The Trouble with Cantillon

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Cantillon: please consider bringing back this incredibly cool dragon logo. Far better than that dodgy old fat bloke falling off his chair.

Another post that should have gone up weeks ago and, yet again, I’m in an awkward position.

You see, I’ve read plenty of blogs and articles about Cantillon, each of them gushing over the weirdness, the smell, the gaps in the roof, the barrels, the cobwebs – oh how they love the cobwebs – and all the rest of it. I’ve read them and thought: right, I get it. It’s a special place. Lambic and Gueuze are undoubtedly Very Important Things. The brewery is a lonely bastion of a dying art form, and we must all kneel down at its spontaneous altar and take wild-fermented sacrement. I understand, okay?

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A notorious Craft Wanker wanders the cellars, sucking different ages of lambic from damp patches on barrels.

The awkward thing is, having read all of that, and having thought it was well-meaning but over-enthusiastic, I now find myself having been to Cantillon and agreeing with every single word of it. It actually is a genuinely magical place.

It’s likely you’ve read all of that stuff about Cantillon, too. It’s fairly likely you’ve been there yourself. It is, after all, one of the few places that beer geeks might consider a pilgrimage-worthy destination, and rightly so. So what’s the point of me adding to all that’s been written? I might not be able to offer up a different opinion, but I might be able to persuade those of you who haven’t been to Cantillon to seriously consider a visit.

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Lens flare? Divine intervention? Hard to say once you’ve tasted the contents.

For one thing, during the summer, when the temperature is too high for them to brew, you are basically allowed to wander around the place unsupervised. Pay the nice people at the entrance the paltry sum of €6, and they’ll turn you loose inside after giving you  a machine-gun-speed briefing on the brewery and a leaflet. We ended up wandering in on a bit of the guided tour, but my favourite memories are from the solitary exploration of the place. The deafening quiet enhanced every smell, sight and touch; made every surprised glance a discovery, every surprised intake of breath a gasp. I imagined coming across the brewery in some bleak, post-apocalyptic setting, overgrown with plants like in Logan’s Run, and the whole place being exactly the same.

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I do love a good koelschip.

The whole place is a bit like the obligatory ‘museum’ bit of a larger brewery tour (like when I visited Brouwerij De Halve Maan), except it isn’t a museum, it is the brewery. Gauges and pipes are insulated with scrunched-up paper, vessels are laid open for you to poke your nerdy head into, and that smell pervades everything. It’s one thing being told that the atmosphere of the brewery does the brewing, but in Cantillon it’s a tangible force that you can detect everywhere.

Even the beer you’re given at the end is ridiculously good. Yeah, I admit, that first taste of dusty, sour, mystical, raw lambic required some serious thought. What is this? But as it sits there on your tongue, and tells you its story, you just have to keep tasting it. All those cobwebs and damp, sticky patches on the barrels, the dust, the air, the wood, it’s all in there. And as for the Rose de Gambrinous, well, it’s simply sensational. Once again, Belgium gave me a Beer Moment(tm). Lambic and Gueuze ARE magical and weird and wrong yet so, so right. It’s all about the context, and understanding. When I sat there, drinking those beers under the gaze of that dragon, I felt like I understood What It’s All About.

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A glass of wonderment, calling itself Rose de Gambrinous. 

You see? This blog has turned into just another fawning gushfest.

The trouble with Cantillon is: it’s all true.

Go.

Brouwerij De Halve Maan

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A notorious Craft Wanker loiters outside the brewery, begging for slops.

Walplein 26, 8000 Brugge

“They do a good tour, but be prepared to hear a load of bollocks.”

This was the glowing recommendation given to me by Melissa Cole. Broadly speaking, Melissa is right. On the tour of Brouwerij De Halve Maan, brewers of Bruges Zot and Straffe Hendrick, you will hear a few things that might get your Beer Geek hackles up. There’s also a lot of stuff about the magical medicinal properties of all of the ingredients, which is mostly fun if occasionally presented as fact. These minor quibbles aside, it really is a fantastic tour, and a lovely building to explore.

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It isn’t immediately obvious from the exterior that De Halve Maan was an old-fashioned tower brewery. The building above, with its coaching inn-style tunnel, sits in front of a courtyard where a restaurant and gift shop is located. Once you’ve bought your ticket for a very reasonable €7 (including a beer at the end), you simply have to wait until the next tour starts, which is on the hour.

