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  • The Beer Hawk GBBF Recap

    Veni, vidi, vici. Oh yes, Beer Hawk came, saw, and conquered this year's Great British Beer Festival with gusto! Once again we were proud to be the sponsor of the Champion Bottled Beers of Britain bottle bar and found ourselves surrounded by not only the best bottled beer in the country but also some great volunteers. Thankfully resurrected by CAMRA in the 80's, GBBF has now become one of the world's leading beer festivals. This beer festival is always a lot of fun with a great buzz and the opportunity to share a beer with shiny happy people. I know I'm already looking forward to next year!

    BigTop Besides the CBBOB competition that I wrote about last week, I personally attended Tuesday's trade session (our directors, Chris and Mark, bravely sacrificed a bit more of their work-week in the office to partake in some other sessions...all in the name of teamwork.) One session is not enough to experience GBBF! When you're talking about the BIGGEST celebration of British beer in the world which is almost single-handedly run by a superabundance of generous volunteers, the length of the festival itself isn't long enough. It's a tremendous festival of beer and the people want more!

    Now, I've been to a lot of beer festivals; from GABF, to Copenhagen, to even the famed Oktoberfest. Now that I've got two GBBFs under my belt, I've got some observations and (hopefully constructive!) criticisms about the fest as a whole. These opinions are more-or-less from the perspective of a foreign outsider looking in who genuinely wants to live, breathe, and drink everything there is to know about British beer. (Which, duly noted, are not unique to me and I'm not presenting an opinion that has never been expressed before. I'm just taking this chance to preach!)

    First of all, from what I know, the beer selected for the festival is chosen by a bunch of CAMRA branches and CAMRA big-wigs picking out their favorite beers and asking that brewery to bring some of it to the festival. While that's very democratic--and mass participation is exactly what beer needs--there's a danger that it can all get a bit redundant. It ends up with a single bar with 20 taps having 20 beers from 15 breweries from a dozen different regions, and each have about 13 versions of a golden ale. Which, obviously, is quite a bit of THE SAME THING. I found myself staring at some bars and having no clue what I was looking at. I don't feel that's the best way to present British beer to the world because I'd end up walking away from that bar to go find something that was better described to me. Too much choice is not always best--streamline it!

    If I join can I help pick the beers? If I join can I help pick the beers?

    Which leads me to my next thought: it'll probably never change. Despite the fact that every other prominent beer festival throughout the world rewards great breweries--and not individual beers--with a spot in their lineup, the organizers of the Great British Beer Festival seem intent on supplying a thousand "different" choices. Now don't get me wrong, the breweries that have been selected by the Great CAMRA Claw are all great in their own right with a lot of fantastic people behind them. Yet, when they're only permitted to bring what has been requested by CAMRA there is a lot of British talent, creativity, and innovation that is hidden away from the world stage. I think that that's a great injustice. All eyes are on British beer at this moment--work it!

    My next point will probably ruffle some feathers but...well...the American bar (now dubbed "Craft Wanker Corner") was pretty busy most of the day. As were the Belgian/Italian/Dutch/Czech bars. I don't want to get started on the age-old complaint of "why do the American beers have to show up in casks if the Belgians don't?" Nope, I just want to draw attention to the fact that these bars had quite the magnetic pull on rather large crowds. And there's only one explanation for that--the beers were different.

    You got this guy. And 237 golden bitters. You got this guy. And 237 golden bitters.

    Of course I'm not insinuating that the other bars were desolate wastelands serving poor beer. It's just that people--I--go to beer festivals to find the unexpected, to find something they'll remember. To have fun! And, sorry, but the fact that it's from Somerset or Wales or is 3.8% and golden in colour and someone from a CAMRA branch liked it last year doesn't make it memorable. It might be really good. But it's also really good at my local.

    I'm obviously not advocating that CAMRA completely scrap their ethos of supporting cask. Not at all! British beer is famous for its complex subtlety and restraint. The cask ale is as British as the monarchy. Yet there is so much going on in this country--and so many talented brewers--that could do a great service to the British beer reputation if only given a chance or a little freedom. It's truly a shame to hide it from the world like it's a black sheep (*not affiliated with the brewery or any of its subsidiaries) all in the misguided interpretation of tradition.


