Saturday, 29 December 2012

Doctor's Orders

Having escaped work a bit early yesterday I finally got a chance to pop into my new local, it having opened on Sunday. Doctor's Orders is Nottingham's first Micro-Pub, and the name came about because it used to be Carrington Pharmacy (which has now moved a few doors closer to town). This also explains the 'prescriptions' window through which you can have a look at the beer stillage. Room being at a premium there's no bar, it's just a matter of grabbing yourself a table and ordering your beer, and don't be expecting much other than beer or cider or you'll be disappointed. It's cask only, and all that straight from the barrels you can see on the (rather posh spring-tilted*) racks. No hand-pulls, no frills - anywhere!

I had a half of Lincoln Green 'Marion' Pale Ale, which was in damn good condition. The beer range looked decent, if not hugely adventurous - it'll be interesting to see how they develop the range they do. It was also nice to be able to have a look at the 'soon to appear' beers - there's a chalkboard as well as printed beer menus.

All in all, and despite it being a fleeting visit, I was really impressed. It's certainly a good place to have within five minutes walk of my house, especially since the fact they don't do food means that me and the dog will be welcomed providing we behave ourselves. As far as I remember they're open 12-2 and 5.30-12 daily. It's a bit of a trek out of the city if you are visiting Nottingham, it being a good mile away from any of the 'must visit' city pubs, but it's a great addition to the (very) local beer scene.

* I was a bit jealous; none of the weekly chock-combat against 18 gallon casks we used to have in the pub I ran.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Kernel India Brown Ale

Just to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas. I hope you're both well...

This was supposed to be a post for #seasonstweetings twitter tasting, as set up (over a week ago now) by the irrepressible Phil over at Beersay. My crazy busy December meant I failed completely to get any seasonal beers in, but when you have to make do with The Kernel it's hardly a sacrifice! In fact, had I not already done my Golden Pints for this year, it may well have been a contender for a mention somewhere.

It all starts with a gorgeous creamy chocolate aroma with the faintest touch of hazelnuts and pine/citrus (orange) hops. It's a soft, thick luxurious duvet of a beer, scarily drinkable and rarely has 33cl seemed such a small portion! There's milk chocolate in there but the nuttiness balances out the sweetness, and that's what this beer represents to me - complexity and balance.

Marvelous. Happy Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Horses and Hops

I had a couple of decent beers the other evening. One I picked up recently from the newly opened Flipping Good Beer Shop, and another I'd had stashed in the cellar for a few months and came across it while I was having a bit of a sort out (if you horde beer/wine/whisky like I do you know exactly what I mean.)

First up was the Sadler's Hop Bomb. I probably served it a bit cold, because there wasn't much on the nose at first, maybe a touch of elderflower but if I'm really honest, it didn't hang around long enough to warm up and allow me to savour the aromas - it's far too quaffable for that! It's 5% abv; strong I suppose, if you like your beer at a more 'sessionable' strength, but quite low for a modern IPA and I thought it was all the better for that; it's less about the sweet tropical fruit than vibrant fresh apricot and white grape flavours, all leading to a gentle sherbet finish rather than harsh bitterness.

5% abv. £2.65 (33cl) from The Flipping Good Beer Shop.

The other was the Welbeck Abbey Brewery Dark Horse, not one that is part of their core range - I think I'm right in saying it's a seasonal/experimental brew from earlier in the year.

There's lots of well-done toast on the nose along with a touch of red and dark fruit. On the palate it is plummy and rich, but keeps its balance rather than descending into a heaviness that its 4.8% abv couldn't support. There's marmite flavours and a lovely sweet hint that comes through on the finish. It would be a hard one to put into a style category - is it a dark ale, a hoppy mild or a lighter Black IPA? When it tastes this good, I for one don't really care!

4.8% abv. £2.60 (50cl) from Hops in a Bottle.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The 'Golden Pint' Awards 2012

It's that 'reflective' time of year again. Organised by Mark Dredge and Andy over at Beer Reviews, have a look at Mark's site if you want to know what it's all about but it should all be pretty self-explanatory!
  1. Best UK Draught Beer: Thornbridge 'Kipling.'
  2. Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Hardknott 'Queboid.' A close call with several others, but I picked this and the Brasserie d'Achouffe for number four because they switched me on to a style I've not really been a massive fan of before.
  3. Best Overseas Draught Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne. Although I only had a bit of a taste, its balsamic loveliness really sticks in the mind.
  4. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Brasserie d’Achouffe 'Houblon Chouffe
  5. Best Overall Beer:  I think it has to be the Brasserie d’Achouffe 'Houblon Chouffe' - I absolutely loved it!
  6. Best Pumpclip or Label: I might be biased because the beer's so good (it was a contender for number 2) but I love the elegance of Harviestoun's 'Ola Dubh' Highland Park aged range.
  7. Best UK Brewery: Williams Brothers, because I can't remember having a beer from them that I haven't enjoyed - they're experimental but don't compromise consistency.
  8. Best Overseas Brewery: Although here aren't many I've had more than one beer from Nils Oscar's beers seem to be consistently good.
  9. Pub/Bar of the Year: The Kean's Head in Nottingham. Yes, I'm biased because it's the pub company I used to work for and it's run by a friend of mine, but even on Friday and Saturday nights in town it's a nice little oasis of calm amid the madness.
  10. Beer Festival of the Year: The Sheffield Tap. Well, it's the closest I got to a beer festival (for shame) but life's hectic. Although I didn't get there, and so I'm judging by amazing sounding write-ups, the Indy-Man Beer-Convention is the one I'd most like to get to in 2013, finances permitting.
  11. Supermarket of the Year: I might plead the fifth on this one. Nobody really deserves any recommendation. Nottingham's Waitrose rarely has anything they advertise as a chain, and their 'deals' are perplexing at best. I've left beers at the counter too often when it turns out 'it's not those, it's the ones next to them that are on offer.' Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt was a lame effort this year, mostly average beers which they hardly bothered to promote. The only positive thing about supermarkets for me is the bakery they've opened at the Lidl near me. Go independent!
  12. Independent Retailer of the Year: Hops in a Bottle in Mansfield; friendly, and clearly run by beer fans for beer fans.
  13. On-line Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz. A considered selection rather than trying to stock everything for everything's sake. Easily navigable website and speedy service. 
  14. Best Beer Book or Magazine: Michael Jackson's Beer Companion. Why would you need anything else?
  15. Best Beer Blog or Website: Boak and Bailey. Informative and entertaining!
  16. Best Beer Twitterer: Simon H Johnson. Same as last year, same reasons as last year, and this year I got to meet the man beneath the merkin!
  17. Best On-line Brewery presence: Durham Brewery, in the form of Elly Bell, although Broughton deserve a mention for sending me beer when I win their Tuesday Trivia Twitter quiz - I'm entirely open to bribery!
  18. Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Williams' 'Cock O' the Walk' as part of a Burns' Supper, even if the whisky sauce was the star!
  19. In 2013 I'd most like to: Get to a CAMRGB Twissup and meet some of the guys I chat to on Twitter!
  20. Open Category: BrewDog. Some superb beers, although there is the occasional slip-up! and they opened a bar in Nottingham. Kudos.
Cheers, all the best beverages for 2013.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Flipping Good Beer Shop

I'm a bit behind with this one, but given Nottingham's fairly laid back approach to the whole craft beer thing, it's probably quite appropriate...

