Monthly Archives: September 2013

Going nuclear in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Brew Dog pub in Old Town, Edinburgh

The Brew Dog pub in Old Town, Edinburgh

Souvenir shopping not too long ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, I stopped in a food shop on the city’s Royal Mile and noticed a selection of beers for sale.  Interesting beers, but not what I was seeking. Indeed, the shop clerk had never heard of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, let alone the Brew Dog Brewery, the idiosyncratic Scottish craft brewer whose beer I sought.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin, when initially released by Brew Dog in late 2009, was the world’s strongest beer with 32 percent abv until it was replaced by another Brew Dog effort, the 41% abv Sink the Bismark. Penguin is an imperial stout made using ice beer making techniques, that is the beer was frozen and some water removed. . The beer was initially double barrel aged for 14 months, and then frozen, then frozen again and then frozen again to remove the water. It’s much akin to an ice beer, a German style. A warning on the Penguin’s label states: “This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.

All the same, I continued wandering further down this touristy heart of Scotland’s capital and I came upon a shop that specialized in wines and spirits. Upon entering, the cheerful clerk asked if he could be of assistance and I put to him my query.  “Do you have any Brew Dog Tactical Nuclear Penguin?”

A snifter with Brew Dog Tactical Nuclear Penguin cost GBP 70 at the Brew God Pub in Edinburgh

A snifter with Brew Dog Tactical Nuclear Penguin cost GBP 70 at the Brew God Pub in Edinburgh

He responded affirmatively as reached to a high shelf and took down a small bottle covered in tissue paper. “It’s 50 pounds,” he told me with a smile, knowing I’d be flabbergasted. Indeed, I was. With a bit of quick math I figured that this 375ml bottle of beer was going for $75. That’s a bit more than I planned on spending, I explained.

But then he offered some guidance, telling me that Brew Dog operated a bar just a few blocks away where I could sample a glass. I thanked him and made my way through Old Town Edinburgh on a drizzling mid-day Saturday. A quick consult on Google Maps on my iPhone got me to 112 Cowgate, a bit of a back street.

The Brew Dog Bar, now one of several craft beer bars across Great Britain owned by the Aberdeen-based craft brewer, was abuzz like much of the city with three festivals going on, including the Virgin Fringe Music Festival.

I strode several feet from the door to the bar and told the bartender that I was told I could get a glass of Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Yes, I could, he said, at 7 pounds ($8.50) for a shot-sized pour into a snifter.  That beat laying out $75 for the bottle.

The beer glistened in my snifter.  It was dark chocolaty brown and, as expected, totally lacking carbonation — not even a hint of a head.  The nose was definitely boozy with vanilla and roasty notes. Ah!  Then a sip. It’s rich, sweet, smooth and chocolaty with notes of caramel and port-wine. And, oh, does it coat the mouth.

The bartender returns and asks how I like it.

I reply, it’s quite interesting. “Yes, it is an interesting beer,” he confirmed.


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An English cider hobbyist turned pro, wins medals and now exports his wares

Award-winning Hogan’s Ciders, now available in the U.S., are produced in a small town in England’s West Midlands. They are the product of cider maker Allen Hogan, who produced homemade ciders for 25 years before turning pro.

Allen Hogan last harvest. (Courtesy Hogan's Cider)

Allen Hogan last harvest. (Courtesy Hogan’s Cider)

After 17 years of working in sales for Hewlett Packard, Allen Hogan says he began to feel frustrated working at a large corporation. Eight years ago, he chucked his job to become a professional maker of traditional hard cider and perry. He hasn’t looked back.

Hogan, now owner of Hogan’s Ciders in Haselor, Alcester, a tiny rural village in England’s West Midlands, not far from Stratford-Upon-Avon, had been making cider and perry as a hobbyist for 25 years.  After leaving HP, he said, he studies cider at industry consultant Peter Mitchell’s Cider Academy, took a job selling cider and then went into business for himself.

Hogan's offices,tasting room and storage facilities in Haselor.

Hogan’s offices,tasting room and storage facilities in Haselor, Alcestor in West Midlands, UK.

Today, of course, he operates on a much grander scale than he did at home. In the coming harvest, his rented cidery nearby at Castlemorton in Malvern Hills, will have the capacity to produce almost 674,000 liters annually. He says he’s reached a level where the business “has reached a critical mass” and “is now viable.”  He bottles and stores his products in a large corrugated-steel warehouse situated off a gravel road in Haselor.

Indeed, Hogan’s foray into cider now is paying off. His products have medaled at international competitions, including a major contest in Somerset, the heart of England’s cider country, and in the U.S., his dry cider was awarded best of show at the 2011 Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.

Some of Hogan's awards on display.

Some of Hogan’s awards on display.

And he is now exporting his wares to the United States, Hong Kong and Russia. Belchertown, Mass.-based Shelton Brothers, is his U.S. importer, an arrangement that came together after an introduction by another English cider maker, Tom Oliver. Hogan’s Cider is available in a number of states, said Lauren Shepherd, who oversees the brand for Shelton. “We really love his cider and perry. It’s really something different.

Hogan seems to be in the right place at the right time.  The market for cider, particularly in the U.S., is exploding. “For us, the more cider there is, the bigger the market place,” Hogan’s marketing director, Sarah Edmunds, told me during a recent visit to Haselor.

Besides, said Hogan, “There’s an awful lot of mediocre product produced on a large scale.” Recent food scandals, such as the one involving the sale of horsemeat as beef, will result in heightened consumer consciousness for artisanal products

Hogan makes his ciders and parries (pear ciders) using traditional methods with only fresh apples and pears from farms in the so-called “Three Counties.” Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, with no sugar added prior to fermentation (sugar is used occasionally afterwards, however). Much cider today is made from apple pulp or concentrate rather than fresh apples. Hogan does not specify the varieties used or produce single varietals, because he can’t guarantee where his apples will originate.

Each autumn, Hogan sources fruit from various growers in the Three Counties, washes the apples thoroughly and then mills them into a fine pulp resembling oatmeal. The pulp then is pressed between two continuous belts to squeeze out the juice. He gets more than a pint of juice from each kilo (2.25 pounds) of apples. The juice then is slowly fermented in cold stainless steel tanks for up to four months. The fermented juice is then filtered and pumped bank into the tanks to mature for several additional months. Blended and then packaged for sale in bottle or as draught. His aim: a good balance between alcohol strength, tannins, acidity and sweetness. Perry production follows the same process except for washing the fruit, because hand-harvested perry pears seldom need washing and will sink in a water bath.

Hogan’s ciders and perries tend to dryness, because of Hogan’s personal taste preference. “I prefer to do dry cider,” he explained, “It’s closer to the base product. I love tasting it straight out of the vat. It’s fermented to dryness.”

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