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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!



Just a short Christmas message, posted by timer as I neck beer in Spain with my gal and her family. Technology, son.

This year has been fucking huge. It started out with me working like crazy on Craft Beer: the 100 Best Breweries in the World and is ending now with me and most of the guys I worked with putting together another project in the same vein.

In between all this I kept up an admittedly and embarassingly slow trickle of work for RGCD, where I write about video games, put in a contribution to The Carouser (a London-based booze and tunes mag) and guested over on Bum Wine Bob’s blog, which was a lot of fun.



I also tried my best to keep up a decent pace on the beer blogging side of things, and I would like to thank all of you for reading my articles.

I really mean it. You’re all ace.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Looking Forward, Forwarder, and Back a Bit

It's been a month since I last blogged on here. It feels like longer, because I've been doing so much journalism-related stuff that actually blogging seems to have fallen by the wayside. Fear not, this page won't end up a ghost town populated only by automated comments about cheap Cialis for a good while yet.

I've been doing things! I promise.

I'm not sure how much of this I can talk about yet, so I'll keep it vague. I'm joining Chris Hall, Craig Heap and Matt Curtis (most of the team I worked with on Craft Beer: the 100 Best Breweries in the World) on a big project that is taking me to Sheffield tomorrow (well, technically today, but we're in the awkward small-hours) and other places in the UK later on, and drinking and writing are going to feature heavily on this and subsequent missions.

I'm really excited to have the band back together.

I can talk in greater detail about a plan of my own which is going to come to fruition in the New Year so I totally will.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Blaming John

I was expecting my next post to be a beer review, and not another opinion piece on the state of the industry. And trust me, I have a bottle of BrewDog U-Boat Porter in the tube with target range, speed and depth already plotted in. I’m ready to yell “fire tube one” at myself before drinking it any minute now, but first of all I would like to make a short post about today’s Beer Sexism scandal of JW Lees’ Brewery’s “Blame John” campaign.

In summary, the Twitter beerosphere blew up today over the Manchester brewer’s campaign to encourage people (and for “people” read “men”) to stay for one more pint on their Cask Mondays, giving these long-suffering henpecked pauvres a tidy source of excuses with which to defeat their rolling pin-wielding spouses via the “Blame John” service. This early-2000s style relic system will (or would, because it’s not clear if it’s since been nixed) send a text, for your usual network rates, from your “mate” that you can use as evidence when your wife gives you grief for coming home late and stinking of beer.



Sunday, 2 November 2014

There's a Beer For That: The Tightrope and Falls of Beer Advertising



Tonight, a £10m marketing campaign for beer- not a specific beer, just beer- came to fruition with a TV advert immediately following Downton Abbey on ITV1. This is a big deal. This is big money. This is the outcome of a lot of work by Britain’s Beer Alliance, a well-funded lobby for Big Beer.


This was pretty underwhelming, pretty much a whimper where a bang should have been. As my colleague Craig Heap has already pointed out it does look a lot like the current TV spots for McDonald’s, and is just generally quite unimpressive. But there’s a reason for this. This isn’t just ten million badly spent.

The deck in the UK is stacked against beer advertisers. Stacked heavily. The Advertising Standards Agency makes a point to say that the UK has some of the strictest alcohol advertising rulesin the world, and a year ago the folks behind the There’s a Beer For That campaign fell foul of these rules with their Let There Be Beer TV ad, which was withdrawn following a ruling by the ASA.

Take two has been a more (if you pardon the term) sober affair. There’s none of the exuberance and elation of the banned advert. Its tone and theme seems to be the rather bland sentiment “beer is nice” and yes, beer is nice. Beer is an (often) artfully created product, whose artisans manage to preserve centuries-old traditions while also striving for innovation and excellence. Beer is a product with scores upon scores of variations in style, with a storied history and a gulf of complexity that gets deeper and deeper with each purchase of an oddly-labelled bottle at your local bottle shop. Beer is fun to talk about, fun to compare with other beers, fun to mix with different foods. It’s fun to drink a few different beers in a night, not because you might get drunk but because it’s fun to challenge and entertain the palate.

Beer is more than nice, but it would be tough to get any of this into an advert without it being pulled from the TV.