We've got a new specialist beer shop. It's out in Gedling and it's a retail arm of the Flipside Brewery. Gedling might be a bit out of the way but what is most definitely a big bonus is that there is a (free) car park directly opposite. Given we sometimes go out that way as a family to walk the dog down by the river I'm sure I'll be much more easily persuaded to do so on my days off now I know that on the way home I can pick up a few cheeky bevvies from a rather interesting selection. I might even get a chance to browse a bit more at my leisure if I'm not fighting to control my daughter who seemed at least as interested as I was in the beer selection, even if she's a little less capable of looking with her eyes rather than both hands!

Pictured is my first (I'm sure of many) haul. I'll probably post some tasting notes to let people know what I think when I get a chance. My wife picked, and drank, the Flipside 'Dusty Penny' and enjoyed it - the other ones I've yet to crack open.

Their shop-specific website is in a bit of a work-in-progress state at the time of writing, but you can check it out here. Good luck to the folks at The Flipping Good Beer Shop, I hope it works out well for you!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

BrewDog 'Libertine' Black IPA

The blog is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment. Anyone who has worked in pubs, or retail generally, in the run-up to Christmas, will have a reasonable idea of why. It can be a lot of fun, and this week I've got my fifth extracurricular tasting in less than a month too. It is also most definitely tiring, especially as the 'research'* has continued apace, honing my knowledge so that when I do get to put fingers to keyboard my palate is at match fitness.

Libertine Black IPA is one that's popped up on this blog before; I had it on tap not long after it came out, and was keen to re-visit it in bottle. I'm sure enough has been written about whether Black IPA is a 'legitimate' beer style, so I won't unearth that particular debate, apart from to say that I think most beer drinkers know what they expect from it now it's been part of our vocabulary for a while.

On to the beer. On the nose there's the same dusty rough edge that I associate with Punk and Jaipur, but less of the tropical fruit, it being countered with cocoa and chocolate. There's also lots of black cherry which continues on to the palate. The hops make it really moreish, surprisingly quaffable for something weighing in at 7% - I'm guessing the malt used to turn it from being a regular IPA also take away some of the mouth-puckering bitterness you sometimes find. All the dark fruit is wrapped up in bitter chocolate cake flavours, almost liqueur-chocolate-ish, but without the sweetness. I'm really glad this has become part of BrewDog's core range, I thought it was great!

Tonight, the research continues in the form of a Japanese whisky tasting, courtesy of Suntory, the guys behind this amazing collection as illustrated by Pete over on his blog.

7.2% abv. £3.46 (33cl) from Beer Ritz.

* I'm sure I enjoyed the Black Rocks, but it was my birthday, and while I'm quite proud to say I didn't over-analyse it at the time, that pride is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that I probably couldn't have done even if I wanted to...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Oakham Citra

I put this one off for ages, and now I'm struggling to work out quite why, because I'm pretty sure it's something I'd pick up again. I think it was partly because Oakham JHB used to be around a lot in the pubs I frequented (not least because I lived in one) and, while it was brilliant at the time, I became tired of it, even if that was more of a fault of its pale (sorry) imitators than JHB itself.

There's bags of grapefruit-led citrus fruit on the nose, tempered with enough tropical fruit to keep the attacking edge off but not so much as to stop it being refreshing. The palate's all about the juicy fruit from the hops; the grapefruit is back with a touch of soapiness, although far from being so much as to be off-putting, and again there's support from tropical fruit, all without it careering off into over-sweet passion fruit territory. It's all really clean and fresh, no wallowing about in cloying sweetness for this beer, it just merrily leads you into grabbing the next one.

4.2% abv. £2.07 (50cl) from Waitrose.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Thornbridge 'Saint Petersburg' Imperial Stout

I couldn't let this one go past without singing its praises. What a winter beer, and not the tacky tinsel variety, there are no badly scrawled doodles of Father Christmas in a compromising situation with a reindeer, it's just the sort of beer that makes you feel cocooned away, protected from all that cold November darkness. Magnificent. Probably to the point where it'd make you feel great in the height of summer too.

On the nose there's lots of chocolate maltiness, with a hint of dried and dark fruits lurking behind; raisins ans plums. It's almost like a savoury version of a fruit and nut bar. Full body hardly does it justice, it's almost chewy. There's more dark chocolate on the palate and on the finish it's all rounded off beautifully with cleansing bitter coffee.

Cosier than a 15 tog duvet. Embrace the dark...

7.4% abv. £3.10 (50cl) from Hops in a Bottle.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Isle of Skye 'Old Worthy' Scottish Pale Ale

Nick at Old Worthy brewery sent me a bottle of this, as he did lots of people who write beer blogs, so there are plenty of excellent reviews out there. I felt like doing something a little different, and so with a nod to Nick's distilling history I thought that combining the new brew with an established local giant might be a bit of fun, if not particularly original (since I did a similar thing the other week, and even if the malt is actually from Jim Beam's Ardmore distillery rather than Talisker). If you're interested in some of my thoughts on Talisker have a look at my other blog; it's an old favourite and even before I'd popped open the Old Worthy I was most grateful that I had come up with an excuse to renew old acquaintances.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty bit of the tasting note, and at the risk of rushing to a conclusion, a quick heads-up; if you've never tried Old Worthy then you should if you get the chance. It is a beer with a genuine point of difference, the use of peated malt, that goes far beyond employing a marketing department to tell you that that's the case. OK, that's not to say you'll like it but you never know until you try it! I was interested in finding out how the peat worked with the more conventional 'beer' flavours because I tend to find peatier whiskies overpower or clash with many beers when I drink them together. On the nose I didn't pick much of the peat up, but I don't think that's particularly a bad thing, it quickly took away any doubts I had as to whether the beer flavours and aromas could some through rather than it ending up tasting like a watered-down Islay. All of the peat came through on the palate, but without the maritime or iodine notes that you get with some peated malts, which can be off-putting in conjunction with a beer. This meant it contrasted brilliantly with the sweeter malt of the Talisker; the whisky dances with rather than accosts the beer, there are elements they share and things they disagree on, but it's a great partnership. This is a really well thought-out beer, at no point was I thinking 'it's just using peated malt as a novelty' they've made sure, probably through judicious use of honey and wheat, that it retains its balance.

Nick wants this beer to adorn the jerseys of the Scotland rugby team. I'll look forward to seeing it on there, albeit in those brief seconds before those jerseys are engulfed by the red tide at the Millennium. Good luck with the beer and thanks for sending me a sample.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Thornbridge 'Wild Swan'

So there's me getting myself ready for winter; I have seductive visions of viscous imperial stouts and single malts that have the bonfire reek my clothes used to pick up from helping my grandad with fires in his back garden when I was little. Then what happens? Well, the small Waitrose in Nottingham starts to stock, and discount, Thornbridge Jaipur and White Swan - the latter being one I don't remember having tried previously. This served as a timely reminder that there are no rules; good beer can be enjoyed at any time of year, and, well, it had to be done really - so here's to the summer?

