Friday, 13 March 2015

Bières Sans Frontières at large in Milan, a preview

     One of the beery highlights for many of GBBF volunteers who work on the Bières Sans Frontières
bar is the annual planning meeting. Over the years we have graced such varied venues as The Melborn in Bradford, Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Bernard Brewery in Humpolec, Brugs Beertje in Bruges and many more in between. As the specialist International Beer Bar we think it responsible to travel to the Countries that we get our beers from, so far we've managed Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and The Czech Republic as well as regular meetings in England & Scotland, so this year we're off to Italy.

     Long in the planning stages our intrepid Italian volunteers have put together a program to whet the lips of any serious beer lover. According to Thrillist Italy ranks as the 10th best brewing Nation, and few could deny that the rise up the ranks is well deserved. A glance through guida alle birre d'italia and you'll find an astonishing number of Breweries that have sprung up in the past ten years or so. No longer do you have to settle for standard euro pils when you have such choice before you.
 Luca Giaccone, one of the Curatori of the guide, has been a regular of the BSF Bar and his knowledge of the Italian Beer scene is unparalleled, together with the inimitable Lorenzo Dabove, Allesandro Meroni, Anna Borrelli, Barbara Boero and other volunteers they have  ensured that we are set for a first class weekend.

     Our Italian odyssey begins in Milan where our intrepid organisers will attempt to herd cats, or rather shepherd BSF volunteers who will have traveled from USA, The Netherlands, Sweden, UK and Italy to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of Italian Craft Beer.
     We start with a Friday evening visit to Birrificio Lambrate for a Brewery tour with Giampaolo Sangiorgi then drinks at the BrewPub before heading across the City to Antonio Maiorano's Lambiczoon. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting The Sherwood Pub in Nicorvo will certainly look forward to visiting this bar.

     Of course the main purpose of our trip is to review last years BSF @ GBBF and see where improvements can be made and whether we have new markets to explore as more Breweries contact us wishing to get their beers into GBBF. We are thrilled to have been invited to host our meeting at Birrificio Italiano in Como where head brewer and founder Agostino Arioli will lead a tasting of some special beers.
So looking forward to this as Tipopils is one of my favourite beers. We have regularly featured Birrificio Italiano on the BSF Bar.

     Following our meeting and refreshment we will hit the road to Carate Brianza to visit Birrificio Menaresta, a return visit for me, to sample some beers partner and founder Marco Rubelli. On my last visit we joined the team for lunch at a cafe around the corner. Not your average cafe though as I noticed a well stocked beer fridge just inside the door which even had Westvleteren in. But the biggest surprise was seeing a Hand Pump on the counter with a  beer from Moor on offer, apparently Justin was due to arrive the next day.

     A further journey will take us to Monza and Birra Del Carrobiolo where head brewer and founder Pietro Fontana will host our final visit of the day.

     It's a tough job, planning for a Beer Festival, and we are happy to take on the onerous task so that you can enjoy GBBF 2015

     Our thanks go to the Breweries and Bars for opening their doors to us, we are really looking forward to our visit and we will do our best to ensure that Italian Craft Beer gets even wider recognition.


Friday, 20 December 2013

Golden Pints 2013

Another excellent year for beer, and particularly enjoyed my increased exposure to Italian Beers. I expect we will see a lot more Italian Beer in the next couple of years, they have many passionate Brewers who are not just aping American Brewers.
Best UK cask beer:
Summer Wine Calico Jack Imperial Caribean Ginger Stout, so good it should have been illegal
Best UK keg beer:
Meantime Friesian Pilsner
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:
Yorkshire Dales Garsdale Smokebox
Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Birrificio Italiano Tipopils, but strictly speaking it wasn’t an overseas beer when I was drinking it in Rome
Best Overseas Bottle/can Beer:
Sierra Nevada Torpedo, I’m not that exercised about ticker beer, I want something I can get regularly
Best Overall Beer:
Fullers Vintage Ale 2005, sublime at present
Best Pumpclip or Label:
Red Willow
Best UK Brewery:
Kernel but it’s not really fair to single out a single brewery when we have over 1000, my go to beers have been Taylors, Kirkstall, Fullers, Red Willow, Magic Rock, Marble and the local Old Spot
Best Overseas Brewery:
Birrificio Menaresta these guys are doing some excellent stuff, just ask Justin
Pub/Bar of the Year:
North Bar, by a short head
Independent Retailer of the Year:
No idea
Online Retailer of the Year:
Don’t buy on line
Best Beer Blog or Website:
Tandleman, Boak & Bailey & Zythophile are the only ones I visit regularly
Best Beer Festival:
GBBF still the best, also enjoyed Leeds International Beer Festival and Fermentazione
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer:
Don’t twit
Best collaboration brew:
Adnams / Pretty Things Jack D’Or (does that count?)
Best New Brewery Opening 2013:
Time will tell.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013:
Tapped Leeds
Best city for beer in the UK:
London, sadly
Supermarket of the Year:
Best Beer App:
Craft Beer London
Best Beer Book or Magazine:
Too many are just lists of beers so it goes to Stephen & Tim for the Pocket Beer Book 2014