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The tour starts in the shiny, modern brewhouse, where everything is situated on one floor. Everything is clearly labelled for visitors, and the brewing process is briefly explained. Whilst it looks as clean and new as, say, Camden Town Brewery, there is still a reassuring adherence to old-fashioned eccentricity. The control board below, for example, has a delightfully steampunk feel to it. Why have a touchscreen when big, pushable buttons and levers will do the trick? It reminded me a bit of Bertha, the magical factory machine from the kids’ TV show of the same name.

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The real treats are upstairs. As mentioned above, originally De Halve Maan functioned a tower brewery, relying on gravity to propel the liquid through the brewing process. So up, up, up we go, ascending narrow steps and low ceilinged passages into the malting floor. Here there are all kinds of fine-looking brewing artefacts from the brewery’s 150 year history. It’s here on the malting floor you get a more in-depth talk about the value of each specific ingredient in the process.

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The tour guide, whose name I can’t remember, won me over after sizing up a chap who had been asking a lot of questions about what was or wasn’t regulated in Belgian brewing: “You’re German, aren’t you?” Cue laughter from everyone. The talk was a fan and factoid-packed, but could be politely described as being ‘unburdened by the truth’. To some extent you could understand the German guy’s constant questions; he admitted he was a homebrewer. However, I could tell that he was asking questions he knew the answers to, and was really just testing the tour guide, which is far worse in my mind that coming up with a few half-baked facts about the medicinal benefits of beer.

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Anyway, as I said, its the building itself that really makes this tour special. You get to see, or rather walk across, the old koelschip (a broad, shallow, copper vessel where hopped wort would cool down while being exposed to wild yeast and bacteria) on the way to the roof, where you can enjoy a glorious panoramic view of Bruges. Then, climbing down even narrower stairs than before (backwards), you get to see the beautiful old heat exchangers, fermenting vessels and maturation tanks. Tall people beware, you may spend much of the tour in an Igor-like crouch. To the guide’s credit, you will learn a lot of history as well as Beer Facts ™, and there are plenty of stories in the old copper vessels.

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1930’s heat exchangers are pretty.

When the tour is over, you’re guided to the lovely on-site bar, where you’re handed a cool glass of unfiltered Bruges Zot, the brewery’s flagship blonde ale. It’s a fairly common sight in bottles in the UK, and a decent Belgian blonde, but by no means exceptional. The unfiltered version (like most unfiltered versions of anything) is a superior product, with a more pronounced, zestier, citrus finish and a smoother, creamier mouthfeel. I can also recommend the Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, which, whilst not the usual Trappist quad to find beer geeks fawning over, is a really decent drop – full and syrupy sweet, with a moreish balance of toffee, chocolate and coffee notes.

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If you know a bit about beer and brewing, and have a few people with you who don’t know much at all, then De Halve Maan will give you a very accessible and fun brewery tour. Even if you know a lot, the tour itself is still fun, and any ropey information is completely outweighed by the friendliness of the guide, the beauty of the building, and the delicious beer at the end. €7 well spent.

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In Bruges – Part 2

Some informative reading in Cambrinous, featuring TV's Alf, apparently.
Some informative reading in Cambrinous, featuring TV’s Alf, apparently.

In my last post, I covered two fantastic bars in Bruges: De Garre and la Trappiste. Below are two of my other favourite places I visited in Bruges: Cambrinous and ‘t Bruges Beertje.

Cambrinous, 19 Philipstockstraat

Cambrinous occupies one of those very ‘Bruges’ buildings: old red stone, zig-zagging to a tip like two sets of stairs at the top, oozing character and warmth. Some of the masonry on this particular building sets it apart. The King of Beer, Cambrinous himself, is depicted, straddling a massive barrel. Inside, a long bar overlooks a sunken seated area of booths and tables. We managed to get a window seat, where copper pipes and light fittings nestle in the corners.

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The beer list here is extensive, 400+ at any one time, and my eye is drawn to a brewery recommended to me: Brasserie De La Senne. Taras Boulba is their ‘Extra Hoppy Ale’, and in the glass it shines like freshly squeezed fruit juice. From Saaz hops alone it manages to squeeze out lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, lime and orange, building to crisp, dry, peppery finish. It’s a stunning beer, destined for enjoyment in sunshine.

