Category: Cider

Golden Pints 2013

The Golden Pint Awards 2013

The Golden Pints 2013 – With Thanks to Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg

I have been writing this blog for a few years now, but this year is the first year in which I feel that I have been varied enough in the beers that I have tried to justify writing up the list of my Golden Pints . Sure in past years I have drunk a lot of different beers, but I usually struggle to even think of any foreign beers that I will have tried over the past twelve months. Like many of us beer bloggers I have quote a bad memory. I’m not going to do much of a short list, just the winners. So here are my thoughts on the best beers of 2013…

  • Best UK Cask Beer
    • Elland’s 1872 porter – I first tried this in a Wetherspoon’s in Manchester city centre. The weather was cold and I was still a bit hung over from going to the National Winter Ale Festival  the night before but never the less it was still a fantastic pint, and it was still a fantastic pint when we had some at the St. Neot’s beer festival later in the year. I wish I could see it on more often in the pubs need me because I need more of it in my life.
  • Best UK Keg Beer
    • Hepworth and Co‘s Conqueror – Although not the most mind-blowing beer in the whole world, it is exactly what is needed when you’re in a heavily packed music venue. This is a beer, which along with it’s siblings from the Hepworth Brewery, followed me around Brighton a lot  during the Great Escape Festival this year. No doubt we’ll meet again next year as well.
  • Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
    • Brewdog‘s AB:12 – When I first thought about this category I was so ready to shrug my shoulders and just say any old thing that popped into my head. Then I looked back at my untappd account and realised all of the beers which I have had this year that were bloody excellent. I’m also going to give a nod to Orkney’s Dark Island, Tullibardine 1488 whisky beer and The Celt Experience‘s Bleddyn 1075. Brewdog’s AB:12 however was the most different, standout, un-beer-like-beer with such a smooth warming finish, it was more like drinking a port than a beer. Whether that is a good thing or not in a beer is up for debate but for me it was a revelation.
  • Best collaboration brew
    • Dogfish Head and Charles Wells DNA – For me it has to be. Not only does it get Charles Wells out of their public image of just doing things like bland old Eagle IPA but it also tastes juicy and refreshing. It’s just fruity enough to be a good drink on a night out, and just relaxingly malty enough that you can curl up with a pint in front of the fire in the cliché old world pub scene. I have drunk this beer in both these cases and can tell you that it works fine in both.
  • Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
    • Steven’s Point IPA – This isn’t a strong category for me, I can’t think of many beers which were all that great, but Steven’s Point does stick out as a good one. An honourable mention  also: Schlenkerla‘s Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier.
  • Best Overseas Tap Beer
    • De Bekeerde Suster‘s De Manke Monnik – A group of us had a pint of this each whole we were at the brewery in Amsterdam. Such a hit with all of us that we are still looking of an effective way to get it imported.
  • Best Overall Beer
    • Taking in all of the above beers, as well as all of the other beers which I have drunk in the past twelve months I can’t help but think that all of these beers don’t really reflect what I drink overall. In fact, most of the time I drink standard stuff from the supermarket, because for the day to day beer has to be reasonable value as well as taste good. That is why my over all beer has depth of flavour, a good mouth feel, a sessionable ABV (so I can go to work in the morning), character, visually appealing in the glass and in the can, as well as a reasonable price tag. drum roll please…. Thwaites Champion Dark Mild.
  • Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
    • Lancaster Brewery – I try not to be swayed by such things, but we all know that I am, along with everyone else. I like a brewery which has a theme running through their beer labels. The recent Greene King rebranding of the IPA range certainly gets my approval, but the best branding for me Lancaster Brewery. Their bottles are printed so well, and their pumpclips as well are of high quality, with a classy understated design which doesn’t try and distract or frog-march you to a decision with jokes and wit. It just sits there, on the bar, quietly understated.
  • Best UK Brewery
    • Adnams – For me a brewery which, although not getting  mention in the above individual  beer categories above, consistently produces high quality ales as well as innovative new brews that I know I am going to enjoy. You never hear the conversation; Someone:”Hey Looke, try this beer, it’s the new one from Adnams.”  Looke:”Hmmm, I dunno, is it any good?”. Of course it’s going to be good, it’s brewed by Adnams.
  • Best Overseas Brewery
    • Brouwerij ‘t IJ – Back on our Amsterdam trip we visited the giant windmill in the middle of Amsterdam that it the brewhouse of this brewery. Not one of their beers was bad. And they were still good when we tried some at the Bedford Beer Festival as well.
  • Best New Brewery Opening 2013
    • CAMRA says that 187 new breweries have started in the past 12 months but I have no idea which one’s they are and it I have tried their beers or not.
  • Pub/Bar of the Year
    • While some places on my travels do come close, The Albion in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, still is the place to go for a night in the pub. Plenty of real ales to try, some from the local B and T Brewery. It has guest spirits, guest ales and Guest ciders. A great community atmosphere where you are always welcome.
  • Beer Festival of the Year
    • St. Alban’s Beer Festival. While most CAMRA beer festivals are fairly similar to one another and St Albans is no exception (you buy a glass, get it filled, drink it, get it refilled, drink it, eat something, refill the glass, drink it while being amused by the entertainment etc.) it does make more of an effort with the entertainment. I feel the food is also slightly better quality than most other festivals that I have been to this year. And of course, any evening that you come home with a pocket full of cheese is a good evening.
  • Supermarket of the Year
    • Morrisons – I was all but ready to write Waitrose, like every other blogger for their wide range of generally good beers, then I had a little think. Tesco, they don’t even deserve a link for their poor array in my local branch. Sainsburys? There is always a choice but it is all a bit bland to my mind. Asda isn’t bad, and neither is Waitrose (although it is expensive). The more I think about it the best beers I’ve bought this year and more importantly have found me something new and different to try when I needed it most… Morrisons.
  • Independent Retailer of the Year
    • Dart’s Farm, Topsham, Devonshire – The more I think about all of the different shops I’ve been in since January to buy beer, none of them have been helpful, especially the little independents who look at you like your about to rob the place. Whilst not strictly speaking a beer retailer on its own, it does have a HUGE selection of beers within it’s farm shop as well as a selection of wines, spirits and ciders (including a house cider which was being pressed in the next room). On top of all that the staff asked if they could help and were friendly and nice. It makes all the difference, a difference I am willing to pay a little extra for.
  • Online Retailer of the Year
    • – I have used a few different online suppliers this year for different beer related purchases. They all delivered on time (kudos to the delivery company which delivered by bottle of Gin from Adnams, all of the problems caused were my fault and they were so helpful). Most of the websites were reasonable to use, none really blew my mind in the way of helpful user interfaces. But was stick out for me was the level of packaging and the amazingly quick delivery time, considering they are in Denmark, was, the online seller of all things Carlsberg. My wish for their Mermaid Porter was their command and they carried it out with the most efficient diligence.
  • Best Beer Book or Magazine
    • Beer Blast by Philip Van Munching – It may not be a book released this year, but it is one of the best beer related books I have read this year. You can read my full report here.
  • Best Beer Blog or Website
  • Best Beer App
    • Feedly – Not strictly a Beer app, but an app I use a lot for the purposes of trawling the internet for Beer news, information and opinion. It is basically a one stop shop for all the blog feeds I follow, presenting them in an manageable way. Since Google Reader went down it has been my salvation.
  • Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
    • I haven’t really had much time for twitter this year, I have a new tablet PC now, which may help with this though.
  • Best Brewery Website/Social media
    • Lancaster Brewery – I’d love to say but like everyone else I was disappointed with the end result of the entire thing. Lancaster brewery, while not a social media is a good Brewery website which tells you what you need to know and nothing more. Clean and simple. Also it keeps the corporate imagery, logo’s and fonts running throughout, tying it in with its product nicely.
  • Biggest Dick in the world of beer

