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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

European Beer #4 - Focus: Italy

Last, but certainly not least.  I have always loved Italy.  Sunny, cultured, relaxed and above all home of good food and wine.  I've enjoyed many trips to Italy, and savoured the fruits of their sun-kissed climes in many forms.  But I've never had a truly great beer there.  Some decent lagers admittedly (like Baffo Doro by Birra Moretti) but nothing close to a great real ale.
How happy was I then, to be confront by the image (left) of Allessio Leone with his offering from the Italian Brewers at the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2011.  Allessio is a great writer and arbiter of good taste when it comes to beer.  I was particularly pleased with the offerings he brought from Toccalmatto brewery.  My favourite being the "Surfing hop" pictured below.   

 A dark chestunut coloured double IPA, heavily dry hopped with Amarillo, it pretty much combines two of my favourite styles - the rich fruity alcohol of the dubbel or barley wine style, with overriding hop notes of a grassy IPA floating along on top.  So I was in absolute heaven, and very happy to make off with an extra sample at the end of the night.  (Thanks Alessio).

Other notable brews included:

BIA ("Birra Italiana Artiginale")  IPA.  A big drinking IPA with an aromatic metallic nose and deep spicy body (watch out for the huge chunks of yeast though).

Birrificio's smoky but light Porter, "L'Olmaia".  Huge natural carbonation gave it very fine sparkle, which cut through the bold flavours.  Almost black in appearance, the highly roasted malts produced an intense smoky, earthy nose and rich palate like drinking a log fire.

And finally the Amber Shock was also a noteably rich fruity number which tickled my tastebuds, but I failed to note more than that, being quite late of the evening at time of drinking.

And so ends my whistlestop tour of Europe (without actually leaving London).  I hope your tastebuds are whetted, and when next on the continent you'll scour the bars and shelves for a flash of the rare, a hint of the interesting.  They're clearly hard to find, but like most of the best things when travelling, well worth the effort.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

European Beer #3 - Focus: Switzerland

OK, the title of this blog is definitely misleading.  Essentially it's an homage to a very passionate (well, he is Italian) brewer called Lorenzo, founder of the Bad Attitude brewery in Switzerland, close to the Italian border.  I've never had any other Swiss beers.  But please indulge me and read on.

Examples of bad attitude's funky designs

The first Bad Attitude beer I tasted was the "Two Penny" stout.  Being a Beer Bloggers Conference, we had a session called "speed blogging".  The idea being that each brewer had 5 minutes during which to pour your beer and explain about the beer / brewery or answer questions.  The blogger had 5 minutes to taste, make notes, take photos and post a blog.  Speed drinking was probably a more apt name, as those who gamely tried soon discovered it simply wasn't possible to drink, enjoy and communicate the enjoyment of a good beer in less than 5 minutes.

Despite some other good beers in the session, Bad Attitude's "Two Penny" won out as the firm favourite of the afternoon.  Lorenzo is a great fan of England and takes a lot of inspiration from our beers, this 8.15% Porter clearly demonstrates that (especially the Union Jack on the cap!)   The Two Penny had a smokey, chocolately nose, with the addition of a smooth, rich, alcohol warming on the follow through.  Not packing the devlish punch it should at that ABV, just luciously sweet and mellow.  Dangerous stuff!!!

Alas I was too slow to grab a sample of both the other beers Lorenzo bought, but I did managed to get my hands on the last "Hobo IPA" (below) which I've enjoyed tonight.

The Hobo IPA is a rich chestnut 5.95% IPA.  The English inspiration in this beer is evident.  Not the light grassy notes you get in some more American style beers, but a more traditional English gruff feel to the bitterness.  A metallic, almost herbal, nose is followed by a smooth palette that converts back to that original metallic note after swallowing.  A bold and punchy IPA, I thought this was just great.

I must seek out some more Swiss beers, to do the country justice (and because the examples above probably bear a heavy Italian influence).  But I also hope sometime to pay a visit to Bad Attitude brewery because as my first Swiss beer, it will always have a special place in my heart.  And I think Lorenzo has a pair of wellies waiting with my name on them?  Yes?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

European Beer #2 - Focus: Sweden

I learnt two things about Sweden at the weekend. 1: Their government appears to have taken inspiration for their alcohol policy from George Orwell's 1984.  2: this hasn't deterred them in the slightest.  Despite strict controls over what beers can be imported, and a relatively recent lifting on the ban of production of strong beers, Sweden has as many beer bloggers as any other country in continental Europe.

It was also the county with the strongest representation (UK excluded) at the European Beer Bloggers Conference.  Below: 2 Swedish brewers with their wares

Top Swedish pick of the night is a close call between the Sigtuna Summer IPA - a really bold IPA at 7%, with overriding Grapefruit notes - proud and punchy, just how I like them....

...and Oppigards' Amarillo (named after the hops).  This beer was both sweet and mellow, but still fresh tasting, with great drinkability.
The theory goes (courtesy of Darren Packman) that the explosion in diversity from some of the continental countries is down to the blank canvas they had to work with.  In countries dominated by a particular style or tradition it can be harder to make an impression with craft beer.  Whereas Sweden almost had a vaccum effect, such that breweries just materialised out of the ether to fill a void.  This has allowed them to be experimental and push the boundaries, because there are no preconceived ideas to battle against.  Certainly if you are ever in Sweden, I would recommend you to check out the beer aisle of the bottle shops, as there are many more treats in store. 

Thanks to all who made the tasting on Saturday possible.

Monday, 23 May 2011

European Beer #1 - Focus: France

At the weekend Fuggles was lucky enough to make it to the inaugural European Beer Bloggers conference, hosted at various locations in London.  A beer lover's paradise, this predictably consisted of learning more about beer, and blogging, and several "practical" sessions.

Left: A light practical session on Friday night.

One of my highlights of the conference was being enlightened to the existence of the craft beer culture in Europe.  With less bloggers in continental Europe put together than the UK, and the craft exports from these countries still small, I was previously ignorant to the variety and quality out there.  I know alot more now, including the fact that I definitely want to plan a trip to see Lorenzo at his Bad Attitude brewery in Switzerland (more on that in another post).

We all know some great Belgian beers, some interesting Czech and German ones.  But experimentation without traditional boundaries is actually rife throughout the continent.  This is a fact that we should all embrace and explore.

The observant amongst you will spot that the title of this blog is slightly spurious, as the French-focused part of this post is purely photographic.  Shame on me, but unfortunately, the French beers were consumed when I had another beer in my other hand and (you may also note by the wobbliness of the photos) they were not exactly my first beers of the day.  If you ever recognise these beers from the photos they are all worth a try.

I definitely wanted to feature France in this series, as these bottles were kindly selected by and transported in the suitcase of one of the conference participants.  Not sponsored or funded by any brewery or company, Michael just brought them along to share the experience.  To me, that was the embodiment of the passion for beer that made the weekend so much fun.  Thank you Mr Ironside.

No notes, but I do remember this last one was a particularly fabulous example of the Rodenbach style.  A wonderful sour finish to it, really astringent, but very pleasant with it.  As Rodenbach appears to be the marmite of the beer world, this may not be your cup of tea.  But if you like your flavours strong and interesting, defnitely worth a try.

Still to come in the European Beer series: Italy, Switzerland and Sweden (more editorial on those).