It pours very pale. It's described on the bottle as a 'white-gold pale ale' which I'm not about to argue with. The head was fluffy, light and long-lasting. On the nose it's all grassy hops. There's none of the tropical fruit you get in Jaipur or Punk. Using a wine analogy it's a lot more like a Sancerre to Jaipur's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; it has a mineral, flinty edge while retaining the clean citrus fruit from the hops. Once past the initial hop-hit the malt comes through with crystal clarity, it took me right back to getting my nose into a handful at the brewery in the summer.

This was a beer I expected I'd be indifferent about but it really does pack an immense amount of flavour into a low-ish alcohol beer. It's well worth picking up if you want something you can enjoy without getting your head into a fog that's perhaps more appropriate for a weekend!

3.5% abv. £2.09 for 50cl in Waitrose. It's also on a four for three deal at the moment.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Arran and Arran

Well if you're going to enjoy a whisky with a beer, is there an easier way to come up with a combination than picking a brewery and a distillery that are neighbours?

I've done a stand-alone tasting note for the Arran whisky over on my wines and spirits blog. The beer pours a deep mahogany colour but the head disappears really quickly. On the nose it's all about the luxurious malt, with hints of burnt toffee. On the palate it has impressive body for such a low abv (3.9%) which I think is helped by a  backbone of yeasty umami and hazelnut flavours which holds everything together. If there is a shortcoming (and it's entirely a matter of opinion if it is one) in the whisky it's that it's a bit underpowered in the malt delivery, and as part of a combination the beer probably highlighted that, but it's certainly a pleasant enough combination.

It strikes me from the two beers I've tried so far that Arran are a brewery that are stringent in their attention to detail. They may not be producing the sort of beers that are going to cause shock waves on ratings websites but they are really good, solid beers nonetheless.

£3.50 from The Whisky Shop*, and you're saving a red squirrel if you buy it!

* The usual disclaimer, I work at the Whisky Shop so I bought this at work.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Adnams 'Southwold Winter IPA'

I love winter; long evenings staying cosy in the house with a good film, a good beer and a good whisky. Ideally I'd go for an imperial stout with a whisky to match, but Adnams' idea of a Winter IPA sounds like a rather excellent concept too. When I worked in a London Oddbins next to a video shop we used to try and come up with wine and film combinations, asking people what film they'd rented and trying to recommend an ideal wine. I might branch out and try for a triple combination, the ultimate whisky and film accompaniment to a beer - I'm sure I can put the research in for this one.

Back to the beer. It poured cloudy, I'm not sure if that was my fault but I'm rarely particularly picky about clarity. I loved the brilliant orange colour though. There's a slight soapiness on the nose, but it was potentially a bit cold when I first poured it - a good film beer has to last the length of a film after all. There was plenty of rindy-orange flavours, like mixed peel, and a spicy, perfumed finish. All good, but for me a little understated. I'd love to try a more powerfully-hopped version!

There was a bit of a danger of expecting too much from this one, as my little self-indulgent opening paragraph suggests. It is, after all, a beer brewed for a supermarket chain so is it fair to expect something so different as I had in mind? Perhaps, but thinking more objectively this is a great beer for the money, and it might well lead to more adventurous offerings in the future. A beer like this with a more powerful spice kick like the Otley O-Garden would be fantastic. The whisky was a SMWS Glen Moray and the film was Se7en. Good for a starter but as the nights really draw in I'll be looking for my whisky to have more sherry, smoke or even chocolate orange flavours - like the Ben Nevis from the Glenkeir range - Christmas in a glass.*

6.7% abv. Expect to pay around £2 (50cl), sorry, lost the receipt. Marks & Spencer exclusive.

* A bit of a work plug but it's a delicious whisky!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Williams Brothers 'Prodigal Son'

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt seemed to me to come and go with barely a whimper. I'm not sure if there were simply far too many exciting things happening for it to register, in the form of IndyMan and DeMolen, or whether it was a lack of quality entrants, lack of publicity or maybe I've just been too busy with other things to 'catch the vibe' so to speak.

It's something that I still think is worth supporting but it might not carry on that way. Tucking the new beers in a seasonal aisle along with Halloween hats and Christmas crackers seems crazy to me - OK the beers might not be part of the permanent range but they're neither are they naturally associated with a holiday. The stock also has to be there; there's no point in allowing an entrant if they don't have the beers to go where they're required and you end up with some of last year's beer coming back into the competition.

On the positive side, beers like the Prodigal Son from Williams and the Harviestoun Wild Hop Gold are bold, experimental, and really make the competition. Even aside from skunked clear bottles and re-entries, too many were, for me, indicative of a section of the beer market that is content to put 'traditional' on their labels and hope the beer sells, possibly as a 'genuine local' product - lots of soapiness and very little thought. Prodigal Son is nothing like this, it's the best I've had although I've not tried everything I got hold of - I've yet to try the winner so maybe there is time for redemption yet. Prodigal Son is a lovely, juicy, mouth-watering drop, the aroma reminded me of leafy blackcurrant and it's got a herbal, medicinal quality with a lovely ginger spiciness in the finish. There's character right across the nose, palate and finish; always a sign of quality.

Nottingham CAMRA's beer festival is on at Nottingham Castle this weekend. Due to having to commit myself to other things I'm not able to go, which is disappointing because it is a great all-round festival; but with over 1000 different beers there it seems that even for someone with an interest there is a lot of mediocre beer out there to get past before you get to the really stellar performers. My list out of the 500 or so breweries that I was really keen to sample something from only ran to a dozen or so that I'd not tried before. In an ideal world it would be great to try everything once , but with so much choice (and a limited supply of cash and 'constitution') you have to be picky, and not all 'real ales' are are created equal, any more than all beers are.

Prodigal Son is 4.1% abv and was in a 3 for £4 deal in Sainsbury's.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Otley 'O-Garden'

I'm not really a massive wheat beer fan. Schneider-weisse is an old favourite but too many I've had have had too little flavour to really capture my interest. However, I've wanted to try some of Otley's beers for ages, and so I picked this up when I saw it, the choice being this or the porter. Well, or isn't strictly true, as I'm sure most beer geeks can appreciate. I took both.

So a brewery I'd heard many great things about making a style of beer that usually leaves me pretty non-plussed - which would win out? This was a beer of two halves really, on first pouring it was clear, and the aromas gently came out, caressing the nose rather than delivering a full on assault. On the palate? Well, earlier on in the day I'd had a sample of a fifteen year old Ben Nevis whisky, which had a beautiful tangy yet sweet orange flavour. When I tried this, it was like the whisky had come back to haunt me. When I poured the second half of the beer the sediment came out more, and as it warmed those initially subtle aromas really came to the fore. The fruit provides enough character to keep the beer interesting, without it ending up like some sort of sickly fruit beer. The whole package is deliciously mouth-watering, and the touch of spice in the finish invites you back for more. It was a revelation, the best wheat beer I remember having tried. If this is what Otley can do with a beer style I'm not particularly a fan of, I'm definitely going to have to get hold of some more!

