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It’s been a whirlwind few days. Just under a couple of weeks ago my colleagues at Good Beer Hunting Michael Kiser and Hillary Schuster joined me in London where we ran a series of events and fit in a lot of travelling to boot. We hosted a two-day symposium at the Beavertown Extravaganza, packing in two keynote speeches and 10 seminars. We also hosted just over 100 folks at the first ever Uppers & Downers London with our friends at Brew by Numbers, incorporating collaboration beers from 8 brewers and 8 coffee roasters. These were simultaneously the most exhausting and most rewarding experiences of my professional career to date. 

While we weren’t hosting events we travelled to Herefordshire and spent a couple of days learning about cider with Tom Oliver. We also hit Leeds and Manchester on a whistle-stop tour of the north, taking in plenty of beer spots including Northern Monk, Magic Rock and Cloudwater. Of course I made sure to show them some of my favourite London spots too, hopefully leaving a lasting impression of my home city as they head back to Chicago. 

I’m very happy to announce today that I’ve taken the position of Good Beer Hunting’s UK Editor. This means that as well as producing more content for GBH myself in the form of both writing and podcasts I’ll also be commissioning work from other great writers and photographers within the UK. In fact we’ve already commissioned James Beeson, who will be helping to support a UK version of our Sightlines industry news pieces. We’ll also be expanding our coverage to bring you more stories from within mainland Europe and the Republic of Ireland in addition to the UK, making GBH one of the most internationally focused sites in beer. 

In the two and a bit years I’ve worked for GBH our UK and European audience has grown much faster than we could’ve anticipated. A significant proportion of our Fervent Few community, who donate a monthly contribution to GBH via Patreon, is UK based – including two of our top tier subscribers: Fourpure Brewing and Cloudwater Brew Co. Thanks to the folks who’ve subscribed to GBH so far, you’re directly responsible for this expansion and my new position – beers on me when next we meet. 

This new responsibility doesn’t mean that I’m giving up freelancing – my relationship with GBH still works on a client/freelance basis meaning that I’m still free to work for other outlets. However it does mean that I’ll be investing a great deal more of my time in GBH. As a result of this I’ve decided to bring Total Ales to a close. It’s been a labour of love updating this blog for the last 5 and half years and it's taken me several months to finally rest on this decision but it feels like the effort spent keeping this site updated is now best invested back into Good Beer Hunting.

Being GBH's UK Editor means that I can make bolder calls on the content we choose to produce. It also means that I can pitch and publish almost everything I had planned for Total Ales but with added resources, including a shit-hot Editorial Director in the form of GBH’s Austin Ray but also great designers, photographers and more. It means I can carry on doing everything I was going to do anyway, but do it even better. 

Another added benefit of my position means that I can run more events under the Good Beer Hunting banner – and this means more perks for our UK based Fervent Few community, such as early access to events and discounts on tickets. As an example we opened up last weeks Uppers & Downers event an hour early for the Fervent Few. These perks are in addition to stuff like exclusive merchandise and access to our Slack powered message board, which is already home to over 200 like-minded beer fans and industry professionals. If you love the content GBH creates then please consider supporting us and helping us bring GBH to more people than ever before. 

You’ll still be able to find my regularly published articles in Ferment and on Hop Burns & Black and I’ll still be hosting regular events with the folks from The Duke’s Head along with the other bits and bobs that keep me going. I’ll also be keeping hold of the Total Ales URL and email address (the site will remain here for evermore, for posterity’s sake) but if you want to get in touch about anything then get me on matthew@goodbeerhunting.com - you can, of course, always find me lurking on twitter and instagram @totalcurtis

I still can’t believe that starting this little website led to me finding my dream job, it has been and will continue to be real folks. See you over on www.goodbeerhunting.com


 

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Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Dianne Tanner

For those of you that don't already know, my partner Dianne takes 35mm photographs in museums and turns them into beautiful handmade pouches. She gets the photos professionally printed onto fabric and then makes them by hand, here at our flat in North London. In the summer of 2015 I took a photograph of a hop bine growing wild outside Brouwerij Boon in Lembeek, Belgium and I suggested to Dianne it would look great on one of her pouches. A while later and here we are with a one-off run of 20 pieces that we've made available for sale today. 

Each Hop Pocket is 9" x 6" in diameter and suitable for use as a clutch, purse or just a carry-all pouch. The front is printed with hops and its finished with a simple black faux suedette reverse and a sturdy metal zip. It'll even fit a couple of 330ml/12oz beer cans with relative ease. It's an ideal gift for the hop-lover in your life that already thinks they have everything, or to show off your own deep love for humulus lupulus for all the world to see. We will stress that this is a strictly one off limited edition set of pieces, so don't hang around if you want to make one yours.

