How to open beer without an opener

Owen Mead with a big beer

Thanks for opening my beer

The smoking ban is suposed to have had a huge impact on the amount we drink. Perhaps it has but not for the reasons that many of us think. When you smoke you have a lighter on you at all times. It was a sacred item when needed but they would also readly change hands as one of the most stolen items in a pub. Despite this fact it was always easy to come but far from just lighting fags (ciggarettes, spot singgering Americans), it could be used to open beer bottles. No smoking means no lighers, no lighers means no beer.

What do we use in a world that no longer has lighters? There are a few methods that will help open a beer. In this video I’ll show you three methods that do work and that use items that most parties will be furnished with namely,  more beer, some paper and a tea towel.

How to open beer without an Opener

Methods to avoid when opening beer

Other methods to open beer that I’ve found don’t work amazingly well include using your teeth. I’ve witnessed someone opening a bottle of beer with their teeth. Followed by a whole load of blood and a rather expensive dentist bill. I’ve also tried prizing the top off on a brick wall. I ended up with a shattered top of a bottle. Once I saw a very drunk person with a huge carving knife trying to prize the top off a beer without much success. That ended badly too.



THE track used in the opening beer bottles video is entitled “beer” and was C0-written and performed by Max Milton and produced by me.


Beer and beard matching – Mo-vembeer(d) – Does your beer match your beard?

Beer and beard matching – Mo-vem-beer-d –  The traditional beards. (a collaborative post with Paul Fishman)

Beer and beard matching

What a beard!

My first local was in Northampton a small market town in the centre of England. A pub called the Racehorse Inn. Back then it was a place that Goths, Trendies, Hippies and a whole manner of people would happily drink side by side. One of the most famous drinkers at that time was a fella called Alan Moore. At the time I didn’t really know who he was, I knew he knew the score, but I was unaware that he was such a well known writer. I might not have been in awe of his work (as I am a little now) I was, however, in awe of his beard. He’d sup his beer with one hand and stroke his beard with the other. A perfect union of man beer and beard.

I remain in awe of his beard. Indeed, I remain in awe of anyone who is not just able to grow a beard, but who is willing to go through the intensely itchy stages of having a beard. To put up with getting beer, milk and a whole manner of food caught in it. This post is not to mock people with beards but to raise a glass to them.

For this post I am working with fellow booze writer Paul Fishman – he is concentrating on the less traditional beards. We were talking about food and beer matches and somehow got onto beard and beer matching. Perfect to celebrate the start of Movember we thought. Here are some of our friends and what we think their beard says about their drinking habits.

 Beer and Beard Matching – Beard one – The Full Chin Beard

beer and beard matching

Spud and the full chin beard

Here is Spud. He is very proud of his full chin beard, so much so that he has decided to wear a fluorescent jacket in order to reflect as much light as possible onto the bearded area. This man loves his beard.

The top whiskers are crying out for something lightly coloured and creamy to hang off them. To become like a walrus. The sides of the beard have been tailored, perfect mutton chops ride up the side of the face. This is a classy beard and deserves a classic pint.

I’d suggest a Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout. The cut of the beard pairs perfectly with the stone square fermentation tanks used by Samuel Smiths. The creamy head will hang perfectly off the top whiskers and the beer a proud Yorkshire pint. It is also vegan, like spud.

Full Chin beard beer match -Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout

Beer and Beard Matching – Beard two – The trimmed beard

Beer and beard matching

Dennis and the trimmed beard

Dennis is supporting another traditional beard. He has used clippers to ensure an even spread of hair across his face.

There are some patches of grey in Dennis’s beard that highlight a dark moustache area. The mix of the moustache and the cap could distract and suggest that Dennis would prefer a cold lager above all else. It is veering towards a trailer park look. Yet the image is saved by the proud intensity in his eyes and the perfectly fitting t-shirt. He is rugged and outdoors with a touch of cosmopolitan. This is a practical beard, kept for the minimal amount of shaving and perfect amount of warmth.