4.8% abv. £2.60 from wherever it was in Pembrokeshire I picked it up!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Arran Brewery 'Sunset' Ale

I got this from the new(ish) Whisky Shop in Nottingham, where I've just started working.* I assumed at the time that the Brewery had a tie-in with the distillery (hence its arrival at a whisky shop) but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The Sunset pours a light amber colour. It's a little perfumed and soapy on the nose, and generally quite restrained. When you dive in though it's like a comforting malty blanket. It's biscuity, but there is just enough bite from the hops to tease you and keep it interesting. It's one of the smoothest beers I've had in a a long time, impeccably balanced with s lightly spicy finish. Many of the more traditional style lowish alcohol micro-brewed beers I've had recently have been a little rough around the edges, sometimes the malt seems to jar a bit rather than being integrated, but the Sunset has none of these issues. Arran have recently won awards with SIBA, the International Beer Challenge and at the World Beer Awards. On the evidence of this they are well deserved, and I look forward to trying the rest of the range.

Arran look like being a brewery we'll be hearing a lot form in the future, they've got big expansion plans which will be funded off the back of a share offer (see this article from the Scottish Herald in June c/o the SIBA website). It'll be interesting to see how they market that in the light of BrewDog's similar scheme. Here's wishing them luck.

4.4% abv. The only downside to the beer is that at £3.50 for a 50cl bottle it does seem a bit pricy, although it's easy to see where your money goes!

* Hopefully this doesn't make me any less objective about the beer!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Fuller's 'Bengal Lancer' IPA

Big breweries are much maligned in beer blogs and the like, but just because a brewery is big doesn't mean it can't make interesting beer, even if far too often they don't. White Shield; 'from the makers of Carling' as the advertising slogan doesn't run,  is perhaps the most extreme example of this, but Fuller's seem to me to be one of the bigger British breweries that offer something special. Having lived most of my life north of Watford Gap it's not a brewery I'm actually that familiar with, but what beers of theirs I have tried have put many operations that espouse the virtues of their small size and flexibility as as asset to shame.

It seems to be a recurring theme of mine that when I try new IPAs I'm actually looking more for how the malt supports the hops flavours and gives the beer structure and backbone. For me far too many beers use hops rather too indiscriminately, almost forgetting that beer is a complex drink, not just a sort of one-dimensional strong hop cordial. There's plenty of leafy hop aroma, all backed up with smoky spices and that all-important biscuity malt spine. If I were to be critical, I found that there was a little too much sweetness, but I realise that's just my taste rather than a fault with the beer, some people will like it more because of that.

Celebrity endorsed, and (rather curiously) made for the Swedish market, but don't let that put you off. 5.3% abv. £1.99 from Ocado.

PS: Apparently it's vegan too, no nasty fish bits required!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Harviestoun 'Wild Hop Gold'

This wasn't quite the first of the Sainsbury's 2012 Great British Beer Hunt beers that I tried but it was the first one that was both drinkable and not simply one of last year's entries that had been put back in the competition. Normally I wouldn't usually buy beer in clear glass for obvious reasons, but I fell foul of the 3 for £4 deal and the first bottle I had from the collection was light-struck; serves me right really.

Moving on to more positive things; Harviestoun's Wild Hop IPA was one of the highlights of last year's competition for me, and so I was looking forward to this one. On the nose it's really floral, bursting with elderflower and orange blossom aromas. What it really reminded me of was an Alsace Gewürztraminer; fruity and dry, but with loads of aromatic floral character with pink grapefruit and spices on the palate. I think this is a well-made beer but it's so different I found it a bit overpowering - I really think it would have been much better with food. Having said that this competition should be about trying different things, and just because it's not necessarily to my tastes doesn't mean it's not a good beer. I would definitely encourage people to give it a try, it's that bold in favour that might just be that it's one of those love it/hate it kind of beers.

I was at a wedding over the weekend and I got talking to someone about bold fruit flavours in new world wines popping up in some beers, and making people realise that beer really can be more interesting than just a bland commercial lager. The disappointing thing was I'd had Thai curry for dinner earlier; I should have had it with that, it would have been a brilliant match.

4.4% abv. It's part of Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt range for 2012. I found it in the seasonal food rather than the beer section, priced at 3 for £4 or (I think) £1.89.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Nils Oscar 'Kalasöl'

Due to life being rather busy at the moment this isn't so much a blog post as a quick tasting note - I had this bottle from Nils Oscar the other day and really enjoyed it - so here it is!

It pours a dark, burnt red. On the nose there's a touch of malt, and a metallic, almost ferrous aroma, which sounds unpleasant but actually works. There's an oiliness to the texture and the whole brew feels satisfyingly weighty, as befits the name; Kalasöl apparently means 'feast beer' which makes perfect sense in the abundance of rich malts. On the palate there's caramel and chocolate, counterbalanced with dried peel, toasty notes and nuttiness. Overall it's a really complex beer; difficult to pin down but very drinkable. This is one that's go down great with fresh pretzels and a heart-attack inducing cheese dip; it's that time of year.

5.2% abv. £2.16 from Beer Ritz. (33cl)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Democracy In Action?

When the beer duty escalator petition hit the one hundred thousand mark the other day, some people were justifiably happy about it. Others were a little more cautious. I feel that it is now that the campaign ought to be stepped up. If you agree then it's probably a good idea to see if you can encourage your MP to get on board, in the hope that if the debate happens it will be worthy of the term and not something that is read to an empty House. It's a bit ambitious to suggest it will turn into a three line whip issue, but hopefully if enough noise is made some people might pay attention.

When I wrote to my MP (via email) I quoted from his April newsletter, something I blogged about not long after.

We need to keep an eye on how the beer duty system is structured, so that it does not advantage the mass production end over the bespoke and higher quality smaller brewers who we need to support as much as possible.

By way of a follow-up, I'll quote from the letter he sent me that I received today:

I certainly think we need to keep an eye on how the beer duty system is structured, so that it does not advantage mass production and supermarket-loss leading over bespoke and higher quality smaller brewers who we need to support as much as possible.

Rather more encouraging was:

I'll continue to press the Government to look at ways of supporting the brewing industry and community pubs, including addressing the Beer Duty Escalator. 
Make of that what you will. I'd be interested to hear what other MPs have to say on the issue if anyone else has been in touch.

PS: The escalator image came from the Summer Wine Brewery's Blog (well, originally somewhere else but the link on that post isn't working) who had a bit of bad news this morning in the form of someone breaking into and trashing the brewery. If you get a chance, have one of their beers this week. It's bad enough the government making things difficult without things like that happening. I wish them all the best with getting things sorted!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meantime IPA

75cl bottles of beer, a truly fantastic idea. They're great for sharing, and in the case of both the Punk IPA I had the other week (which I am pleased to say was back in tip-top form) and this one, they're even better to share with someone who wasn't that keen and so let me drink it.

For me Meantime brewery are ticking all the boxes. They're making good, well-packaged beer, which is widely available. I love reading about the weird, the wonderful, the eye-wateringly expensive, and the hard-to-find, but unfortunately that's often as close as I get. However it's reassuring to know that even in those monuments to mediocrity, the British supermarkets; decent, flavourful beer is getting a look in.

