Real Ale Reviews Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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    March 15th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBarley wine, Beer Reviews

    When Sarah’s first words on sipping a beer are “Woahhh!” then you know you’ve cracked open a bottle of something special.

    I also opted for a “Woahhh!” like sound when I sniffed this BrewDog/Mikkeller collaboration from 2009. Wow.

    “It doesn’t taste like beer” Sarah adds when she takes a tentative taste. Nope, indeed it doesn’t. Devine Rebel is all toffee and brandy with the volume turned up to Maxwell advert levels. “It’s more like that horrible Metaxa stuff!” Sarah declares. Yep, it kinda is, and that’s fitting as we are harnessing it’s opulent bouquet in a voluptuous brandy snifter.

    The aroma – all syrupy, brown sugar coated alcohol –  snakes out of the glass, and the taste similarly slides down the throat, reiterating the dominance of ethanol and reinforcing it’s similarities with a spirit rather than a beer. Only it’s texture, slimy as opposed to the silky smoothness of expensive wines or whiskies, makes you realise this is something else altogether.

    As if Devine Rebel 2009 wasn’t enough of a kick in the head – at 12% alcohol dominates the sensory glands – there’s a 2010 version to kick us whilst we’re down.

    It’s a rock ‘n’ roll rebellion we’re told, although aged in wooden whisky casks and toasted on French oak chips, Mikkeller/BrewDog Devine Rebel 2010 has a little more of the mature Mick Jagger to it than the legs akimbo Rolling Stones of the late 60s and early 70s…

    The younger versions additional wood conditioning is noticeable, not that it imparts a sense of age or oak, but enhances the medicinal content, consolidating the sterile single malt taste and adding a point of reference to what is a multifarious beer. It pours a deep orange-red-brown hazy syrup of beer, lined with wispy foam, that leaves a string of fire in your throat. You feel like you’ve just gone 88 mph and dunked your head in a flux capacitator. Luckily you don’t end up in 1955, but you’re head might just drop off your neck if you knock this back too quickly.

    Whether you fancy sampling the 2009 version or the 2010 gyle (or both!), sip, savour and enjoy the complex flavours: it’s an alcoholic desert, a pungent nightcap: brandy, whisky, cigars made of peat, a lick of chocolate, a dash of balsamic vinegar; a heavy brown tonic to knock you into the twilights hours and possibly lose you a few hours of your life.

    Mikkeller/BrewDog Divine Rebel 2010

    Mikkeller/BrewDog Devine Rebel 2010

    Mikkeller Divine Rebel 2010

    "25% malt beverage aged in Speyside whisky casks"

    Divine Revel: a rock n roll collaboration

    Devine Rebel: a rock n roll collaboration

    Beer information:
    Beer: Devine Rebel
    Brewery: Mikkeller / BrewDog
    Style: Barley wine
    ABV: 12.5%
    Country: Scotland (and Denmark)

    Beer information:
    Beer: Devine Rebel 2010
    Brewery: Mikkeller / BrewDog
    Style: Barley wine
    ABV: 13.8%
    Country: Scotland (and Denmark)

    Devine Rebel is a collaborative beer brewed by the enigmatic Mikel from Mikkeller, a brewery of no fixed abode. Putting him up for a few nights the Devine Rebel beers were created a BrewDog’s brewery facilities in Fraserburgh. Both the 2009 and 2010 versions are singled hopped malt beverages in the barley wine style (Nelson Sauvin being the hops of choice) and fermentation was aided by champagne yeast. Both were partially aged in whisky casks. So by all accounts they are not your average beers!

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    February 15th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBarley wine, Beer Reviews, IPA

    This not, I repeat NOT, an IPA.

    Punchy, citrus hops? Nil.
    Alcohol? Deep, stewed and sweet beyond believe.
    Apple skins & fruit pudding? Yes, yes, YES!

    None of which gives Moor JJJ IPA much credence as an IPA. But then again this isn’t an IPA nor a double IPA. It’s only a bleedin’ triple IPA(!!!). This couldn’t be further from Green King’s bland and monotonous flagship brand of ale and is similar in nothing but colour.

    By their own admission Moor didn’t brew this to style, in fact they encourage drinkers to ‘forget everything [they] know’ and not ‘”get too wrapped up in style pedantics”.

    Peach brandy, trifle, aniseed and a touch of ill-placed butter could all be found in this swirling, mesmerising malt syrup, which places it nearer to a barley wine than anything that could accurately be described as pale. A wet, sticky, booze-and-currant-infused pudding of a beer, where fruit has been soaked in alcohol and doused in decadence.

    So not quite the tropical nose or caramel body expected then?!

    I’d hazard a guess that my bottle had matured a little and the immense hop content that’s put into JJJ had imploded under it’s own weight, much like a supernova descending into the dense afterlife of a neutron star. As a result JJJ was heavy, cloying and almost sickly. The bitterness was massive and overpowering, the thick, resinous nose almost belittling the subsequent attack on my tongue. Half a pint at the National Winter Ales festival was similarly rich and uncompromising on the palette, if a little more fresh and grassy on the nose, and lighter in the mouth.

    If come across this at a bar, it’s repetitive Corona ball ‘n’ curves in bright lucid red jumping out at your eyes, then take your wallet from your pocket and sign it over to the Moor Beer Company and the pub who’ve been bold enough to put this on the bar.

