Throxheards Old Unobtainable

“Scrooge was ready to settle in for Christmas Eve. Newly imported naughty parchments, a ceramic pot of Mrs Arbuthnott’s Self-Enhancement Embrocation and a case of Throxheards Old Unobtainable. So why the Dickens was there a ghost at the end of his bed?”

It’s early December 2011, and I’m hosting The Session, something I should really get around to doing again. My Theme? Well, Christmas of course, it was December after all.

A post is published from Simon (Scoop) Johnson… “Scrooged: or A Cautionary Tale Of How Beer Got Fecked”. It made me laugh so much, it’s still possibly my favourite blog post ever, and it’s always something I go back to read and share as Christmas approaches.

Click the link and read it for yourself, tell me you are not smiling by the third paragraph.

Scrooged: or A Cautionary Tale Of How Beer Got Fecked

 “Throxheards Old Unobtainable”. 

Ever since that day, and long before I’d even dreamed of opening Otter’s Tears, I’d often had thoughts of making that beer a reality. So, around a year or so ago, I pitched the idea to my good friend Andy Parker of Elusive Brewing, we talked about it and then, as things do, it got lost in busy lives. Then a few months ago, it came up again in conversation and this time we set a brew date in the diary: Sunday 6th August 2017.

My original idea has always been to brew a small batch high strength beer, something like an Imperial Stout, Old Ale or Barley Wine. An annual release, bottles only, something that would age well and be brewed in very low numbers. Something sought out, but often not attained. Basically in line with my interpretation of the beer name.

After a week or so, Andy messaged me and said, “Phil, just had a thought regarding Throxheards. How about we launch it at Indyman? I’ve such fond memories of him dressed as a clown there, such great times. It just feels right to have it on at IMBC”. I have to admit, this threw me completely. But then I thought, yeah, it does feel right. It was then it started to snowball.. #nopunintended

 AP “We’d really need to nail it for IMBC though. That said, we’d have some great brewers to call upon for advice”

He wasn’t wrong…. Before I knew it we had Stuart Ross of Magic Rock, Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge, James Farran of Summer Wine and Colin Stronge of Buxton, all friends of Simon, all keen to be involved in some way, all having very fond memories of him and wanting to bring this to life as a lasting legacy to a great guy. Between them a recipe was finalised, an old school Barley Wine, with various tweaks and flavour profiles being proposed. Sadly though, due to late notice, none of the four collaborators could make it physically to the brew day itself. Look out for a post on the brew day soon. But fear not, as that’s not the end of the story..

“He threw the parchments on the fire, fetched up a bottle of Throxheards Vintage Christmas Special from the cellar and threw open the front door. Maybe he should make a steaming bowl of Smoking Bishop and offer it to the waifs in the street?”

Throxheards Vintage Christmas Special, that gives us another opportunity. With a good proportion of the first batch going into a keg, we lose 3-4 cases of an already limited bottle release. So if all goes to plan, the thought is to brew another version or at least an enhanced edition for Christmas, potentially opening this up for further collaborative involvement, plus of course more bottles.

There are lots more plans afoot too, details to be confirmed and announced soon, but for now, this is where we are today:

  • Throxheards Old Unobtainable is at present working its magic down at Elusive under the watchful eye of Andy Parker, tasting great I’m told
  • One keg is destined for Indyman, exactly when to be confirmed
  • Approximately 3 cases of bottles, news on how to get one of those soon
  • All profits going to Rebecca Johnson’s nominated charity “British Heart Foundation” in Scoops memory via #RIPScoop

For now, a massive thanks to Andy for helping me make this happen; to Colin, Stuart, James and Dominic for embracing the idea and giving their input on the recipe; to the guys at Indyman; and those who helped me brew it: Chris, Rach and Jane.

Has anyone got a recipe for Mrs Arbuthnott’s Self-Enhancement Embrocation?

https://www.otterstears.beer/shop/

 

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!

Canary Island Beers

On our recent trip to Lanzarote I thought I’d make the effort to see what local beers I could find and give them a run through.

As we arrived in Playa De Pocillos (Puerto Del Carmen) the first beer on show at our hotel was Cruzcampo: “Cruzcampo is the quintessential Southern European lager; pale golden colour, displaying a refreshing malty nose, soft hop aromas and a delightful and fashionable clean finish.” I’m not a huge fan of lager but in the sun and heat whilst abroad it just has to be done, immediately…

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, it was quite a flavourful lager with a sweet malty edge. As this was an all-inclusive hotel this was a bonus as they normally tend to have the cheapest swill that they can source. Just to clarify though, this beer is not brewed in the Canaries, it comes from Spain and “I believe” is owned by the Heineken group.

Around the resort though things were different, there are of course the obligatory English and Irish bars all mostly selling Carling and John Smiths, plus a place selling pints of Heineken for 2 Euros during the day, generally though the staple tap cerveza was Dorada.