Monday, 21 October 2013

Italian Beer Oddysey. Part 3 Milan

Arriving in Milan we already had a couple of places to hit, the recently opened Baladin and the long established Birrificio Lambrate, there was also the promise of a couple of Brewery visits and the highly anticipated pilgrimage to Sherwood Pub.

Having already sampled the delights of Open Baladin in Rome we knew that a short trip on the Metro and a five minute walk would be the perfect end to our first day in Milan. When we arrived we were somewhat dismayed to see that every table had a reserved notice on it, not a good start. But, as if by magic, first one sign then another were removed as the staff realised that it looked rather silly to have a half empty bar with people looking for somewhere to sit.
I opted for a Nazionale to accompany a tasty Chicken Burger whilst Louise opted for an Isaac to go with her salad. Excellent food and excellent beer, we sampled a few more including Leon, Elixir and Nora.
Service was attentive and friendly, and by the time we left the place was full. Leo certainly knows what he's doing.

The next day we caught an early train to Lecco to be met by Allesandro, one of the many Italian BSF volunteer staff, who had promised to show us a little of where he lived and take us to a couple of local Breweries. After a coffee and visit to a local cheese shop we were heading off to Birrificio Rurale to meet Lorenzo, the brewer, and to sample a couple of beers. As with the brewers we met at the Beer Festival in Rome we found Lorenzo to be a passionate advocate of Italian Beer, insisting that copying a style of beer without putting your own twist on it to make it Italian was not something he wished to do. As an example we sampled Seta and Seta Special, essentially the same Belgian Style Wit Bier but with the Special having Bergamot to give it a distinctive twist.

long way from home
Time to move on to Birrificio Menaresta and a few more beers to sample. Unlike Rurale where Lorenzo was working on his own most of the time there were a few more staff in evidence and a nice little bar to entertain guests. Marco, the brewer, was a generous host trying to get us to sample as many of his beers as possible in as short a time as possible. It was approaching lunch time, hence the rush. Needless to say the beers were excellent, and despite the contradictory name 'Hoppy Double Kolsch' I rather enjoyed that one. But in Italy everything stops for lunch and we were invited to join everyone as they walked round the corner and into the local restaurant. The first thing I noticed on entering, apart from it being full, was the well stocked beer fridge which even had Westvleteren in it. The next was a rather incongruous hand pump, what was that doing here? It turned out that Marco and Justin are friends, and Justin would be visiting the next day.
Following a leisurely lunch we headed back to Milan thoroughly exhausted by our whirlwind tour and needing a rest before heading out in the evening.

Call it serendipity, but again I had managed to book a Hotel in walking distance of a Brewpub, Lambrate was about ten minutes walk away and the newer Lambrate on Via Golgi, which we were assured served good food, was another five minutes away. Sorted.
The Brewpub was heaving and it took a while to get served, one of the first Italian beers that I remember having at GBBF some years back was Ghisa and I was looking forward to sampling it again, delicious. We decide to move on to the new place but found that to be equally heaving and some local Radio show being broadcast from there. All tables reserved, not a chance of a seat, so it was a good job it was warm outside. Also a good job we weren't particularly hungry, and after sampling three or four beers we decided to call it a day.

On Saturday The Sherwood Pub beckoned, first we had to get a train to Novara where we would be met by Nino who showed us around this beautiful City before taking us to a new bar that had opened recently. There we met up with a couple that I had previously met in Braustelle a few years back. It was part of the plan to ensure we got back to Milan that night! The bar was simple and looked more like a transport cafe, but it's early days and the beer was good.