    We can’t promise you’ll like it but it’s one hell of a ride all the same. Neither does it promise to be easy, and that’s the only promise it lives up to.

    Moor JJJ IPA

    Ooh, those serif curves...JJJ IPA is something to admire, and "not for the faint of heart"

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    May 5th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBarley wine, Beer Reviews
    Burton Bridge Tickle Brain Ale

    Burton Bridge Tickle Brain

    So far, I’ve not found Burton Bridge’s beers the easiest to drink. Their labelling challenges the normal conventions of beer branding and similarly their beers challenge the in-vogue tastes. But Henry VIII and a lack of Amarillo/C-Hop infused smack-you-round-head flavours aside, there’s something else different about this brewery.

    At Christmas I tried their Pale Ale and by a country mile it was the hardest beer I tried to write about during the festive period. I’ve still not got round to buying another bottle to formalise my views on it. So writing about the Tickle Brain is a bit of a gamble, especially as I’ve yet to distinguish what (if anything tangible) makes Burton Bridge so different.

    Tickle Brain pours amber with a hint of ruby. It’s foreboding, with little head or carbonisation. It looks…difficult.

    On the nose there’s noticeable brown apples, I can’t tell if the red or green kind. Esters or acetaldehyde, I guess. Alcohol dominates the first taste but further sips pull the curtains back on a complex interaction of bitterness and sweetness. Subsequent sips are washed around the mouth revealing the faintest tiniest hint of something Orvallian: root veg, pepper, spice; a weirdly sweet and perhaps imagined drop of raisins, Belgian Christmas-ale esque. Near the end I chuck the sediment in and the musty remains develops a buttery body, a surprisingly pleasing anecdote to the vinegar feeling the rest of the bottle left around my gums.

    Tickle Brain is Old Thumper as barley wine (or Abbey Beer as the branding suggests) with a dash of Belgian seasoning and unmistakeable alcohol. Two pours in to the bottle my head feels lighter and heavier at the same time. I guess you could call that Tickle Brain.

    CAMRA says...

    CAMRA says...

    Tickle Brain Ale. Does what it says the monk says on the tin.

    Tickle Brain Ale. Does what it says the monk says on the tin.

    *I wanted to say ‘undisguisable alcohol’, but my oversized Penguin dictionary (1,642 pages long) claims this does not exist as a word. Which seems silly. Language is fluid after all and undisguisable seems fairly standard. Am I missing an obvious alternative?!

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    January 5th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBarley wine, Bitters, Comment, Real Ale

    Are you a huge hop head? Do you crave Humulus Lupulus in your sleep? Maybe you even struggle to wake up after a few “double IPAs” and a night asleep on a hop pillow?!

    Well one Oxfordshire brewer has taken on the challenge to create the world’s bitterest beer, and his strategy: yeah you guessed it, he’s thrown a silly amount of hops into his brew.

    Pitstop Brewery are hoping to hit the Guinness Book of World Records with their bitter bitter

    Pitstop Brewery are hoping to hit the Guinness Book of World Records with their bitter bitter

    Pete Fowler of the Pitstop Brewery near Wantage rose to the occasion after a friend reckoned he couldn’t match the bitterness of US craft beers, and in Mr Fowler’s words ‘that was like red rag to a bull’. The beer (or barley wine) has over £100s worth of hops plus additional hop additives for one 9 barrel keg of the beer compared to a usual £5 worth.

    Bearing in mind the brewer himself hasn’t tried it yet and is expecting it to be in the region of 500 IBUs* (a theoretical number which scares the pants of my tastebuds) it raises interesting questions on innovation (or should I say ‘innovation’).

    Is this an ‘extreme beer’? Or is it simply a boisterous take on the traditional British bitter, tongue in cheek and one finger up to the extremists? Or just a bit of fun?!

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    December 16th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBarley wine, Beer and Food, Beer Reviews, IPA, Pale Ales

    After a hectic day out on Saturday in the bustling streets of York complete with Christmas Market, I needed to relax with good food and beer when I got home. I’d been eyeing up three Harvey’s beers in my cupboard for a week or so and had been planning to drink them all together. Saturday night seemed perfect, with the promise of a hot curry and Christmassy afters.

    Harvey’s Blue label

    The first of three Harvey’s beers, I was hoping this would nicely wash down a Thai green chicken curry. It’s a coppery pale ale and poured with next to no head. I was expecting something lively from this diminutive bottle, but it was generally flat and a bit watery. Having heard lots about Harvey’s beers my first impressions were a little underwhelming.

    Harvey's Blue Labvel - I love the simple branding and label design

    Harvey's Blue Labvel - I love the simple branding and label design

    It had a really nice, subtle aroma of lemons and limes, and there was a limey tang in the taste. It was super drinkable being soft on the palate with a smooth mouth feel. It wasn’t very bitter (the bottle says a ‘delicate bitterness’ which is an understatement) as you might expect from a beer weighing in at just 3.6% ABV. There was a sweet maltiness in the finish. I believe this beer is dry hopped which may explain some of its character

    This did actually live up the bill, kind of accidentally, as it did wash down the green curry well in taste and texture, but I’m not sure this could become a favourite, and I’m not sure I’ve had the best bottle of it. One to give another go… Read the rest of this entry »

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