Now for something completely different…

Weirdly, almost two years to the day, something happened that would in time, go on change my life’s path completely. I don’t want to dwell on it too much as it led to some very tough times and hard battles, but lets just say that it involved too many straws, a camel, and it most definitely gave me the hump!

IMG_4621Thankfully those days are long gone, but towards the end of that last road I started to think it was time to make a break and move on, but what could I do?

Beer seemed the most logical answer, not drinking it, although clearly that helped, but a career within the industry would at least give me a chance to do something I know a little about and would hopefully enjoy.

I suppose I could have gone out and hawked a CV around breweries, beer distributors or whatever in the hope that somebody had a vacancy, but the thought of knocking on doors of friends, saying “giz a job, I can do that”, didn’t really feel appropriate. Besides, I have always harboured a dream of doing something for myself and this seemed like an opportunity to take that leap of faith and do just that. So with that in mind, the help, love and patience of the wife and the gentle nudge/shove of some reassuring friends and family, I started to look at opening a specialist beer shop.

Location was a tricky one. For several years I have wished and pushed for more choice in my home city Stoke On Trent, which for a long time seemed to be being left behind in terms of the new trends sweeping most of the country. In more recent times though that has changed, Stoke now has quite a few establishments who are prepared to push the boundaries of choice for something “less traditional” shall we say, with more and more opening month on month. With this in mind it made sense to us to stay local, where we knew there is a growing interest and we have friends to help us get started, so we opted for Burslem, Stoke’s “Mother Town”.

Thoughts then turned to a name, I decided I wanted something different from the traditional type names, thought-provoking even, be that in a knowing smile or a “what the bleedin’ hell does that mean” sort of way. A memorable name that hopefully would get folk talking, although I may live to regret that having already had to explain it to banks, insurers, council staff and many more.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, many people have inspired me to write over the years but from that great bunch of people, nobody made me laugh as much as Simon Johnson, the Reluctant Scooper. He could take a serious subject or equally a nonsensical argument and come up with something witty whilst still getting a point across, be that in a simple tweet or a full-blown blog post. Although Simon passed away in 2013, I still find myself returning to his blog time and again, a memory stirs from somewhere that has me reaching into cyberspace to find the post I’m looking for and it is inevitably one of his.

It was at such a moment that inspiration for the name came to me, although clearly not the credit. The question, “What to me encapsulates the new and exciting buzz that is gripping the beer world, without actually using the words craft?” For the answer, my mind immediately turned to the words of Simon’s “Craft Beer Manifesto” specifically the use of “distilled otters tears”!

“Craft beer is where you find it. Where you find it depends on how you define it.
How you define it? That’s your call.
There will never – never – be agreement in the UK as to what ‘craft beer’ really means.
So let’s just drink good beer and have some fun” 

If you’ve not read it, do it now, the link is above and perhaps linger awhile. Basically it was a tongue in cheek dig at those waging a war of words back then, over what was or was not craft beer. Nothing much has changed of course in terms of defining the C word, but the words of wisdom in Simon’s manifesto clearly tickled me enough to make it commit to memory, so Otters Tears it was.

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Thornbridge Brewery

Of course that was only the beginning, the name existed already, as a brew created by Thornbridge and the IndyMan crew as a fitting tribute to Simon and of course there was Rebecca Johnson, Simons wife to think of too, how would they all take to the idea?

Apprehensively approaching the brewers first, thankfully I found my nervousness unfounded as the powers that be at both Thornbridge and IndyMan were equally supportive of the idea and gave their blessing gladly. Rebecca however, found me out before I got the chance to show her what we were planning to do. This tweet setting my heart racing I can tell you..

That’ll teach me to stop putting things off! 😉

When we caught up the following morning Rebecca, was happy, sad, moved, ecstatic, emotionally joyful at the prospect if I’ve summed that up correctly, and loves the support and continuing friendship of her “beer family”. We’ve had lots of little DM chats since then and I’m delighted that she is as excited as we are at the prospect. I just hope we can do it justice, one thing is assured, we will try our best.

We sincerely hope that you guys out there in the beer world are on board and get it too.

