How I came to have 51 different beers in the house

P1030223A bit of panic started to set in last week, well maybe panic is a bit of a strong word. I was a little worried. I only had 13 beers in the house to keep the challenge going. ‘Oh no’ I hear you say (well, probably not). In reality this was only 7 beers, as 6 of them are from Beerbods and I am only allowed to drink one of those every week (their rules, not mine). Seeing as at least half of the beers that I will be drinking in this challenge will be bottled beer, seven beers is not going to last me very long. So how was I to go about getting some more? I could have gone to the local shop or supermarket to easily pick some off the shelves, mostly big brand beers that I can get anywhere. But I wanted beers that were new and interesting, beers that I have never seen or heard of before. Although supermarkets and shops have a few of these, I needed to widen the search. What I really needed was a Beer shop, like a wine shop but selling mainly beer (just in case you need an explanation). However, there does not seem to be a beer shop close to here that sells beers from around the UK. The closest one is in Birmingham (Cotteridge Wines, an hour and a half drive) and although I am dedicated to this challenge, I am not dedicated enough to travel to Birmingham for some beer.  In the last two months of internet searches and twitter following I have come across a great many breweries in the UK. Some sell their beer online, others do not. Most of the ones, if not all, that do sell online, tend to sell beers in crates of 12 with only three or four types of their beer, or they sell gift packs with only three bottles. Both good ways to try new beer, but not good for the 365 challenge. Internet searches and twitter following have also led me to a few websites that sell beer by the case. Like Best of British Beer who sell handpicked cases of british beer or provide a service where you can sign up to a beer club and receive up to 12 cases of beer a year. But these cases are pot luck and I would worry about getting beers that I have already tried, especially further into the year. Eventually I found two websites Beer Hawk and Ales By Mail on which I could buy individual bottles of any beer I wanted in order to make up a case of 12 or 24 beers. I was very excited at the prospect of trying some new beers and went through both websites making a list of all the beers that I wanted. Then, last week, just before I was going to order these beers, I had to go on a two day training course on learning how to use the new robot at work (sounds exciting doesn’t it, using a robot at work). As luck would have it, this training course was just outside Birmingham. P1020879I could go on the training and at the end of the day visit the beer shop. An excellent idea! No need to order beers on the internet, I could go in person and choose from a massive selection (according to the website, over 850 beers from around the world). I was very excited. The day came and I journeyed from the place of the training to the shop. The shop was great, smaller than I expected but a lot of beers to choose from around the UK and the rest of the world. They even had some of the beers that I had listed from the two websites. I am not sure that there were 850 ales but there was alot. It took me 45 minutes to choose the beers that I wanted and even then I could have been there longer. After a good chat with the owners about beer, they were friendly and helpful, I went home with 26 beers, a beer glass and a big smile on my face.

P1030215But the story does not end there. We were off to York for the weekend to see this beautiful city that we had heard so much about. Maybe there or close by they would have a beer shop. So with another piece of luck, an internet search found a beer shop, Trembling Madness, right in the centre of York. Amazing! The shop was smaller than the Birmingham one but had a lot of beers from Yorkshire, the UK and the rest of the world. Again I was in the shop for about 30 minutes (thank goodness Conchi is so patient with me and this challenge) choosing 12 new beers.

So thanks to a lucky robot training course in Birmingham and a nice trip to York with Conchi, that I partially hijacked for the 365 challenge, I am now the proud owner of 51 bottles of beer. Hopefully these beers should last me until June. We’ll see.

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Beer for the Year Winter Pub Crawl 2013

Friday night saw the inaugural Beer for the Year pub crawl around Oxford. What better way, apart from a beer festival, to try a few different ales. The organisation of the pub crawl started three weeks ago with a Doodle poll to find a night that everybody could attend. I love Doodle. Doodle is a quick and easy way to set up a  poll to organise a meeting or a night out when multiple people are involved. You create a poll, email the poll link to everyone and they fill out the days and times that are good for them. For the Beer for the Year Pub Crawl Doodle poll, Friday 15th February came out as the favourite night. The route was planned meticulously right down to the times we needed to be at each pub. Some would call me OCD for this, I would call it great planning. The timings were also there so that people knew where to join us if they were running late. I like to look after everyone. There was even a quiz for people to do with questions on each pub visited. Here is the route that we followed and the times we were supposed to be in each pub.