The IPA pours a coppery-orange colour. On the nose the Meantime IPA's fruit was restrained at first; grassy nuances of tropical and citrus fruit were there, but I served it pretty cold which I think subdued things a little. The punch came on the palate in the form of an explosion of pithy bitterness. For me some IPA can end up with so much forward tropical fruit that they end up being a bit cloying, more like pop than beer - or maybe Um Bongo? This has far more complexity, the biscuity malt doesn't just feel like an afterthought, although taking away some of the sweetness does seem to make it moreish and disguise the alcohol. Ah well, that's what Friday evenings in front of the rugby are for.

7.4% abv (75cl). I got this from Sainsbury's, I think I paid about £5.50 for it.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Broughton Ales 'Dark Dunter'

This one comes from a brewery that I am familiar with from my pub days; one of Broughton's ales, The Ghillie, used to pop up occasionally as a guest beer.

I got sent this from the brewery by virtue of being pretty quick on cutting and pasting questions and answers for their 'Tuesday Trivia.' I claim no kind of expertise or talent for having won, so I'd say if you can get on Twitter and on a keyboard of a Tuesday Broughton (@BroughtonAles) are well worth a follow to get yourself all sorts of goodies, as you can see from the picture. The Dark Dunter is the bottle on the left without a label - it's a new brew and not on general release in bottles as yet so it was interesting to give it a try. I came across this from the pump-clip artist - not one for the faint hearted; it may well make you sprint past a garden full of gnomes at full tilt next time you're passing one at night. I'm sure there's some back-story to this one!

While I'm a massive fan of Scottish beer in general, 'Scottish Ale' as a style, isn't really one of my favourites, so I wasn't sure what I was going to make of this one. It pours an almost impenetrable brooding dark brown. As you'd expect the malt is dominant on the nose; there's loads of prunes and sweet spices. On the palate there's dried fruit, oats and dark chocolate. Generally I find Scottish Ale a bit sweet for my liking but this stayed away from being cloying; probably benefiting from both the medium body and not being too high in alcohol (5%). It'd be a great one for a haggis supper, along with a wee drop of whisky of course.

My wife's, rather more concise, tasting note was 'Yeah, I like that a lot; it's very easy drinking.' It sounds like I'm being forgiven for winning too many pint glasses in the trivia competition. Cheers Broughton, Black Douglas to follow!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

1000 Not Out

It was interesting to read today that the number of breweries in the UK has hit the one thousand mark. Is this number sustainable? My initial feeling is that one brewery per fifty pubs doesn't sound that sustainable, but maybe we could end up in a situation where almost every brewery supplies a network of a few pubs in their area, producing just enough to supply them, and keeping everything local. Or, perhaps even more attractive as a drinker, every pub effectively brewing its own beer? Of course the increase in brewery numbers might be sustainable regardless of pub numbers if the overall market trend towards drinking at home continues. Minimum pricing, 'beer tourism' and ease of access to export markets might also help small breweries compete with volume brands and further strengthen their position.

The biggest single factor behind the expansion is the Progressive Beer Duty (PBD) introduced in 2002. Since its introduction the number of breweries has more than doubled. Maybe PBD needs to be looked at before it's revoked entirely? I'd suggest some sort of voluntary change, a recommendation from the industry, might be better than hoping nobody in a think-tank somewhere decides that without PBD the government could recoup a lot of money that would be "Better off in the taxpayers' pockets rather than brewers'."

One of the reasons behind PBD is the promotion of diversity, but are we really seeing that diverse a beer scene? As Ed points out here on his blog, there are certain breweries that come up time and time again when people who are interested in these things are asked what their favourites are. It could be because of blogger insularity, but it could also be argued that there are actually rather few breweries that are doing something genuinely different, producing more than just a few core lines that are, fundamentally, rather similar to so many other breweries. After all, most beer isn't really a local product as such. Yes, it might be produced locally, but it's unlikely that all the raw materials are locally sourced. It's a simplification of course, but there's more to beer being different than a variation in label design.

I'm not writing as a brewer, or any kind of industry insider, and I'm far from the first person to ask them, but I think there are some questions that are worth asking. I'd say thinking about the implications of having so many breweries is something that ought to be done now rather than in the future. I'd hate to think that years from now we might draw a parallel with wine, where EU money ended up being funnelled into vine-pulling schemes and supply and demand were so out of kilter that wine ended up being turned into industrial alcohol. If the UK's brewing industry is, as some suggest, the envy of the world, then maybe exports are the way to sustain what people have worked so hard to put together?

Obviously the question of whether the 1000 figure (or more) is sustainable is a moot one, but without a direction for the industry to move in, a model for the future, I'd suggest things could go rather wrong. It wouldn't be the first time it has, hence why there is a Campaign for Real Ale. At the moment things look rather healthy for the brewing industry in this country, but I would hate to see complacency set in. In the mean time, here's to enjoying what we have!


Note: One piece that's worth reading on the subject is on the Adnams site here. If anyone has any more that aren't behind pay-walls then let me know in the comments. It's not something I'm claiming to know a lot about, and it's also a very broad issue, but I think this milestone raises some interesting questions. Comments are, as always, welcome.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Adnams 'Spindrift'

Having cracked open an old favourite bottle of wine last week it was good to see Adnams stock its more up-to-date vintage. At the other end of the 'favourite activities' scale I found myself in Sainsbury's the other day, and sought succour in the beer aisle - or, as it turned out, the 'ale' section which was lurking in the wine aisle. It was an Adnams beer that caught my eye. It's a brewery I'm not that familiar with - one of the sister pubs to the one I used to manage used to have Broadside on hand-pull but it's not something I particularly remember having seen a lot of in Nottingham.

I was musing recently that some beers don't seem to make the transition to bottle that well, but if this is one that was originally brewed with cask in mind then, for me, it translates very well. On opening the grassy and lemony-hop aromas leap up at you, although they're a little more restrained on pouring, when the malt comes through a little more. On the palate it's impeccably balanced between the malt and the hop flavour, the caramel and biscuity malt providing backbone to the light body and the hay and citrus hop flavours. All in all a most enjoyable summer beer.

I feel I have to mention the blue bottle. I thought it was pretty cool, my wife thought it made it look like an alcopop; although she really liked the beer. On the other hand, crisp and refreshing are not flavour descriptors - as marketing terms they're best left firmly in the court of those who make drinks that don't taste of much and need chilling down so far as to make sure you can't taste anything. Adnams perhaps need to have a little more confidence in how good their beer is? It's never easy is it?

A lot of flavour packed into a 5% beer. Worth a go; a cure for 'supermarket blues' perhaps? £1.79 (33cl).

Monday, 3 September 2012

Hawkshead 'New Zealand Pale Ale'

NZPA started life as a British export in the late 19th century. Although popular myths suggest that it was shipped to Lions rugby players in 1888, in fact it was more the coaching staff and press core that used to drink it at the time, the players themselves having developed a preference for a chilled glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - a local beverage very popular at the time and now, sadly, confined to the three for a tenner bin at Asda. A few ships were unfortunately wrecked on the Australian coast at the time, allowing the locals to sample the now famous beverage. This actually led to the Australians developing a deep mistrust of hop-flavours, something that is only being overcome in very recent brewing history.