The Sherwood Pub is in the small village of Nicorvo, there's not a lot else there, it's small and out of the way and why anyone would open a beer bar there is probably beyond most peoples understanding, but Nino did and it's wonderful.
The pub is a converted barn and on entering you notice the array of taps on the bar, the murals on the walls and the generally welcoming atmosphere. Beer appeared as if by magic. A fine Gran Cru Bruscella 2006? was carefully brought down from the special store to whet our appetites, this was followed by more beer and plates of Antipasti and the best Pizza I've ever had, and more beer. A visit to Nino's cellars left me drooling, so much fine beer. For desert a Birramisù, coffee then a bottle of Xyauyù was produced and it was a fitting final beer of the evening. Happy and contented we were taken back to Novara to catch to train back to Milan, a truly wonderful evening and one we won't forget.

 So that's it, three Cities in Italy which have great beer and great pubs. And there's to be another bar in Milan as Nino is opening one soon in his home City.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Italian Beer Odyssey. Part 2 Florence

Advance research told us that there would be good beer to be found in Florence, and yet again chance would have it that Mostodolce was almost on our doorstep. A bustling Brewpub with a good range of their own beers and some rather good pizzas which you could see being made behind the bar. Rebe, their version of a Belgian Witbier was particularly welcome after a day visiting the sites.

The walls are covered with the doodles of the patrons, don't know whether this ended up on the wall.

Being within walking distance of our Hotel it was hard to make the effort after climbing up to the top of Giotto's tower and Florence Cathedral but one must make the effort. It was whilst crossing over the Ponte Alle Grazie that I realised that we were close to The Beer House Club, hidden away from the tourist hordes it was a quiet lunchtime oasis with what appeared to be a good selection of beers.

Almond 22 had already impressed me at the Beer Festival in Rome so it was a no brainer to have for a lunchtime drink before heading back for more Italian Renaissance Art.

I felt a need to return in the evening and arrived to find it rather lacking in customers, maybe it was the threatened karaoke that put people off? Anyway I was there for the beer and decided to go for the 5 beer sample. The samples turned out to be full half pints, not begrudgingly small 3 or 4 oz samples. Chatting to the owner I was encouraged to try Bruton, Ducato, and Fabio's own beers Maledetto Toscana. Fabio had previously worked at Mostodolce but felt the need to make his own way with his own bar, and it's a good job he did.

I was soon joined at the bar by an engaging gent from Sweden who turned out to be the owner of Box Whisky who insisted that Fabio and I sampled some of his Whisky. Needless to say we then started sampling many beers from the fine selection at BHC and the evening passed all to quickly. When it came to settle up at the end of the evening all thoughts of what had been consumed were ignored, a good time had been had by all.

No doubt there will be more bars opening in Florence before too long judging by the popularity of Mostodolce. There is the demand and it would be nice to see BHC as busy as that one day. BHC has the better choice of beer and is cetainly worth seeking out.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Italian Beer Odyssey. Part 1 Rome

A recent holiday in Italy turned into more of a beer journey that I'd expected. I already had plans to meet Italian friends who are regulars at GBBF but as the holiday got closer things started to fall into place in a most fortunate way.
We spent our first four days in Rome, a great beer destination.
We were staying in Trastevere, the old part of Rome and in walking distance of Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa' run by the enthusiastic Manuele Colonna.
The Football Pub, as it is widely known, is, according to RB, one of the best beer bars in the world. Maybe an exaggeration, but certainly a tremendous experience.  It is also one of the handful of bars chosen by Cantillon to host Zwanze day, and, as luck would have it, I would be there. 20 litres sold in under 20 minutes and the crowd went wild. As for the beer, well I won't be sorry that it was a one off, Cantillon do much better.
But it was the Italian beers I was interested in and they didn't disappoint, starting with the ever reliable Tipopils from Birrificio Italiano there were also beers from Ducato, Loverbeer, Rurale and more. Not a bad beer amongst them all.
On Saturday, whilst admiring a Carravagio in one of the many Churches, I got a text inviting us to visit Eataly to meet up with Luca Giaccone, Editor of the Italian Beer Guide, and Leonardo Di Vincenzo, of Birra Del Borgo, for lunch. Grabbing a Taxi we headed for Eataly and were blown away by this Foodie Heaven, we wandered round before heading to the Lift and bumped into Leo who was with Teo Musso, of Baladin. The two of them, along with Sam Calagione, are partners in various ventures including Birreria, the on site Brewery.
Eataly is definitely a place worth visiting, but make sure you have plenty of money as it would be all too easy to get carried away shopping for food and beer.