Beerfortheyear-Pub-Crawl-Map

Time in Pub          Name of Pub

6:30 pm                      The Royal Blenheim

7:10 pm                      The Crown

7:50 pm                      The Chequers

8:35 pm                       The Turf Tavern

9:20 pm                      The Kings Arms

10:05 pm                   Lamb and Flag

Answers to quiz highlighted in the text

The night started off well with just four of us (me, Conchi, Carol and Andy) in the first pub, The Royal Blenheim. There is always plenty of beers to choose from in this pub, they have 9 ale hand pumps and one ale on draught. We all had a different beer, Village Idiot and Wayland Smithy by White Horse, Titanic Stout by Titanic and Cosmic by Black Hole brewery. Mine was the Cosmic. At the allotted time, or just after as we were already running a little late, we moved onto The Crown (named so in 1625). Here we were joined by everyone else (Dave and Rebbeca, Rob, Claire, Mili and Anish). The choice of ales here was less than the Blenheim but there were still 6 ales on hand pumps. I went with the golden ale, Ossian by Inveralmond brewery. Again it was time to move on to the next pub, The Chequers. We arrived here at about 8:05 pm. Like The Crown, The Chequers is a Nicholson’s pub. There was plenty of choice on the 9 ale hand pumps, including Brakespear’s Bitter and Gold, Nicholson’s Pale Ale (brewed by St Austell) and Jaipur by Thornbridge (5.9 % golden ale). With the ales and lager and cider drunk, we left for the next pub, The Turf Tavern at about 8:55 pm. Did you know The Turf used to be called The Spotted Cow until 1847! With a choice of 11 ales on hand pumps, it was a difficult beer decision. They even had one of my favourite beers, Triple Chocoholic by Saltaire. I decided that I would have a new ale (to increase the beer count), Dionysus by Milton, and tell everyone else that Triple Chocoholic was amazing and that they should get it, then I could taste a bit of everyone else’s. I think it was even better from the pump than the bottle I had. Everybody was happy, drinking well and were still going strong. We were only running 20 minutes later than scheduled when we left The Turf for The Kings Arms. Two interesting facts about The Kings Arms, it is owned by Wadham College and if you put the name of the brewery that runs The Kings Arms, Youngs, on a scrabble board, you make 10 points. Here I had the most expensive pint I have ever had (from a choice of 12 ales, 10 ales on hand pumps), London Pale Ale by Meantime Brewery. It was good, it was nice and smooth for a Pale Ale, it came in a cool glass, it was £5! After this revelation (I had to ask the barman just in case he overcharged me for my pint and Conchi’s half pint. He hadn’t), it was onto the final pub of the evening, the Lamb and Flag. The Lamb and Flag are also owned by a college, St Johns, and have their own beer, Lamb and Flag Gold which is brewed for them by Palmers. Everybody got their final drink in for the evening and 5 minutes later final orders were called. Phew! So in the end, I think that the night went very well and was enjoyed by all. We ended up only 30 minutes behind schedule, which I don’t think is bad for moving 10 people around 5 different pubs. Everyone had been drinking a mix of beer, lager and cider in each different pub and everyone made it round all the pubs (apart from the first one). One last matter has to be decided, who won the quiz. Well that honour goes to Conchi with 10 points out of 11 (Uh oh, let the accusations fly!!). Rob was second with 9 points. Carol and Andy next with 8 points. Claire was last with 4. I think that Anish and Mili got 5 points but Anish lost the quiz sheet. Muppet! (the first question I left out as not everyone was in The Royal Blenheim)