He needs a beard that matches these attributes; something warm would indicate something strong in ABV. But nothing too fancy, this has to be a practical beer.  It is then a perfect match for a Fullers ESB. A full bodied, no nonsense ale.

 Beer and Beard Matching Beard three – The Goatee

Beer and Beard matching

The classic goatie beard

Nic’s beard, the goatee dates back to ancient Rome and famous goatee wearers included Abraham Lincoln. It was until it’s 1990 reincarnation that the moustache goatee was born.

It is a half-way style, not quite a full beard, a bit more than a moustache. It deserves some kind of “mash up” style of beer as a result.

In Japan, hipsters are much more likely to have a smaller goatee, indeed many favour the old style Lincoln goatee. A Japanese mash up style is then the order of the day.  The Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from the Kiuchi Brewery is the perfect choice. Not quite a sake, not quite and ale, earthy and raspberry all at once.

Beer and Beard Matching Beard Four – Unshaven or the Noel Edmonds?

Beer and beard matching

Down but not out

Paul’s beard is an oddity, it’s not quite a beard. Just as Noel Edmonds, its most famed wearer, is not quite a entertainer. Caught between lazy unshaveness and a real desire to be bearded Paul‘s face instead looks confused and unkempt. Granted it’s not helped by the resigned, sullen look held on his face, the sunkeness of many an ill-advised night turning into a regretful morning and the sad anger in his eyes.

For these reasons I match this beard with a warm can of Carlsberg Special Brew. The beer that has been helping the troubled rid themselves of thoughts for over 60 years now.

To see Paul’s choices of beards visit his excellent blog a rare and curious mix of drinking, musings and the occasional whip of dry wit, it is always rather good.

Growing hops – part two

Growing Hops – part two Pests and diseases an extract from Brewing Britain –

My home grown hops

Growing hops is easy!

When growing hops aphids can be a problem. To combat them I pick as many ladybird larvae (young ladybirds) as I could from a nearby lime (Tilia) tree and placed them on the bines, where they made short work of the aphids. This is best done as soon as you see any aphids. Aphids are born pregnant and sometimes even with a pregnant aphid inside them, so these little critters multiply quicker than rabbits.
Powdery mildew can also be a problem. This is a fungus that appears in small, circular powdery colonies on the leaves. It grows just like mushrooms do, spreading a web of mycelium (fungus roots). If left untreated, the whole bine can turn white. The fungus can also stop the flowers (or burr) from forming altogether and yields may drop to next to nothing.
Prevention, as always, can be better than cure. As powdery mildew can over-winter on hop debris, ensure all above-ground growth is destroyed each year and consider planting disease-resistant varieties such as Boadicea, Wye Target, Magnum or Newport, or moderately resistant varieties such as Fuggle, Perle and Hallertau. Also, do not over-fertilize with any nitrogen-based fertilizers, as the disease will strike young growth rather than established growth and the nitrogen will aid young, fresh, disease-susceptible shoots. When watering, water just the roots, or consider setting up an irrigation system and water first thing in the morning to stop humidity levels rising – mildew loves high humidity levels.

Inspect plants regularly and, if infected, remove and destroy all infected parts, normally the bottom leaves. This also opens up the hop area and helps to decrease humidity. Some hop growers have reported good results from spraying with a solution made up of 50% water and 50% cow’s milk.

When growing hops don’t forget, hops are greedier than city bankers: they will need nutrients and lots of them. It is good to know the warning signs of any deficiency and what to do to rectify it. Leaves turning yellow, leaves falling off or curling, and slow growth are all signs of mineral deficiencies. These can be easily rectified by feeding with a liquid seaweed feed; if that doesn’t work, try digging wood ash into the soil around your plants. I’d also suggest using a comfrey feed, which is made simply by adding comfrey to a water butt then watering your plants with the ‘tea’ – or there is always the less smelly option of mulching with comfrey.

Have you been growing hops? Let me know how you got on in the comments below.