Friday, 31 October 2014

West Indies Porter

Guinness

6%

I’ve been knocked back from writing this review a few times. Between flare-ups of my dust allergy, spilling a bunch of aftershave on myself and then feeling a bit gross post-flu jab my palate has been all to hell. Then I had a few technical hangups that I’ll go into later.

In hindsight I probably should have just said I hurt my hands cage fighting.

My head-holes all feel much better now and it’s time for the big one. Guinness West Indies Porter. The one I left ‘til last. A porter that comes in at 6%abv and promises a hoppy taste, brewed to a 200-plus year old recipe for an export-strength beer. The other week Guinness Dublin Porter put in a good performance. Now the Windies have the chance to dazzle.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Dublin Porter

Guinness

3.8%

A cigarette falls from a woman’s lips, her eyes wide in shock. Birds fly from the trees en masse, turning the sky black. Motorway traffic grinds to a halt as dazed commuters abandon their cars. A cat is bored.

Yes, friends. Guinness have released two new beers and I am just as surprised as you.

The brewing powerhouse, with fiercely brand-loyal followers (many of whom drink the black stuff and only the black stuff) has rolled out a pair of new brews even though it really doesn’t have to because Guinness Draught is so popular it’s probably being exported on the down-low to other planets. Credit where it’s due, then.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pigeons, Money and Comics.

Hi all

First off, there's not much beer in this blog post, although at the end I'll be posting a teaser of what I'm going to be drinking for you in the next few days.

I've mentioned my girlfriend Emma Friel on here quite a few times. For those of you who don't know her she's a freelance illustrator and animator, and draws/writes a webcomic called Crumbs.



She's set up a crowdfunding page to raise money to help her fund her work on this webcomic, and I'm here to shake the tin a bit.

Emma's using a site called Patreon, which is a site that allows people to be patrons of any kind of creative person- photographers, musicians, artists and even beer writers use Patreon to help fund their craft.

Patreon doesn't seem to have made as much of a splash in the UK as it has in the States, and since UK readers are my second largest demographic I thought I'd quickly explain what Patreon is.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

GFA: Gluten & Wheat Free Ale

Hambleton Ales

4.8%

Coeliac disease affects between 1/100 and 1/170 people worldwide (cheers, Wikipedia). Wheat allergy isn’t as widespread but I bet none of these numbers are any consolation if you have either of these and can’t find beer you can drink without feeling unwell. Beer is awesome and anything stopping people getting their hands on it is automatically my enemy. With that, I picked up a bottle of Hambleton Ales’ GFA and prepared for battle.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

DNA New World IPA


Dogfish Head/Wells’

4.5%


“Let’s put these two things in a jar then shake it and make them fight!"

Or maybe make them do The Other Thing. You know what I’m on about.

Yeah you do.



Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pistonhead Kustom Lager (and Journalistic Corruption)

I'm glad I'm a beer writer.

Recently the world of video game journalism has been publicly and embarassingly ripped apart by the Gamergate scandal, which is basically a load of angry nerds abusing video game writers and developers (many of whom are those dangerous vagina-owners that you see sashaying around like they own the place) because a female game developer crushed her ex's feelings with her whole "having a sex life" deal.

The crux of it is "journalistic integrity" and this idea that video game journalism is somehow riddled with corruption . It also gives a lot of angry poindexters an excuse to call women cunts in public and get applauded for it.

I want to ensure that my beer writer credentials are clean and shiny in case we get Beergate, so here's a review I wrote for Rum and Reviews, published a year ago today, of a beer which I got FOR FREE from a brewery.

I know, right? I'm a total suckfish. Brutal Brewery gave me a promotional four pack of Pistonhead Kustom Lager so you SHOULDN'T READ THIS REVIEW.

Don't read this review on your phone.

Don't read this review on your laptop.

Don't read this review while real journalists are going into warzones protected only by a flak jacket and the word PRESS daubed on it big and white and clear to report on the worst crimes and greatest sacrifices of mankind.

Here's a beer review from a corrupt bastard. Don't believe a word that comes out of my whore mouth.