Possibly a premature Top 5 Beer list

I didn’t really expect to produce a top 5 beer list so early on in the challenge. In fact, I had no intention to make this list for some time. I was going to wait until a bit further down the line until I had say, 100 beers-150 beers under my belt. But an opportunity arose for me to have my Top 5 beers posted on a website. I replied to a Tweet to have it put on the Cask Marque website. How exciting?! For me, very! (you can check it out by following the link) I don’t think that I have ever done a top 5 beer list before, mainly because I don’t have a very good memory and tend to forget most of the beers that I have drunk. A few have stuck in my memory, like the local beers that I have tasted on frequent occasions, but not enough have stuck in my head to make an informed top 5 beer list, until now. I thought that now I have tried 60 different beers this year, I could have a stab at a list. So here is my top 5 at the moment, in no particular order.

Top-5-Beers-2

1. Abingdon Bridge from Loose Cannon Brewery

2. Triple chocoholic from Saltaire Brewery

3. Harvest Pale from Castle Rock

4. Conqueror from Windsor and Eton Brewery

5. Caesar Augustus from Williams Bros Brewery

I think there is quite a variety here. A dark brown ale from Loose Cannon, a smooth, chocolatey stout from Saltaire, a blond, pale ale from Castle Rock, a hoppy, black IPA from Windsor and Eton and a peachy, hoppy lager/IPA hybrid from Williams Bros. I mentioned before that this is my top 5 beer list ‘at the moment’ because who knows what amazing beer or two or three or more could be waiting for me around the corner. Maybe in two or three months time I will have a few new beers in the top 5, or maybe a completely new top 5.  There is still a long way to go with the challenge (304 more beers) and anything could happen.

Post about Spanish Beer

I have some British, American and Australian readers of my blog. I am hoping that I will also get some interest from Spanish readers. With this in mind, I thought that I would write a post in Spanish for them.

*This is the English translation of the Spanish post, posted on the same day*

Really, this challenge started in Spain at the beginning of the year. My first beer of the year was in a small village outside of Jaen, El Carpio. On our way back from Jerez with Conchi’s family, we stopped for New Year’s Day lunch where I had a typical Spanish beer, Amstel! Later on in the day we met up with Conchis friends at Panaciete for beers and tapas. Here I had my second beer, Cruzcampo. Cruzcampo is an andalucian beer that was made for the first time in Seville in 1904 but now it is also made in Jaen and other cities. I do like Cruzcampo and I think it is one of my favourite Spanish lagers. At Christmas in Jaen, I had Cruzcampo de navidad. This one was even nicer, being stronger and slightly darker.

CruzcampoMahou-ClasicaThe next day (2nd January), we had to travel back to the UK via Madrid. We had lunch in Madrid, close to the Atocha train station, at a place called El Brillante, a place that is famous for their bocadillos de calamares (deep fried squid ring baguettes that are a Madrid specialty). Lunch was accompanied by a glass of the local beer, Mahou Clasica, or as I like to pronounce it Ma-who! I quite like Mahou too. But I suppose that you can’t go too wrong with a nice cold glass of lager.

The next three beers that I drank back in the UK were also Spanish beers, San Miguel, San Miguel 1516 and Ambar Tres Maltas.  So the first six beers of the challenge were all Spanish. It was a very Spanish start to the 365 beer challenge!

Alhambra AlcazarI will get an opportunity to sample more Spanish beers soon. Our next trip to Spain is in March for 9 days. Unfortunately, I know that my beer choices will be limited in Jaen. That’s not to say that I don’t like Spanish beer, as you can see from above, I do. But the choices of beer in the bars are nowhere near as extensive as your English establishment. The bars in and around Jaen are normally Cruzcampo only places. When I will be drinking at Conchi’s parent’s house, I know that I will be able to try Alcazar and Alhambra. Alcazar is a beer that is made in Jaen but was bought by Cruzcampo sometime ago. The distinctive green cans have a picture of Jaen castle. Alhambra is the local beer from Granada.