Brewing Britain is available from many great bookshops, including Blackwells in the UK and over in the US of A – you can buy it from your local indie bookstore or if you live in Australia and want to be of the minority that makes good beer, buy it here. Then there is the rest of the world… if you want to email me, I’ll find you a bookseller or perhaps I’ll even sell you a copy myself.

A-Z of beer part one A to F

Beer and books

The best picture I could come up with to illustrate an A- to Z of beer

A-Z of Beer and Brewing in Britain

Having now published Brewing Britain- The Quest for the Perfect Pint I seem to have a load of words left over, therefore I thought I’d blog them as this A-Z of beer. So far I’ve put together A to F and I’ll add to it sporadically as I get time. Which in actuality could mean that if you check back in 2018 you still may only find A to F! (But lets hope not eh)?

A is for Ashley Down Brewery and Alpha Acids

I was first introduced to this brewery when I tasted a pint of Vanguard, an excellent mild. Here is what I thought of it: “Some sweet raisin and a whiff of lightly roasted coffee on the nose, then a lovely balance roasted and  a touch of white bread from the malt. Fairly reminiscent of something a bit stronger the Traquir house ale springs to mind, as there are some similar fruity flavours – damson, dark cherry but with a touch of soy sauce”. Also look out for a pint of Ashley Down “Best” another lovely beer from the Ashley Down Brewery.

Often abbreviated to AA, these are acids present in hops that impart bitterness.  When your hands get a yellow sticky substance on them after handling hop cones (flowers) it is because of a resin in the hop called lupulin. Alpha acids are found in this resin and they therefore make up a certain percentage of what’s in the hop, hence the AA % on the side of the hops bought from reputable sources.

These alpha acids are made up of other chemicals, each of which imparts a different type of bitterness into the beer. The two most important are humulone and the common belief is that in high levels is thought to give beer a ‘clean’ bitterness, and cohumulone is thought to give it a harsher bitterness. However, I’ve yet to taste the diffence nor has anyone else I know there may be a good reason for this, see cohumulone below for more.

B is for Boadicea hops

Not are rare hop but neither are they common place. There is a uniquely delicate floral aroma, they seem to be a marmite hop and many hate them. I personally love them and when used to dry hop a bitter they can really add something. It’s exactly what Vince from Ashley down uses in his best and can also be found in some Adnams beers.

My home grown hops

My home grown hops

C is for Cohumulone

Granted you’ll be showing off your beer geekery if you have even heard of Cohumulone but I thought it worth a mention. Beer is bitter due to the alpha acids in hops or rather the iso-alpha acids that are formed when hops are boiled. Or to put it another way  asThomas Shellhammer wrote in the Oxford Companion to beer, “Cohumulone is one of the five alpha acid analogs in hop resin,…they serve as precursors to iso-alpha acids, the predominant contributors of bitterness in beer”.

It is considered to give a rather harsh bitterness, the delicate noble hops are often used to exemplify this as they are very low in cohumulon. In actuality the bad reputation of Cohumulone is down to one suspect study back in 1956 and subsequent studies have suggest there is no real conceivable “harsher” bitterness from hops that are high in Cohumulone. The harsh bitterness is an apparent myth that unfortunately for some hop growers, still prevails.

D is for Durden Park Beer Circle

Formed in 1972 during the dark days of beer in Britain when big companies were taking over and beer was becoming increasingly mass produced. They look into old brewing records and recreate commercial beers brewed from 1840 to 1914. From the members I’ve met, they are a great bunch of fellas. To find out more and to even buy a copy of their book “Old British Beers and How to Brew them”, visit their site.

E is for Elland

Yorkshire is home to some of best breweries in the world (in my opinion) and Elland comfortably sits with giants. Most famed for their 1872 porter, which often pops up across beers festival or as a guest ale. If you’ve got to know your dark beers you know to expect  molasses, liquorice and sometimes burnt flavours. In this 1872 porter the molasses is more of a burnt toffee flavour and the liquorice dries as you drink and gives way to dark fruits and a chocolate flavour reminiscent of the finest Belgium chocolate fondant.

