Thursday, 25 July 2013

We're Hiring!

We have a vacancy coming up at our warehouse, located between Wetherby and York. It's a varied role, taking in everything that happens here.

For the wholesale side of the business (Beer Paradise), you will take and process customer orders by phone and email, advise them over any stock issues, inform them about new products, arrange deliveries, and make sure that our customers receive the high level of service we are proud to give them.

On the mail order side of the business ( you will be required to pick, pack and process customer orders accurately and quickly, deal with any issues that arise, delivering the fast and attentive service our customers are used to.

In-house, across both businesses you will get involved with stock control, managing goods in and out, keeping customers informed by newsletter and social media about what we're up to, and generally ensuring that everything runs smoothly. This means that sometimes you'll be Tweeting about beer, and at other times you'll be stacking or unstacking pallets in the warehouse.

It's likely that you'll occasionally make local deliveries, so a full driving licence is preferable. You might even have to provide the odd bit of cover at our shop, Beer-Ritz in Headingley, although this will be the exception rather than the rule.

In the first instance, please send a CV and covering email to zak (at)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

EBBC2013 - Live Beer Blogging

Badger Roaming Roy Dog 7.5% - "dark porter style ale" according to the brewery, complex malt, Galaxy and Bramling Cross. Big mouthfeel, warming, very characteristic Badger style, melony ester, bitter finish. Very fruity, not really a porter-style beer, a bit sweet and light bodied, perhaps too much fruit and not enough fruit [this should read "too much fruit and not enough chocolate"]. Bottled straight from the fermenter and recommended from keeping. It's OK, very Badger, good to see them pushing the envelope a bit

Traquair Jacobite Ale 8% - big on the heritage story, and rightly so - brewing since 1965, fermenting in unlined oak tuns, output of 1000hl per year (tiny). Like dark black tea in appearance, quite bright for an unfiltered beer.Sweet, big burst of spices on the palate, silky smooth, superb balance and length. Epic, needs to be rediscovered

Innis & Gunn Oloroso Cask 7.4% - be still my pounding heart, a beer aged in a sherry cask should be right up my calle. Sweet oak dominates the nose, and the palate. Perhaps thrown into the shade a little bit by the previous beer, this seems a little one-dimensional. Perceptive questions about provenance and process from my compatriot bloggers. The beer is "dry-oaked" rather than dry hopped. Smooth, easy to drink, a little tannic - not really my thing.

Toccalmatto Surfing Hop Double IPA 8.5% - wanted to create something new, with a bigger malt profile - Blegian malt profile, special B, and other speciality malts. Big dry hopping charge, really American technique. Copper brown, but really massive hop character - citrussy and slightly floral, big and sweet mid-palate, drying out nicely at the end. Hilarious disconnect between brown appearance and huge punchy hop character. Really a PHWOAR beer - appeals to the monkey part of my brain.

Inveralmond  Blackfriar 7% - described by head brewer Ken as a Scotch ale. Made with a double mash and "boil the bejaysus out of it", getting caramelisation through Maillard reactions (nice to hear this term, you know your your shit Ken). Pitch yeast at 20c, rises to 26c, producing lots of of fruity esters. Really sweet but not cloying on the palate, superbly enjoyable.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30th Anniversary Ale 11% - from a 40yr old first-fill sherry cask, and click on my face if yu can't tell the sherry character bursting out of the glass. Thick, gloopy, oozing onto my palate like Eartha Kitt shimmying out of an opium den. Chocolate, spice, sherry, and slight hint of funkiness. I cannot conceive of getting a better beer today.

Shepherd Neame Brilliant Ale 5.6% - part of a heritage range of beers trawled from the brewer's logs, the recipe for Brilliant Ale is based on an old recipe, augmented by an addition of new hops. Brilliant bright gold, classic Sheps character (the use of East Kent Goldings hops probably makes that) with a hint of fruitiness. Bears up amazingly well after the sexy shimmy of Ola Dubh, feels brilliantly clean and bright, refreshing. A hit!

WEST Brewery St Mungo 4.9% - "a lager somehwere in between a pils and a helles" say Ruth from WEST. Brilliant gold colour, slightly grainy nose, nice carbonation on the palate. Easy-drinking, slightly sweet on the palate, some dryness building in the finish. Nor very beer needs to be a symphony, but this is a decent opening movement.

Ilkley Brewery The Mayan 6.5% - "Ilkley is a spa town, so we have fantastic water" explains Luke. The Mayan is part of the Origins range, part of the specials range where they explore different styles of beer around the world. Chocolate chilli stout, majoring perhaps a bit too much on the chocolate flavour, with cocoa nibs and powder in the mash. Luke claims to have enjoyed a second pint of this - it's a good beer, but not one to session

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2013 - Keynote Address

Garrett Oliver has finally come of age. That's not my judgement - who am I to pass judgement on such a man? - he says it himself in the keynote address below. It's interesting to hear what he says about  becoming the brewer he wants to be, and how that resonates with the 10,000 hour rule pointed out by Boak and Bailey, and my general stab in the dark as to what craft brewing really means. Garrett sums up the c-word nicely in the talk, by the way.