Another happy coincidence was that Rome would be hosting a Beer Festival, Fermentazioni, and yes I didn't know this was on when I booked A small Festival run by some very enthusiastic volunteers it was a pleasurable way to spend the one day that it rained during our holiday. Meeting up with Leo & Luca beforehand at Open Baladin we headed off to the Festival, right next to the Football Stadium.
We spent the hours chatting to various brewers and organisers about the Festival, the Italian Beer Scene, their approach to brewing and the difficulties they faced. We came away with a sense that Italy is forging it's own path, it has taken inspiration from Northern Europe and from The USA, but they want to put their own stamp on the beers they make rather than copy what happens elsewhere. Yes, you'll find Double IPA's, Espresso Stouts and Hoppy Kolsch, but you'll also find Xyauyu, a beer like no other. I also got the feeling that we'd see more Italian beers at GBBF 2014, and I'll be eager to try them.

I can't leave Rome without mentioning the other great beer destinations;
Brasserie 4:20
Open Baladin
Mastro Titta
Bir & Fud

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Michael Jackson American Cask Ale Award

At GBBF 2000 it was decided that we now had a sufficient number of Cask Ales from America on the Bières Sans Frontières bar to run an informal competition. That first year the award went to Shipfitters Bitter from the Quincy Ships Brewery in Boston, that Brewery no longer exists but the Brewer is certainly one of the most respected in America, Tod Mott.
Over the years the number of beers that have been brought over has steadily increased and the competition has become eagerly anticipated, not just by those judging but by the Breweries that have sent their beer over.

Following Michael Jacksons death it was decided that the Award should be named in his honour, little did I know that that would take two years of negotiation with his Literary Agent and Executor to gain official permission. But permission was eventually granted and the Award took on an extra cachet for the American Brewers who held him in such high esteem.
This year the honour went to Marble Brewery of Albuquerque New Mexico for their stunning Double IPA, runners up were Smuttynose with Finest Kind IPA and Lowell Beer Works with Sour Red.
Earlier this year Marble Brewery Albuqurque and Marble Brewery Manchester participated in a bottle swap via BSF staff at The Bruges Beer Festival. Let's hope that winning this award will encourage them to visit GBBF next year and maybe make a trip to Manchester! I'm sure James will be only too happy to do a collaboration brew.

Smuttynose are no strangers to the competition having won on three separate occasions, a testament to the quality of their beers.
The Sour Red from Lowell Beer Works was an exceptional example of the Flemish Sour style that managed to fool more than a few into believing that they were drinking a Belgian Beer.
Congratulations to them all, let's hope we see many more Cask Ales from America next year on the Bières Sans Frontières Bar.

Friday, 17 August 2012

GBBF 2012. Part 1

I've just spent another 11 days in London for the Great British Beer Festival, this was the 17th straight year that I've worked there and all of it on Bières Sans Frontières. There was quite a contraction in size compared with last year as we adjusted for the impact of the Olympics and the lack of one of the Halls. For most of the volunteers this was a welcome return to the far more attractive Olympia with natural light flooding the building for most of the time. 
One day to go before we open
One radical change was the location of a few bars on the upper level, sadly it appears most visitors thought there was just a single green carpeted scaffolding staircase to the new area, shame they missed the doors around the sides but I guess that as they were closed and were Fire Doors there was an assumption that they were not accessible.
Every one a winner
There's always great anticipation over the arrival of the American beers, we've had our fair share of mishaps with the shipment, but thankfully when I checked it all we had only lost half a dozen bottles. More importantly every Cask was sound and showed no sign of leakage. Deliveries from The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Norway and Australia followed without a hitch.