OK, so I made some made stuff up. Although by all accounts it's no worse than the rubbish peddled by Tui* with regard to their 'East India Pale Ale.' Back to the beer in hand though, this is from Hawkshead's well-hopped collection, made exclusively with New Zealand hops, and, rather like the wines do at their best, it does seem to encapsulate that vibrant Aotearoa freshness, something I'd imagine it would be more difficult to do if the beer, rather than just the hops, had come half way round the world. As you might expect it's fruity on the nose, but it also shows a certain tartness which gives it a nice contrast rather than it turning into a tropical fruit punch. On the palate it does a great job of staying the right side of crisp and clean, at no point do the fruit flavours overpower the beer; passion fruit balancing nicely with crisp green apple. Despite not being shy of exhibiting a powerful punch, it's a beer without harsh edges; drinkable and extremely tasty.

6% abv. £3.10 (33cl) from Beer Ritz.

* Pronounced 'twee' as in sickeningly corny, which makes sense when you see how their advertising works.

Edit: I thought I'd add a soundtrack. A British remix of a kiwi band that the friends I met in New Zealand introduced me to. A soundtrack to summers since, despite it being winter when I was there - well it was a mild enough winter to turn the snowboarding part of the trip into a skydiving one! Motueka rocked.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The World's Best Bad Beer?

What's the most under-rated beer ever? Well , how about Watney's Red Barrel? Perhaps being too young to remember it is a good thing, but I've never tried it. It's just something that gets talked about (a lot) as the basest of beers, a sort of benchmark from which the only way is up. When I first started going to pubs cask beer was the norm, not an exception. The first pubs I regularly drank in with my mates, the choice seemed to be mild or bitter; lager didn't really figure, perhaps it was expensive. I do have more experience than I care to remember with 'smooth' type keg beers, the entire purpose of which seemed to me to be to take a beer and give it an additional, unpleasant chemical taste. We used to describe it as 'bitter flavoured lager' in one of the pubs I used to work in, although I think any claim it has flavour is something of an exaggeration.

Curious? *
But things are always relative. Just as the next series of 24 had to feature more torture, explosions and killings (more than seven anyway - see 4m30 in if you don't get the reference) then for some breweries their next release has to be proclaimed as better, and therefore gets more hyped than the last, and there surely comes a point where the beer can't live up to the press.

Since Watney's Red Barrel is almost a synonym for bad kegged beer I wonder exactly how bad it can be? As opposed to just tasteless.

Have a look at Scotland's most under-rated beer over at the beercast for a (slightly) more serious approach which made me think of this.

* Picture taken from Martyn Cornell's blog article here.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Purple Moose

Do some beer styles just not 'translate' that well from draught to bottle? Whenever I'm in the pub I almost always have one of the beers that are on tap. Exceptions would be rare, usually imported beers that I know wouldn't be available on draught or from the usual places online where I buy beers to drink at home.

I don't think it's the same thing as I come across in wine classes. Some wines don't show themselves too well in a rather sterile, 'classroom' environment; most quality wines are made to go with food, and actually don't come across that well compared to a modern fruit-driven, 'TV wine' when they're sampled on their own. I might be wrong but, while there are many great food matches for beers, there are fewer of them that are made specifically to go with foods. I think it's maybe a bit more like 'dance' music that might be great in a club when played through a large PA, but somehow falls a bit flat when it's on your home stereo. Or maybe it's like a recording of a gig you really enjoyed when you were there but, when you watch/listen again, you wonder quite how you didn't notice how bad the sound was at the venue?

I don't blame breweries for wanting to get their products out there; selling bottles is a brilliant way of raising the profile of a brewery. I think that coming up with and producing a recipe for a beer that works on draught is the best way to go about it; the beer should be as good as a brewer can make it in the medium it is created for - it's just unfortunate that sometimes it doesn't do itself justice served in a different way. Simon has mentioned a similar thing over at CAMRGB, where, when trying one of these same beers, he concluded his interest was piqued a lot more by stronger bottles beers when drinking at home.

The three Purple Moose beers I had to try were a present from when my parents visited North-West Wales a while back so I don't know any prices. 

Snowdonia Ale: There's a smack of pale malt on the nose, it's a lovely, fresh aroma, with lots of meadow hay and meadowy notes.The palate is light and floral, and it's very drinkable, with a touch of sweetness and umami notes on the finish. 3.6% abv.

Madog's Ale: Pours a lovely red-amber colour. This has a bit more of a spicy, metallic aroma, and is more pithy than the Snowdonia. The sweetness of the Snowdonia is gone, with the hops coming through a bit more, there are hints of orange, and again, marmite in the finish. 3.7% abv.

Glaslyn Ale: Once again the nose is dominated by the malt, the hops on the palate are a bit soapier, and it's more fruity than the other two; showing red apples and honey with a more rounded character. 4.2% abv.

So three beers which, while I think would be perfectly good session beers on draught, at home are decent enough, but don't really exhibit a great deal of character. What I do like is that they share certain elements - it suggests there is a 'Purple Moose' flavour profile - which means they are far from being another homogenised beer

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Year in Beer

It's been roughly a year since I started blogging about beer. Although this Blogger blog only really got going after the Robin Hood Beer Festival in October, I had written some pieces before, some of which I transferred over when I recently found copies. If you'll indulge me just a little recap here are, in alphabetical order rather than one of favouritism (making it much easier for me to decide), my favourite five bottled beers I have reviewed in the 140 or so posts I've written on this blog in the last year:

Brasserie d’Achouffe 'Houblon Chouffe'
Bristol Beer Factory 'Southville Hop'
Hardknott 'Queboid'
Harviestoun 'Ola Dubh' 12
Thornbridge 'Raven'

And so a conclusion can be drawn - I'm still a big IPA fan all these years after my conversion in the first pub I was ever assistant manger of, years after Youngers IPA has gone the way of all things. There is the caveat however, and that's that big hoppy IPAs (and big imperial stouts) are liable to stand out clearly in the memory. Witness how many times new world wines 'are better than classed growth chateaux' in whatever latest wine challenge.

The most read article I've written was this one questioning BrewDog's policies about topping up in a couple of their new bars. This is mainly because of this post on their forum, which I can't read because I'm not a shareholder - so I still have no idea what it's about. Oddly, the most searched for term that has brought the most people to my blog is 'Peter Griffin no bones.'

So what's the other lesson? Well, if traffic is important to you, and you'd like to boost your Wikio ranking, whatever that is, then the wisdom I can share from my first year of blogging is: Say something controversial about BrewDog, preferably involving Peter Griffin. Sweet.

I'm kidding, don't send hate mail (again).

On a more serious note I'd like to say thank you to everyone that does read this blog, everyone who chats to me on Twitter and keeps my beer and blogging enthusiasm going, and in particular to B&B, Zak, and Steveowners of the blogs that people read before stumbling blindly into this one.

Cheers all!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Peelander Tripel

Peelander is a completely new brewery on me. This triple was a present from my brother and my sister-in-law who were over from The Netherlands to visit recently. Given where the beer is from I think they probably got it when they were down in Zeeland - my sister-in-law's mum lives down there and so they probably picked it up while visiting.

