IN YOUR FACE

2016-06-26 15.44.59You know that feeling when you take one look at something and know instantly that it just isn’t for you? You might be missing out on something, but there is a tiny sense of liberation when you realise that you can now devote your time, effort and brain cells to other pursuits.

Things that I have written off include: chewing gum, Game of Thrones, team sports, beetroot, cars, fancy dress and beards. I stress that whilst I see value in all these*, I just cannot muster up any enthusiasm for them and would rather leave them for a more appreciative audience.

 

So when I first caught sight of the inaugural beers from Aberdeen’s newest brewery I was happy to dismiss them out of hand. The Fierce beers are proudly, aggressively, loud, “cool” and (in my opinion) a bit stupid looking.

My toes curled as I took in the “edgy” beer names, distressed typography and violent, punky artwork. Many new breweries look to emulate Brewdog’s marketing strategy without having the brewing expertise to back it up and I simply assumed that Fierce were another of these “all mouth and no trousers” operations.
I was wrong though. Despite my initial misgivings, I have to say that Fierce are brewing some really impressive beer: Beers that sit bang in the centre of the Venn diagram marked experimental, affordable and drinkable. We’ve had them in store for a month now and I’ve drunk & enjoyed enough of the stuff to forgive them for the gauche labels.
Best of a generally excellent bunch is the Peanut Riot, a chunky little porter augmented with a handful of salted peanuts.
It looks like a standard porter in the glass; murky black body, with a modest, tanned leather head. The nose has a really attractive (honest!) bouquet of leaf mulch and Reeses Pieces. It’s a full bodied, punchy beer with an oily, savoury, umami-rich mouthfeel and a lengthy finish. It’s a more serious porter than it’s label implies and a weightier beer than it’s 6.5% abv suggests.
It makes for a very satisfying postprandial digestif and at less than £3 a bottle it’s quite keenly priced
Fierce deserve a bucketful of credit for brewing it and some other really accomplished, interesting beers, that transcends the Shoreditch friendly branding.

*except beetroot. That can get tae fuck

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Last Orders

2016-05-22 15.53.11I’ve written about him quite a bit already and I’m certainly not alone in hailing his merits, but it’s sadly time for one last column about Stuart McLuckie, Scotland’s (maybe even the UK’s) best brewer.
Despite (or perhaps because of) his lack of self promotion, the tiny batches of beer that emerge sporadically from his Markinch brewery enjoy a stellar reputation. Personally, I consider his stouts and lagers to be world beaters.
But all good things must come to an end and after a few decades at the mash tun, Stuart is retiring to spend more time as a jobbing folk musician. Fortunately we managed to squeeze one last brew out of him and it’s a belter.
The (clunkily named) Luckie Ales Resurrection Series 1835 X-Ale is one of Stuart’s historical recreations of defunct Scottish beers. He had a pop at it last year, but has now tweaked it a little bit to make it a worthy swan song.
It’s a fine example of an old ale, which has to be one of the least fashionable styles out there. If you are unfamilier with old ales, they are most akin to extremely big bitters or maybe unusually dry barley wines. It’s certainly very British (or more specifically Burton), lacking the heady aromatics and complex, citrus character of an American (or American influenced) hoppy beer.
It is absurdly pretty: delicately effervescent, with a moderate head and a hue of brilliant, shiny, shiny gold. The nose is quite closed, I can’t get much, except a suggestion of caramelised apricot and Werthers Originals. It’s a very full-bodied beer, with the palate exhibiting the famous Luckies robustness and balance. The overriding flavours are of butter, shredded wheat, spruce, fancy olive oil and roast hazelnuts. The 7.5% abv is obvious without ever getting too hot and the finish is long and cuddly.
This would be a cracking partner to a solid, meat-and-two-veg kind of dinner
We have ten cases of this awesome drink that have been conditioning downstairs for the last couple of months. We also have a case left of his original crack at the X-Ale. If you want the more recent stuff, look for the white caps
It comes in at £4.70 for 50cls, which I think is a small price to pay for what is not only a glass of Scottish brewing heritage, but also a superb beer in it’s own right.
Of course this doesn’t really mean and end to Luckie Ales: the brewery will continue under a new owner (a guy called Martin-hello Martin!) who will continue to produce the flagship beers, before using it to develop his own stuff. Stuart has even left tantalising hints that, although he no longer has a brewery, he is open to collaborating with others and has some interesting things in the pipeline.
But for now, lets raise a glass to Stuart and thank him for proving that good beer doesn’t have to be revoloutionary.

