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  • The perils of craft distribution!

    So recently we got into a barney with one of our suppliers...that word supplier rather than brewery is important here as we've no quibble with the brewery it's just that they aren't the supplier of their own product.  Instead they have chosen to grant sole import rights to one company rather than deliver direct which has created the little drama we've had this week.  

    The brewery in question is Birrificio Italiano, a very exciting Italian brewery near Milan producing fantastic beer. They have unfortunately made the choice to go down this importer route rather than delivering direct to outlets like ourselves.  Unless done really well, this extra distance from the end consumer make the product more expensive and causes quality issues - the extra middleman adds a link in the chain making the beer more expensive and you need a supplier with a very slick supply chain to hurry your beer through.

    This latter problem is exacerbated if, like Birrificio Italiano you recommend that your beer is drunk fresh, and fresh usually means best before dates are about 6 months. The masters of slick international supply are Stone Brewing in the US.  They do use a distributor and slap a 4 month best before date on but have such a silky delivery system they get beer all the way to Britain from California boat....and then onto us in less than 6 weeks. Birrificio on the other hand have chosen an importer with a supply chain at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Their delivery schedule seems to go something like

    1. Get beer delivered to UK depot.  

    2. Leave beer in importer's depot for up to 5 months

    3. Deliver to retailer with 3 weeks left on the BBE dates

    ...and that's a particularly big issue if people are buying Christmas presents so the end drinker doesn't get the beer straight away from them either....3 weeks just aint enough!

    So we'd love to have Birrificio Italiano beer in again but until this quality control issue can be solved (probably by changing importer!) we simply won't, and unfortunately we're left waving goodbye to a product we loved.  

    No worries though we'll be replacing it with another exciting brewery shortly and if you do want to try some perfectly safe but sadly out of date Birrificio Italiano beers then you can do so here! (we think there's a minimal effect on quality by the way- perhaps a 1% deterioration.)

  • Oktoberfest's soaring beer costs

    As Munich's annual Oktoberfest grows in popularity, it seems that "Beer Price Inflation" is growing at an alarming rate.  The average festival beer cost almost €10 this year, that's up 3.6% on 2012, and nearly 2.5 times what they were in the early nineties (Source: UniCredit).

  • Tasting day 2 at GBBF

    Having ticked off most of the beers I came down to try yesterday, randomness is going to be the strategy today. I don’t know what I’m going to go for, so the criteria for which beer I try is going to depend very much on where there’s a gap at the bar.  I’ll wander and let the fickle hand of fate determine what I try, that said I didn’t major on the big brewery bars yesterday, so will start there. The big brewers all have stands down the middle of the venue all trying to outdo each other. Most are heavy on the woodwork conjuring images of tradition and pubby expertise, there’s the odd exception though. Bombardier have a double decker bus- I must try and get on board for a photo!

    Shepherd Neame Goldings 4.1% - Ooo that’s not good at all.  It’s not possible I’ve got a bad pint at GBBF is it?  I check my programme, this is a summer hop ale described as having ripe fruits, but to taste it’s just a big glass of bitterness.  Not even a citrus bitterness, just a tongue stripping one.  It can’t be meant to be this bad.  I’ll come back and try this again tomorrow to see Appearance 3, Aroma 6, Taste 2, Finish 2 Total score 13/50

    Time to chat to the friendly chap on the Greene King bar. He used to drive a forklift in their warehouse but now runs their events (Cool job!)  He is also funny - in response to my question “So what should I have?” he says “a shower” Harsh - this is a fresh t-shirt and everything!