  • Champion Bottled Beers of Britain at GBBF

    I have the best bosses in the world. Nope--the UNIVERSE. Not only did they send me down to London to "network" at Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), but they also gave me the opportunity that a lot of people would give their left arm for: I got to be a judge for the final round of the Champion Bottled Beers of Britain (CBBOB)!


    The final judging took place the day before GBBF opened and consisted of a panel of six judges--including me--who were tasked with picking the bronze, silver, and gold bottled beer award winners. Even though you may think that sitting around tasting beers and talking about them with some esteemed beer industry people would be easy: it wasn't. The final nine beers we tasted had made their way to us after a YEAR of multiple levels of selections around the country--to include two more panels before us on the same day.

    A fellow judge--none other than Mr. Roger Protz A fellow judge--none other than Mr. Roger Protz

    Suffice it to say, once the final nine are selected and passed on to the final round, these are the crème de la crème. Picking one of them to be the best is no easy task, especially considering that there are so many deserving beers and brewers that deserve to be recognized. Nevertheless, the task was ours and we all (rather gladly) accepted it.

    The process was easy: look, sniff, taste, score--all blind, of course. Basically what we were looking for was whether the beer was pretty true to style, interesting, and--most importantly--did it make you want to drink a lot of it?! There was a little chatter amongst us judges with regards to certain flavors and aromas that we were getting and, on a general level, whether we liked it or not. Ultimately our scoring was done individually and anonymously.

    I sampled more smartly as they went on! I sampled more smartly as they went on!

    Once we had finished all the tasting, we took a moment to confer with each other about whether our scores that we had given each beer truly represented the best beers of the lot--and a few judges took another taste of a couple of beers to confirm. We then collectively confirmed that we had the same top five beers just to ensure that there wasn't a rogue outlier that we should revisit. Once we were satisfied that we had all independently, but collectively, determined the top five the scores were handed in to be tallied. And then there was nothing to do but wait until the big announcement!


    With regards to my voting, I'm pleased that my favorite--and my #1--of the day was ultimately declared the Gold Champion Bottled Beer of Britain award winner--Marble Chocolate Marble. What won it for me was the absolute glut of aromas and flavors of licorice, molasses, raisins, and coffee. Yet, despite its bold flavors it is still was very drinkable. Beautiful ruby highlights and a frothy tan head just further proved my point.

    While all of the beers were deserving, there were definitely a few other standouts for me: The ultimate Silver winner St. Austell Proper Job, Bronze Winner Spire Prince Igor Russian Imperial Stout, and Moor Revival (who were my #4, #2, and #3 respectively.)

    I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity to judge--I would love to do it again. It was such a blast and I felt like a very important person walking around with my "Judge" badge on. This was truly was a GBBF to remember.


    ******Not to get all "business-like on you, but if you fancy trying to prove me and the other judging panels wrong, we at Beer Hawk have a CBBOB case that we put together of 15 of the beers that made it to the final rounds. We don't have all the beers from the round that I judged, rather, it's a collection of beers from the final three rounds. It DOES include the Silver winner and a few others from our final round--and it will soon include the Gold winner once the brewery brews it again! Just visit this link below to purchase. Be warned, though--it'll sell out soon!******

  • The North(ern Monk Brew Co.) Has Come.

    Today it has come: today is Northern Monk Brew Co.'s first brew day in their new brewery site.

    And it truly has been a long time in the works. I had my first contact with the nascent Northern Monk Brew Co. way back in early 2013 when it was still just a cuckoo-brewing concept with a skeleton website. Yet things have grown quickly for the Monks: they've taken on head-brewer-monk-in-charge Brian Dickson late last year, bought the brewery site sometime around Christmas 2013, and maintained interest in the brand with various collaborations, contract brews, and launch events all over Yorkshire and beyond.

    I've gotten to know the founder and Chief Monk, Russell Bisset, pretty well over the past year-and-a-half through various doings. Besides Russ' family and dog, there are very few people (or canines) that are as pleased as I am that this day--in the North--has finally come.

