March 4th, 2013Beer Reviews
Sacrebleu! Even ‘King Eric’ is talking about hops. If you haven’t seen it yet, the new Kronenbourg 1664 ad stars French football legend Eric Cantona masquerading as a hop farmer. The commercial is set in an Alsace village where the local crop growers are treated like soccer stars for producing the hops “that make Kronenbourg so special”. Cracking marketing no doubt, but perhaps a kung-fu kick to the face of beer geeks everywhere courtesy of the Heineken owned company.
It came just days after Beck’s (an arm of American brew giant Anheuser-Busch InBev) launched its new 6% ‘Sapphire’ beer during last Sunday’s Superbowl commercials; the main selling point – other than its fancy black bottle and singing goldfish – the use of ‘German Sapphire hops’, apparently to aid their “smoothest Beck’s yet”.
The ads themselves have been well received on social networking sites for their humour, however gimmicky; though I’m not sure the feeling is shared amongst real ale and craft beer aficionados. Independent brewers of specialist, hoppy beers face enough competition from their peers without the big boys and their huge advertising budgets muscling in.Tags: Cantona, heineken, hops, kronenbourg
February 6th, 2013Stout & Porter
I’d love to know if Courage Imperial Russian Stout tastes anything like the dark stouts that circumnavigated the Baltic coasts on it’s blustery journey towards the courts of nineteenth century Russia.
I’ll never know what those early imperial stouts tasted like, no matter how many historical accounts I read or how many experts I ask. Even if an antique bottle surfaced and I could tease a tiny drop from it’s degraded cork, it would be no fair representation of the dark liquid that in the nineteenth century became more than just a stylish beer, but a style of beer.
The story of Russian Imperial Stout is somewhat disputed – better blogs cover that here and here – but don’t the best histories always have a few enhancing evolutions over the years? Whether you prefer rousing stories or raw statistics there’s little doubting the Russian penchant for strong dark English beer that worked it’s way along the Baltic trade routes.
Courage was not the first to brew an imperial stout for Russia (that was most likely Thrales), and the brewery no longer exists, but as I’m sat peering into a Courage Imperial Stout late one Sunday night you could easily convince me otherwise.
The aroma fills the curves of the rotund glass and becomes thick enough to breathe in and bite. Did the drinkers of the Russian court swill it around in expensive glass vessels and take long drawn out sniffs? Did they compare the rich chocolate notes to a creamy latte or recognise cranberries in the fruity flavours? They definitely won’t have thought ‘dashes of Nutella’ and scribbled down excited tasting notes.
Nor would they have had Proustian memories of a homemade pear and chocolate upside down cake left in the oven a little too long. They might have exhaled in satisfaction at the way the fruity and coffee flavours are wrapped up in a tobacco cuddle like a friendly beer cigar.
The Russians would probably think I’m mad (you might?) but then again I don’t have large volumes of my favourite beer imported by sea from hundreds of miles away across cold, heaving channels, just because I can’t be bothered to make it at home.
Thank Gambrinus for Courage and this dark, smoky bundle of history. It’s a real treat with a great story.Tags: chocolate, cigar, pear, Russia, Tobacco
January 31st, 2013Lagers
A cyclist eases along the uncluttered embankment; a couple stand contentedly at the waters edge peering towards their future; a couple of suits stroll happily in the yellowing evening light towards an ice cream van sat under the shade of a riverside tree.
So is printed the scene on every bottle of Meantime London Lager. I imagine the inky outlines slowly awakening into a perfect city portrait, rustling and rising to the cafes and bars for a peaceful drink.
The reality is more likely to be Boris bikes avoiding brisk paced briefcases and couples cringing into cameras, tensed outstretched arms aiming backwards to frame faces in front of famous skylines; seagulls, crisp packets and gust-strewn hair swirl and swoosh in an orchestrated effort to ruin the shot.