    Greene King Twisted Thistle (5.3%) – Much better, that’s an excellent IPA.  Lush fruits and low hoppiness, with a very floral aroma and middle taste Appearance 5, Aroma 7, Taste 7, Finish 8 Total score 35/50

    Greene King Hurdy Gurdy (4.1%) – This is a wheat beer, but where’s the wheat?  It’s see-through and lacks the lovely chewiness of something like a Schneider-Weisse.  I don’t like this, but I do like the reference to the Donovan song Appearance 6, Aroma 6, Taste 4, Finish 5 Total score 21/50

    Courage Imperial Russian Stout (10%) – Time to up the ante, with a half of this trembling beastie.  It’s not cheap at £4.50 for a half and it’s with a little excitement that I try it out.  My first thought is this is quite thin, I’d expected a thick cloying glue swirling in the glass, this looks watery and it is thinner to taste too, not from a flavour perspective which is high strength coffee and fruit but it slips down surprisingly easily.  It’s good… Mike Andrews from Wells & Youngs pops up. He’s master of the Bombardier bus and we chat for a bit as he’s been setting us up with stock for the Champion Bottled beer case we are doing, where their wonderful Special London ale made the final few.  It’s mid this conversation that the Imperial Stout catches up with me.  Wow that’s knocked me for 6 – a final swirl of the glass and I finish it off – I add the word smoky to my notes and move off, only realising afterward I’d forgotten to ask for a tour of the bus.  Note to self:-drink this in thirds. Appearance 7, Aroma 6, Taste 7, Finish 8 Total score 35/50

    Country Life Pot Wallop (4.4%) – I need a refresher and spot a gap at bar B5 and search for something golden.  Pot Wallop is my random selection and chance pays off as this is exactly what I wanted, it’s an excellent session ale with a good straw colour and fabulous head.  Lovely middle malts and I make a note to try more of this brewery’s stuff.  Appearance 8, Aroma 4, Taste 8, Finish 7 Total score 35/50

    My Pot Wallop has livened me up and I go for a late lunch at the Truckle Cheese stand.  This is the best food at GBBF this year for me, big chunks of cheese made into an excellent Ploughman’s lunch. You get a bit bored of pies so this is something very different. I’ll be back.

    Fullers Vintage 2013 Ale (8.5%) – It’s all a bit random when trying vintage ales as they vary so much from year to year and unfortunately the fates haven’t been kind this year.  It pours (unsurprisingly) with a thin head which hovers over a deep ashtray brown.  It starts well with a sweet malt taste but this gives way to an unpleasant lingering bitterness rolling around your mouth.  Not for me this time Appearance 4, Aroma 6, Taste 5, Finish 3 Total score 23/50

    More refreshment needed and continuing clockwise round the venue I see the cider bar.  I do like cider but don’t know a lot about it.  The helpful volunteer suggests I try the Parson’s Choice from Somerset and it’s good, a big appley aroma and a nice tart finish and this is the drink with which I call time today.  I head off to meet a friend for dinner but am a little early and wait in a bar on Fulham Road.  I’m swiftly reminded that this is London as they are selling Scotch Eggs and Oysters as their bar snacks.  The Oysters are £1.90 each but the Scotch egg is a whopping £5.80 as though it’s a special delicacy brought back from the north. Odd place this but I’ll be back tomorrow.

  • Beer Hawk's GBBF Tasting Day

    So although I had a few on the first day of GBBF, I was rushed off my feet chatting to assorted industry bods and apart from occasionally exclaiming “THIS IS AWESOME” I didn’t scribble down everything I tried.  Happily though I’d assigned the Wednesday to be my tasting day and after grabbing my pint glass and promising to restrain myself to 1/3 pint measures the tasting began.

    I score out of 50. 10 for appearance, 10 for aroma, 10 for finish and double points for taste.  These are some I tried (many recommended for sampling by the Twitterati!)