F is for Fraoch

Traditionally, (and we are talking over 1000 years ago), British ale was made with herbs, various different herbs and herb mixes were used to bitter the sweet wort such as rosemary, yarrow and bog myrtle. Williams Brothers up in Alloa claim to be the only brewery in the world to still make beer made with heather and what more it is more than just a very clever marketing gimmick the beer is floral, earthy and herbal and well worth a taste.

T’ej beer (part of the 12 drinks of Christmas)

Perfect pint

This recipe isn’t in Brewing Britain but many, many more are.

T’ej beer part of the twelve drinks of Christmas

Starting today I’ll be posting 12 drinks of Christmas, these will be drinks that you can make at home and will either be ready to drink on Christmas day or, in the case of the last, it will help your mind and body recover after Christmas and ready for round two on New Year’s Eve.

Today being the 15th December means that there are just 10 days (including today), until the main event.  So, what can be ready in that time? Surely there is no time to make a beer? Well, yes perhaps there is how about some Ethiopian T’ej beer.


Just as normal grape wine or beer can differ from region to region or even from season to season due to the ingredients available so can pretty much any alcoholic (or non alcoholic) drink. In the case of the unofficial national drink of Ethiopia T’ej, the honey based drink not only varies due to the difference in pollen available but in strength from a I can cycle home 7% to an I’ll order a cab 14%. The wine is also look much more like a wheat beer as the yeast used means that most of the dead yeast cells will stay in suspension.

T’ej is more like beer (or rather traditional ale) too, in the respect that a bittering agent is added to counteract the sweetness. Just like beer too the brewers get very creative and the inside of the fermentation vessel, which is normally a ceramic pot, can be smoked in order to impart some complexity in flavour. The bittering plant of choice for the Ethiopian brewer is gesho which is more commonly known as shiny leaf buckthorn.

Outside Ethiopia Gesho can be hard to get hold of although one American Supplier will ship to much of Northern America, Europe, Australia, Japan and Oceania.


4.5 Litres/gallon Water
1kg/4 cups Honey
4 Gesho Sticks*
Small bunch Gesho Leaves*
(if using a yeast Lavin ICV D-47)

*If neither can be found then 25g high alpha acid (10%) hop will suffice.


Mix honey and water. You will need to place in a large container and shake it like mad. Leave to stand for 3 days then simmer the gesho sticks and leaves in the honey solution for 15 minutes. Allow to cool then place in your fermenting vessel or crock. If using yeast add when liquid has cooled to 25°c.

Leave to stand for 5 days then remove the Gesho. Rest for a day, strain then bottle.

Caution: this wine will still be fermenting, do not leave any bottles for long periods of time without “burping”, that is opening the top of the bottles occasionally so that air escapes.

The Great British Beer Festival – GBBF – Is it the best festival beer model?

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to the trade session at the GBBF. The movers and shakers of the beer world were there from beer Bloggers like Rob from Hopzine, professional beer authors such as bestselling Pete Brown and most of the brewers from around the UK (including Sue from Waen who invited us). This is an epic beer festival and you could easily spend a month there and still not have the same beer twice. Although, you might not necessairly survive the experience!

Andy Hamilton at the Great British Beer Festival GBBF


The atmosphere at such an event is electric. We dodged between men dressed as old maidens, brass bands, tin hatted folk, balloon hatted folk and hords of drinkers (some without beards) to find beers from almost every corner of the UK and beyond. The two stand out beers for me were The Boggart rum Porter and I’m sure say this without the obvious bias, The Waen Blackberry stout.

Andy’s beery bits part 1 from Andy Hamilton on Vimeo.