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Blog - TOTAL ALES by Matthew Curtis - 11M ago

Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

It's hard to put my finger on a single reason why I loved Chicago so much. Maybe it was the laid back, Midwestern charm intertwined with the breadth and depth of its sprawling metropolitan space. Perhaps it was the incredible diversity of its brewing scene and the inherent quality running throughout it in its entirety. Or maybe it was how easy and familiar both traversing its streets and railways and interacting with its people was. One thing's for certain and that's that I can't wait to go back. But before then I can look forward to telling you all about why its one of the best beer cities in the world. 

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Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

Sussex based brewery Burning Sky has revealed its decision to pull its beer from all of BrewDog’s 29 domestic and 17 international bars with immediate effect. Burning Sky founder and head brewer Mark Tranter has also revealed exclusively to Total Ales that his brewery will cease any other activity, such as meet the brewer events, with the Aberdeenshire based brewery. 

In an email sent to BrewDog last week, Tranter outlined his reasons behind making this decision. In the note he argues that the Scottish brewer, which owns the trademark for the word punk in relation to beer, is behaving in a manner that runs against the very ideology upon which the punk movement was founded.

“Historically they have been derogative towards the UK brewing scene - which we find insulting,” Tranter said, speaking to Total Ales about his decision. “They are choosing to define what is and isn't craft to suit themselves.”

Tranter, a self-identifying punk, echoes an opinion shared by the rest of the punk community. His decision follows the threat of legal action by BrewDog over the proposed opening of a bar in Leeds that was to be named “Draft Punk.” This threat followed a previous legal wrangling with a Birmingham based pub previously called Lone Wolf, which shared its moniker with the Scottish brewers new range of spirits. The bar shortened its name to The Wolf and went on to produce a limited edition gin with Brewdog called Wolf Pack. The irony that this new gin shares its name with an existing brand of lager seems to have escaped the beer community at large. 

"This devalues something that they have no claim over.    Punk was around before these guys were born."                 - Mark Tranter, Burning Sky

“On the subject of punk, this is the final straw for us,” Tranter says. “Whilst we understand that they are tying to protect a brand, their bully boy tactics over anyone using the word punk in line with bars or beer is tedious and their attempt to claim legal ownership of the word is bizarre and insulting. This devalues something that they have no claim over. Punk was around before these guys were born.”

Total Ales reached out to BrewDog for comment on the situation and the MD for its bars division, David McDowall responded with the following: 

“It’s sad to hear that Burning Sky has decided to stop supplying beer to BrewDog bars, as we have always championed the UK’s best craft breweries, and constantly strive to curate epic UK craft beer ranges for our bars. It’s a shame that our customers won't get the chance to enjoy their beers in our bars anymore, but we’ll be making space in our fridges for even more amazing beer from new, up and coming breweries from across the UK and beyond.”

BrewDog was once again in the spotlight this week after it lost a legal battle with the estate of Elvis Presley over the name of its beer Elvis Juice. 

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Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

Thanks to some generosity from Visit Flanders I was able to spend a long weekend in Brugge, Belgium earlier this year. I love Brugge dearly, especially the fact that I first visited 23 years ago when I was just 11 years old and can still easily trace my steps from the Minnewater to the Belfort in the town square with relative ease. Of course my favourite thing about Brugge is its incredible selection of eclectic cafés, from the legendary Brugs Beartje to the cosy confines of De Garre. 

My favourite of the lot though, is perhaps the charming Café Rose Red. It draws a slightly younger crowd than a few of the more traditional Brugge cafés and on this visit a group of would-be millennials were gathered at the bar enjoying a few bottles of Orval. It being the weekend of the Brugge Beer Festival there isn't an empty seat in the house but we do just about manage to squeeze ourselves in. I collect myself for a moment, admiring the red roses that hang from the ceiling from which the café takes its name before ordering a glass of Cantillon Mamouche and reinvesting my interest in the evening at hand. 

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Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Matthew Curtis & Dianne Tanner

For a while now I’ve used Google Keep to try and keep track of the myriad tasks, duties and commissions that make up my day-to-day existence. Amidst the colourful chaos are ideas for articles that for one reason or another never got written. The majority of these are very simple, photo driven travel stories. Now that I’m freelance I have to spend my time concentrating on producing the articles that bring home the bacon (a writer’s gotta earn that paper after all) but it’s a shame that so much of what I wanted to write about has been left by the wayside. 