    Hogs Back A Over T (9%)– My first of the day, it’s Hogs Back’s Barley wine, which despite telling myself to wait until later I crack on with anyway!  I was lured I by the man with the most majestic moustache of the festival for the second year running, Noel (excellent waxing sir!).  Pours a deep caramel with a disappointingly thin head. Iintense resins on the nose and a very pokey raisin and tobacco smokiness at the back of the throat.  Solid Barley Wine, but should have waited until later Appearance 5, Aroma 6, Taste 7, Finish 5 Total score 30/50

    Brain’s Bragging Rights (5%)– This has been built up by Twitter recommendations and doesn’t falter one bit.  Light Gold, with huge foamy head.  Initially my nose tells me there’s a sweet honey bee buzzing around in my glass somewhere, but I can’t see it as its hiding behind a big bunch of bananas.  My mouth has better luck and those bananas disappear and turn into a spicy refreshing ale. Finish is nothing exceptional, but this is a mighty fine beer. Appearance 8, Aroma 7, Taste 8, Finish 6 Total score 37/50

    Inveralmond Blackfriar (7.0%)– What am I doing, this is almost a Barley wine, making it 2 of my first 3 (it’s not even 1:30 yet).  My tasting buddy at the moment though is a Scot and he’s found this Tayside beer hiding amongst the Surrey and Sussex ales on bar B18.  A “wee heavy” it’s a brutish malty thug and totally opposite to the Ossian with which I’m more familiar.  Lacks a bit of sweetness to offset the initial bitterness. It needs to lighten up (much like me) so I move swiftly on. Appearance 5, Aroma 6, Taste 6, Finish 3 Total score 26/50

    Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (4.5%)– I love this beer in a bottle and I love it for the thick viscosity and total mouth intensity.  The cask version is just 4.5% though and I think this loses much of what I love. It’s just a bit thin and how I imagine my 330ml bottle would taste if I topped it up with water to make it a full pint.  Not for me this time!  Appearance 8, Aroma 5, Taste 4, Finish 5 Total score 26/50

    St Austell Big Job 7.2% - We’ve been invited over to the St Austell bar by Marc Bishop who wants us to try this one.  Big build up and there’s the nervousness I always feel when someone says “try this” and then watches me taste it.  I become intensely aware of my facial expressions and fear I’m going to have to find a way out.  Not with this.  It’s exactly the type of brew I love and swiftly becomes my favourite of the day. Looks amazing in my tulip glass and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fine Abbey ale.  Dry and hoppy but not massively bitter, I’ll be back for more of this! Appearance 9, Aroma 8, Taste 9, Finish 7 Total score 42/50

    St Austell 1913 Stout 5.2% - We decide to hang around (and not just because Marc is buying) moving to the pump clip just 1 to the right it’s a stout at the other end of the beery scale.  Looks good, deep black with small legs on the glass.  It’s everything you want from a traditional stout -  chocolate, malts and a warm smoothness.  It’s a tad too hot for this beer and I imagine it perfect in winter.  Excellent but I’m still coming down from my Big Job high. Appearance 8, Aroma 7, Taste 7, Finish 6 Total score 35/50

    Moor Revival 3.8% - Back down the abv scale as I’ve been playing with the big boys, I try another Twitter favourite and although ordering 1/3 of a pint I get well over a half. Pours a cloudy gold, looks fabulous and wakes me up with a couple of hoppy slaps to the jowls.  Hugely bitter that’s lovely for a bit but wish I’d just had a 1/3 by the end.  Too intense for me but undoubtedly good if you like a hop-smack Appearance 6, Aroma 7, Taste 8, Finish 5 Total score 34/50

    Greene King 5X 12% -  I glance at my watch and it's 4:40, 20 minutes before today's firkin of this vintage oak classic is popped open.  I loved this last year and I want to try it again, but it sems everyone else does too.  There's a snaking queue guarded by 4 GBBF stewards looking like bouncers at an exclusive club.  I tend to be turned away by bouncers but these guys let me in.  I'm given a badge for my trouble and my 1/3 of a pint is dispensed.  Ohh it's good, sherry, brandy, fortified raisins, liquorice, marmite, bovril and every other intense malty food you can think and then a calming bitter oakiness replaces them all.  I shouldn't have another...should I?  Oh go on then Appearance 7, Aroma 7, Taste 8, Finish 7 Total score 37/50