So, the wheels are now fully in motion. We have found a small starter unit in Burslem that will need a lot of creative TLC to get it looking something like my vision. Our hope is that we can create a place where you can find the best beers around, then either take them away or sample some on site in a relaxing atmosphere. Nothing groundbreaking these days about that concept I know, as many similar places exist, but that only proves that it can and does work.

Otters-Tears-LogoOur logo was designed by Andy Mogg and his ever patient team at Lemon Top, who after many interventions and changes of heart from me, managed to capture what was in my head and bring it to life. I really like it and hope you do too. (Cheers Andy)

*Disclaimer: No comedy otters were used in the making of this branding..

Otters-Tears-IconV2-360pxWe don’t have a Facebook page set up as yet, it will be coming soon, but you can catch up with us on Twitter via @otterstears

More news as things develop and time allows during the hard  work that lies ahead. For now though I’d like to thank everyone who has listened patiently to me wittering on about this for yonks, you’ve answered daft questions, given me endless amounts of much needed advice, listened to my moans and groans and no doubt those daft questions again. No names mentioned (yet), much love to you all though.

Wish me luck!

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 😀 #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

Slow Cooked Steak in a Port and Mushroom Sauce with Gnocchi

It has been a while since I did any sort of cooking/recipe type posts on here, but as this seemed to go down well with my Facebook chums, and I’d bothered to scribble down what I’d done for some of them  thought I may as well share it here too.
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Also it’s worth mentioning here, that as it was never intended for publication, the photographs featured are hardly describable as informative…apologies for that.
Anyway here goes, the ingredients are approximate but not far off, serves about three people or two if you like a good munch, but just double up to feed a bigger group, it’s a really hearty cockle-warmer.
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Ingedients:

500g lean steak (this would work even better with something fattier like shin beef but we were trying to be healthy)
1 carton of passata (sieved tomatoes)
2 medium onions cut into chunky wedges
3 cloves garlic (peeled but not chopped)
Tspn Italian herbs (or fresh) & to taste.
2 bay leaves
2 heaped tspn plain flour
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (about a tspn each)
Glass of port or red wine (or more to taste)
Beef stock cube with about 400ml boiling water.
Handful of mushrooms quartered
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Mix the flour salt and pepper in a bowl, throw in the steak and toss in the seasoned flour to coat the meat and until all the dryness has gone.
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In a wok/large frying pan/skillet, throw in a splash of olive oil, when hot add the onions and garlic, frying on a medium heat for 1 minute.
Add the steak and cook until all the meat is sealed and starting to brown.
Pour in the passata and beef stock, stirring well to get all that lovely meaty coating off the bottom of the pan.
Finally mix in the port, herbs and bay leaves, stirring further whilst bringing to a simmer.
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Then, transfer to a covered casserole pot and cook on a med to low oven at about 150-160 for approximately 3 hours. Keep checking to make sure the sauce is thickening but not drying out.
At that point I added the mushrooms and a touch more seasoning to my personal taste and put it  back in the oven (lid on still) for a further hour.
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Note: You can add the mushrooms at the beginning if you wish, but I prefer them to retain a bit of firmness which is lost if slow cooked in my opinion. Also, I am sure this would be even better if a slow cooker was used and it cooked all day, so is perfect to put in before work and have a lovely home cooked meal to look forward to.
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I served this fresh with gnocchi (supermarket bought), it only takes about 3 to four minutes to cook. Once the gnocchi is cooked through, add at the last 5 minute before serving mark and stir in to coat with that indulgent velvety sauce. It could be served with pasta or creamy mash for a similar effect though.
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Tip: If it is getting too thick whilst cooking, add a bit more stock or port (not Stockport) & lower the heat slightly, remember though, that sauce needs to be thick and velvety to coat the gnocchi and just be generally lush..
220px-Rochefort-beersFor a beer to pair with recommendation, I thought back to a Mark Dredge FABPOW post from several years ago, where he went for Rochefort 8 to go with Spaghetti Bolognese. Although a very different sauce of course I am sure these would still compliment each other really well, or maybe go even heavier with perhaps a Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve) which is often available in supermarkets or even better, Rochefort 10…enjoy
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Tryanuary Support your brewers, breweries, beer retailers, pubs and bars by sampling something new this January, follow #Tryanuary on Twitter for updates.