With that in mind I’m going to produce a new section on Total Ales called In Retrospect. These articles will be little more than the places I visited, the beers I drank there and the photos I took along the way. This is the simple stuff that deserves just as much screen time as the more complex stuff. Looking at these stories retrospectively as opposed to currently may perhaps give them a slightly different perspective. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them down. Colorado, of course, seems like the natural place to start.

I’ve visited Colorado in September more times than I have any other month. For me it’s the perfect time to visit the Mountain State. You still get the lingeringly hot and clear days, permeated by cool, refreshing nights, which are ideal for hunkering down on the patio with a blanket and big imperial stout. You also get to see the first signs of autumn creeping in, the Aspen leaves turning golden and maybe even the first big snowfall of the season up in the foothills. 

September 2015’s visit started in much the way as any other trip to Colorado: steaks on the grill at my Dad’s place in Fort Collins, as we attempted to fight back the jetlag and keep ourselves awake into the late evening. A few Zwei Brewing Pilsners pulled from his kegerator and a large glass of Blanton’s Single Barrel Reserve consumed before hitting the sack ensure that we manage to carve out an adequate amount of sleep. 

Early one morning a few days into our trip my friend Jess, one of the many Coloradoans that have become close friends over the past few years, picked up myself and my partner Dianne and we headed south from Fort Collins to the town of Boulder. The drive takes around 40 minutes, stopping short of Denver’s urban sprawl, which juts out of the distant landscape in a way that’s almost alien to the mountains and plains that surround it. At this point in time Jess, who has since relocated to San Francisco, called Boulder home – and her aim today was to take me to a few of her favourite local breweries.

Boulder is similar in many ways to Colorado’s other Front Range towns but it certainly feels a little more well to do – there’s definitely some serious money here. Like Fort Collins it’s also a university town, with the students of the University of Colorado calling Boulder their home. It sits much closer to the Front Range than Fort Collins though, sidled amongst the pine trees that line the mesmeric Flat Irons, which jut out of the horizon like the giant stone horns of some long-buried creature. It also happens to be where the Brewers Association has its headquarters, which should be a pretty good indicator in itself that this is very much a beer town.

We begin our day with a drive up to the edge of the Flat Irons, passing underneath crystal clear sheets of Colorado blue sky as we drive into the foothills. Jess takes us to a viewing point so that we can take in a panoramic view of Boulder as well as the Flat Irons and the Rocky Mountain ranges that lie behind them. We snap a few photos before making our way back down to slightly more sensible altitudes and our second stop of the day, Twisted Pine Brewing Company

I was first introduced to Twisted Pine’s beers with a harsh bump: a bottle of its Ghost Face Killah chilli beer which I shared with an unsuspecting crowd at Brodie’s Bunny Basher beer festival at Leyton’s King William IV pub one Easter. Ghost Face Killah is brewed with six different varieties of chilli, including the potent naga or “ghost” pepper. The beer itself is pretty one-dimensional, it tastes like chilli peppers and if you keep drinking enough of it then your mouth really begins to burn. It scores nine out of one hundred on Ratebeer.

Despite this negative experience, Twisted Pine is still considered to be one of Boulder’s better breweries and so we sidled the car up to the brewery and made our way to the taproom. The inside is modern, clean and has more of a canteen vibe as opposed to feeling like an out and out bar. We sit down and our server comes to take our order. I don’t know what to try so I simply ask to try “one of everything,” which, a few moments later, is exactly what I end up with. 

As I sit facing the four flights in front of me, each containing six beers apiece, Jess informs us she won’t be joining us for a beer just yet. She’s driving after all, so this makes total sense. Then Dianne decides that as its only 12pm it’s too early for a beer, for her at least, so I’m left with 24 four-ounce pours to finish mostly by myself. This is the exact moment I feel out of love with the beer flight.

Ever since I got into craft beer, the beer flight had been a staple part of my experience. I have wanted to try as many beers as I could wherever I’ve been and it’s led me to discover plenty of favourites but actually at this moment in time all I really wanted was a nice pint of pale ale or perhaps a refreshing saison to help kick start the day. I had plenty of those in front of me, along with hefeweizens, IPAs, stouts and amongst the fray was yet another glass of Ghost Face Killah that I was going to have to contend with. 