Luckily I can gaze at the winning shot hanging on the wall whilst sipping a brisk and fizzy lager, reminiscing on our recent trip to the capital (the winner was the best of a bad bunch). The creamy body, cornflake flavours and subtle lemony scent are a picture perfect beer, a long way from the stereotypical lager of crummy pubs and industrial processes. Even the bitterness feels calm and natural, light and transient like the crunch of celery.
The London Eye creeps skywards over the serene label edge. The only way to enjoy this surreal version of the city is to jump aboard; and with that I grab another bottle of this seductively crafted (and marketed) beer.Tags: lager, London, Meantime
I’ll wager right now that you won’t find a more attractive bottle of beer in the supermarket. The thick curvaceous bottles of St Peter’s Brewery stand out like a vintage medicine vessel, reminiscent of a simpler, more authentic age.
Vintage is one way of describing the brewery’s heritage. Housed in a medieval hall deep in rural Suffolk, St Peter’s deliberately leverage their location to their advantage. And whilst their history may be less rich (incorporated 1996) the supermarket shelves are enhanced with their marketing angle.
The bottles are modelled on a US gin bottle from the eighteenth century and this particular fake is temporary home to 500 millilitres of St Peter’s Best Bitter that’s working it’s way towards my sensory system.
This is a bristly bitter beer; colour the epitome of amber, taste the epitome of England; caramel and pepper flavours whilst the linger is all hedgerow and moorland bitterness.
The thick green gin bottle, the faintly herbaceous aftertaste, the hanging logo embossed with subtle confidence into the glass. I’ll wager right now you won’t find a better looking beer in the supermarket. You might not find many better at representing the East of England either.Tags: bitter, suffolk
1January 9th, 2013Belgian/Trappist
Stroll through an ageing orchard, take a gulp of the musty air at the defunct pressing room door. Continue past the old farm cottage to the door of the dirty whitewashed inn where the drip trays need emptying. The fruit in the bowl near the window has seen better days, and through the yellowed single pane of glass the smoke rises from the chimney in the monastery opposite. A calm shadow sneaks across the cobbles dodging wooden stools and deposits freshly baked bread with the rotund innkeeper, a silent nod the only interaction before the mysterious robed shape is gone.
Order briskly but politely and then pause to acknowledge the peppery scent, which laces the pyramid of froth in top of the brooding liquid. It glows with some kind of knowing soul. Perhaps it was the confident almost challenging pour, the beer dispatcher from curvaceous glass to angular chalice with an unexpected deftness. Sip the slightly sour, herbaceous barley juice that’s so different to it’s contemporaries. It’s no wonder those monks believe in heaven, they just don’t realise it’s closer to home than they think.
The above is a figment of imagination. Orval was the muse.
Hercules Double IPA lives up to it’s name from the first overloaded sniff. To paraphrase The Boss (and a bit of Bob too) the hops hit you like a freight train running through the middle of your mouth; this beer was definitely born in the USA.
Hercules is bursting at the seams with tangy grapefruit bitterness, and he ram raids my tongue and the back of my throat. Pow. He’s strong too and thumps me in the head with a 10% alcohol punch. Kaboom.
Balance isn’t Hercules’ strong point. But it’s not supposed to be. This is not a session beer, at least not in the English sense. This beer is a drinking challenge, like the multi-meat vindaloo hiding at the bottom of the menu with a caption ‘invented by our favourite regular, Lucifer’.
And it’s well named. A brute force hop monster dominated by bruising bitterness, seeping resin and slowly bleeding booze; a hedonistic but messy mix of crazed pine cones and hyperactive barley.
Hell if hops could spontaneously combust this beer would be on fire.Tags: great divide, hops
Sometimes a beer tastes far better than it looks, and sometimes a beer looks much better than it tastes.
Shepherd Neame Double Stout looks so good my first thought is to worry profusely that it won’t live up to its aesthetic appearance.
I needn’t have worried.
It’s not the double stout I’ll drink on my wedding day, or save for my first born child’s 18th, but sat on the cusp of the festivities, last one standing (well, sitting) on Christmas Eve, it’s a manifestation of the calm before the storm.