***

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mongozo Coconut

Mongozo Beers

3.6%

For months now my girlfriend Emma has been on at me to review Mongozo Coconut, one of her favourite beers and also (brace for romanticism) one of the first beers (outside of our now legendary one-night completion of the bottle and can list our local Wetherspoon’s) I shared with her. So here it is, typed the beer hack as he caved to the pressure of an incessant Glaswegian. Mongozo Coconut.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Shipyard Brewing Co Fuggles IPA

Shipyard Brewing Co

5.8%  

All things come to an end. Except The Simpsons, man’s inhumanity to man and the fact that aviator shades are the coolest thing on the planet. Maine-based Shipyard Brewing’s Fuggles IPA is none of these and has been discontinued which, for some reason, has led to the bargain beer shops of the UK being flooded with it.

Your correspondent’s local branches of Aldi, B&M Bargains and Home Bargains have all stocked it recently. Obnoxious divorce lawyers cost a lot of money so until I can pull a dying old rich guy from a car crash and get into his will you’ll have to put up with me cracking the occasional bottle of very cheap beer in the names of journalism and not defaulting on the mortgage.




Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference London Porter

Shepherd Neame

5.0%

Nights are getting longer. Cold mornings are setting in. We have sacrificed slave upon slave to the sun god but to no avail, because Autumn is swaggering our way, swinging a big bag of pumpkins and dry leaves. The cold is coming and it’s time to drink porter.

I’ve always held a soft spot for the beers supermarkets contract out to relatively small breweries. They’re always a middle ground price-wise, and often a middle ground in terms of quality, between the heavy hitters of the craftosphere and the Desperation Beers that only become palatable when the bank balance hits the minuses. Plus Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference London Porter has a bird on the label, and when you’re dating a lady who is obsessed with them you start buying bird things almost subconsciously.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Beer and Loafing in Cardiff



“Cardiff’s biggest lapdancing club!” the promo girl shouts excitedly at me. Craig Heap is capering like a feral child raised by chimps that were raised by wolves a couple of feet behind me, trying to fight with all of Wales at the same time.

“He’s not fit for anything” I tell her, and she suddenly looks weirded out and pushes a business card into my hand almost apologetically.

This is Craig Heap’s Gonzo Stag Do. It’s about 8:00 at night and Craig is less of a man and more of a wild, pissed beast.

It’s not hard to see why.

***

“There’s something in your pocket. What’s in your pocket? What’s in your pocket?”

It’s 4:00 in the morning and I’ve got my arms spread like Christ the Redeemer in the security area of Newcastle International Airport. My carrying of two smartphones and a video camera (who even owns a video camera these days?) must have raised an eyebrow with the doormen of domestic and international air travel because I’ve just had the most intimate frisking of my life, before my new boyfriend’s busy hands brushed the boarding pass in my pocket and he got all intense. The fact that I’m dressed like a gang of acid casualties were asked to design an outfit for a journalist probably didn’t help my case. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has a lot to answer for.

I shamble into the airport’s Eagle Bar and acquire a Guinness and a corner seat. A child instantly begins to scream and doesn’t stop. I read a Fortean Times article about vampire burials and become acutely aware that today is going to be a massacre. I finish my Guinness and neck a Leffe as I watch some planes take off to the backdrop of a breaking dawn. Drinking in airports feels weird.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Tommy IPA

Head in a Hat Brewery

4.2%



Thomas Atkins was the placeholder name used in British Army manuals when, on this day a century ago, an Australian coastal artillery battery fired the opening shot of the British Empire’s involvement in the First World War. Four years later the Atkins boys were dead in their thousands and the world was changed utterly.

Naming a beer for them is the least we can do.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Dead Crow Bourbon Flavoured Beer



“Take a letter, Ms Friel.”

Just under two weeks ago your correspondent took a spill in the bathroom and bust his right AC joint up bigstyle. As I dictate this introductory paragraph to my special lady, who is kindly acting as my secretary and helping me live out all kinds of misogynstic fantasies, my shoulder is still dislocated and hurting a whole bunch, making typing almost impossible. Luckily I had this piece drafted from a few months back, when I “celebrated” 500 page views with this beer. As I’ve now passed 1,000 (and thank you all so much, by the way) here’s my review of Dead Crow Bourbon Flavoured- and I quote- “Beer”.