So I have a challenge to put to the Spanish people that I know, friends and family of me and Conchi. Can you find some good, new beers for me to try? It can be any kind of beer, as long as I have not tried it before. Bonus points available if you find a Spanish ale. Good luck.

Post sobre la cerveza española

Yo tengo lectores ingleses, estadounidenses y australianos. También espero que lectores españoles lean mi blog. Con esto en mente, pensé en escribir un post en español para ellos.

Realmente este desafío sobre la cerveza empezó en España al comienzo del año. Mi primera cerveza del año fue en un pequeño pueblo cerca de Córdoba, El Carpio. A la vuelta de Jerez con la familia de Conchi, paramos para almorzar el día de Año Nuevo, donde me tome una cerveza típica española, Amstel!!! Jejeje. Más tarde quedamos con los amigos de Conchi en Panaceíta para tomar cervezas y tapas. Aquí me tome mi segunda cerveza, Cruzcampo. Cruzcampo es una cerveza típica andaluza, fue elaborada por primera vez en Sevilla, en 1904 pero ahora también se elabora en Jaén, entre otros sitios. Me gusta Cruzcampo. Yo pienso que es una de mis cervezas españolas favoritas. En Navidad en Jaén, tome Cruzcampo de navidad. Estaba más buena, más fuerte y un poco más oscura.

Cruzcampo Mahou-ClasicaAl día siguiente (2 de Enero), teníamos que volver al Reino Unido desde Madrid. Comimos en Madrid, muy cerca de la estación de Atocha, en un lugar llamado El Brillante, un lugar que es famos0 por la especialidad de Madrid, bocadillos de calamares. Estaban muy ricos. Con la comida, me tome una caña de la cerveza local, Mahou Clásica. Una cerveza que me gusta pronunciar, Ma-who!

Las próximas tres cervezas que bebí  a la vuelta al Reino Unido también fueron cervezas españolas, San Miguel, San Miguel 1516 y Ambar Export Tres Maltas.  Entonces, las primeras seis cervezas del desafío fueron todas españolas. ¡Un comienzo muy español del desafío de las 365 cervezas!

Alhambra AlcazarTendré oportunidad de probar más cervezas españolas pronto. Nuestro próximo viaje a España es en Marzo nueve días. Desgraciadamente, yo sé que mi selección de cervezas en Jaén será limitada. No es decir que no me guste la cerveza española, puedes ver que me gusta. Pero, la selección de cerveza en los bares no es tan extensa como en un pub inglés. Los bares en y alrededor de Jaén normalmente son lugares con solo Cruzcampo. Cuando yo beba en la casa de los padres de Conchi, yo sé que podre intentar las cervezas Alcázar y Alhambra. Alcázar es una cerveza que se hace en Jaén, pero fue comprada por Cruzcampo hace tiempo. El distintivo de las latas tiene una foto del Castillo de Santa Catalina. Alhambra es la cerveza local de Granada.

Entonces, yo tengo un desafío sobre la cerveza para la gente española que conozco, los amigos y la familia de Conchi y yo. ¿Podéis encontrar unas cervezas buenas y nuevas para que yo las pruebe? Puede ser cualquier tipo de cerveza, con tal de que no la haya probado antes. Puntos extra si encontráis una ale española. Buena suerte.

Calorie counting with beers

Should taking on the 365 beer challenge come with a health warning? Should I be concerned about my weight during the next year of beer drinking? My friend and colleague at work (and my partner, Conchi) seem to think so. In an important Skype message to me the other morning at work (easily more important than any other work related chemical calculations), Daniel pointed out to me, in a quick ‘on the back of a beer mat’ type calculation, how many calories that I may have drunk in January. He then went on to further say what this could mean for my weight gain over the the rest of the year. Although, I would like to point out that, being a man, I am allowed to take in up to 2500 kcal in a day to maintain my weight, so having a beer as part of my daily allowance means I should not put on extra weight. Well, maybe, perhaps! Here is the calculation that he performed:

beerscale

‘Did you know a bottle of Hobgoblin is 156 kcals. So let’s say you drank 43 bottles of beer, some half pints and some pints were probably drunk, I know, but on average 43 x 156 kCal is 6700kcal extra in January, almost equivalent to 2kg of fat!! Eek! That means by the end of “Beer for the Year” your weight will go from 13 stone to 16 and a half wobbly stones!!!!’