    Northern Monk Brew Co.'s New Brewery Northern Monk Brew Co.'s New Brewery

    Brian and Russell have almost starved themselves to get to this point (seriously. I guess Russ has only eaten tuna for the past two weeks and is now concerned that he will die from it.) But it has well been worth it. I had the great opportunity to have a nosey around today while they were brewing with a hand from the awesome James Kemp (or JK) and it smelled sooooo good in there. All of Holbeck Urban Village in Leeds smelled delicious, actually. Those are some lucky office-workers over there.

    Head-brewer-monk Brian and hopppppppppps! Head-brewer-monk Brian and hopppppppppps!

    So, with a beautiful new kit from Malrex all fitted and fancy, a head-brewer chomping at the bit, and a cold-store room full of hops from heaven, the time--and the North--has finally come for brewing. And it was truly serendipitous (and truly unplanned) that their first brew of their New World IPA chocked full of Simcoe, Waimea, Chinook, Galaxy, Summit hops took place on none other than International IPA Day. Subsequent brew-days will see Strannik, Monachus Pale, and their (I don't know if I can say the name) Session IPA, among others, being brewed. Hallelujah.

    Welcome to town, Monks. You've been coming for a while; we're glad you've finally made it.


  • New Look, Same Great Taste!

    We're just about to finish our first full week based out of the new Beer Hawk HQ's. It's been a rather massive project that included expanding the office space, painting, installing flooring, building new-and-improved-and-super-huge racking for the beer, buying a new fork lift (Chris' favourite part) and moving. Oh, and the moving. Hundreds and hundreds of crates and cases of beer. Hundreds. hundreds. *whimper.

    A filthy Chris & Zach with a well-deserved beer after moving about a billion others A filthy Chris & Zach with a well-deserved beer after moving about a billion others.

    After many exhausting days and not doing our actual jobs, we're finally settled into our new place just on the outskirts of Harrogate. So, with the air-hockey table removed from the toilet and a freshly-tidied kitchenette we're excited to expand Beer Hawk into even bigger and better things.

    Mark loving his new wheels Mark loving his new wheels

    Now with our huge new warehouse, we plan on adding a lot--a lot, a lot--of new lines to our range (which means more beer festivals, trips abroad, and "networking!") in the near future--and I'm hoping that'll include some cans. There's also some discussion going on about doing some tasting nights that we'll be trialing up here in Yorkshire with the hopes of making that available to those of you who reside yonder at some point in the future.

    A slightly wobbly iPhone photo of our new digs! A slightly wobbly iPhone photo of our new digs!

    In the meantime, we're just here doing what we do: working hard at getting better and better everyday to hunt out the world's best beers. If you're in the area please feel free to pop in and take a look around at our new space (and pick up some beers, while you're at it!) Oh, and stick your head into the office to marvel at the flawless decorating. That was my job.


  • A Visit to Conwy Brewery

    ConwyCasksA couple weeks ago, I took my first jaunt down to North Wales for the weekend so it was a great opportunity to pop in to one of our lovely breweries: Conwy Brewery. Licensed to brew the sought-after Yakima Grande Pale Ale, it's no wonder that head-brewer and founder Gwynne Thomas and his crew are also churning out so many other great brews with their core range and their West Coast Brewing brand.

    Officially established in 2003, Conwy Brewery has recently expanded to 2.5 times its previous capacity, which is impressive in and of itself. Even more so if you consider the fact that Gwynne essentially started his brewing career in his airing cupboard while at University. Dry clothes be damned when there's fermentation to be done!

    It's always great to take a peek at another brewery that's finding success. I really appreciate the team, especially Janet, for taking time out of their day to show this strange American gal around their new digs. This time around, I didn't get a chance to taste anything at the brewery--they were busy brewing and getting a BUNCH of orders shipped out. AND I was a week early for the Yakima Grande, so I missed out on that too. Nevertheless, I always like looking at shiny vessels and the smell of a mash tun being emptied.

    ConwyMaxUndeterred, I sought out their Honey Fayre 4.5% golden ale (a beer we don't currently stock, but I've been trying my best to get put on the purchasing rota) while out and about. The Honey Fayre belongs to Conwy Brewery's core range of bottle-conditioned ales--and it is a beauty! I'd put a ridiculous iPhone photo of the beer situated next to a pile of seafood I had paired it with but that would be stupid. Instead, I'll just tell you that the beer is a nice, easy-drinking ale with a smooth mouthfeel and nice balanced bitterness. Its decent malty-sweet character and notes of honey was amazing with our fresh seafood. Gwynne even suggested making mussels in ale with it by frying onions in butter, adding mussels with Honey Fayre, cook and reduce down until the mussels are opened and then serve with crusty bread. Sounds good to me!