Having left it to stand for quite a while it initially poured clear. Once I'd got to the bottom there was some yeast sediment. It's a light gold colour with a good fluffy head. The nose is dominated by citrus fruit, mainly lemon, and with a touch of spice. This is reflected on the palate where there's loads of tangy apple, juicy citrus and pine flavour that really gets your mouth watering. It doesn't have the dustiness that I associate with its near neighbours over the Belgian border, although it does have a lingering, yeasty finish. Overall I thought this was an excellent beer, lots of character, as you'd expect from a triple, but really fresh, accessible and probably quite dangerously moreish considering the alcohol content!

8% abv. I've got no idea on the cost, sorry! (33cl)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Skinner's 'Betty Stogs'

Melissa Cole was on fine form yesterday, launching herself at the sexism of certain breweries' marketing techniques over on her blog. It was great to see lots of support in the form of comments and re-tweets from people I talk to in the beeriverse on Twitter. I've mentioned it before but I think it's something that is worth re-iterating. In order to convince a new generation of drinkers (of both sexes) to drink beer, the sexism and schoolboy humour really ought to stop. I'm not talking about censorship or some sort of ban, I just think that good beer should be treated with some respect; it deserves better.

That's not to say that everything has so be constantly and slickly managed by an expensive PR company, but breweries should have, and be seen to have, some pride in their product. The fact is that bottle labels and pump clips are often the first thing a prospective customer encounters, and if they look shabby and out-dated then it will discourage a generation of extremely brand-conscious drinkers for whom sophisticated drinks advertising campaigns are completely normal fare.

If you think it's harmless, and that the casual sexism and cartoon images contained on many labels and pump-clips are just a joke, then fine; but when the 'real ale' selection in your pub is reduced, and a new bar fridge is put in chock-full of Smirnoff Ice, then you had it coming.

Breweries; leave the alienation of women to the big brands like Foster's and Carling - please let them go under rather than something that's worth being proud of. Of course, if you're not really proud of your beer, then feel free to put a large picture of a dog-turd on the label. I suppose at least it's not sexist.

And so to beer, and why that rant is somewhat relevant. My other half was in the supermarket the other week and gave me a bell to say 'Have you tried...' I said I hadn't, and so she bought it. I would have stopped her if I'd have thought a bit more. Skinner's are responsible for, amongst others, the travesty that is 'Cornish Knocker' and, as I think I probably illustrated above, I would avoid of their beers because I think if they're prepared to associate themselves with that sort of branding then I don't think they'd particularly care about their beer.* I'm not saying that's how it is, but that label is the only impression of them that I have and therefore, before drinking their beer, have nothing else to judge them on.

The 'Betty Stogs' pours a pleasant reddish-amber colour and the head didn't hang around very long. On the nose there's a touch of lemon but mainly I got caramel biscuit aromas - kind of like Jacob's Trio if anyone remembers them! On the palate there's an initial light fruitiness; citrus in particular and there's not much to the finish. I think this is just a beer that doesn't translate that well to a bottle. I'm sure it would be a perfectly enjoyable session beer on hand-pull, but like many similar beers it doesn't work so well in a different format. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it keep pubs open after all.

4.0% abv. £2.09 (50cl) from Beers of Europe (I don't know what my wife paid for it.)

Edit: Stephen Beaumont has weighed in on the issue too. It's not just the 'real-ale' stereotype, it happens everywhere, as you can see from this Session #66 post from The Pour Curator (aka Greg).

* Since I've not tried it then I won't pass judgement on Cornish Knocker as a beer. Simon over at CAMRGB did here though.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Brooklyn Brace

Whilst up in Yorkshire for most of the last couple of weeks I picked up a couple of Brooklyn beers from Roberts and Speight in Beverley. I originally bought the EIPA for my brother to take back to Holland with him but he forgot it, and because the best before date was next month I did the decent thing and drank it for him. The other was a chocolate stout; since my other half seems to be developing a taste for them, she wanted to give this one a try. More self-sacrifice was required; I had to help since she felt she couldn't finish a whole bottle of 10% beer on her own.

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale is fairly restrained on the nose, with caramel and maybe a little stone-fruit. The hops are more noticeable once you get to the palate. There you get more of the dankness which I generally associate with the more hop-heavy American offerings - and their British cousins.* A faint wood-smoke and pine bitter finish rounds it all off rather nicely.

As a side note, I'm not sure I'd classify it as an 'English' IPA (apart from for the obvious reason, maybe a New England IPA?) but it's certainly different to the lighter-bodied, tropical/citrus fruit offerings that you get from most American craft brewers, and so I suppose the classification serves a purpose. Having said that it strikes me that IPA is such an abused and misused term that it is in danger of becoming almost meaningless it's so broad. None of this detracts from this as a beer though, I thought it was excellent. Although it owes most of its flavour to the hops the malt is not ignored, and I think this gives it a complexity that often gets overlooked in modern IPA.

6.9% abv. (355ml) £2.19 if you order it from Beers of Europe.

Brooklyn Brewery Chocolate Stout is a different beast altogether. I'm not sure that full-bodied even begins to describe this one. It's almost chewy! I actually found myself swirling it round my snifter glass to see if it had the viscosity of a Pedro Ximénez sherry - it's not quite that thick but you get the idea. It's sweet, stopping just short of being cloying, which is helped by a bitter finish. As well as the rich chocolate flavours I got a touch of liquorice too.

10% abv. (355ml) £3.39 if you order it from Beers of Europe.

* Many thanks to David (see the link) for giving me a word I can use to describe something that reminds me of weed!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Magic Rock 'Human Cannonball' IIPA

Since I left the pub trade a huge number of breweries have started up, completely changing the face of the UK pub and beer scene. Many of these escaped my notice since I was immersed in sitting wine exams and trying to get my head round grape clones and rootstock types. Since I started beer blogging and re-discovering British beer in particular, Magic Rock have been one brewery that has been constantly recommended and raved about, but I've just never got round to trying. The day after IPA day was therefore IPA day squared, a chance to relive #downDIPA perhaps?

Given I'm not a massive fan of Imperial IPA as a style, I was impressed by this one. It was getting close to its best before date, which might have affected the freshness, but if so I suspect it mellowed rather than deteriorated. It poured a deep reddish-amber colour, and there's bags and bags of hops on the nose, delivering rich citrus and tropical fruit. On the palate the hops are, relatively for a double IPA, held back; which I think gives the beer a better balance, allowing some of the caramel sweetness of the malt to come through. On the basis of this my appetite for Magic Rock beer is well and truly whetted, I'll continue to be on the look out for more of their beers.

You can have a bit of a read of the story behind Human Cannonball here.

It's a very well disguised 9.2% abv. I got this one from Beer Ritz, although I'm not sure what I paid for it. Slurp are charging £3.90 (33cl.)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

BrewDog 'Never Mind The Anabolics'

I popped into BrewDog in Nottingham the other day because I fancied trying this one, and it seemed appropriate enough for a second IPA day beer. If you have a high enough tolerance for BrewDog's publicity antics and you haven't seen the things they did for their 'Olympic' beer it's over here. Me? I like IPA, and given an opportunity to try a new one I'm always up for it, and that's unlikely to be changed by how little or much noise the brewery make.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect given the claims about 'controversial' additives. It pours a lovely coppery red colour. |On the nose there's pine and an earthy, herbal note, presumably from the ginseng. On the palate here's plenty of juicy tropical and citrus fruit hops as you'd expect from a BrewDog IPA, but overall I just wasn't that impressed. It's decent enough, but not that exciting or different.