The Wharf Macc Hardcore’s You

Last but by no means least in my round hop of what’s on for the BackInMacc tour tomorrow (Sat 13th September 2014), is one of my favourite pubs anywhere. Friendly local, music venue, community pub, beer geek heaven, it manages to pull them all off at one time or another, making it a must visit.

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Chris in action at last years Twissup

As usual Chris Stairmand has pulled a series of extremely rat-arsed rabbits out of the hat, a tres continental sounding one at that in terms of what he has lined up for our drinking pleasure.

We have our new brewer in residence, James Bendall from Wrexham based Axiom Brewing, with his first beer to market New Dawn. A fine offering to start a commercial brewing career it is too and can quite easily stand alone, but to add to the intrigue tomorrow it’s planned to be served via a randall stuffed with hops yet to be revealed. A Welsh rarebit..

new-dawn-wb-small

Mancunian with a southern hemispheric hint up next we have the delicious collaboration beer from Marble’s Matthew Howgate and New Zealander ex-pat James Kemp, who’ s collective talents created Howgate & Kemp New Zealand Pale Ale. Full-Product-Range-HowgateKemp

Continuing our transcontinental tour-de-biers we go all Soviet, via Nottingham’s Flipside Brewery, going dark and mysterious with their SIBA award-winning stout Russian Rouble, Da!RussianRoublePumpClip

Onward weary traveller to Europe, where we are set to meet some exceptionally special beers featuring brewers from Scotland, Denmark and of course Belgium. Beers that need no explanation to delight and amaze so I won’t bother, apart from to say, feast your eyes on these bad boys!!

T1_8438b5580d1ec292a9f2a5e9bd145515_84530pannepeutBoth will be available on keg of course rather than in bottles, with the Pannepeut being the 2013 Vintage rather than the version shown.

A truly knockout selection, with more on offer across the bar too. Step three of our beer adventure, The Wharf…

Another reminder to please like the Facebook page and if possible show you are coming along. If not for Twitter users you can tweet myself @filrd, @redwillowmacc, @thetreacletap, @thewharfmacc, or @tobymckenzie, or why not all of us at once. If none of that is your thing, like the post or comment below. But most of all, please share with your friends and come along for the day, all are welcome to join, itinerary again below with a little slack for walking etc.

The itinerary too for those who have missed it…

*Saturday 13th September 2014*

Treacle Tap – 11am- 12:45

RedWillow Brewery – 12:50-14:45

Wharf 15 -17:15

RedWillow Bar 17-30 – 20:00

20:01 Feel free to circulate and do it all again..

“Nino-vation” – De Ranke

Nino Bacelle, takes the floor at “Beermoth” in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and after a brief introduction apologises for his slightly poor grasp of the English language, he’s here to talk about “De Ranke Brouwerij”, his brewery and the wonderful range they create. (The latter being my words not his, but nonetheless true). The apology is clearly not needed as the room is full of beer lovers glued to his every word, and he proceeds to deliver one of the most engaging talks of its kind that I’ve witnessed.

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Image courtesy of BeerMoth

On the table in front of us all sit six bottles, of that six only one (the XXX) is new to me, as I’ve been a fan of the De Ranke range of beers ever since I first began to explore what Belgium has to offer. XX was the first De Ranke I tasted and it was just so different to any Belgian brew I’d tasted  before, so dry, bitter and incredibly drinkable. I also loved the paper wrapped bottles and still do, unwrapping one to pop the cap adds a bit of theatre to the occasion every time.

IMG_9312Nino relays his story of the struggle to learn how to brew in Belgium many years ago at around 1981, experimenting with what he could get hold of at the time, the lack of information available and the often reluctance of established brewers to share their secrets. From there a spell at a Belgian “brew school” before cutting his teeth by offering his services to help out when and wherever he could to put those newly acquired skills to the test.