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The food here was good too. Chicken and frites done simply but very well. Crisp skin on steamy chicken, crunchy fries and all washed down with the 2013 edition of Duvel Tripel Hop. Having missed the (by all accounts) sensation 2012 edition, I was eager to try this year’s interpretation. The hop bill is Sorachi Ace, Saaz and Styrian Goldings. The initial lemon/lime bittersweet balance finds depth in a silky, creamy mouthfeel, like lemon syllabub. Further in, it gains new qualities, a sharpness like a salad of peppery rocket and lemony vinigarette, before shovelling on pithy bitterness by the hop-kettle-full.

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Cambrinous’ menu is large, the service is quick, and the food is good. Everything there is very reasonably priced, too, but that goes for much of Bruges. What I really enjoyed about Cambrinous was the way it remained welcoming to families and tourists, but also provided a fantastic setting for hardcore beer explorers. Everyone was welcome and the beer was fantastic.

t’ Bruges Beertje, 5 Kemelstraat

This is The Place. You can’t go to Bruges and not visit Beertje. At least, that’s what everyone says. They’re right, too. It’s a truly wonderful bar.

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The problem is, I had such a good time in Beertje that I somewhat shamefully forgot to take any photos while I was there. True, a great deal of beer had taken its toll on this weary traveller, but there was more to it than that. I remember at one point wanting to take a picture of the beer I was drinking at the time, Brasserie De la Senne’s Zwarte Piet, and feeling suddenly awkward about it. Without the convenient crutch of photos to show you what it’s like, I’ll try to describe what it was about Beertje that made me feel that way.

We initially tried to visit mid-afternoon, and found the place closed. This only exacerbated my thirst, and by our eventual return several beers later, I still felt as thirsty as I had done when I’d first found the place with its doors closed and beery secrets locked away. It was a hot night, and people were just vacating a table as we arrived. Thank goodness, I thought, because I couldn’t have stood and nursed strong beer in this heat. The air was thick with a warm fug and the bubbling swell of conversation. A tiny bar somehow fills one entire wall, with liquid miracles being dispensed as quickly as they could be found.

I could see why it didn’t open until later. This place had no patience for afternoon shoppers who had wandered off the main road. This was a place for the seekers; people who know, or want to. Acolytes, weary from their travel and bibulous exertions were slumped over tables with elaborate goblets on them. We come here to pray, you see. Pray that there is more to it all than just the day-to-day grind. Beertje felt a little like the pub of collective imagination, where the barman produces the exact drink you need from beneath the bar, like magic.

This is The Real Deal, I thought, as I had on several occasions whilst in Belgium. This is It. A real tavern, like out of all those books and scenes in films. Except that the staff here, studious fellows, seem more like librarians, or guardians of some mystic archives. Indeed, so small is the bar that they often have to descend into cellars below, presumably where their arcane library is. You can test their knowledge, ask them for things like this or like that, and they’ll present you with the exact thing you need but had no idea existed. Barmen nipping off to find this, that and the other all the time? Surely the service must be very slow, you’d think? Not a bit of it. It might be because the place is so small, but the whole operation runs like clockwork.

In the back room, there’s photographs mounted above the fireplace, in memoriam to the Beer Hunter himself, a man who introduced generation after generation to Belgian beer, and the potential to have an experience like this. When I saw those photographs, and tasted what that barman gave to me, I knew. I couldn’t start clicking my camera to and fro, it felt wrong, unseemly. This is The Place.

Bruges itself is a unique marvel. I’ve been to cities and towns with historical importance, picturesque beauty, and wonderful food and drink, but very few manage to keep all of that AND be a thriving tourist destination. Many have to drop at least one of those balls. You’d think that be particularly the case when one of the best things about the place is the beer. But maybe that’s part of why it’s managed to keep it all together. Almost everything in Bruges demands that you treat it with a certain reverence, the beer included. It’s a fun place, don’t get me wrong, but it also feels very grown up, thoughtful and comfortable with what it is.