A quintessentially modern vintage design introduces a stout to be proud of. Creamy but
carcinogeniccharred; fruit finished with rustic chocolate; bitter and laced with promises of liquorice. A quintessential stout, doubly aromatic, easy to drink but restrained.
A double stout nightcap at Christmas is no surprise. That it came in Shepherd Name bottle is a bit of an unexpected present.Tags: shepherd neame
December 25th, 2012Beer Reviews
11.37 After much temptation from the twitterati the first beer falls. Double Espresso stout by Traditional Scottish Ales puts the fear of death in even the darkest of carpets. A drop trickles from the bottle neck and is quickly licked up. That one drop has more taste than whole pints of lesser beers. Thick creamy vanilla coffee medicinal toasty pods beans wet and sweet as hell. Yum yum.
13.35 I have to dive into one of my presents early, “You might need this one” my nearly mum in law tells me. Six sessonally themed beers – get in! First up Mr Sno’balls, chewy malt and citrus bite to clear the lingering taste of frothy coffee. Wisps of resin and lemon and a little oily and not remotely Christmasy except that it’s a respite from strong brown beers. Result!
14.55 ‘Pass the pepper?’ ‘Want more sprouts?’ ‘Pigs in blankets, yay!’ Christmas dinner is well under way when I run dry and Rudolph the Red Nosed White Horse Beer is swapped for Uncle Scrooge. It’s far from a typical festive ale but it’s also far from grumpy stick in the mud. I’m sure Oxfordshire Ales have something for sweet beers and this is no different with it’s slightly odd mix of sugar cane and malt. Suddenly it’s present time again which is just as well, as as fine as this is, it’s lost against Christmas pud.
18.39 I can’t shake the Rosey Nosey. Christmas themed it may be but it’s not a beer that I’d want to drink on Christmas Day. It doesn’t help that it’s the afternoon lull, post-dinner but pre-good-telly and with everyone too lethargic for board games. It’s quite simply a relatively boring teeth coating British amber bitter with plenty of caramel influence and to cut through the monotony. Please Santa deliver something fresh tasting next…
21.28 Crafty Dan is the perfect accompaniment to four rounds of Pointless the board game and an ad hoc mash up of Cranium sans the board. Sprightly compared to rest of the days beers but still packing 6% ABV it’s a brassy caramel and citrus beer with dashes of marmalade and fleeing glances of something stronger. It’s hard to think about it whilst drawing/acting/charading/humdingering but it’s made easier by been easy to drink without thinking. Good work Thwaites!
Ps you should see the scribbles from blind drawing…
22.00 “Why noy try a triangle of Dairylea with a whiff of Jim’s sock” says Sheila when her guest asks if they have Stilton on the Royle Family’s cheeseboard. We do have Stilton and I suspect that it’ll be the best match for Badger Ales Wandering Woodwose. In fact the flavours of artificial figs and sugar coated raisins seem to be complemented best by the soft subtleties of gorgonzola which takes the metallic edge off the strong ale. It doesn’t have the depth of a Fullers Vintage but it’s great to see Badger make something that I spend an hour trying with cheesestrings and philadelphia. Or am I getting confused with the telly?
NB Cheese pairing of the day goes to Manchego which loves the pepper crackers. Add a few crumbs of Mexicana for a spicy mash up made in cheese heaven.Tags: Badger, board games, cheese, christmas, coffee, festive, gorgonzola, Manchego
We hit Knaresborough under the cover of darkness not knowing what to expect, knowing only that Roosters Brewery are relaunching their famous Outlaw series.
For as long as we’ve lived in Leeds the beer on tap at the Cross Keys has been Roosters, week in week out. At North Bar, Wild Mule was virtually omnipresent and rarely defeated in having the fewest beer miles, which are chalked up next to each guest beer behind the bar.
So we arrive at The Mitre excited but confused as to why we’d swapped a typical Monday evening (ASDA, pizza, telly) for the drive into North Yorkshire. It was soon worth it.