    ConwyVesselSo, thanks again to Conwy Brewery for letting me take a little gander at their brewery in the middle of the day. They've got beautiful views of the sea from way up-top the hill! It's no surprise they've got a Riptide Black IPA and a Surfin' IPA American Pale in their arsenal. I, for one, can't wait to get my hands on some.


  • Session #88 -- Traditional Beer Mixes

    The-Session-246x300Ok, I'll admit it: up until now the only beer mix I've ever had came in Irish Car Bomb form (you know, Guinness and Bailey's à la Jagerbomb.) So, suffice it to say that this month's Beer Blogging Friday topic of Traditional Beer Mixes--hosted by Boak and Bailey--is a long time coming for me.

    I've personally never been a fan of drinking beer concoctions, nevermind those days in my early 20's when I thought I was so cool when drinking a Flaming Dr. Pepper (a glass of beer with a flaming shot of amaretto and vodka dropped in it.) I've always thought that mixing beers was only something that bar-hands should do with the dregs in the glasses when clearing the tables. Nevertheless, I'm slowly warming up to the idea of some of these traditional beer mixes. There must be a reason why they have stood the test of time, after all.

    For those of you that don't know, I'm a Yank and I've only been living in the UK for a little over two years. I'm familiar with the likes of a black-and-tan and I guess we're seeing shandies showing up Stateside but I've never heard of most of this list of mixes: Blacksmith, Mother-in-law, Granny, Boilermaker? Just sounds like a boring party to me.

    Be that as it may, this blogging session gives me the nudge I need to get out there and see what all the fuss is about and to see why people feel the need to mix their beers. Without further ado, here are my--admittedly quite skeptical--observations on my first-ever beer mix (that wasn't set on fire beforehand.)

    The Granny

    I decided that I liked the sound of this adorably-named beer mix: an old and mild ale. To create this drink I selected the Ilkley Black and Robinson's Old Tom. Considering that both beers are pretty solid representatives of their respective styles, I figured that this would give me the best opportunity to look at beer mixes objectively.

    bottlesThe verdict

    Welp. I'm not sold. I don't get the point. It doesn't taste like anything bad. It just doesn't taste like, well, anything. I guess at most it mellows the flavors and intensity of the Robinson's Old Tom. Which I suppose would be a good thing if you're an old lady that needs to drive home. I shared my Granny (!) with my co-workers and we all agree: it's not bad, it actually quite grows on you. We just don't get the point.


    So there you go: I wouldn't specifically head out and order any beer mix (although I'd consider the stout-and-barleywine mix Blacksmith) but I am happy to have found a reason to give this traditional beer mix a try.


  • Best Beer Gifts for Father's Day

    Dad with FishBy going to the pub with the gents or stopping by the off-licence on the way home from work, your Dad's been hinting all year long that he really wants beer for Father's Day. That, as opposed to a new tie or a "this coupon entitles bearer to one free car-wash so long as there isn't something good on the TV or I'm otherwise busy" gift.

    Have no fear if you know nothing about beer, this guide will give you some tips on how to pick the perfect beer gift and have you rocketing to the top of the inheritance list amongst your siblings. Besides, he deserves it, doesn't he?
    How to Choose Something He'd Like

    • First thing's first: take a look at what's already in the fridge.
      This is the no-brainer; buy him more of what he already likes!
    • Pay attention to what he drinks at the pub. Often, his favourite cask ale is available in a bottle and lagers almost always are.  If he already chooses bottled-beers from the pub, you're in luck!
    • Note his favourite foods.
      A lot of times, certain foods have their own perfect match; spicy curry and IPA's, roast beef and a bitter, pizza and pale ale are just the tip of the iceberg.
    • Help him to reminisce
      If he took a trip-of-a-lifetime somewhere, sourcing international beers from everywhere from Australia to the USA has never been easier.