The drinking culture here is driven by tourism certainly, but with no laddish swagger or uncouth excess. Overindulgence is almost compulsory, but you are encouraged to go about it in such a classy way that it doesn’t really feel like ‘going out drinking’. You just feel like you’ve spent all day putting your palate to work, enjoying sights and sounds, and there are few better things in life than that. Here’s to keeping it classy, and having a damn good time doing so.

Next in the Beer Diary: De Halve Maan brewery, Cantillon and bars in Brussells…

In Bruges – Part 1

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View of Bruges from the roof of De Halve Maan brewery

Bruges is beautiful place. I visited it during a particularly warm spell, when every part of the city seemed lit for camera. The tourist board must do all of its promotional photographs on days like that. It’s a wonderful place to walk around, and feels like a cultural waypoint that has drawn in equal parts of England, France and the Netherlands. There’s cobbles, those very specific step-like rooftops, little delis, lace shops, chocolatiers and of course: cafes and bars, where some of the world’s finest beer is available.

I’m sure that many of you reading this will have been to Bruges. This was my first time, so please forgive me if my gleeful discoveries are all old hat to you. This trip meant quite a lot to me, because Belgian beer has always been a bit of a blind spot for me, and now, I feel like I’m so much closer to understanding and appreciating just how incredible it can be. These are the happy musings of a man who finally gets what all the fuss is about. These aren’t all the places I went to in Bruges, but they are my favourites of the places I visited. Please do share your own in the comments.

La Trappiste, 33 Kuipperstraat

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Once a club and ‘rendezvous’ bar (a Belgian euphemism for pick-up joint), the 800 year old cellars on Kuipperstraat have been taken over by two men with a plan. I met the Manchester-born half of that partnership, Martin, who welcomed us into the cavernous yet cozy bar below the sunshine-bleached pavements of Bruges above.

The lighting is gentle, provided in some part by a collection of pretty, mismatched light fittings acquired from second-hand shops. The bar itself provokes memories of home, or at least the UK. Shiny T-bars and fonts spelling out more than just the usual selection of blondes and lagers. Behind, a glassware and bottle-festooned backbar display, along with that most modern of touches: chalkboards displaying their regular and guest draught beers.

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The beer menus here are more than just laminated lists of names. Martin has ensured that almost every bottle beer they sell has a picture and description, to help people make wiser choices. He’s also more than happy to help guide anyone towards their ideal beer. Martin is a converter, a true believer in talking, showing and sharing. He’s one of those truly great bartenders, who goes about the day-to-day serving of great beer with a palpable sense of glee and accomplishment.

He shrugs off the bar’s commerical ties to AB-Inbev as an easy compromise. In exchange for stocking 4 of their brands, he can stock 8 other draught beers, 12-14 guest bottled beers and 80 regular bottled beers at any one time.  Belgian classics like St Feuillien Blonde and Troubadour Magma were stocked alongside Birrifico del Borgo’s Re-Ale and even the likes of Bateman’s Mocha and Marble Lagonda IPA (a nod to Martin’s Mancunian roots). While many bars can knock out a range of a few hundred bottles (see below), places like La Trappiste are a rarer, more precious thing. Here’s a bar with a real conscious identity that will always be able to surprise you.

De Garre, off Breidelstraat

We visited this place twice. The first time was the best, for a few reasons. First of all, I didn’t know where De Garre was, only roughly were it was supposed to be. I didn’t know, for example, that it is down that little alley. So after several reconaissances, actually finding it was one of those proper Beer Moments ™, where the joy of finding somewhere almost equals the taste of the beer. Almost.

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The second time we visited was when we were tired and thirsty, having spent the balmy evening walking the streets and finding Billy Bragg doing a free gig on the Burg Square. The first time at De Garre was still the best though, because we met great people there: a couple from Preston and an older couple from, I think, Michigan. We never learned each other’s names (though to me, the American chap shall always be Bill, given his enormous resemblance to former President Clinton). Bill was a homebrewer (in that off-handed American way, you know, he just has a whole part of his house plumbed in for it, cold store, that sort of thing, real casual) and he was talking to the couple from Preston about beer local to Bruges. I chipped in that I’d just been to De Halve Maan (coming soon to a future blog post), and everybody started talking all things beer. We had the upstairs part pretty much to ourselves, and we had a great, happy few hours of sharing beer and stories.