    I must confess to having a few more after this too but i've moved over to Bieres sans Frontieres, my notes are getting sloppy and also i've had my nose in a book for a large part of the day, time for some banter.  More reviews tomorrow…

  • Judging the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain 2013

    It's certainly not every day that you get the chance to judge CAMRA's Champion Bottled Beer of Britain competition.  There was no extra snooze for me when my morning alarm went off today.  Like an excited schoolboy who wakes up and realises that it's the start of the summer holidays, I leapt out of bed with a big grin on my face.

    Held at London Olympia the day before the doors open to GBBF 2013 (the CAMRA organised Great British Beer Festival), I was intrigued to discover what actually happens behind the closed doors of the Club Room where the judging was taking place.

    Each beer that makes the final shortlist is put forward by CAMRA tasting panels across the country, and following earlier tastings, 18 beers were put forward into this years final.  Christine Cryne chaired the final panel of 9 individuals, including Roger Protz and Jeff Evans.

    Set up as a blind tasting of beers labelled only by a letter, the judges scored each one individually on Appearance, Aroma, Taste and Aftertaste.  Would the judges agree?  Or would Christine have a tough job to control an unruly mob?!

    This years selection of beers were excellent.  Excellent and rather strong, with 3 of the final beers being over 8%!  So the tastings began.  One beer admired, sniffed, quaffed and thought about.  Then discussion about what worked and what didn't for each of the judges.  Then cracker and water to cleanse the palette, and on to the next!

    So many congratulations to Worthington's White Shield (5.6%), which won a very tight contest.  My personal preference was actually the beer in second place: St Austell's Proper Job (5.5%). On the day, these two stood out in a really great contest.

    If you'd like to taste the finalists, Beer Hawk have pulled together a case that includes 15 of the 18 nominated beers:

  • Beer Hawk sponsors GBBF!

    Well this is exciting!  It’s less than a week now until the annual beery shindig at London Olympia that is CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival.  It’s the largest festival in Britain with over 50,000 beer-lovers expected to rock up and sample some of the 800 beers on offer. 

    GBBFWhat makes this year even more special for me is that Beer Hawk is one of the event sponsors and have even been asked to be a judge in this year’s Champion Beer of Britain awards.  We’ll be there all week and will stand out nicely in our BeerHawk merchandise, so if you plan to come along too and spot one of the team then do come and say hello!

    When we get back and have duly recovered from the intensity of 5 days beer sampling, we’re going to turn our attention to putting together what will be the finest collection of beer assembled under one box-lid in the whole of 2013.  It’s a very special case indeed as it will contain the beers that fought all the way through to become finalists in the Champion bottled beer category.  This will be exclusively available from Beer Hawk and after such stringent taste testing will surely be magic.  Meh, who are we kidding we’ve seen the shortlist.  IT IS MAGIC!  Watch this space…

    Sponsoring an event devoted to real ale may seem like an odd thing for us to do given that Beer Hawk is a home for great beer from across the world and not just British Real Ale, but GBBF is so much than a celebration of beer of a certain type.  It’s a meeting of minds, a spiritual Mecca, a cultural homage to that most worthy deity that is a bloody good pint. 

    I go knowing that all the beer I try will be good, most will be great and a fine few will be outstanding.  I know i’ll find some new ones that mean I can spend some time haranguing head brewers to pipe into bottles for us, but more than that I know I will come away knowing more about beer than I knew before.  I’ll have had countless conversations with other beer lovers who’ve made me think harder about beer itself and also as no one is ever short of an opinion after a few days at GBBF, I’ll have had a ton of advice on how to make Beer Hawk even better.

    If you are one of those conversations, I’m already looking forward to it so like I said do come and say hi and I’ll buy you a pint!

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