There was however, one real standout from the various flights in front of me – La Petite Saison. It’s a beer that I’ve since returned to several times over. It’s a great Coloradoan riff on a classic Belgian Saison with notes of white pepper and banana buoyed by a sweet body before being scrubbed clean by the dry, bitter finish. I think I’d have been much happier if I’d just had a whole glass of that Saison all by itself, instead of it being lost amongst the multitude of other beers on that flight. 

Before we headed to our next brewery Dianne and Jess wanted to visit the home of Celestial Seasonings, an internationally distributed herbal tea manufacturer. So we went here, toured the factory and drank some tea. There’s not much more to tell than that, this isn’t Total Tea after all. After a short stop here we headed out towards the edge of town where we’d find our next destination, Avery Brewing Company.

Avery Brewing Company, founded by Adam Avery in 1993, is now the largest brewery to call Boulder its home. It’s also one of the largest breweries in the US and according to the Brewers Association it’s the 48th largest craft brewer in the country by sales volume. I’d already had the pleasure of visiting Avery at its original site a couple of times before. The first of these was in 2013, the week of GABF and boy did they have some special and vintage beers pouring that night - from what I can remember of it at least. I’ve said previously that Avery makes some of my favourite beers coming out of the US and there are few styles they haven’t successfully tried their hand at. Its barrel-ageing program is truly a spectacle to behold.

Avery’s original facility was in a low-key warehouse with a compact bar area and a smattering of outdoor seating. In fact the taproom’s environment was very similar to what you might find currently at a British brewery such as Beavertown or Cloudwater. The purpose of this visit however, was to check out Avery’s brand new purpose-built facility. Within moments of arriving at the new brewery the shift in vibe and the seriousness of this Colorado brewery’s intentions towards national growth was starkly obvious. It’s clear that Avery intends to not just maintain but also bolster its status within America’s beer industry. 

The angular, purpose built, brilliant white building projects out of the horizon to the point where it quickly takes your attention away from the breathtaking Rocky Mountain vista just behind it. Barrels full of steadily ageing beer can be seen through windows at the front of the building. To your left is a vast patio filled with revelers and street food vendors alike but to physically get there the layout of the building purposely takes you through the entirety of the building beforehand. 

Upon entering the front door you’re led upstairs and into an area that’s used specifically as a restaurant for more formal dining. It even offers the same 30-strong draught offering as the main bar downstairs. Before you can get that far though you enter the merchandise store where you can buy bottles, cans and t-shirts galore. You can also make your way onto an adjoining walkway and give yourself a self-guided tour through the upper half of the brewery. In taproom terms, this is the American dream personified. 

The three of us set ourselves at a table, order a few snacks to tide us over and then set about ordering four-ounce pours of whatever takes our fancy. Dianne is immediately besotted with every sour beer she tries and that shouldn’t be a surprise because Avery undoubtedly makes some of the best sour beer in the US. I calibrate my palate with a couple of classics, White Rascal and Avery IPA. White Rascal is a classic American wheat beer: crisp, refreshing with just a hint of drying spice. It’s an ideal beer to order when you’re confronted with an intimidating lineup of beers and prefer to take a moment while you decide what else you’d like to try. 

My palate now realigned, it’s time to carve my way into the big stuff. Raja double IPA was a delight, it’s the kind of mouth watering DIPA I crave–soft and juicy to start, cleansingly bitter to finish...

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Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

I sat down with my friends Claire Bullen and Chris Hall this weekend as we embarked on a new project together. Towards the end of the meeting were dissecting the subject of what were some of the UK's best beers. It was relatively simple to come up with a list of breweries who few would argue could be designated as "world class" but when we looked at that list, which featured both very traditional and ultra modern breweries, it really wasn't that long. It's reported by publications such as The Brewery Manual that the UK has over 1500 active breweries, but after processing our thoughts onto paper the breweries we truly could compete against the worlds best breweries on a global stage was less than 10% of that. Many folks, myself included, often muse that so many of the UK's breweries are criminally under covered but then maybe that's with good reason. Life's too short to celebrate the average, the satisfactory and the mediocre. 

We then condensed our list down not to determine which breweries were world class, but which beers from UK producers could be classed as "legendary". When thinking about legendary beers you might think at once of Russian River's Pliny the Elder, The Alchemist Heady Topper, Firestone Walker's Parabola Imperial Stout or perhaps even Westmalle Tripel, Augustiner Helles and the hyperbolic Westvleteren 12. There are plenty of British beers *I* think are legendary but I want to know which British beers you think could be rated as world class. I'm not asking for breweries here but rather specific beers. If there's a beer you'd like to nominate then head to the comments section below and let us here at Total Ales know.