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De Garre as a pub/cafe/bar is a very intimate, oak-beamed, cozy place that encourages conversation. A little too cozy, actually. The second time I was there I banged my head on the way out of the toilet. It feels almost British in layout, but naturally with a focus on bottled beer as opposed to draught. The taps should not be ignored, though. In fact, you are quite likely to be offered a glass of the house blonde beer, Tripel van De Garre, on the way in. Naturally, it comes served with some complimentary cheese. Highlights from the beer menu on our visit include Hercule Stout, a muscular 10% stout named after legendary Belgian murder-solver Poirot, and Troubadour Magma, a sort of rich, rye-super-ESB that had that trademark Belgian Balance ™ covering up its 8.2% strength.

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De Garre reminded me a lot of Arcadia in Leeds, which coincidentally was where I had ‘proper’ Belgian beer for the first time. It felt quite poignant to come to the source of both the beer and Arcadia’s aesthetic inspiration. De Garre is a very warm, welcoming place, that becomes more than just bricks, mortar and beer. Its intimate atmosphere and perpetual background sound of cheerful conversation make it a charming, rewarding place with a life of its own.

In Part Two: Cambrinous, Bruges Beertje and my thoughts on drinking in Bruges…

#EBBC13 – What did we learn?

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Attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference this year filled me with excellent beer and information. Well, mostly beer.

As covered in my past posts and on the unofficial Live Blog, it was a wide-ranging event that covered a lot of topics, each resulting in a lot of discussion. As bloggers and beer drinkers, what did we learn from this raucous, information-packed weekend of beer?

I learned that:

  • Edinburgh has interesting and unusual beer taps. Whether they’re the tall, brass examples with horizontally-twisting tap handles, shining chrome arrays of sleek modern taps, or wooden handpulls carved into the shape of bats, this city has some excellent species of beer dispense.
  • We must learn to laugh at ourselves, or everyone else will. “Was this contract brewed? I think I can smell the contract…”
  • “Beer is people.” Not tanks or pipes or ingredients, but the people who make it.
  • Garrett Oliver once took The Ramones bowling. Wow.
  • The people at Stewart Brewing are Good People… who will let you wander around their brewery, manhandle sacks of hops, and shove your face into open fermenting vessels. They even collaborate with Herriot & Watt brewing graduates.
  • Garrett Oliver’s hat is almost as much of a star as he is.
  • In America, there are some crazy new laws about blogging, meaning compulsory disclosures of anything you have been gifted, or you may end up in court!
  • Nobody could agree on the best beer and food matches, and after lengthy discussion, we decided that nobody necessarily should agree, either. The job of Beer Sommeliers, Cicerones, or whatever we choose to become, should be to guide, not instruct.
  • There’s a shortage of wood to age beer in. Beer could change to reflect that, too. If the amount of aged whisky barrels runs out, we could see new beer styles being used for less used barrels like wine, tequila or cognac.
  • We should think about whether we write what we want to write, or what our audience want to read.
  • You should always have a face that people can click on. At least, if you want your articles to more read if they appear in Google searches.
  • BrewDog have social media nailed down to the ground, and we can all use it to our advantage.
  • We are divided in our motives. Whilst some wish to make a living from their writing, others are perfectly happy to blog for the love of blogging. In Europe at least, we are still mainly what the US would call ‘citizen beer bloggers’.
  • A beer aged in a 40 year old sherry cask that last contained a 30 year old Highland Park whisky tastes as good as you’d think it would, especially when its made by Harviestoun.
  • Fraoch is best enjoyed with haggis. The floral, spicy notes of the heather ale blend so neatly and excitingly with the richly seasoned, savoury flavour of haggis that you will swear they were made for each other.
  • Finally, there is a bright, shiny future full of people writing excellent things about excellent beer.

What things did you learn from EBBC13?

#EBBC13 – Day 2 Highlights

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Read the highlights of EBBC Day 1 here.

The second day of the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2013 had a packed agenda, and featured really useful and insightful talks from some of the leading lights of beer writing. There was also the extremely exciting Live Beer Blogging event, which saw some incredible beers being poured. Below is a recap of what happened with some photos from the various sessions. As ever, you can read the in-depth coverage of EBBC13 on the Live Blog written by Sam Parker and I, built by John Read.