He kicked off showing this video:

The talk picks up where the video leaves off. The quality is a bit shonky, sorry, but the content is worth listening to:

Online recording software >>

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Rise of The Cuckoo (Part 2)

OK, that last post upset a few people, and some other people enjoyed it. It's fair to say that it was pretty broad-brushed, made some sweeping generalisations, and made uncomfortable reading for at least a few people that I know personally. So in the interests of balance, a clarification.

I'm not a huge fan of Ricky Gervais, but during one of his misanthropic rants about the nature of fame and celebrity a few years ago, he made the point that "wanting to be famous" isn't actually a career aspiration. He made the point that when you see (for example) George Clooney on the red carpet, waving, it's as a by-product of his work. He didn't work to get famous, he worked to become an actor - the fame is a by-product of his work.

The current explosion of interest in beer has led to a lot of people getting into the business, by whatever route. Some see it as an exciting career opportunity, a way to make their hobby their job. Others see it as a way of riding the new trend and making some money while it lasts. Others want to be part of the party, and just see what happens as a result. And you know what? That's fine by me, I'm happy that beer generally is finally getting the exposure that it deserves.

And I was somewhat misplaced in my singling out of cuckoo brewers as the target of my irritation. What I realised last night, in a flash of lupulin-inspired clarity after a series of somewhat disappointing beers, is - pay attention to this now - owning a brewery is no guarantee of good beer.

There, I've said it.

And you know what else I'm going to say?

That's what craft beer is all about.

Brewing is a craft, something diligently learned, endlessly studied, repeated until the actions are second nature, in a way that belies the years of effort taken to acquire it. A profound understanding of the process and how to make it go right. Making beer is easy, but making great beer is hard. The glass of beer that satisfies in an exceptional and yet undefinable way, that's the papped photo of George Clooney (your icon may vary), chiselled and dapper, breathtakingly handsome, waving to his fans on the red carpet, a single perfect moment crystallised by years of craft.

There's more to it than that. of course. Cuckoo brewers might actually turn up, brew their own recipe, dig out the mash tun, and genuinely rent the down time on a plant to brew their own beer. Sometimes they might collaborate with a technically skilled brewer to make a beer to their that the skilled brewer wouldn't ever think of making. Sometimes, they might contract a brewery to make a beer to recipe, but not actually get involved beyond that. And sometimes, an entrepreneur might contract a beer in a particular style with no more input than asking for a modern hop-heavy IPA.

So yeah, maybe you have a point. Maybe I would rather drink a well-made cuckoo-brewed beer than a badly-made nouveau-craft car-crash-in-a-glass

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Rise of The Cuckoo - or - 2013 (What The Fuck Is Going On?)

This is written from the perspective of my day job - hell, my only job. For those of you who don't know, as well as the shop Beer-Ritz in Leeds, I also co-own and co-manage the wholesaler Beer Paradise.

Part of my job at the moment is saying no to people. Not customers, not drinkers, but producers. Brewery numbers in the UK have topped out around 1000, a high point in our lifetime, even for old gits like Zythophile.

Almost a year on from writing this and this about cuckoo/gypsy brewers, I find myself swamped, besieged, inundated by enquiries from people who have brewed (or are about to brew) beer, and wondering if I would be interested in helping with the distribution of it. Some of it is pretty damn solid, and none of it is actually bad. Some of it is still words on a piece of paper, or images in a thought bubble brought to life by the excited passion of the recently converted.

I'm torn. It started out about nine months ago, saying no to perfectly decent beer purely because we had our next couple of months' listings figured out ahead of time. Then the supply from our favourite breweries started to run short, overcome as they were by demand from the newly-converted drinker. It got ridiculous, with large scale breweries (some of whom I mentioned in this article as people who we had been buying from since year dot) unable to fulfill orders.

Couple to this the fall-off in consumption of more traditional British ales, and it doesn't take much for someone with (say) a 20 barrel plant to suddenly find that they have spare capacity, as the demand for their trad brown starts to wane. What better way of keeping things ticking over than to contract for some eager brand visionary with a sack of hops under one arm, and a sack of money under the other.

So it's good business sense all round. Capacity is filled, drinkers are satisfied, cuckoos sing happily. A new generation of gypsy brewers starts the journey with a single step, following the trail that has been blazed for them by Mikkel. Indeed, so revered is Mikkeller now that it doesn't seem to be a brand - it's a brewery, a person, a story being told in water, malt, hops and yeast.

So why is it all starting to leave me a bit cold? Is it the fact of being sold to before there's a product to buy? Is it that I somehow perceive cuckoo brewing as not being fully committed? Do I perhaps smell a rat in the sense that people are seeing a market to exploit, and creating products to do just that, as Ed points out elegantly in his recent post?

That can't be it, as I have visited breweries who make a virtue of producing commercially accessible, consistent beers with a cutting edge leaning - not very romantic, but solid, tasty beers nonetheless. I feel that's better than the scattergun approach of many breweries who are learning their trade in public, missing the mark they were setting out to hit, but selling the beer anyway.

To paraphrase the KLF: 2013 - What The Fuck Is Going On?

That picture of me was taken at Sharp's Brewery in 2009. I look much older now. Much older.