Now, depending on which website you look at you will find different calorific values for different beers. Even if you look up the same beer on two different websites you will get different calorific values. For example, if you look at Sharp’s Doom Bar in a bottle at ratebeer.com, the beer contains 128 kcals but if you look at drinkaware.co.uk then for the same bottle with the same ABV the beer contains 205 kcal. Quite a difference in the amount of calories. Incidentally, the drinkaware unit calculator has quite a few ales to choose from in their dropdown box, about 70 different ones! You should check it out. For his calculation Daniel used ratebeer.com which could be a lot lower than the real amount. However, taking into account that I had various different beer strengths and varying amounts in January (as Daniel mentions above), from half pints to bottles to pints, I think that the 156kcal is a good average to take for any future calculations.

Whatever the exact calorie content of each beer, this does bring up an interesting point about how many calories will be consumed whilst drinking 365 beers during “Beer for the Year” (56,940 kcal in total, if you do the calculation based on 156 kcal!!). I would love to keep my muscular, svelte physique (ha ha) and not end up looking like Homer simpson. So presumably in order to do this I need to cut down on the eating of chocolate and biscuits and desserts and do some exercise and eat fruit and vegetables (cutting down on the beer would defeat the object of doing a 365 beer challenge). When I started this challenge, I really did not think that it would come to something as drastic as exercise and fruit!

Beer number fifty is thrifty

Whenever we go to Tescos for the bi-weekly food shop, I inevitably visit the best aisle that they have, the beer aisle (the biscuit and chocolate aisles coming a close second!). There are actually two aisles for beer. One has lagers from the UK and around the world (they have a pretty good selection of world lagers and beers) and the other aisle is the one I always frequent, the ale (beer) aisle. They always have a good choice of many different beers from around the UK, both local and  further afield. ????????????On this particular occasion, a couple of weeks ago whilst perusing the beer aisle for a few ales, but deciding that because there was no offer on the beers (they can be 3 for £5) I would not be buying any this week (phew!), I found this little gem for £1, Harvest Pale from Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham. I do like this beer, alot. I have had it before in both bottled form and on draught. I can see why it won CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain 2010. This beer had a really nice pale golden yellow colour and a full white head, even when poured out of a bottle. The taste is very fresh with a hoppy, floral, citrus flavour. Overall it is very light and has a well balanced and refreshing after taste. I could easily drink a few of these in one sitting but unfortunately not at the moment, unless I want to drink a lot more beers than the 365 target. I was pretty happy to find this wonderful beer at such a low price. And even better, I could try it as beer number 50.

First month done: big tick

Last day of the first month of the Beer for the Year 365 challenge today. It has been a pretty good month. Including the beer that I will have later courtesy of BeerBods, Stringers Dry Stout, I will have had 43 different beers in January, 12 beers ahead of a beer a day. As a Scientist, I know that my fellow Scientists, particularly the Biologists, love statistics. So I thought for this post I would prepare and show some stats for the last month.

Number of new beers tasted: 25/43         58%

Number of beers tasted before: 18/43     42%

Most number of beers in one night:          5

Number of lagers: 10/43                               23%

Challenge progress: 43/365                        12%

Favourite new beer: Saltaire’s Triple Chocoholic

Favourite old beer: Youngs Winter Warmer and Abingdon Bridge

Reflecting on the last month of beer and the availability of beers, I really cannot see that there will be a problem getting hold of and trying 365 different beers (well, another 322). There are plenty to be had at local shops and supermarkets or in local pubs. A weekend away to another place in the UK or abroad will give plenty of opportunity to try beers from other places. Then there is the Beer festivals, the holy grail of getting to meet new beers. An article I was reading the other day said that there were around 1000 regular breweries in the UK serving around 5000 different kinds of beer.  That is a lot of beer. So with that in mind I cannot imagine where I could go wrong!