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Beer Blogging Around the Globe

The day opened with a panel of beer bloggers from Ireland, Poland, Norway and the USA discussing the challenges of beer blogging in their respective countries. There was really interesting explanations of the various legal difficulties that have recently cropped up in the US, such as disclosing whether samples were sent to you by breweries. This was met with what Craig Heap described as a ‘very British, quiet outrage’. Meanwhile, in Norway, brewers aren’t even allowed to use promotional images on their websites! There was an overall positive feeling to the discussion, as each panellist set out what they were most looking forward to in the future. I covered the panel’s discussion on the live blog here.

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Drinks Writing – When Every Word Counts

Susanna Forbes of DrinkBritain.com gave us some in-depth and detailed advice on improving our writing and our blogs’ effectiveness. There was really great information here, and I understand that Susannah’s presentation will be uploaded to the EBBC website for us all to enjoy. Sam covered Susannah’s talk in detail here on the live blog.

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BrewDog does Social Media

BrewDog’s in-house social media and marketing specialist Sarah Warman, formerly of agency Manifest, gave a really insightful and useful talk on the effective use of social media. We saw BrewDog’s strategy and the social media platforms they use, and Sarah was very good at identifying what works for BrewDog, and what might work for bloggers like us. Some of us even signed up to new platforms there and then! Read my live blog of Sarah’s presentation here.

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Becoming a Beer Sommelier

Beer Sommelier Sophie Atherton (whose blog is A FemAle View) hosted a double-edged talk, first discussing what a Beer Sommelier is and how it has benefited her career, and secondly hosting a beer and food matching event. There was a simple yet wonderful selection of charcuterie and cheeses provided by Vintage in Leith, and we were encouraged to find the best beer matches ourselves. The beers were the crisp and fruity Sixpenny IPA, Fuller’s classy Black Cab stout, and a slightly lifeless mini-cask of Adnams Broadside. Many noted that it was hard to find ‘excellent’ matches. However, a really interesting discussion then ensued about how all of our many different opinions prove the subjective nature of food and beer matching. Sam Parker covered the session on the live blog here.

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Live Beer Blogging

Beers from Traquair, Shepherd Neame, Inveralmond, West, Ilkley, Badger, Harviestoun, Innis & Gunn and Birra Toccalmatto were tasted, with bloggers posting and sharing their thoughts live. Sam Parker and I used our live blog to share our thoughts in real time. See the results here.

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Ilkley’s The Mayan (as modelled by Leigh Linley)

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Inveralmond Blackfriar

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Traquair Jacobite Ale

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Badger Roaming Roy Dog

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Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30th Anniversary edition (in 40 year old whisky cask, last containing 30 year old Highland Park)

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Toccalmatto Surfing Hop

Dinner provided by Williams Bros and Fyne Ales

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 Arguably the highlight of the weekend, the final dinner saw Williams Brothers and Fyne Ales go head-to-head at a sumptuous beer and food banquet. This was a non-stop delight. The starte of haggis, neeps and tatties was served with a whisky and peppercorn sauce, with matched sensationally with Williams’ Fraoch Pictish heather ale. The spicyness in both the beer and food met halfway, bridging the savoury haggis, sweet suede and potato with the soft, rounded herbal flavours in the beer. The Sanda Blonde from Fyne was too bright and citrusy to match this meal, but it did serve quite nicely as a palate cleanser or, as Gavin Frost put it, an amuse-bouche.

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The main course was double-whammy of chicken stuffed with black pudding, alongside sea bass and a sweet potato fondant. I wasn’t sure what the sauce was that came with this meal, but it was wonderfully savoury. The chicken was a little dry, but the sea bass was delicious, and went incredibly well with Fyne Ales crisp, hoppy, citric and sweet golden ale Jarl. Williams’ Citra Sitka was also served with the main course, but went best with the sweet potato fondant, where the sweetness in each boosted and the enhanced each other.