The Mitre sits in the well of a steep lane, squeezed just opposite Knaresborough’s cute train station and a car park where there’s just enough room to turn a car, Austin Powers style. We’re greeted with a smart dining hall, a well turned out bar, and of course, Roosters on hand pull (a cheeky 284ml of Londinium please, with all it’s vibrant start and coffee finish. Yum yum but the lingering after taste means no kissing says the other half).
Before we’ve had a chance to waffle down a starter selection of lamb kebab, battered prawns and the most delicious bread and dips this side of a Greek Island, the pub is packed with people, all vying for a pint of Roosters Buckeye to kick start the evening.
Then we’re all bustling down the stairs to the underground brasserie where commercial manager and Roosters brother number one Tom Fozard explains why we’re here.
And as expected we are here to relaunch Outlaw Brewing Co, an offshoot set up by Roosters founder Sean Franklin to create innovative and challenging beers outside the brewery’s normal beer production.
It’s a concept that Ol Fozard, brother number two and head brewer (and apparently head brother too according his siblings introductory slip up) has embraced wholeheartedly, as the first new Outlaw brew is no less ambitious than a tea beer.
Yep, a beer made with tea, tea supplied by local tea empire Taylor”s of Harrogate. A family brewer and a family tea producer combining to make, well, a really decent brew!
Technically the beer served up at The Mitre is a prototype, and beer writer Melissa Cole is on hand to explain why she’ll be digging deep into Ol’s hop cupboard the next day when she mashes in with Ol.
And Melissa’s contribution has already been critical to direction of the final product. The beer – appropriately named Mad Hatter – is not just a tea beer but under Melissa’s guidance it’s a Jasmine Green Tea IPA.
It’s an artistic manoeuvre in adjunct flavours and the brewing traditions of tea and beer (we don’t quite get the IPA style but we can’t argue against the logic behind a green tea beer being designed as an India pale ale). Mad Hatter is flavoured with English bittering hops plus US Cascade and Australian Galaxy to maintain the colonial theme.
And then there’s the teabagging. Finest jasmine creates a blossoming floral nose and delicate sweetness, set against an easy drinking backbone with just a fleeting bitterness to reference to the catty dry palate of green tea.
Bittering hops and green tea naturally leaves our palette gasping for another pint…
But it’s a school night and we head back to West Yorkshire in anticipation. Not just of the official batch of what we believe to be the UK’s first jasmine green tea beer, but of what beery concoction the mad hatters of Roosters will come up with next for the green shoots of Outlaw Brewing Co.Tags: green tea, jasmine, knaresborough, Mitre, outlaw, roosters
The planes have long blazed across the hazy horizon and we follow their sky trails as we descent into moorland. The landscape is littered with shake holes and marshy ponds who scoff at the lacklustre heat of the second day of summer. It’s a strange world of ochre, brown and hidden drops into darkness, a barren natural landscape pitted with the dormant pillage of man.
Soon we’re back below 300 metres above sea level, trudging through the well quarried landscape under the intensifying heat of a determined sun. The stony path can’t decide if it’s heading uphill or downhill but gradually it aches its way lower, two steps forward, one step back.
We have to take respite in Greg’s Hut, a renovated stone shelter where we find rabbit hutches, camping gear and prayer sheets in what we assume to be an Arabic script. Yes it’s an odd little hut. The guestbook attests to people having sheltered here only days before from torrential wind and rain. It’s a stark reminder that the Pennine Way isn’t always just a majestic wander between pubs.
It’s here we survey the map, calculating our ETAP (Estimated Time of Arrival at Pub), little knowing our frothy pints and plumped up beds are separated by endless miles of grouse country. It’ll be hours before we see a beer at Alston.
My makeshift sun parasol has exhausted my arms (it’s not easy walking whilst holding a folded Ordnance Survey map wrapped in a plastic map case above your head at just the right angle to block the sun). And just as the Way starts to get us down, we hit Corpse Road, a hard under foot lane that leads does into a glistening valley. The descent reveals a church spire and a long string of cottages glowing in the sunshine. Hello Garrigill! And there, overlooking a triangle of green land between the forks of the road, perfectly timed and with plenty of shade, The George & Dragon.
It had better be open…Tags: pennine way