Setting up the Festival in preparation for opening to the public regularly presents us with a few problems, like trying to put just short of sixty Casks into a space for twenty or 400+ cases of beer into a fridge with half the space taken by those casks that couldn't go on the stillage. But every year we manage, we have some dedicated volunteers who know what needs to be done.
My opening day started early with a spell of judging on CBOB, very enjoyable but I had to cut short my visit to the buffet that had been laid on to get back to my bar for opening time. The Annual race to the tables is an amusing diversion as the staff urge the visitors to put on a bit of a sprint. Before too long the cash was mounting up in the tills, a few sales to 'tickers' certainly helped. I do, however, wonder at the goings on in the head of the person who spent over £100 on beer and left it all behind, a case of more money than sense?
One of the sponsors of the mainly American 'Rest of the World' bottle bar was The Brewers Association, to whom many thanks for their assistance and, of course, the beer. Accompanying the new Brewers Association European Ambassador, yes we have to call Andreas 'Your Excellency', were Jack White and Bill Graham. Why do those those names ring a bell? Whites Stripes and Evangelism at GBBF? Actually founders of, respectively, Ballast Point and SkaBrewing. Also in attendance were Jamie Cook, not from The Arctic Monkeys but Stone & Wood Brewing in Australia, and Mike Murphy from Lervig Brewery in Norway. Naturally all these guys need to do serious QC on their beers to ensure they reached these shores in excellent condition. Luckily I can report all were very happy with their beers.
Trade Day was quieter than usual, probably down to a smaller number of Brewery Bars and the expense, many who would normally come down and send a night or two in London made day trips instead. Even the Brewery Bars that were in attendance seemed to have fewer representatives. However introductions and networking are all part of the day and I did my share arranging a visit to Fuller's for the overseas Brewers the next day to be shown round by John Keeling.

Apart from the beers I sampled during the CBOB judging I had two marked down as must try's for Trade Day. Both were in limited supply and both caused queues to form when the Firkins were available. Firstly it was Fuller's Brewers Reserve No4, aged in Armagnac Casks, another beer that is influenced by the Spirit rather than obliterated by it. I'm sure this will age rather nicely just as 1,2 & 3 are doing. This one I fear will be a little more expensive than the previous offerings, but we have definitely entered an age where we are increasingly willing to pay for special beers.
Secondly was Greene King 5X, a massive 12% beer that is the base for Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale (which I would dearly love to get my hands on again) aged for 24 months in massive Oak Tuns. Seeing the rather long line of eager punters I headed straight to John Bexon to get my taste of this special beer. It was simply stunning, rich dark caramelised fruits, Sherry, Liquorice and a touch of sourness. The queues for this beer must give cheer to GK, everyone who tried it thought it was wonderful.

One drink that almost lifted my skull was a tiny sample that Rich at Magic Rock insisted I try, he'd had some beer distilled at Herriot Watt to make a beer Schnapps. Well that certainly was hoppy! With more hops and added hops. Did I mention the hops? I think it may take a little more work on that project!

And before I continue with more on GBBF 2012 let's return to name the Brewer, this time I'll give a little hint.  He's a damn good brewer.

Which Brewer do you admire...?
Steve Wagner and Lee Chase
Favourite Brewery...?
Stone Brewing Co
Favourite overseas Brewery...?
What's the next big thing...?
My participation in the JD Wetherspoon International Real Ale Festival
If you weren't a brewer you'd be a...?
mayor of my home town. I was trying to do. But have never run the election.
Does consistency of flavour matter...?
I believe it’s very important to ales we’re making. But very hard to keep the consistency. It’s challenging every day.
Michael Jackson always denied that he had a favourite beer, but said if you asked him what        his final beer would be as he faced the firing squad it would be...?
Bitter, of course it’s REAL ALE.
And what would your final beer be...?
Stone IPA or Arrogant Bastard 
If it were possible, which Brewery/Brewer would you consider doing a collaboration beer with...?
Lee Chase, Jeff Bagby and me plus Mitch Steel & Steve Wagner
If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring Brewer it would be...?
I’d like them to have lots of experiences with looking at facilities at other breweries, tasting other beers and making collaboration beers with other brewers. 
And a few more personal questions;
What do you do to relax...?
Swimming in the ocean, biking from home to the brewery and running on the beach. Triathlon!
Favourite musicians...?
Spandau Ballet and Bob Dylan
TV, Cinema, Concert or Theatre...?
Akira Kurosawa’s movies
Favourite holiday destination...?
San Diego, CA