#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?

Bitter and Twisted at Gourmet Burger Kitchen

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A beer and a burger. A humble staple of pub menus across the land.

Some have taken that simple pairing of juicy meat and palate-tingling beer and made something exciting of it. Every city has a local champion, but in London, Byron is the king. Their beer menu puts half of the capital’s pubs to shame, never mind the restaurants. It’s a weird sort of anomaly on the graph of good beer in restaurants, sitting out on its own in an area marked ‘burgers and stuff, but not street food’. I think it’s street food and pop-ups that have derailed this otherwise promising trend. Street food vendors would more than likely sell quality beer if they had the license to do so, however, so maybe this is an area where having a roof wins every time.

Before I’d ever heard of Byron, I’d been to Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It was clearly all about the burgers – big ones – and a choice of decadent toppings and sauces. I remember having a hunk of beef quite rare and covered in blue cheese. It was exciting, and delicious, but the beer was just an afterthought. I think I had Budvar.

Now, of course, in a country besieged by new breweries and people interested in what those breweries make, it’s simply not good enough to just have a couple of lagers below the wine list. To GBK’s credit, they do stock their ‘own label’ Organic Pale Ale made by Laverstoke Farm. I haven’t had it, but the thought counts. Alongside that and the standard couple of lagers, a new beer has been welcomed onto the menu: Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted.

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Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted is a zesty, likeable blonde beer that suits bottles very well. It has a lemony, citrusy, even peachy hop character that’s kept in balance with some floral Noble hops too. Whilst it’s a pale ale, it reminds me a bit of Sam Adams Boston Lager, in a good way. GBK have about fifty restaurants now, so in Harviestoun they’ve picked a brewer that can handle the distribution demand, and fill the vacancy on their menu for new ‘craft beer’ that people will find interesting but accessible. B&T is a great beer, but it’s not like it’s Racer 5 or anything else on Byron’s beer menu. It being stocked at GBK is still a good thing though of course, because it points toward a more mainstream acceptance of having great beer in high street food outlets.

Wednesday saw the launch of B&T at the GBK in Angel, Islington. It’s a nice place to eat, with interesting lighting, and it uses a soft touch when it comes to hipster dĂ©cor. The whole restaurant was given over to the invited guestlist between 5.00pm and 6.30pm (a potentially risky move given the place’s proximity to a Vue cinema on Orange Wednesday). Free bottles of B&T were brought to the table, along with sliders/mini-burgers of a few different varieties from the menu. It was a much more informal kind of beer launch than I’m used to. At no point did a Harviestoun person get everyone’s attention and chat about the beer (or it’s pairing potential with burgers), which was a bit of a shame. The only other irritation was that some burgers made to some tables, but not to others. I had a couple of the wild boar burgers, and a couple of the chicken, Camembert and cranberry variety (pictured above), both of which B&T went with excellently. The chicken burger in particular seemed to bring out all the best bits of the beer – a balance of sweet and tart alongside the cranberry, whilst also cutting through the chicken and gooey cheese.

There was also some chips and dips doing the rounds, including hunks of grilled halloumi with a green chilli dip that the B&T paired with very nicely indeed, sitting on top of the chilli on your tongue and gradually turning it sweet.

The event as a whole was fun, but too informal and casual to land any messages about the brand and why it’s there. Other than that, it was a fun evening of food and beer. It also reminded me of what a lovely beer Bitter & Twisted actually is, so in that regard, it was certainly a success. Hopefully, we’ll see more interesting beer listings in GBK and other places like it in the future.