it is actually nearer four and a half. So, maybe taking a break has just done me good. I’m hoping so and that this is a sign of my returning mojo in whatever form that may take. Beer blogging has been kind to me, I’ve learned so much and made more friends with similar interests than I would have ever thought possible. Only time will tell..

Raising a glass to “positive waves” people, “positive waves”. #ODDBALL

Flogging a dead ‘oss

twissupSeveral weeks ago I posted this about #MaccToTheFuture, this years now seemingly annual beer gathering or #Twissup in Macclesfield, at the time really excited and hopeful that the idea was sound and would gather loads of interest. Sadly though, very little has come of it in terms of active involvement from either breweries or beer writers, so we have decided that its time to probably pull the plug on the idea and move on.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed, I am, especially that no beer writers seemed interested in getting something going, but hey, that’s just the way it is, forget it, dust off, move on, NEXT!

10359148_10154603868995788_8429793537792974573_nTo be clear though, we are intending to continue doing something, #MaccToTheFuture will happen if the desire is there from folks to hold it, we’ll just use the tried and tested formula of getting great beers sorted and hopefully a few new brew launches as with earlier years. So watch this space on that front, beers are being sourced and all ideas* are welcome too. *contacts below

So, the proposed date is still Saturday 22 August 2015, stick it in your beer diaries and let me know if you are interested in coming along, either by comments here, via twitter @Filrd or the Facebook page.

Cheers