    Beery Gift Suggestions that Aren't Crap

    • Beer Club: remind your Dad every month, every other month, or quarterly (depending on how much you're trying to make up for from your younger days) of how great of a child you are with our Beer Club. Mixed cases of your Dad's favourites and others for him to discover make us wish we were your Dad.
    • Brewery Gift Sets: loads of popular breweries produce gift packs in branded packaging that have glassware and sometimes t-shirts included.
    • Glassware: If he's already got enough beer around the house, branded or style-appropriate glassware is always a great idea. Most breweries sell a glass with their name on it and the Belgians are famous for pairing their beers with a specific glass.
    • Books: Beer writing is fast becoming a national past-time and topics ranging from the best British beers to pairing beer and food are all covered between the bindings.
    • Special editions, seasonals, or collaborations: Breweries are always trying to push the envelope and collaborations are the name of the brewing-game. The website of Dad's favourite brewery should list their availability and upcoming projects.
    • Many beers are presented beautifully: strong Belgian ales, big American Imperial IPAs, or bottle-conditioned Real Ales are examples of those that come in larger 500ml-75cl bottles. These sometimes have a nice cork--much like wine. Stick a bow on it and it's sorted!
    • Gift Vouchers: If you're still stuck, the tried-and-tested gift voucher never disappoints--give your Dad the chance to be like a big kid in a grown-up candy store!

    Another great option is our range of mixed beer selections-a reliable mix of beer covering all tastes and budgets; some run the gamut of beers from around the world, while others focus on the best from a particular region (dare we say, the UK?) Take a look!

    Little Beery Gift

    Little BeeryIf you were a relatively good child and you're not still trying to pay him back for that broken window from your 1995 house-party, then this Little Beery Gift of 10 bottles is a low cost but delicious selection from across the world and in a range of styles. £25

    Great British Beers

    British 15 bottles of the finest stouts, IPAs, pale ales, or porters (among others!) from all corners of these isles, this Great British Beers Gift will show him that you think he's the best Dad in the whole wide world. £37.50

    Test of Strength

    ToSYou already know that he's the strongest man in the world, but have him prove it against our Test of Strength mixed case. 15 bottles of beers reaching as high as 12% ABV will have him leap tall buildings in a single bound! £49.50


    With Father's Day fast approaching don't forget to show him what he means to you. And with a carefully selected beer gift, he'll know that he's succeeded in raising you well!

  • Best Before Dates are for the Birds

    As established by the chicken. As established by the chicken.

    I'd like to start this out by stating that I'm not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes and trying to convince you that we can sell out-of-date beer. We shouldn't. By selling beer, we've essentially promised the brewer (and the customer) that we'd take good care of their baby and send it out into the world in the flourish of beauty that they had intended.

    Now that we've got that bit out of the way, I'd like to have a chat about Best Before Dates on bottles.

    In some circumstances, they're warranted; they're a good indicator of how to best enjoy a beer and for its intended use (besides drinking it, of course). A short date indicates that it should be drunk fresh in order to appreciate that particular beer's qualities; a long one means that it could be aged to see what the future holds. And truth be told, I personally wouldn't trust a 4.2% pale ale with a year left on its life.

    You see, hops--those glorious little nuggets that impart balance, bitterness, flavours, and aromas--only live up to their full potential for so long. The oils and compounds that are responsible for the job break down incrementally and before too terribly long, their deliciousness disappears and you're left with the bitter and preservative properties, and an ultimately disappointing beer. In essence, hops are like a glamour model--you wouldn't kick 'em out of bed, but an older one without the layers really destroys the fantasy. This is why lighter, hoppier beers tend to have a shorter lifespan than the inverse.

    Stay sexy, gorgeous. Stay sexy, gorgeous.

    Even so, with all the said, the Best Before Dates printed on the bottles are quite arbitrary. Generally a brewer will look at the date that he brewed the beer, flip the calendar the requisite number of times in accordance with the style, and print it on the bottle. There are some agreed-upon guidelines--and it's all with the beer's best interest in mind--but a beer that's one day, one week, or even one month out-of-date would require an omniscient beer-God to taste the difference.

    Thus, it's fair to say that a Best Before Date is merely a guideline, and a somewhat arbitrary one at that. Quite often they're used as gimmicks and sadly don't tell the customer that much. For example, what does an expiry date of 10 years from now, as is the case with certain stronger and darker beers, mean? If you've had a beer sitting for 10 years, what is 10 years and three months going to do. 11 years?