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Reduced For Quick Sale

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Running a shop is an inexact science and loath as I am to admit it, sometimes I balls up.
Some drinks don’t find the audience they deserve, others catch us by surprise and sell out before we can secure the stock.
You would think that a range of top shelf, highly regarded, experimental Brewdog beers would fall firmly into the latter camp: but sadly (with the odd exception) the Abstrakt range has stubbornly failed to set the world alight. Yet, like some gullible mark, I have been buying into it, only to have them sit and gather dust over the years.

So Miles and myself have decided it’s time for a clear out. For a limited time the entire Abstrakt range will be reduced to well below cost price. Originally priced at 12-13 quid a bottle, until Monday 13th June we will be selling them for a fiver each.

THATS BREWDOG ABSTRAKT AT £5 A POP!

Maybe you’ve tried some of these before and want to revisit them, maybe you’ve always shied away from high wattage beer, or maybe twelve quid seemed like a lot of money to shell out on something that might be bogging. If that is the case here is a great opportunity to try some of the most interesting beer that Scotland has produced.

I would be the first to confess that many of these have seen better days. At their best they are tasting a bit long in the tooth, at their worst they are well and truly over the hill. We did have a wee session on some of the older editions and found none of them totally undrinkable * But we are still selling these with a great big Caveat Empor.

Currently Available (I’ll try to keep updating this)

06: Triple Hopped Imperial BIPA 11.2% abv

07: Whisky Cask Imperial Scotch Ale 12.5% abv

08: Blonde Imperial Stout 11.8% abv

10: Malaga Cask Brown Ale 11.5% abv

11: Black Barley Wine With Chipotle, Raspberries & Ginger 12.8% abv

12: Barrel Aged Belgian BIPA With Berries  11.2% abv

13: Sherry Cask Imperial Cherry Stout 11.3% abv

14: Oak Aged Weizenbock 10.2% abv

16: Coffee Infused Belgian Quad 10.6% abv

17: Three Coffee Rye Imperial Porter 10.9% abv

(No 04 or 09 I’m afraid:-had absolutely no trouble shifting those)

You have three weeks to fill your boots, then the remaining stock will go back up in price.

I’m not ruling out getting in future editions, but I won’t try to pre-empt demands and I’ll certainly be a bit more conservative in my ordering.

James Out

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*Except maybe 08-but that was always divisive and might actually have improved over the years-still not pleasant.

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Get a Grip

indexIt’s the middle of a bank holiday weekend and somewhat belatedly the Holyrood election campaign has kicked up into high gear, as two parties chase their core votes in a neck and neck race for second prize.

(surely, nobody doubts who will be coming out on top)

It might be something to do with the nature of the party leaders (one has a willy, one is a Willie the other three are women), but I’m pretty sure this is one of the most substantive, issue-led campaigns of recent memory. It certainly compares very favourably with the farrago playing out South of the border.

The epicentre of most of the unpleasantness seems to be the race for Mayor of London: Certain parties seem to want to divide the electorate along racial or religious lines. (because apparently London just doesn’t have enough sectarian hatred) But, what’s got all of twitter aflap (at the time of writing) is how Zac bloody Goldsmith holds his pint glass.

The having a “pint like a normal bloke” long ago supplanted the “kissing the baby” as the photo–op considered most likely to appeal to the floating voter. ( by the way, if you think Scottish politicians are immune to this nonsense check out Nicola having fun at Thistly Cross, or Patricks homebrew) But whatever the truth about it’s value as a political tool, it’s pretty clear the tory candidate made a pigs carcass of it: Instantly making himself a target for ridicule from the very people he was trying to court. His two handed, pinky-out technique was called out for being effete, weird, posh, mannered and awkward.

