Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I've now had more than a few days to digest the events that occurred in Edinburgh last weekend when I was there for the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference. I wasn't sure that I'd get anything out of the event that what with the £100.00 attendance fee, train tickets, a hotel room plus food and drink cost me a fair bit to attend but I've come away feeling excited about writing about beer again which is a feeling that I've been missing since I finished writing about my latest trip to the United States a few months ago.
Czech yourself before you wzech yourself
Maybe it was the plethora of great beer that I tried, the useful and well thought out seminars, the well laid out dinners, making new friends and strengthening bonds with old ones or perhaps it was the rousing keynote speech from Brooklyn Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. In fact not only did Garrett deliver an inspiring speech that was laden with common sense but he also joined us on the pre-conference pub crawl/lash but me being me I lacked the confidence to go up and shake the big mans hand instead choosing to tweet incessantly about his wonderful and now seemingly sentient hat. So inspiring was that speech that it was almost worth the attendance fee alone and the fact that we toasted his address with delicious Brooklyn Sorachi Ace made it all the more special. That and the fact I'd started the day with a complimentary dram of Samuel Adams Utopias, a beer that costs around $250.00 a bottle and to my surprise more than lived up to its huge billing.
We learned about the history of Scottish beer, not something I'm particularly interested in, in fact John Martin, President of the Scottish Brewing Archive Association said that Scottish beers were and in many cases still are very malt forward because they were "further away from the hops" which might explain why Scotch ales never really suit my palate. Some of them do though and the the session on whisky barrel aged beers hosted by Stuart Cail from Harviestoun was very interesting, particularly the part on the shortage of available whisky barrels due to the sudden boom in barrel aged beers. I suspect though that following the craft brewing revolution will come the craft winemaking and the craft distilling revolution so if you like working with wood, now's the time to book in for the European Coopers Conference, I'm sure there is one. Stuart was also kind enough to gift all of us bloggers with a bottle of Harviestoun's 30th anniversary Ola Dubh which is aged in 40 year old sherry barrels that have previously been used to distill 30 year old Highland Park whisky. Unlike the regular bottles of Ola Dubh this hasn't been liquored back (watered down) and is bottled at the almighty cask strength of 11.3% ABV, one I look forward to sharing with friends in a distant future.
That evening we had a wonderful dinner at the Edinburgh City Halls hosted by Vaclav Berka, the Brewmaster at Pilsner Urquell who made the point of sitting down and speaking to each and every table as well as pouring the beer himself. Unfiltered and straight from the barrel is exactly how I like my Pilsner and after it's tapped and sprays over some rather expensive looking paintings we bloggers sup away to our hearts content. I leave the bloggers after the dinner to catch up with some old friends in a great little bar called The Cloisters. It's absolutely sweltering in the pub and I plump for a half of Tempest Brave New World IPA which I'm sure on most occasions i'd find wonderful but I'm all beered out and the next drink, a humble gin and tonic, is exactly the refreshment I was after. That evening I ended up in One Square, the cocktail bar at The Sheraton, drinking away 'til almost 2am which ensured I was in tip top shape when the conference resumed at 10am the next morning.
I rocked up only five minutes late clutching a coffee and croissant like my life depended on it, cursing myself for sleeping through my complimentary hotel breakfast. Day two kicked off with an interesting session about international beer blogging, mostly I was amazed by the scale of blogging in the United States and a little worried that I may have broken their bizarre laws by writing about American beers without properly stating that they were gifts from breweries. Luckily, at this point, I have still evaded capture by any federal agents or craft beer police.
I'll glaze over the seminar that followed, I'm not a professional writer, I don't have an audience, I just love writing and if people like reading what I write then that's fine but I think I made my point on this clear enough at the start of the live beer blogging session. Sarah from Brewdog then went on to surprise me with her in depth knowledge of social media, I was cynical when I heard that this segment was taken over by Brewdog mere days before the conference was due to begin but it was useful and as a result I will be subjecting my twitter followers to some more manic Vines, sorry twitter (I'm not really sorry.)
Garrett Oliver complete with hat in Brewdog Edinburgh
One of the sessions I was most looking forward to was about becoming a Beer Academy certified beer sommelier, something I've been interested in for a little while. This session was hosted by Sophie Atherton, the UK's first female certified beer sommelier and recent recipient of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group beer sommelier of the year. I was lucky enough to have a few beers with Sophie in the Holyrood 9A and Brewdog Edinburgh the night before and was happy to discover that she's as friendly as she is knowledgeable and gave this potential fledgling beer sommelier a lot of encouragement. I've always held stock in my palate and I like to think that I'm good at drinking beer and this session, despite the many food matches available dividing the room really hit home that this is something I wanted to do. Whether I'm actually any good at beer and food matching or not remains to be seen.
We finished with what was my favourite session, live beer blogging. You can read my live blog here which will remain unedited in the spirit of the occasion, I hope I don't have to wait until the next conference to have a go at this again! That evening we had a lovely dinner at the Ghillie Dhu where the conference was held which was jointly hosted by Williams Brothers and Fyne Ales. We were served a range of traditional Scotch fayre each with an accompanying beer from both breweries. The real revelation here was Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale with Haggis, a food and beer match made in heaven. With dinner done we beer blogging craft wankers (a name that a few of us had drunkenly dubbed ourselves) headed to a very warm Hanging Bat, the beer cafe pub I'd supped my first beer in when I arrived in Edinburgh a few days ago. I couldn't face another drop of beer after the onslaught of the conference so ended up trying a variety of Gins until I was neither a craft wanker nor a gin wanker, I was simply wankered. I think Garrett Oliver summed the weekend up perfectly when he said that beer was not about malt or hops or whether it was craft or not but that beer was about people and I couldn't have put it better myself. My lasting memory of this weekend will not be the beers I drank but the people I spent it with, people I hope to see again, people that get it and write fantastic blogs each in their own unique way. It's for this reason that I won't be missing next years conference if the fate of the world itself depended on it, sorry world.
It seems fitting then that the Sunday after the conference was spent with friends, we visited The Vintage in Leith, which served an excellent brunch and had a fantastic beer list. I woke up with beer being the last thing on my mind but couldn't resist a cheeky half of the delicious Bristol Beer Factory Southville hop. I had one last stop to make before I made the four and a half hour journey back to London and that was to indulge my other filthy beverage habit at Brew Lab coffee who produced one of the finest flat whites I've ever had. Cue four an a half hours of caffeinated vibration on the train home.