    Obviously that is an example of an extreme. Nevertheless, I'd even go so far as to say that arbitrary dates unnecessarily upset a customer. A better option would be to assume the practice of printing "Born On" dates (and perhaps indicate a generally agreed-upon range for that particular beer) and let the customer take control because, truthfully, once out of the hands of the brewer and then the shop, the responsibility of care and proper storage lies with them.


  • Lady Beer

    Such a pretty lady. beer. Such a pretty lady. beer.

    Oh boy--this opens a can of worms. Either this brings about images of massive cleavage on a pump clip or a froo-froo beer cocktail with an orange garnish. Nevertheless, the concept of "lady beers" isn't something that brewers should be embarrassed about.

    Truth be told, despite its centuries-old history here in the UK, beer is still deemed a "man's" drink while the ladies stick to wine. Nevertheless, there ARE some "gateway" styles that appeal to the typical wine-drinking lady: fruit lambics, fruit beers, witbiers, saisons, and perhaps some dark barrel-aged goodness. But that doesn't mean that these styles are sub-par or that they don't have the cojones to be called a beer. No! It just means that these beers are opportunities--opportunities to educate and expand into ladies nights.

    I complimented a brewer once on a one-off brew of his (that was HOT PINK, coincidentally) and mentioned how I thought it would be great to serve at a potential ladies-only event I was was thinking about as a way to introduce a wine-drinking woman to beer. I was met with a rather defensive "well, we like our beer" response. What the hell? Is a beer only a beer if it has a 5 o'clock shadow? For some reason some brewers resist the notion that one of their beers could be pleasing to a woman who typically prefers wine. Why? That just insinuates that if a non-beer-drinking-woman likes it, it is therefore an inferior product.

    So, if you make a beer that you find the ladies take an exceptional liking to, you made a good beer with no gender specification necessary. Embrace the fact that some beers are opportunities to educate and embrace. Just because the ladies like it, doesn't make it a lady-beer. But don't come crying to me, dear defensive brewer, if you make a hot pink raspberry flavoured beer and you've got women swarming your bar.


  • Nonsense on Beer Labels

    Slapping these guys on a bottle makes about as much sense as a lot of what's out there. Slapping these guys on a bottle makes about as much sense as a lot of what's out there.

    Considering we're a beer retailer that offers hundreds of different beers, it should come as no surprise that we see a lot of different labels. Now, this isn't a commentary on a brewery's particular branding strategy, the logos they've chosen, or even on those breweries who think a woman's cleavage is the best way to sell a beer. No, this is a commentary on the amount of nonsense that's put on the side of the bottle.

    That's right: nonsense.

    There are some breweries out there (who shall remain nameless) that appear to have gotten drunk, grabbed the largest thesaurus they could find and strung together all the big words in a loosely-structured sentence. Just what is a customer supposed to take away about a beer when the label references the size of "Zeus's ass" and tells you to sleep late and have fun? Ummm...guess it tastes delicious?

    Brewers of the world, please respect your customers. Only put on the outside of the bottle what is actually on the inside (or put nothing at all.) If you're going to tell a customer that they will be absolutely assaulted by hops, they damn well should be. Of course we're not advocating that breweries should simply list the flavours the customer should be tasting (that's impossible anyway!) but one doesn't read a label in order to find out how "historically accurate" or "intellectual" or "punk" the marketing department of that particular brewery is.

    Feel free to wax-poetic about goddesses, or monks, or just how fashionably hipster one would be if they were to just take a sip of your delicious nectar. But much like a bag of crisps or a sandwich, people actually want to know what's inside. Please don't forget to talk to us about the beer. Please.

    With that said, check out these new labels (click on the Diablo picture) from Summer Wine Brewing Co. as they have been brought to us by Yorkshire beer author and blogger, Leigh Linley. They definitely straddle the line between fun beer information and silly nonsense--which side do you think they fall on?

    Leigh Linley--The Good Stuff


    (To clarify--we dig the Summer Wine labels! We didn't mean to single them out--just thought they were a good example of straddling the line and will leave the rest up to you. It was also coincidental that they've recently revamped them.)


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