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Last but not least, for dessert we were served a traditional Scottish Cranachan, which was basically half a pint of clotted cream with raspberries, heather honey and whisky. Ours didn’t seem to have much of whisky character to it, but there was TONNES of cream, which is good if you like cream. The shortbread biscuits tasted a bit cheap, but it was overall a very indulgent dessert. For this we were served Stravaigin, a collaboration brewed saison/blonde ale from Williams and Stillwater, and Fyne Ales Superior IPA. The Stravaigin was a nice match, cutting through the cream and enhancing the fruitier aspects of the dessert. The Superior IPA didn’t really match at all, being way to overpoweringly hopped. It was just fine on its own as an after-dinner aperitif. As a competition, I think it was a score draw between Williams and Fyne. A great evening.

Afterwards, many bloggers headed back out into Edinburgh, and found themselves in the favourite venue of the weekend – the Hanging Bat (also now known as the Banging Hat). It’s a fantastic bar that any beer (or indeed gin) geek should visit. It was unseasonably hot in there, but I think all who visited the Hanging Bat would agree it captures Edinburgh beer-loving, party-hard spirit perfectly.

Cheers!

Next time in The Beer Diary – What did EBBC13 all mean, and what did we learn about the future of beer blogging in the UK and Europe?

#EBBC13 – Day 1 Highlights

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The first day of EBBC13 has been an intensive combination of sampling, absorbing information and talking to some of the world’s best brewers. So far it’s been a fantastic experience, and deeply useful to me as a writer and blogger,

Below are my brief thoughts on the main events of the first day of the conference…

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Keynote Speech (Garrett Oliver)

Garrett Oliver was his customary, affable, genial self. He dispensed anecdotes, philosophy, business advice and stories with ease, though the US craft brewing industry’s biggest star may have been overshadowed by his own hat. You can read a full live blog of Garrett’s speech here.

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Scottish Brewing History (John Martin)

John Martin, of the Scottish Brewing Archive Association, gave a wide-ranging talk on beer in Scotland. Unfortunately, the talk have been a little too wide-ranging, leaping from one topic to the next with barely a breath, but it still provided a massive amount of information to bloggers hungry (or thirsty) for Scottish brewing knowledge. Read Sam Parker’s live blog here.

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Whisky barrel aged beers talk by Stuart Cail (Harviestoun)

Stuart gave a great talk on the fine art of barrel aged beers. Given Harviestoun’s excellent reputation in this area (Old Engine, Ola Dubh, Engineer’s Reserve, all of which we got to sample), Stuart was the ideal host to guide us through the minutiae of this exacting and specialist aspect of craft brewing. Our live blog of Stuart’s talk is here.

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Pilsner Urquell Dinner

We were also treated to a very exciting dinner in the Edinburgh Council Chambers from Pilsner Urquell, who laid on several wooden casks of unfiltered pilsner for our delectation. Head brewer Vasclav hammered each cask himself, and poured foaming handled mugs of pilsner for all to wash down delicious meals of beef, salmon and dessert of strawberry shortbread. A grand meal in opulent settings, enhanced by the exquisite unfiltered lager.

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Stewart Brewing

The evening was capped off by a marvellous visit to Stewart Brewing, a forward thinking beer operation on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where bloggers were treated to collaboration beers between the brewery and Herriot and Watt students in the form of Natural Selection Brewing Co. The Darwin saison (featuring the Hop Beard Darwin logo as tattooed below) was bold and defined by its Belgian yeast. A favourite of several bloggers was the Radical Road Triple Hop IPA, which was absolutely bursting with clean, sharp, tropical fruit. As a growing brewer, it was great to be able to see the various stages of Stewart Brewing’s development, and the different brewing equipment they have used and evolved with. A great night had by all.

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Read the highlights of EBBC Day 2 here.

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2013

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Just a brief post to say I’ll be at the European Beer Bloggers Conference in Edinburgh from tomorrow until Sunday.

This year’s EBBC will be my first, and I’m really looking forward to the variety of beers, breweries, people and events that will be at this year’s conference.

If you’re attending, drop me a tweet at @cshallwriter and @TheBeerDiary and say hello. If not, I’ll be posting updates on my blog and Twitter about all the interesting goings on.

I’ll also be testing out a new Live Blogging platform over the course of the conference, cooked up by John Read of Pint at Night. You can check it out by visiting http://ebbc13.pintatnight.com, which will hopefully have a few live blogs from myself and Sam Parker, aka Lord of The Beers. If technological gremlins scupper the entire endeavour, then it (probably) wasn’t my fault.

Cheers!