Once he was happy that he was able to produce something to produce commercially that would have some market appeal, the journey began in earnest as the first steps proper towards what we now know as De Ranke were taken. Taking hired brew days at Deca Brouwerij in Woesten and soon being joined by Guido Devos (the second brewer and joint owner of De Ranke), it was here the first production of Guldenberg, an abbey beer typical in style at least to other popular beers in the area and designed to appeal to the local drinkers was brewed.

IMG_9316It was what went on from there with these two guys is what I found really interesting, back in the nineties, deciding to buck popular trends in their homeland and produce beers that they wanted to drink rather than for market demands, a risky but quite a topical strategy considering what has happened here in the UK in recent years.

XX Bitter was the first of these “new-fangled” beers and caused a stir at Deca at the time, inspired funnily enough by British beer and the writings of “The Beer Hunter” Michael Jackson. Using cast iron and copper equipment dating back to the 1930’s as I recall, but modifying it so as to use full cone hops and not essences or pellets, fresh local ingredients, much to the astonishment of the resident brewing staff. “Why do you do it this way, it creates so much mess and makes the process so much more difficult”, the answer, simple, “better flavour, aroma and bitterness”. This insistence on using only the finest and local where possible ingredients continues to this day, as does their dedication to quality.

I could rattle on about Nino’s story, the history and description of each beer for pages but I won’t, partly because I probably wouldn’t do it justice with my pretty hopeless memory but also as I think more people should hear it from the man himself, only then would the enthusiasm for doing what he and Guido do clearly be evident.

What I will say though is what a joy it was to go through the range of beers in his and the company of folk in mutual agreement and appreciation. As I mentioned earlier, all but one of them on offer were new to me, that though, although delicious, wasn’t the highlight. For me, getting reacquainted with many of them that I had perhaps forgotten made the evening so much more pleasurable, Guldenberg and Noir de Dottignes in particular on that front.

IMG_9314To briefly recap on “XXX” before I close, Nino explained that it was brewed initially for an American beer festival, where the demand for their beers are high. Made using exactly the same recipe as “XX Bitter” but altered by the addition of 50% more hops alone. The result of this is not what I and my drinking companions expected and in fact splits the table in terms of which they prefer. It is bitter yes, but much fuller in body than its sibling and as such feels completely different, stronger in abv even when it fact it is 0.2% lower. I’d really recommend trying both side by side to see for yourself as we did, dragging the last bottle of previously devoured XX from our table.

If you read this in time, you may still have the chance of meeting Nino and sampling a few beers together this afternoon (Saturday 14th June 2014) at BeerMoth between 1-3PM. If not, please do try the beers and hopefully we can get him back across to the UK again sometime soon.

Thanks to Nino for your innovation all those years ago, and your clear passion to continue enjoying what you do, also to the guys at BeerMoth for really memorable night, I just hope I’ve captured enough here to do it all justice.

Cheers!

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Glassware Conundrum?

Being a “bit” of a glass pedant, I often get asked questions by folk like “what glass do you think best suits this beer?” and such things.

Now I know there are no hard and fast rules, and to some folks, a glass is purely a method of shifting liquid from table to gob with no thoughts of what benefits using a suitable designed receptacle could bring to the party. Some don’t bother with glasses at all, but we won’t mention those…. 😉

Seriously though, if you are interested, there are loads of books out there on beers and beer styles that offer advice with the associated perceived enhancements to expect, or maybe purely just the historical reasons behind why a specific beer glass is the way it is.

You could also do worse than keeping theses two “info-graphics” to hand. Both of the attached articles were published by Jay Brooks over at Brookston Beer Bulletin (a great source of information on this sort of thing and well worth subscribing to), and whilst both, as Jay states, are only guides, they should give you at least a reasonable idea on what to look for.

Hope they are of some use and that Jay doesn’t mind my sharing again.

Cheers

1 “Today’s info graphic is Which Beer Glass Should I Choose?, created for the Central Blog, the blog for Central Restaurant Products’ Foodservice Equipment & Restaurant Supply.”

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2 “Today’s info graphic is a poster of the most common glassware for beer, with a list of styles below each glass that whoever created the poster believes would work best with each one. I’m not sure I agree with every choice, but at least some styles are listed with multiple glassware. That suggests that none of this is written in stone, which we all know, of course’

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Click here to see the poster full size.