A box from Beer52

It’s fair to say that there are quite a few beer mail order services now and not just those from the ‘standard’ retailers, either. Several companies are now providing a ‘selection box’ style approach, which can be helpful to people with an interest in the modern beer scene but unsure where to begin or what to try. Beer52 are just such a company, and I was kindly sent a free box to try.

The deal is: for £24 per month (including delivery), Beer52 will deliver you a box of 8 selected beers. You’ll get a bit of info about each and suggested food matches. You can also use their ‘Beer Shed’ on their website to order more of the beers featured in their boxed selections.

I was interested to try the selection I’d been sent for several reasons. Firstly, several were from Scottish brewers I haven’t tried beers from before. Secondly, whilst most of the stuff was at the pale end of the spectrum, they each seemed to be from breweries with little in common. Lastly, two of the beers (a disproportionately high number when the total is eight) were from the reviled Brewmeister brewery.

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Still, there’s a lot to like about the box’s presentation. I liked the idea of the brief beer and food matching guide on one side of the box. A bit overly simplified (‘Wheat -> Sushi’ might only yield interesting results with witbiers, I think) but still a nice thought. Each box also comes with a little leaflet with some info about each of the beers, which was quite helpful but not all beers had food matches, there were few typos and the Brewmeister copy was just repeated for both beers.

I told myself I would give the Brewmeister beers a fair review – they deserve no more or no less. Ridiculous, error-strewn label copy and paper-thin reputation aside, I gave both beers every chance. There were also some predictable beery gems in the box too, and some quite pleasant surprises.

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Here are my thoughts on the beers:

Deeside Brewery Craft Lager (4.1% ABV) – A very lively, crisp lager with fairly high carbonation. It’s quite lemony, but perhaps overly sweet, with a sharp, herbal bitterness that reminds just a little of a Belgian wit. A good lager but not as great as its ‘premium’ label might imply.

Scottish Borders Brewery Foxy Blonde (3.8% ABV) – Can’t figure out the reason behind the name. Was there a sleazier previous version of the label, or is it a tenuous nod to their “plough-to-pint” (farm-to-fork? glass-to-face?) rural credentials? At any rate, it’s an easy-going, fruity golden ale. A proper citrus zing to the first few gulps and well-conditioned too.

Fyne Ales Sanda Black IPA (5.5% ABV) – A beer I’ve enjoyed before, but rarely seen this far south. Technically impressive and highly accomplished, doing that Fyne trick of astonishing balance regardless of style or ingredients. It’s juicy white grape, gooseberry and lychee on a chocolatey base. Hard to fault.

Whale Ale Co Pale Whale (3.8% ABV) – Very bright, very pale beer but ‘normal’ almost to a fault. It’s mostly good: light, zippy citrus notes and a biscuity malt base, but it just seems a little too thin, perhaps due to a slightly rough, papery finish. Suspect it might be bad bottle, but would definitely try again on cask.

 

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Brouwerij De Molen Pale Ale Citra (4.8% ABV) – It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed this masterful single hop beer. The balance of grapefruit juiciness and tartness with the carbonation’s prickliness and malty caramel is sublime. It’s one of those beers that conveys a real sense of its careful construction – unmistakeably brilliant brewing.

St Andrews Brewing Co India Pale Ale (5% ABV) – A lively pour of vibrant autumnal red-hued amber beer with a big, aromatic head. There’s lots of orange peel, a bit of lime, pepper and pine in that aroma, which translates onto the palate with a full, punchy bitterness. It gave me favourable impressions of Anchor Liberty and White Shield, and I really like the label.

Brewmeister Black Hawk (5% ABV) – Reddish brown ‘dunkel’. Hugely over-carbonated. The aroma is burnt sugar, toast and faint coffee, but very thin. The palate is very crispy in mouthfeel, very sugary, some faint coffee, acrid charcoal notes, a peppery roughness to the finish which is sharp and yet somehow flat. A catalogue of errors that never really comes together, and is unpleasant after a few gulps.

Brewmeister 10 (10.1% ABV) – This ‘nuclear-charged bock’ is more like super-charged Doom Bar. Bocks are admittedly on the sweet side, but there’s almost no bite, dryness or bitterness. Again, quite highly carbonated. Noticeably absent is a hint of the beer’s 10.1% abv (a worrying trend). Too fizzy, rather clumsy and not a glass I could get to the bottom of.

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I’ve been assured that Brewmeister’s beers won’t be featured by Beer52 again – apparently the deal with them was signed long before the recent revelations. Most of the other beers in the box were good, a few were fantastic and several were from brewers I haven’t had beers from before, which is kind of the point really.

I think Beer52’s offer is well-suited for people dipping their toe into the world of good beer. It’s a good place to start before ‘graduating’ or supplementing the subscription with one from a more specialist beer retailer, perhaps.

The great thing is that there are now a range of subscription-type services to suit you. If you prefer the community aspect and more in-depth knowledge and discussion of good beer, BeerBods might be more for you. If you’ve got specific tastes and want stuff as fresh as it gets, Eebria might be more up your alley. Or, if you already know your way around beer but want a bit of guidance, the curated boxes from the likes of BeerHawk might be more for you. But, if you like a ‘lucky dip’ approach that’s relatively cheap and you enjoy surprises, Beer52’s offer is pretty tempting (especially if you redeem the promotional code below).

Reader offer: You can get £10 off your first Beer52 box if you order using the promotional code ‘CRAFTY10’.

Disclosure: I was sent the box from Beer52 for free.

#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?