Rich beer pickings

Beer festivals, the favourite friend, the indispensable companion, the partner in crime, the brilliant ally, the undisputed best mate of 365 beer challenges. You get the point. Where better to sample many different kinds of beer, all in one place, to help increase the beer count in the 365 beer challenge. The first beer festival of 2013 (the first of many, I hope) was attended by myself and Conchi on Friday night. The festival in question was the Winter/Dark Ale Festival at the Turf Tavern. The choice was good, 12 porters, stouts, milds and dark ales to choose from. Now, I am not really keen on dark ales, at least not the real dark ones like porters and stouts but I thought I would give them a go (my friends Carol and Andy would be proud, my parents? not so much). I am partial to a good mild though and this festival had a few. Thanks to rule 6 (the rules I made up for this challenge), I was able to try five beers without producing a hangover on Saturday morning i.e. by having 1/2 pints! I get a hangover fairly easy these days and 5 pints would definitely push me over the edge.

Minotaur DSC06621 Lurcher DSC06623 DSC06626

Favourite beer of the night: Lurcher: I know, a stout! But it was a bit fruity,  a bit chocolaty, well-balanced with hoppy flavour and nice and smooth.

Best Mild of the night: Burton Bridge Mild: Very nice flavour, nice and mild, not too bitter, slight taste of chocolate.

After this first proper foray into the world of dark beers, maybe I am coming round to the thought of sampling and drinking a few more of them. Maybe the next time that I am at a beer festival, I may be more easily persuaded to try a bit more of the dark stuff (Carol and Andy make a note of this info). There is no doubt that a few more beer festivals will be visited this year. I will be frequently keeping an eye on the Oxford CAMRA festival diary for the next one that I can attend.

Seven beer weekender

I may not have known whether I had a new beer on Sunday (Abingdon Bridge or Cumbrian XB? probably Bridge but I don’t want to admit it, I am in denial), but the weekend was not a total whiteout. Get it, all that snow! I managed to try seven new beers and lagers. Woohoo! Friday night saw a Northern beer from Tadcaster, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, and a Greek beer called Thursday’s Red Ale. Thursday was the better one. Nut Brown ale was, well, too nutty! Made to taste of beech nuts, almonds and walnuts, according to the tasting notes, with a rich nutty colour. Thursday was a bit like a red lager and was more refreshing than the Nutty Ale. Saturday night saw a trip to Oxford in the Snow starting with a visit to The Bear. I do like this place but it is always busy. And why is it that the tallest people always stand in the lowest ceiling part of the bar? So funny watching them with bent necks trying not to bang their heads. Being a Fuller’s pub, it was either a Fuller’s beer or Shotover’s Prospect or Scholar (these are the guest beers they usually have on). Fuller’s Jack Frost sounded good, so I opted for that (see the 1st cool photo?!). It was a good beer that had a toffee, tea and fruity berry taste that didn’t dominate the overall hoppy and bitterness flavour of the beer. Well, that’s what the tasting notes say. I say it was a good drinkable beer. Maybe I need to learn how to taste beer properly, use all the fancy tasting words that you see on the tasting notes. They must do courses for beer tasting, like wine tasting courses for wine (note to self: look for a beer tasting course).

Jack Frost      Mahou

After this, the night continued and finished with a streak of Lagers, Spanish lagers, at Kazbar on the Cowley Road. Three different beers were drunk including Alhambra Negra, a rather good, dark beer, that is slightly malty, quite fresh and medium bodied, and Mahou (see 2nd cool photo?!) and Estrella, middle of the road Spanish lagers that don’t hold a candle to San Miguel 1516. I do like that lager beer. Have I said before how smooth it is? So, Sunday accepted, it was good beer weekend that increased the total beer count to 28, as you can see from the good photos (2nd note to self: take better photos of the hand pumps and the beers).