Picture the scene. It’s about eight o’clock and the dog starts barking at the front door. He won’t stop and in the end I give in and open the door so he can run out and see for himself that there is nothing there. I follow him out there and sit down on the wall listening to the distance roar of traffic, is that the A507 or the M1 that I can here? I never can tell. Sitting there in the relative quiet of the evening I realise that I’m bushed. My back aches, my fingers are tingling, my eyelids are heavy but at least the weather is quite nice and I can enjoy the starry skies while the dog investigates a plant pot under the hedge.

This is my world right now because I’ve spent the day pressing apples.

bag of apples

This is half a sack of apples

The saga started the other day when my neighbour, knowing what I’m like, said that I could have what I wanted from his apple tree. That in itself was a challenge. Most of the best apples are still on the tree right now because I just couldn’t get at them. Never the less I still managed to fill three sacks full of apples. I also got half a sack from the pear tree in my own garden.

Today’s task was to press the fruit. I had gotten all the bugs worked out of the system by pressing the pears yesterday. Todays was the main event. My new scratter and fruit press would get to show how much they were worth.

Now, for those who don’t know, the idea is that you take apples from the tree, cut out any rotten bits, cut it into halves or quarters and then place in the scratter. The scratter then pulverises the apples into much smaller chunks which makes the job of pressing easier and more efficient, therefore getting more juice and in the long run, more cider.

The Scratter

The Scratting bucket – I know it looks foul, but this is what it takes, I hope.

