Tuesday, 13 October 2009

In which the British Guild of Beer Writers organise a bliss-up in a brewery

Beer seminar? Booze-up more like it, went the refrain when I mentioned down the pub that I was off to Thornbridge for a Barley Wine seminar, which I had organised on behalf of the British Guild of Beerwriters with the brewery. (Now, if I had said a wine discussion would there have been the same response? Probably not, but I’m getting a bit bored with the whole wine vs beer game these days). These seminars have a long (ish) and honourable history within the Guild going back to the early 1990s when ones on old ale, porter and — most memorably — IPA were held at the White Horse in Parsons Green (I reckon that the last one went some way to help foster an interest in IPAs amongst British brewers). So it was entirely fitting that the former landlord of the pub, Mark Dorber, opened up the proceedings yesterday. He was the advance of a thoroughly good line-up — Fuller’s John Keeling, White Shield’s Steve Wellington and Sierra Nevada’s Steve Grossman got their memory sticks out (well Steve used his memory), while shorter performances came from former Guild president and journalist Barrie Pepper, Durham Brewery’s Steve Gibbs, Lovibonds’ Jeff Rosenmeier and Pete Brown (We also had Mark, John and Thornbridge’s Kelly doing a barley wine and cheese tasting). And what happens at a barley wine seminar, you might ask if you’ve not been to one. A beer style or ingredient or phenomenon is discussed, dissected and highlighted (we’ve had yeast, wood-aged beer, lager and the Durden Beer Circle in the last 10 years) and then beer is drank (well the denizens of my local got that one right). Yesterday we had: St Austell’s Smugglers (one version aged in wood, the other not), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot in a whisky cask, plus 2004 and 2007’s versions, a 31 month old pin of Alliance, Moonraker, Golden Pride, Vintage 1999, Lovibonds Wheat Wine, Stingo, Benedictus, Headcracker, Barley Gold, and Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale. A hefty line-up of ales, all tempting the 50+ people present who had to wait until the half time break for a swig (and given some of the pot-valiants there I made sure there were only half pint glasses available).

Barley wine is a subject that deserves to be discussed, it’s not rocket fuel, it’s on a par with wine (though PB made an interesting point about one of the beers there — lovely beer but nut-job name, guess the beer?), while for me one of the great moments of the afternoon was when Steve Wellington, who confessed he’d been thinking about knocking Bass No 1 on the head, exclaimed that he didn’t really know that there was so much interest in the style. ‘Now I will have to go and brew some and it will be ready in a year,’ he said, which is the sort of reaction you need. As the weather gets colder beer drinkers like myself do want stronger beers, beers to sit and contemplate and sip — barley wine might sit on the shelf of shame in many pubs, if at all, (ie Gold Label, too fizzy and syrupy last time I tried), but it’s a beer that deserves to be considered more than just rocket fuel. As Pete Brown said (and I nicked for the title for the seminar): Barley Wine, the beer that thinks it’s a wine.
The smart looking chap in the pic (not the scuff sitting down) is James McCrorie, founder of the Craft Brewing Association (and Guild member); this was taken at the 2007 seminar on wood aged beers, while the one-legged man is chairman Tim Hampson.

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