Dorada again is quite tasty, not much in the way of aroma but refreshing with that sweetness that seemed to run through all the local beers out there. On average it was about 3 Euros a pint or 500ml as it no doubt should be on the continent.

In the supermarkets it’s a similar story in terms of both the local and imported beers, nothing excited me really apart from one beery find which will be covered in a later post. From Dorada there were a couple more, a Sin (zero alcohol) version and Especial.

This Especial was the pick of the bunch in my opinion, it tasted much, much stronger than it’s 5.5% abv. It reminded me a little of “some” of the attempts I’ve seen of replicating keg lager in cask form only still carrying the extra carbonation. It has a really full-bodied mouthfeel, loads of sweet malt again with a slightly dry finish.

Last up is Tropical, this one is brewed on Gran Canaria. It’s a 4.7% abv cerveza which has a much fresher feel in terms of name, packaging and taste. Don’t expect a big nose full of tropical fruit aromas, nor in taste, it’s definitely tropical in name only I’m afraid.

That said I think if it was more widely available on draught it would probably have been my session drink of choice. Light and fresh as I said earlier with the sweetness not quite as evident. It has a slightly lime citrus taste which reminded me a little of those Desperado type tequila beers which seem to be all the rage. (Why??)

All the canned beers even most of your standard UK imports were selling for about 69 cents in the Spar stores which are pretty widespread, so quite affordable if you are self catering etc.

If one thing struck me as I was undertaking this research (purely in the interests of the wider public), it was about the limitations of choice. I was reading Pete Browns fine book “A Man Walks Into a Pub” (A Sociable History of Beer) at the time which explains among other things how various events in the worlds history shaped the way beer and wine jostled for position in nations across the world, leaving some cultures rich in wine the others more beer centric.

You often visit places like the Canaries, Spain, Greece etc and think as you sit there supping your ice-cold one in the blazing sun “I’d love to live here”.

I’ve done it many times and often thought I’d even like to move abroad, could I stick it out though without the wide and varied array of choice we are lucky to have within easy reach here in Blighty, I don’t think I could, could you??

Cheers

https://www.otterstears.beer/shop/

 

De Garre – Bruges

To find this place you either stumble across it, or have to purposely search for it, for us thanks to the “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” guide book and the map reading skills of “pathfinder Rachie” (the wife), it was the latter.

Although centrally located on the main tourist trail and only 100 yards from the main Bruges Markt square, De Garre remains discretely hidden from the less discerning beer tourist, tucked away down a tiny cobbled alley (De Garre) off Breidelstraat. Clientele ranged from the obviously regular local folk each having what seemed to be their own favourite chair, to beer enthusiasts and folk that were very probably lost…

The main room itself is quite small in cafe/bar terms, probably 18 feet by 18, with a small apertured high bar facing you as you venture up the ancient worn stone steps, a tiny winding staircase aside the bar leading to the upper drinking gallery.
Once inside the feeling is like stepping back in time. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it reminded me of the scene in The Prancing Pony where the hobbits first met Strider, huge gnarled oak beams, stone floor, simple wooden tables clustered together all baring glasses of foaming ales.

Dating back to the 1700’s, De Garre is one of those places where the gentle atmosphere and ambience has your mind wondering how many people have sat here before you. What joys, tragedies, laughter, crimes or drunken buffoonery have these tine four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

Garre Tripel – 11%


Although they have a reasonable beer menu at De Garre, I was only after one in particular at the recommendation of Mark, co author of “real ale reviews” blog. This was the leg weakening De Garre house “Garre Tripel”, I was not alone as almost every table had at least one.

The Tripel arrived in two large goldfish bowl like glasses, with the thick white creamy head massively outweighing the liquid content by about three parts to one, there being only approximately three quarters of an inch of beer sitting at the base. Either by sensing our unconscious looks of disappointment or by the daily experiences of newcomers to his bar, the barman softly whispered “wait, it will come”.

Each tray of beer is served with a small portion of chopped cheese, which I’m led to believe is a compatible match for most Belgian beer, it was soft, creamy and when finally, patience rewarded we got to taste the Garre Tripel went perfectly with the beer

The beer itself has aromas of yeast and biscuits with slightly grassy hoppy notes. Once through that thick long lingering head, the first thing that hits you is the smooth malty flavour that disguises the alcoholic strength better than some half the same ABV. Garre is quite sweet for a Tripel which I suspect is due to the heavy alcohol, it has a smooth full bodied creaminess in the mouth which perfectly compliments the peach and light citrus flavours. The finish is easy going with evidence of hop bitterness but lightly so.

Garre Tripel is only available on the premises so you really need to make an effort and find it if ever you visit Bruges, all in all a fantastic experience and one we repeated whilst in the city. The beer can be purchased in 1.5 litre bottles to take away but  we refrained from buying one preferring to keep the memory of the visit alive.

A final word of warning, at De Garre I’m told they will only ever serve you three house Tripel beers in one sitting, I didn’t test the theory but probably suggest that it’s a wise move..

 

https://www.otterstears.beer/shop/