As I’m currently writing a book about beer this was to be a mecca, indeed I was in the right place for a diverse range of beer. The trouble is, even when buying beers in third of a pint measures, it is difficult even for the most hardened of drinkers to try any more than 20 beers. I couldn’t help but wonder if a festival as described to me by Chad(an American homebrewer living in Brighton)  could work. You pay an inflated price to get in, let’s say £20 or £30, and you help yourself to whichever beer you fancy. There are massive bins around the venue, in case that you change your mind about what you have served. So there is a downside and that’s wastage. However, after going to the cancelled “Beer on the Wye” festival in Hereford earlier I saw how much beer could be wasted when beer festivals go wrong. Also, some of the beers are not popular, “it’s the first time I’ve pulled that one”, was a familiar cry when I ordered some of the more perculiar beers at the GBBF.

The Waen bar

The Waen bar

This idea of a fee on the door is not a new model, it was used in the 16th Century by local churches. Once a year the church would brew a strong beer, you’d pay once at the door and drink what you liked. The money raised would help with the upkeep of the church (sure beats a jumble sale)!

I’m not saying that CAMRA beer festivals are not great fun and I’m not bashing them. What I am wondering is if there is another model that some beers festivals could try out. It’s a model I’d like to see, you could try just a snifter of each beer and settle on the ones you like. Just think how many beers you could get through! The brewers would be happy too as they would all get paid a set price and no-one would be set on how well the beer selling. But I guess it promotes binge drinking and as that has become demonised so would an authoritative body licence such an idea? Well I guess we won’t know unless we ask for it.

Balloon Hatted man drinking at the GBBF

Beer festival attire

How to taste beer with Jane Peyton from the School of Booze

How to taste Beer with Jane Peyton

Jane Peyton Beer tasterLearning how to taste beer is a skill and to learn a skill you need a good teacher, Jane Peyton, the Principal at the School of Booze, is such a teacher.

Jane trained through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and is a tutor at the Beer Academy.

I caught up with her to find out what makes a beer taster, it has to be the most ideal job ever created but can anyone do it?

Jane On beer tasting

What is the difference between beer tasting and learning how to taste wine, and what is the difference between beer and wine tasters too.

Beer tasting tends to be less formal and more fun than wine tasting – but that depends on the tasting tutor and the atmosphere that they have created.  And this is a generalisation but in this country, there will be more men at a beer tasting than women.  Also a beer tasting event has an element of surprise and exploration as quite a lot of people have not tasted a range of beers or know that such beers exist.

No difference in principles of  wine or beer tasting  – if you can taste wine, you can taste beer too.  I do.  I specialise in beer, cider, wine, whisky, gin, Champagne.

Is there a particular type of person who becomes a beer (or any drink) taster? Do you need to have any special talent, for example extra sensitive taste buds, or is it something anyone can do?

Beer tasting is about education – informing other people about the amazing drink that is beer.  So someone who is keen to educate and share their knowledge is the ideal person.

Roger Protz by Steve Parsons Norwich Evening news

Roger Protz – beer tasting Genius

The nose and palate can be trained to recognise aroma and flavour so lots of practice is required!  But some people have a condition called ‘onosmia’ (smell blindness) and unless a person can smell properly then they will not taste properly so should not try being a professional taster.  Some people do have more sensitivity than others so they would be ideal. Also women in general have more sensitive noses and palates than men so women might consider a career in drinks/beer tasting. It helps too if a person has a good turn of phrase and imaginative ways of describing aromas and flavours.  Roger Protz is a genius at this!  So are Oz Clarke and Rupert Ponsonby.

Is there a specific procedure to adhere to and what is it?

With any drinks tasting there is a similarity of principles:

1)       Look at the drink in the glass

2)     Swirl the liquid to release the aromas and sniff.  Try to identify what you smell.  Keep swirling and sniffing.

3)     Take a sip and let it sit on the tongue for a few seconds.  This will warm the drink/beer and release aromas which then travel from the mouth into the olfactory glands in the nose.  A few seconds later the brain will register the flavours.  Let the drink cover the tongue so all the taste buds are engaged – our tongues register different tastes in separate parts of the tongue – salt, sweet, sour/acidic, bitter, and umami (savoury).  Some complex beers are sweet & sour, with bitterness too so the tongue and nose get a work-out!