Basically people used this as an opportunity to call him out for things they thought about him anyway. It’s puerile, it’s unfair and it can lead to some pretty dodgy decision making for three good reasons.

Firstly, the politicians who can pull of this “ordinary bloke down the pub, man of the people shtick” best, tend to be the very last people you want near the reigns of power: Boris? Dubya? Nigel “brownshirt” Farage?

Secondly, I myself, often hold my beer with a “two handed toff” grip. To make matters worse I’m more likely to be caught supping some fruit enthused berlinerweiss  in a fancy-pants glass than a traditional pint.

Finally, if we start slagging candidates off for the way they drink their beer, then we are wasting precious opportunities to challenge them on their policies, their record and their statements. Which should be the only criteria for scrutinizing a candidate for public office.

And don’t even get me started on Ken sodding Livingstone…

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WAKE UP SHEEPLE!

 

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I’m going to attempt to write the next 600-odd words without slipping into paranoid, tinfoil hat wearing, conspiracy-speak, but I understand that some of you might find what I’m about to say a teensy bit alarmist or melodramatic.

After a few days pottering around the Netherlands, my Missus sent me out for supplies with the daily allocation of holiday Euros. When I reached the supermarket checkout with my trollyfull of essentials something very strange happened: The cashier very politely (and in perfect English) refused to take my money.
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t take Euros”
Momentarily befuddled and wondering if I had any old Guilders from my student days I started to pat my pockets in a fluster.
*sigh* “Credit or debit card payments only, sir”
Not carrying my wallet around with me when travelling, I had to meekly put all my groceries back on the shelf and slink out in shame. This would be bad enough, but the exact same thing happened at the supermarket down the street (and the booze shop).

It seems that the Dutch are making the first steps towards a cashless economy.

Is this the way we want to go? I would be the first to admit that using plastic does have it’s advantages, but I wish the we were more aware* of the potential dangers involved.
Banks & financial institutions control access to credit (fair enough- it’s what they’re supposed to do) and of course, it’s the more marginalised sectors of society who miss out. By forcing them to use credit for daily groceries, or shop in a cash friendly (but pricier) corner shop their household budget will be squeezed further and the social divide widened by another inch or two.
This is exasperated by the headlong rush to contactless payment.
Transactions are made as simple, as quick and as effortless as possible. We are encouraged to use our plastic much more frequently and with far less consideration, even for buying a pint of milk. Spend, spend, spend! Don’t think about it, it’s easy: Just tap your magic card and you can have that latte/cake/porn mag etc. Lets have another consumer debt driven boom (because that worked out so well last time)
All these extra little transactions give the banks access to vast amounts of the 21st Century’s most important commodity: Data.
Every time you tap your card, you are volunteering information concerning your shopping habits, movement, credit status and health to the banks- probably the least trusted institutions on the planet. If you throw your browser history into the mix I think it’s fair to say that they know you better than your friends and relatives.
This is THE BANKS we’re talking about here, the nearest thing Earth 1218 (look it up) has to actual bloody supervillians. Not only have they proven themselves mendacious, uncaring, rapacious bastards: they are also both criminally incompetent and in a mutually beneficial relationship with the current crop of politicians who pretend to run things
I’m not saying there is some Arnim Zola figure behind these algorithms controlling our lives, but with the NSA & GCHQ trying to lay claim to all data encrypted or not, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that any future tyrant (lets call them Theresa May) will have some very juicy information to play with.
I’m not a total luddite and I see that hard cash is already obsolete in many areas: I just wish we were a bit less gung-ho about handing control of our finances over to people who have proven time and again not to have our best interests at heart.