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Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

I spent the end of February and the majority of March visiting family in New Zealand. It was my third trip and as such my motives were clear: I wanted to eat pies and drink beer from as many interesting breweries as I could. New Zealand gets pies like few other countries do. They make us Brits, with our Gregg's and our Percy Ingle's, look almost amateurish by comparison. The NZ steak and cheese pie is the culmination of this - soft, shortcrust pasty forming the walls and base, which is then filled with rich chunks of steak soaked in umami rich gravy that's mixed with sharp, gloopy melted cheese before being topped with a buttery, flakey pastry top. It's simple in its perfection to the point that I often woke up early on that trip already craving my next one. Along with the sharp, thirst-quenching NZ hopped pilsner that I'd use to wash it down, of course.  

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Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis

Marble Dobber is back. Join me at 7pm on Tuesday the 27th of June in the back of The Marble Arch for a tutored tasting of three beers including Dobber on keg and cask, a scotch egg and a chat about why Dobber is one of the most important beers in the development of modern British beer culture. This event is part of Manchester Beer Week

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When I arrived back from the US in July 2010, full of gusto and enthusiasm after tasting the beers that changed my world forever, I placed my first ever online beer order. Included among a selection of US beers from the likes of Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Flying Dog, which were far less ubiquitous back then, was a small selection of emergent British craft beers. These were Brewdog Punk IPA, Thornbridge Jaipur and Kipling and an intriguing bottle of beer called Dobber from a brewery in Manchester called Marble. 

In the game of Marbles your “Dobber” is the biggest marble in your collection. I had no idea about this at the time however, and as such saw the beers name as simply being quite whimsical. The stark green label and simple typeface were appealing to me and I found the fact that the beers style was listed nowhere on the label pleasing. It was a beer that needed no definition, it didn’t matter what it was, it was just a very good beer. There’s something very Mancunian about that, I think. 

So I became quite attached to this beer. When I finally visited its spiritual home The Marble Arch in 2013 I drank deep of Dobber on both cask and keg. Probably a little to deep in fact, especially considering that it was post a pretty lively session at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention. The hangover didn’t dent my resolve the next morning though. Dobber had cemented itself as one of my favourite beers of all time.

Then, last year, I found out via Twitter that it had been discontinued. I was a little upset that I might never get to drink this beer again but I was also impressed to see Marble and its then new Head Brewer James Kemp looking to the future with beers such its hop-forward Metal Series. However, for some reason I decided to start poking fun at the brewery about it on Twitter. Over the past couple of years I’d got to know the folks at Marble quite well and I began to take advantage of this by moaning about them discontinuing one of my favourite beers whenever the opportunity arose. 

It wasn’t just me that picked up on this though and soon others were also asking Marble why this pioneering beer had been culled from the taps. Eventually, the dam broke and the folks at Marble told me that if I wanted Dobber I’d have to come to Manchester and brew it myself. So that’s exactly what I did. Sort of.

Last week I headed up to Manchester with my friends and colleagues from The Duke’s Head in Highgate and, with the help of James Kemp (lets be honest James did most of the work here), brewed a 12 barrel batch of Dobber. We loaded half a ton of malt into the mash before adding a touch of Bravo in the boil for a little bitterness. Then at flameout we used heavy handed additions of Azacca, Citra, Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin. This beer is going to be all about aroma, so so you can count on some healthy doses of dry hopping to occur before the beer is packaged and released. 

We’ll be launching the beer in keg and cask - and maybe even another format - at the Marble Arch on Tuesday the 27th of June as part of Manchester Beer Week. A tutored tasting hosted by myself will start at 7pm and a £12 ticket will get you half of one of the Arch’s AMAZING new dippy scotch eggs and the following beers:

  • Half of Manchester Bitter (cask)
  • Third of Dobber (cask)
  • Third of Dobber (keg)
  • Half of a bottle of Sister Agnes (brett aged old ale on cherries)
Buy Tickets!

If that’s not enough for you then you’ll be pleased to know that Tom and Mars from The Duke’s Head will be jumping behind the bar to help the team at the Arch to serve thirsty punters until late. We’ll also have a DJ enhancing the pub's already lively atmosphere. It’s guaranteed to be one of the best parties during Manchester Beer Week and you’ll be a fool to miss it. Don’t worry though, the Marble folks will be returning the favour this August during London Beer City, so if you can’t get to The Marble Arch in June, we’ll bring it to you in August – more on this soon. 

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