4)     Check for the body of the drink/beer – this is how much it fills the mouth.  Lower alcohol beers will be light bodied, higher alcohol beers tend to be fuller bodied.

5)     Swallow the drink/beer.  The after-taste is important.  With beer the after taste will be degrees of bitterness.  In beer tasting this aftertaste is often called ‘the Hang’ – i.e. how long the flavours hang around on the palate.  It can also be referred to as ‘the finish’.

6)     Repeat the above!

Do you think knowledge of the brewing process can enhance the enjoyment of beer?

If the drinker is curious about life then yes. 

If a beer doesn’t fit into a specific style, does this matter and if not how do you reference it?

Quite a lot of beers are tricky to categorise – especially nowadays when there are so many more breweries in Britain who are creating beers. 

Some brewers confuse their customers by describing their beers as a certain style when it patently is not that style.  One of Britain’s biggest selling beer brands does this and it confuses customers.  There is a fashion now for Black IPAs – a bit of an oxymoron.  Some brewers make Milds which are very hoppy – a contradiction.

If you’re having difficulty categorising, it’s handy to call it a hybrid of **** and ****

Beers don’t always have a powerful smell, or indeed any smell is “no nose”,  a valid enough assessment?

Yes – this is especially so with Pilsners. But that is the style of the beer so it’s not a fault. If an ale has little nose I would be worried!  Ales should have more aroma than Pilsners.

When looking to describe flavours are you looking for food comparisons or are there a set of beer flavour that you keep to.

Food comparisons are really useful in helping people recognise aromas and flavours.  I always use those references.  But beer can be extremely complex and some surprising aromas and flavours appear e.g. sweaty socks, barnyard, burned rubber.  With cider and perry, Stilton cheese is a very common aroma.  I always say to people that if they smell something peculiar that they are not expecting then they should say it – because everyone is right when it comes to describing what they are experiencing.  Our senses are our own so we’re always right!

Jane on Beer

If you had to pick a top 5 of beer what would they be?

Andy Hamilton holding a beerIt’s really hard to choose because it depends of my mood, the weather, time of day, what I’m eating.  But these are 5 that I go back to again and again and revere.

  1.  Brewster’s Pale Ale
  2. Fuller’s London Porter
  3. Verhaege’s Duchesse de Bourgogne
  4. Brooklyn Brewery ‘s Chocolate Stout
  5. Schneider Weisse’ s Aventinus

And a UK only top 5?

  1.  Brewster’s Pale Ale (My number one beer worldwide or UK)
  2. Fuller’s London Porter (My number two beer worldwide or UK)
  3. Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh
  4. Meantime’s India Pale Ale
  5. Fuller’s Golden Pride

Are there any beers/breweries to watch out for in the next couple of years?

Brewster’s (in Grantham) is constantly good and they have a dynamic range of beers.  They’ve recently invested in some bottom fermenting kit and have been brewing some excellent Helles beers. 

Harviestoun have an excellent lager called Schiehallion – it’s a cask lager using ale hops so some people are confused.  Hopefully it will help change ale drinkers perception of what lager is.

Durham Brewery have some great beers – especially Temptation Stout.

A trend in brewing at present is to bring back heritage styles of beer.  Kernel and Meantime are very good at this.  And Fuller’s have been delving into their brewing bibles from the 1890s to brew beers of that era.

If you could design a perfectly flavoured beer, what would go in it.

I actually brewed it last month – at a brewpub called The Botanist in Kew, SW London. It is called Limey Porter, made with chocolate malt and flavoured with kaffrir leaves which gave it a very subtle lime aroma and flavour.  Chocolate, coffee and lime aromas and flavours are an excellent match. 

To book a beer tasting course with Jane For in London and around the country please contact School of Booze. Choose from: beer tasting,  beer and food matching, chocolate and alcohol tasting, wine tasting, Champagne tasting, sherry tasting, cider tasting, and School of Booze will devise a bespoke entertainment for you.