Big brother is watching you (and he controls the purse strings)

* I’m pretty sure we actually are well informed about these things, but sadly, few people could give a tos

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Goodbye Dom

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As many of you are no doubt aware, Dom left us yesterday and to be frank, we are all pretty cut up to see him go. He’s been the fuzzy heart of this shop the last few years and we are going to struggle to fill his Birkenstocks.
He has worked his arse off correcting my mistakes and adding a professional sheen to what can be a rather shambolic operation.
You’ve probably guessed that he is both the creative and the driving force behind our house beers. But he’s also masterminded our website and our social media like a self-facilitating media node.  Frankly, I’ve learnt a damn sight more from him, than I suspect he has from us.
But most importantly, he’s been a lot of fun to work with. He’s largely responsible for our Friday night P-Funk workouts (complete with mirrorball and slightly dodgy old stock from the basement) He made stockcounts (almost) bearable and maybe most importantly, he introduced me to Ata Kak (look ’em up)

BUT, he’s not gone far. Our loss is Portobello’s gain. In June expect to see great things from BeerZoo

Dom’s been working on it for the best part of a year and I can’t wait to see what he does with the place. Portobello is crying out for decent beer and Dom has the ability and drive to put us city centre shops to shame.

If you cant be bothered to jump on a 26 bus, then you can catch him at the Parquet Courts gig at La Belle Angele on 16th June.

Buy him a pint, he’s certainly earned it

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Amarone Stout

2016-03-25 11.40.11So we finally managed it: it took us over a decade but we actually got around to brewing something up at the shop. This is all thanks to Paul at Campervan who, over a few drinks at Christmas, drunkenly offered us his expertise and the use of his Braumeister kit. Within moments, Dom jumped on the idea, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to try out his pet project, namely trying to convince the last few oenophile holdouts of the wonders of beer.
I wanted top do a stout (because we knew that Paul could brew a damn fine stout) and Dom wanted to do something “winey” so we quickly gravitated towards an “augmented” stout. There are plenty of fruit stouts on the market, but we are still unaware of any that go the whole hog of chucking a bottle of Amarone into the wort. Realistically a bottle of wine would be lost in 50 litres of beer, so we threw a few baskets of dried fruit in there as well (cherries, figs, raisins and more cherries)
To keep things legal and above board, Paul took the resulting wort away to ferment at Campervan HQ and now, five weeks down the line, the beer hits our shelves and we are are VERY happy with the results.
It’s got a bit more colour than most stouts:- think deep burnished mahogany, the nose is pretty awesome though: It smells really Christmassy. The dried fruit is really assertive. The palate is medium-to-full bodied with a fair bit of sweetness and a lovely, creamy texture. It also has some bitterness, but it’s still easy and gluggable. There is a definite vinous, balsamic quality to the finish. Crucially, we kept it to a modest (dare I say it- sessionable) 5.5% abv.
To be honest, I don’t know why I’m bothering writing this post, since of the initial batch of 135 bottles, just over half sold before it hit the shelf, I’m pretty sure the rest will be gone over the Easter weekend (maybe before your reading this)
So if you like the sound of our little experiment. drop us a line/tweet/get on the blower and we’ll put a bottle aside for you.
A 33cl bottle will cost you the princely sum of £3.50

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Empty Promises

I’m writing this on a grey Friday afternoon in February whilst our pig-botherer in chief is in Brussels, mid-way through the latest round of the interminable hokey-cokey that has characterised our relationship with the continent over the last couple of decades. Whatever the outcome of these tedious negotiations, there are some things that even the most demented Brexitter would have to admit they do better “over there”.

One area of easily acknowledged continental superiority is in keeping their public spaces free of litter. What’s less well known, is that this isn’t (just) the result of a more socially minded public: There is a solid framework of laws and regulations that nanny state the populace into good behaviour.

One of the many ways they bully people into doing the right thing is through a strictly enforced deposit return system for drinks bottles and cans. I was lucky enough to be part of a wee fact finding mission to Norway to see how these things work in practice. The visit served to sell the benefits of the system, placate small business-folk (like yours truly) and explore the difficulties in implementing such an approach in Scotland.

How it works is simple enough: The consumer pays a few pennies extra on their booze or juice, which they receive back, either in cash or store credit, when they return their empties to the shop. In large supermarkets the process is largely automated, where reverse vending machines sort, crush and dispense vouchers.