The acid test of these things is usually the question of would I buy it again? Well, I don't think I would. I don't think it's really that much better than BrewDog's staple Punk IPA, assuming it's on form - I have heard there are some issues, to justify the extra money.

6.5% abv. £4.66 from the brewery if you buy six.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Durham Brewery 'Bombay 106' IPA

I don't think I had any involvement in IPA Day last year, it was a bit early in my blogging days so I probably wasn't aware of it in all the hubub. Anyway, here I am celebrating my first IPA Day. A day to celebrate what is probably my favourite style of beer. What's not to like?

First up was a beer I've been looking forward to trying for ages. Much as I like the American styles of IPA it's British IPAs that are my first love from way back, and in the wake of British performances in the Olympics which have actually stopped my usual cynicism in its tracks it seemed doubly appropriate. As far as I'm aware Durham Brewery (admirably in my opinion) won't sell their beers through supermarkets, so this isn't something you're going to find outside of specialists or on-line. Look out for their #sourpower day to celebrate the release of the really exciting sounding Diabolus that's happening on the 6th of September.

Enough pre-amble, on with the beer. It's bottle conditioned and leapt out of the bottle after opening so it didn't pour very clear, although I just about managed to miss my phone and hit the glass with only minor spillage! Crisis averted I dived right in. It was well worth the wait, a really excellent, unashamedly bitter beer. None of your new world tropical fruit in this one; there's some lemon and grapefruit on the nose but it's just luring you into a false sense of security before the steely metallic flavour on the palate hits you with everything it has. Short, sharp and definitely to the point. The finish is crisp, the mineral hop hit doesn't hang around long enough to get unpleasant, rapidly moving on to spices; pepper that urges you to try more.

Obviously IPA Day deserved more than one IPA, but the Bombay deserved its own post. A superb beer; BrewDog's 'Olympic Beer' will have to wait.

7% abv. £3.36 (50cl) from Beer Ritz.

Credit: IPA Day logo, with the date 'corrected', taken from Martyn Cornell's Zythophile blog. His posts debunking IPA myths are well worth a read.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Saltaire 'Triple Chocoholic'

Yesterday was Yorkshire Day, so a bit of a rummage round the cellar unearthed a couple of appropriate beers, and the Saltaire 'Triple Chocoholic' was voted in by my other half as the one to celebrate with. It was perhaps inevitable that we'd compare it to the Meantime Chocolate Porter that we had last week.

For starters this seems to be far less of a 'beer for people who don't like beer.' (See Pintsized Ticker's experiment here.) The nose was dominated by the chocolate malt, despite being only 12% of the malts involved, but it was the aromas that reminded me very much of nosing the chocolate malt at the Gwaun Valley Brewery the other week that stood out - it was in one of the jars pictured. On the palate the chocolate definitely comes through but it doesn't have the viscous texture of the Meantime that leaves it being a lot more 'beery' rather than a more indulgent 'dessert in a bottle' style. If this sounds negative then I don't mean it to be, I think that the two beers, despite obvious similarities, are very different. The Saltaire uses chocolate to complement the beer rather than being the be all and end all of it; the bitterness of the hops is still there and the power of the malt means there's cocoa and biscuity qualities that add another layer of complexity. The name Triple Chocoholic, to me, does suggest something more of a chocolate overload than the beer delivered, and while I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing in terms of making a beer I wonder whether some people might be disappointed.

4.8%, £2.69 (50cl) from Beer Ritz.

PS. A reminder it's IPA day today. Hope you've got your hop-bombs in for the occasion! Potential menu includes Durham Bombay 106, BrewDog Never Mind the Anabolics or Moor Illusion. Nice decisions to make.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Meantime Chocolate Porter

Despite outward appearances this blog hasn't become sponsored by Meantime Brewing Company, but of the last few beers I've had in bottle, two of the ones that have captured my imagination just happen to have come from them. I've also got a whacking great big bottle of Meantime IPA awaiting my love and attention, so don't be surprised if they pop-up again.

On first pouring I got more of the porter aromas and very little chocolate. I though it might just be too cold, having just come out of the fridge, and so I left it in the snifter to get a bit of air and warm up a bit. I'm very glad I did. The aromas dramatically changed as the beer warmed, by the time I actually took a sip I felt like I'd been dipping my nose in chocolate for a while - I did rope in the assistance of a 'thirst-quencher' in order to enable resisting temptation. It's a lovely luxurious beer, the chocolate isn't overly sweet, meaning it stays drinkable rather than cloying. I'm not a massive chocolate fan, but I really enjoyed this, the chocolate and fudge-brownie complementing the porter elements rather than overpowering them and the balance is preserved. This is further helped by the dark chocolate laden bitter finish. 

6.5% abv. This was a gift from my wife. I was very grateful; as I was grateful for her generosity in helping me with the tasting notes. Her verdict: 'I'll have that again as my drink at Christmas.' Praise indeed. I thought the bottle warranted a mention too. I really like the Burgundy/Champagne touch in the bottle shape, it's eye-catching, which I suppose is just the ticket if you want your beer to make its way to someone's home rather than sitting on a supermarket shelf.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Meantime London Pale Ale

I've really been enjoying some understated hop-driven offerings recently; beers like the Great Newsome Pricky Back Otchan and the newest of Gwaun Valley's beers, the Bitter Ale. I don't mean spectacularly, in-your-face hoppy like the Jackhammer I had in BrewDog Nottingham the other night, which was great, but hardly the most sophisticated of beers. These are beers where the flavours are that bit more difficult to pin down, potentially all the better for that if you're enjoying a quiet contemplative bottle at home rather than a pint down the pub, where sometimes you want the flavours to leap up at you so you can get on with your conversation.

The Meantime London Pale Ale definitely fits into this category. I'm not sure if it's a traditonal or a modern beer. It's bitter, but it's not a brown bitter. It's pale ale, in the original sense of 'not dark' but it didn't really have the feel of either an American pale ale, or a more traditional Burton ale. I'm even conflicted as to whether it's a good thing that these beers are popping up in some supermarkets. Maybe I should just concentrate on enjoying it? There's plenty to enjoy after all. Lot of juicy, zesty, citrus fruit to back up that mown-hay bitterness and malty texture. (4.3%. £1.65 for a 33cl bottle in Sainsbury's)

Briefly returning to BrewDog. I also had a schooner of Libertine; the new black IPA that's going in as part of their core range. Despite problems I've heard from various sources about erratic Punk IPA quality and continued problems with their supply chain, BrewDog are still doing something right at least - this really is a superb beer. One cheeky query though. A brewer I know would like to know if it's BrewDog who've bought up all the Simcoe hops? If it's Simcoe that's responsible for the Libertine then can you please share? I for one would like to see more of this sort of thing!