Yours Sincerely


Ruari O’Toole

Dictated but not signed

encs


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Colomba, Bière Blanche de Corse

Brasserie Pietra

5.0%

“J’accuse”, the shawled woman’s stare seems to say. The Corsican lady on the label of a bottle of Colomba has the most accusatory look I’ve ever seen on a beer bottle. It’s the “I know your secrets” look. The fixed eyes that whisper “you thought you were alone”.

It comes as a relief that the beer within the bottle is nothing as venomous as the Corsican gaze burning out from the label.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World




You know who your friends are when everything is turned upside down. More than that, you learn a lot about yourself.

Ominous words to introduce my plug for Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World, I know, but my experience of writing the German side of this bookazine (along with some of the rest-of-world pieces, and some other stuff I’ll get into) is entwined with personal upheaval.

In December of 2013 Chris Hall asked me to join the team working on  Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World, a publication for the now-defunct bookazine division of Future Publishing. Three days after I accepted the offer to join the squad my marriage fell apart.

It fucking sucked.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

American Pride IPA

Maxim Brewery

5.2%

There’s something undeniably special about a beer early in the day. A cold shot in the arm when you know that nothing you have planned for the remaining sunlight hours requires the use of heavy machinery, the practice of heart surgery, or even driving. Beer for breakfast is a good thing.

In moderation. Don’t be a dickhead.

It was with a cold pint of focus and clarity in mind I hit my local Wetherspoon’s for a jar of Maxim Brewery’s American Pride IPA. God damnit, just look at that pumpclip.



Sunday, 18 May 2014

Whitley Bay Rockliff RFC Beer Festival




The taxi taking me to the Whitley Bay Rockliff RFC Beer Festival crashed en route, killing me instantly. That's the only explanation I have for rolling through the doors of the venerable rugby club only to hear that the price of beer tokens had been slashed to one single British pound.

A quid a half. Two pounds for a pint. The afterlife is a cheap place to drink.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Black Tongue Double Black IPA


Signature Brew

8.3%




Beer and heavy metal are tough to pry apart from each other. You don’t expect to smell the lingering aroma of champagne when you go to a little subterranean sweatbox to watch a gang of hairy folks hammering out ungodly riffs to a sea of horn-throwing metalheads.

Iron Maiden were the first metal band (to your correspondent’s knowledge) to roll out a signature beer (via Robinson’s brewery, and it’s rather good) and Mastodon have now joined them in the business of headbanger fuel, joining up with Signature Brew to unleash Black Tongue Double Black IPA on the unsuspecting world.



From the “kssssh” of the cap’s release a miasma of chocolate and roast vanilla scents is immediately spawned in the air above the open neck of the 330ml bottle. A gluggy, claggy oil-pour leads to a quite lively, eventually thinning, rough and bubbly beige head atop a dirty, black body. The colour of Black Tongue isn’t the ruddy, bloody black of a stout such as Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish, but the filthy brown-upon-black of a miner’s boot after a shift.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Finish

Innis & Gunn

7.4%




Innis & Gunn are veritable powerhouses of the barrel-ageing game, and with the hilarity of their recent April Fool’s Day prank (wooden bottles indeed! Not that I believed them or anything) clogging up the internet I somehow missed the fact they had released a Scottish stout aged in Irish whiskey barrels.

Luckily the supermarket staff had CPR training, but still I was dead for ten minutes and saw nothing.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Professor Green's Remedy Pale Ale

Signature Brew

4.5% 



Good beer isn't something you'd associate with hip-hop. Champagne and cognac seem to be more that genre's speed, and you'd be forgiven a quizzical head-tilt at the news that British rapper Professor Green has a beer out bearing his name.

Signature Brew's selling point is brewing beers with the collaboration of musicians, and the good Professor's beer was the first of these I noticed on the scene, over a year ago. With a confession of my remission and tardiness to the party, I cracked a bottle and prepared to get all thugged out.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The 38th Newcastle upon Tyne Beer and Cider Festival


“Beers over 6% will be served in thirds”

I imagined my glass falling from my hand in cinematic slow motion, shattering into a million thirsty pieces as a crowd of list-ticking CAMRA diehards all turned on me, fingers extended, yelling “a drunkard is in our midst!”