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Here’s what a typical machine looks like

Corner shops and high street stores simply have a weekly uplift of a bags worth of tins and plastic bottles. The amount that individual shops have to handle is relatively small, simply because, with every drinks outlet obliged to take part, the burden is shared. It can be any shop, not necessarily where the drinks originated from. (since the shopkeeper receives a small handling fee for every container collected, he or she is hardly likely to object to taking back another stores empties)

The yellow crate in the photo is for re-usable glass bottles, which sadly seem to be on the decline across Europe. This is primarily because the breweries and soft drinks manufacturers no longer find it economically viable (Barr’s stopped bothering with their deposit return scheme last year) Personally, I’d like to see a return to re-usable glass bottles, but it’s hard to imagine persuading the drinks industry to upgrade the quality of their glass and invest in the infrastructure required. Besides our current kerbside & bottle bank system seems to work pretty well. Rather than tilt at that particular windmill, I think we should all get behind the drive for a deposit return scheme for cans and plastic bottles.

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This is the weekly total collected from a typical high street shop

The big, big takeaway I had from my wee sojourn in Oslo was that the scheme was entirely self-funding. It was paid for, simply by unclaimed deposits and presumably the valuable resources (aluminium & plastic) that the public were recycling. Holyrood could implement a deposit return scheme tomorrow, with almost no public funding (beyond printing a handful of posters) The guys who currently pick up my recycling are keen to get involved-which would mean I would probably just need to add another bag to my usual weekly uplift.

There will be resistance from the drinks industry, as there has been in every country with a similar scheme. (Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, many US states)

But despite their protestations, the macrobreweries and soft drinks giants are willing & active participants once a scheme is in place.

If, after the election, Holyrood starts looking seriously at the idea, expect fierce lobbying from these guys, who will decry the imposition of more red tape on behalf of small business.

Well, this particular small businessman would be more than happy telling them to shove their phony concern right up their collective arse. Not only is a deposit return scheme a staggeringly effective way to reduce waste, it would also be a piece of piss to implement.

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Nice and Simple

indexWhen hammering out 3 to 400 words about the latest developments in beer, it’s awfully tempting to just grab a bottle of the latest extreme bottling and regurgitate all the hyperbole off it’s back label. Brewing today is pushing the boundaries in so many directions that it is bloody hard to keep up and there certainly is plenty to talk about. But today, rather than enthuse about the latest calvados aged lingonberry sour, I’m going to discipline myself and rave about a beer that is straightforward, accessible and downright conservative.
In fact, the only noteworthy thing about it, is its country of origin.

The Yes Boss! pale ale, is my favourite beer from the Pelicon brewery in Slovenia.
We were lucky enough to play host to the guys from Pelicon at the end of last year and despite being annoyingly young, cool and friendly, they really know their brewing chops. The Yes Boss!- although not their “fanciest” beer is the one I keep returning to when I have a thirst on.

It’s a very pretty beer: Deep amber with a fair haze and moderate (but persistent) effervescence, topped by a couple of inches of lush, creamy, foamy head. It’s fairly aromatic with notes of cereal, butter and Werther’s Original. The palate strikes a nice balance between sweet tropical fruit and hop bitterness. The finish is crisp, dry and refreshing, lingering in the mouth long enough to impress, but never outstaying it’s welcome.
This is everything I look for in a session beer.

All too often American (or American influenced) brewers simply drop the ABV for their session beer and compensate for the loss in character by going overboard with the hops. This makes for a beer that you can have quite a bit of without overdoing it, but you would never want to because it’s just too damn astringent, the bitterness becoming overwhelming after a couple of pints.
By contrast, I could happily chug away on the Yes Boss! all night.
Sadly, even if I was lucky enough to find a pub with a cask of the stuff, I doubt I could spend an evening drinking it, simply because it’s a bit on the pricey side. A 50cl bottle will set you back £3.30 which is pushing it, for what is in every way (except quality) a straightforward, old school, sensible pale ale.

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