My scratter was £27.50 from The Happy Brewer, my local homebrew shop (incidentally a great place to drop into and have a chat with the guy if your unsure, he is a homebrewing genius and what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing). It’s a simple design, two blades which rotate inside a bucket, being turned by a drill, which isn’t included. Now I thought at best it would dice the apples into small cubes but it did so much more. It basically turned it into a cold thick apple soup! It was so ready for pressing that once it was spooned into the press it began to fall out of the other end as juice.

The press was a christmas present so I’m not sure from where or how much it was (although I can guess it was somewhere around the £150 mark). This may seem like a lot but I wasn’t expecting too much from the press considering what you can spend on a really expensive press. Nevertheless I pressed my first batch of pulp and was astonished by just how much juice I got and also by just how dry the remaining cake of dried apple pulp was. In all it was a very efficient juicing method, at least much more efficient than I was expecting.

press juicing

The press in action

Now this all seems like a lot of fun and you can’t see why I’m complaining about my back at the beginning, right? Well what I described there was about 40 minutes work when you include all the dicing of apples into the scratter. I was at it for hours. After a while the novelty starts to wear off a bit, only bringing back a little bit of hope every time the press is turned and the sight of a river of juice flowing again showing you why it’s all worth it. Cutting my fingers on the knife and then getting apple juice in the cut was probably the worst part though, like I said, my fingers still hurt.

The bit which probably hurts the most is that I know I’ve got to get up and do it all again tomorrow because I only got  through half the apples. Still, I’ve taken some hydrometer readings and all going to plan I should have 5 litres of perry, 5 litres of pyder and 10 gallons of cider when it’s all done, all around 6%.

As a final point I’d like to say one thing. I’m not a cider maker. I have only tried making cider once before and that was with juice that I bought from Tesco. I have no idea if I’m doing it right or wrong and I’m not saying that this is how it should be done. Please don’t follow in my footsteps and then blame me when it all goes pete tong (although I hope it doesn’t).

Apple Juice

The finished product – a pint of apple juice

The Beer Ashes: The Fourth Test

England have now won back the Ashes properly, (I know we retain the Ashes anyway because the series could have been a draw, but this is now a proper win), can they also make it a clear win in this, the fourth test of the beer ashes? Today’s test, however is not strictly a beer because up to bat for  for Australia, Pipsqueak Cider (5.2%) and trying to bowl them out, from England is Reddaways (6%) farmhouse cider. Both of these were £2.59 from Beers of Europe.

First up, the Australian cider. I was expecting it to be a very sweet cider, I don’t know why but I was. I was probably guessing that it would be another cider which is jumping on the Magners bandwagon. I was wrong. “Uh-oh”, I thought to myself, “Is Australia starting to make good cider?” I based all this on my first thought: it’s not sweet. Then I had another sip and I began to relax a bit as I realised that just because it isn’t sweet, it doesn’t necessarily make it good cider. The colour should have given it away, as it poured into the glass I noticed it was somewhere between straw yellow and slightly green. Not an attractive colour. Like some of the other Australian representatives we’ve seen in this series it was wildly effervescent, almost to a fault. Vinegary, estery vapours on the nose, although not overpowering. As I went through this drink I tried to think what it reminded me of, when suddenly I got a flashback from my youth, a flashback in a large blue plastic bottle, I realise what this reminds me of now: white lightning. As I finished it off I realised it was the perfect way of explaining it, it’s not completely undrinkable, but hasn’t got any sort of quality or discernibly decent characteristics. It just about get’s away with it on every aspect.

The Beer Ashes Fourth Test: Pipsqueak Cider vs. Reddaways Farmhouse Cider

The Beer Ashes Fourth Test: Pipsqueak Cider vs. Reddaways Farmhouse Cider

And now England’s offering. After the Pipsqueak, this just seamed like heaven in a glass. A medium sweet, well rounded cider, where you could taste the apple juice. Smelling the aroma of apples and not chemicals was fantastic, joyful, and such a relief that I hadn’t picked a rotten cider from all of the brilliant English ciders out there. Although it had just come out of the fridge and was perfectly chilled (some cider enthusiasts will say this is sacrilege but I don’t care) it still had a warming mouthfeel, it was thick and comfortable. I genuinely didn’t want the glass to ever empty, but alas, all good things have to come to an end.

Neither of these drinks have fallen into the modern wave of over ice, over advertised, overly hyped, over priced, overbearingly sweet, modern ciders which seem to adorn the list of products in every major lager brand these days. However this doesn’t either of them good on its own. Pipsqueak (which I have found out is part of the Little Creatures range of drinks) is a dry, gassy chemically tasting cider with none of the charm, warmth or charisma (can a drink be charismatic?) of the Reddaways, which is by far the better drink in my eyes. There is nothing Australia can do, England win the fourth test and the first beer Ashes, the only question left is, will they be able to finish the series with a more respectable 3-2 defeat, or will England crush them 4-1?