I’ve seen few signs as upsetting as this.

“A third of Fat Ape IPA” I coughed out to the barman, wanting to die on the spot.

“I’ve given you a half” he replied, filling my glass with a cheeky smile.

Thank fuck for that.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Melville's Strawberry Craft Lager

Melville’s Strawberry Craft Lager

Innis & Gunn

4.1%
abv



“Melville’s. Finally a fruit beer for people who like great beer.”

The label spiel on a bottle of Melville’s throws down the glove to the beer critic, and appears to set the scene for a dramatic fall. Then the label announces that this beer comes from the Innis and Gunn brewery and the beer critic foresees the phrase “fair play” in his near future.

Melville’s pours a rampantly carbonated dusky red-pink, with hordes of bubbles clinging to the walls of the glass. The head simmers down quickly to a minimal ring around the circumference and a paltry few islands of bubbles.



The nose is obviously strawberries, and lots of them. At first the scent seems skewed towards the bitter end of the spectrum before a further inhale sees the sweetness present itself.

The first taste is fruitier than expected, the notes of hops are well concealed behind the rows of rich strawberries and really only show themselves in the aftertaste. Even then it’s a spectral presence.

All the other components of this lager are almost completely eclipsed by the rich (and richer by the taste) hit of strawberries, and the texture is smooth and a little thick, edging towards chewiness with the sticky taste of the natural sugar bulking up the mouthfeel nicely. The taste of strawberries remains all the way to the bottom of the glass, and it is only with the final aftertaste that it even begins to feel like a lager beer.

Melville’s is a great fruity lager- refreshing, simple and at an abv that makes it easily sessioned on a summer day without ending up in the back of a police car yelling about fruit and partially dressed.

It really is a fruit beer for people who like great beer, and fair play to it.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Newcastle Seasonal Beers Double Bill




Spring is here! It's that weird time of the year when it's almost okay to wear sunglasses unironically, and the weather's not quite bad enough to make suicide a viable breakfast option any more, but there's still a few more weeks before the local meatheads are walking to the social club shirtless with creatine-drowned abandon.

It's a good time of the year to look at Newcastle Summer Ale and Newcastle Winter IPA, as we find ourselves just leaving one season and hoping that the other comes really, really early because we have a great gas barbecue we want to fire up.

Ahem.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sixpoint Bengali Tiger IPA

Sixpoint Brewery

6.4% abv


“Wetherspoon’s sells canned craft beer from a fridge”

Say it out loud around a dedicated CAMRA member who wears socks with his sandals and just watch the sparks fly and the eyes swivel.

JD Wetherspoon has made a big deal of their launch of a range of canned craft beers from New York City brewery Sixpoint. It’s all over their free magazine and comes hand in hand with a two for a fiver offer on other craft beers (Goose Island IPA and BrewDog Punk IPA among them) and I could honestly not think of anything more likely to get a real ale purist furious than this article’s opening sentence.

Fond as I am of introducing felines to pigeons, I’ve hunted out this particular big cat with a vengeance.

Relaunch!

For years this blog, which I cybersquatted shortly after university in case another journalism graduate with exactly the same name as me wanted an unoriginally titled website, served only as a dumping ground for links to my online work for various Newcastle newspapers.

Time makes fools of us all, and those links are all dead now, which sounds really dramatic but has a bit more gravitas and finality than “they all just redirect to the Evening Chronicle homepage”.

Might as well spruce this place up and put it to some use, then!

I’ll mainly be putting my beer writing here. I spent a couple of years writing for Rum and Reviews, which is a great site with some talented writers, but it’s on hiatus now as we all run after freelance stuff, fight crime, herd cats and play Mario Kart.

You can probably expect at least one beer review to appear here each week.

I’m not going to make any promises further than that, except that reading my blog reverses the aging process, makes receding hairlines regrow ten times thicker, and may cause side effects of laser vision and the ability to stop a moving train with your fist.

Speak soon.

Ruari.