over a barrel

barrelBarrel ageing, barrel aged and barrels seem to be one of the most common words being kicked around by the brain cell  in my head.  It’s been a week of barrels…  I can hear those words, kerthonk, kerthonk, repetitively bouncing like the ball being pitched from McQueens hand in the Great Escape…

Barrel ageing, as this illiterate one wrote about some time back here has held more than some interest to me. The technique of adding either early fermenting wort to a barrel, new or old,  or right through to adding near finished beer to barrels previously used to age various spirits or efforts of the vine.   The effects are subtle through to dramatic.

This isn’t a new thing, I suppose every beer was “barrel aged” at a time, when wooden casks were the vessel of choice and availablility.  But, I am not writing about that…

If you’ve taken the time to read the post that I linked to before, there are a few British Brewers emulating the ideas from across the pond.    There are so many Barrel Aged beers coming out it’s hard to keep a track of them all (watch Beermerchants.com around end of September for a surprise) and the idea of taking an already fantastic beer and treating it to some barrel love…

It just got better… it’s got me over a barrel.

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3, maybe 4, Breweries to keep an eye on… #1

Rather than a predictions post – I am usually a wee bit to far ahead – but, here’s number 1.

I am doing this in no particular order, in some sense this might take me a while. We need breweries in the UK, with brewers who know how to brew world Class beers.

I am sure that the majority of the readers of this blog will have heard of Thornbridge, Oakham, Marble, et al. These guys are making some of the most exciting beers in the UK. Add Kelham Island, Roosters, Durham, and a couple of other brewers – we are starting to get a number of breweries that know how to produce great beers! I do suppose some of it is driven by travel, experiencing beers brewed in more competitive environments. The time frame of those breweries emergence is somewhat distorted by the listing, but that’s not the point… just they are breweries who are doing some interesting things.

(Putting my brewing hat on, we are so stuffed by Tax barriers in the UK, we do miss out on the possibilities of big beer, or long aging in barrel, hell even the Hop Growers and Maltsters would aprove – brewing bigger beers… C’mon, mr DutyPerson… get back to reality, allow our brewers to be creative. I am well aware that the taxation is what makes our beers distinctive; low alcohol, balanced flavours )

I tend to shy away from beers, who’s labels espouse hoppiness, balance, smooth; probably the biggest indication of blandness. I love flavour. And this is a brewery that knows how to do it!  Bringing a real new world complexity to British Cask Ale.



Some history:

I was first introduced to this breweries beers by a good friend, Ian Harrison, of Pubs and Beer.co.uk, at the Dover Beer Festival, 2008. I sort of knew of them for their very nice winter warmer Freddy Walker, a major award winner from way back. But the beer that I was introduced to was, JJJ IPA. A monster of a hoppy beer – when first sampled, massive hops, tangerine, citrus, and complimented with a monster of a malt body… so unusual for a UK brewery… this Imperial IPA developed a cult following, with some of the best ratings for UK beers on the internet. And he gained a reputation for leading some of the most informative and entertaining beer tastings around. Some of his beers have been called extreme, either because of high hopping or alcohol content. But the truth is that he won’t drink bland, boring beer – and neither should you! He brews beers to dazzle your taste buds, not just to pour down your neck. I had to investigate further. I vanished in to the blue yonder straight after the beerfestival to San Francisco. But, this beer was still in my head when I returned. I had been to the Double IPA festival at the Bistro, Hayward, and I was certain that this beer would have held up along side notable beers like UberHoppy, Denogonizer, and HopSalad – and Dreadnaught.

Further investigation was needed, Seemingly that he’d been growing quietly off the radar. After exchanging emails – it became obvious that Justin Hawke is Californian, explaining the liberal use of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial hops, whilst still keeping one eye on the UK beer scene – and what the local drinkers actually want.

He won several more major awards, including 3 medals and the overall runner up at last year’s Maltings Beer Festival for JJJ IPA. Not content with a broad portfolio of beer styles and awards already, they added a new beer, Hoppiness (6.5%), at the end of the year which is another over the top IPA in Justin’s native California style. The brewery is investing heavily in 2009, both in personnel and equipment. For those unable to head to Somerset to taste the beers, they will be bottle conditioning them by hand in the coming months.

A recent ‘phone conversation “ I’ve added a new beer to my permanent portfolio called Hoppiness (6.5%). One day I may actually get back to brewing session strength beers that I can sell to pubs! Feedback so far from landlords has been pretty amazing. I’ve heard “the best beer I’ve served at my pub,” “the best beer I’ve had in a year,” “customers say it’s the best beer they’ve had in their life.” I finally got to taste it at a pub last week and must admit that I was pretty blown away. I guess you would classify it as a California style IPA, but with more malt and ester flavours. It’s definitely got plenty of hops, but isn’t an over the top hop bomb. I think you’d like it.” damn,… save me some!

The now award winning brewer Justin Hawke, finally completed his acquisition of Moor Beer at the end of 2008, which saw the end to another very successful year.

Congratulations and onwards!