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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    January 23rd, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters

    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.

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    St Peter's Best Bottle

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    February 27th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters

    Fiery Fred; anti-establishment, brazen, strong and mischievous to the end. Not at all like his namesake beer, but that’s ok, because it’s probably just the sort of pint a brash northern cricketer would enjoy, especially one who’d been named Pipe Smoker of the Year in the year of our lord nineteen hundred and seventy four.

    Gruff toffee dominates the down to earth running order, but to spice things up there are hints of apple skins at silly mid on. A long persistent finish requires a long drawn out last gulp before clunking a foam-laced glass back on the beer mat ready for seconds.

    No fuss, no frills, no nonsense, just malt and hops and god’s own water.

    Fred Trueman Yorkshire Ale Copper Dragon

    Fred Trueman Yorkshire Ale

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    June 4th, 2011SamParkerBeer Reviews, Bitters, Seasonal beers

    As I had to visit the beer writer’s wife’s ancestral seat in Scotland last week I decided upon a “when in Rome” attitude whilst picking up a couple of beers – nothing too trendy mind you, but certainly well worth noting here.

    Fraoch Heather Ale

    In the past beer has been brewed with a varied array of botanical ingredients – for example the monastic brewers of the Middle Ages used all kinds of additives in order to give their beers a characteristic taste. The additives varied widely with local preferences and these mixtures of herbs and other plants were known as grut or gruit. Fraoch Heather Ale is a Scottish example of this style dating back to 2000bc.

    Fraoch Heather Ale

    Fraoch Heather Ale

    Brewed to an ancient Gaelic recipe for “leann fraoich” (heather ale) Fraoch has been skillfully revived and reintroduced by Scottish microbrewer Williams Brothers of Alloa and involves adding sweet gale and flowering heather to the malted barley before pouring the cooling liquor into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for about an hour before fermenting.

    The outcome is a beer that is very floral on the nose with hints of honey and ginger. What’s surprising though is that the initial floral taste isn’t overwhelming and is balanced with light earthy notes (and may be a hint of mint) ensuring the overall feel isn’t too sweet. Its dry finish just adds to the intriguing qualities of a beer the Pict’s certainly got right and it just shows that reinvention (and not invention!?) can be the mother of good brews. Read the rest of this entry »

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    May 13th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters, Cumbrian beers, Pale Ales
    Jennings Golden Host

    Jennings Golden Host

    I’d sum up Jennings Golden Host up in two simple words: floral and biscuity. Wordsworth might roll in his grave at that crude and lazy generalisation, so let’s try something a bit more prosaic…

    The scene that Golden Host conjures is a spring day, the first of the year where the cool air breaks the gentle heat of the sun; arms, necks and foreheads are exposed for the first time since the leaves started to reappear on trees. Hot cookies sit on a window sill, a view perhaps overlooking Bassenthwaite or Loweswater, an iridescent shimmer on the water that heralds a yawning season, waiting to become vivacious and dominant.

    There’s daffodils leading up the path to the maltings; for the workers there’s toasted teacakes and honey for breakfast; roughly cut brown bread and salad (dressed in herbs, perhaps even anise) for dinner; and following a rural supper of beer and bread those cookies get to fulfil their destiny.

    Don’t expect pomp and grandeur, or the glory of a god in the sky to shine down on you as you take your first sip – even if you are of a Romantic persuasion and this beer has you dreaming of Wordsworth and his zeal for floating clouds and crowds, nay hosts!, of daffodils, as the sun sets over the lonely vales and hills this is a simple beer of pale malt, floral hops, Fair Trade sugar and a subtle, fresh disposition.

    Daffodils in the Lake District

    'I wander'd lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils' - William Wordsworth, born Cockermouth, Cumbria, 1770

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    May 4th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters, Cumbrian beers

    Dent Rescewe was bought for Yorkshire month, the month of June where we planned to sample mostly Yorkshire ales and report back on our regional fare. Surreptitiously it stared back at me when I needed a beer for an unexpectedly sunny day in the garden in May, and there I saw it on the label, the address that I had neglected to check: ‘Dent Brewery, Dent, Cumbria’. Cue immediate fast track to Cumbrian month!

    I’ve been to Dent only once, on a whistle stop weekend to the North Yorkshire Dales. It’s a living breathing Warburton’s ad, except Land Rovers rumble and bumble (depending on the age of their reg plate) across cobbles where flat-capped knee-socked boys should be cycling home, peddling against gravity and the extra weight of bakers fresh, crusty loaves.

    I’d always assumed it was a forgotten Yorkshire village, one of those quaint border settlements that nonchalantly gets on with life amidst the whims of policy makers and county councils who can’t decide exactly which authority should be organising the bin rounds.

    Dent Rescewe - Cumbrian beer

    Dent Rescewe - premium bitter raising money for the Cave Rescue Organisation in the Yorkshire Dales

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    March 21st, 2011LukeBlockBeer Reviews, Beer Shops, Bitters

    Tom Waits got it right when he sang about ‘thirsty jackaroos’ and ‘no spirits, no bilgewater and 80 dry locals’ on Town With No Cheer, a sombre (and sober) tale of a shut down and forgotten canteen at a blistering hot Australian train station. I can sympathise with you, Tom. We’ve all been there haven’t we? That missed connection, that cancelled service provoking an edgy and desperate search for something, anything other than anaemic coffee from a battered vending machine. You might get lucky and find a decent pub right next to the train station – but what are the chances of a takeaway from the station shop itself? Zero I reckon.

    Thanks then to Sourced Market at St Pancras International. Hardly a backwater I know, and not somewhere the punters in Waits’ song would recognise, but the level of choice for this thirsty jackaroo was more than impressive.

    Pricky Back Otchan Great Newsome brewery

    Pricky Back Otchan (prickly-backed urchin) by Great Newsome

    Racked up in a tall cabinet opposite expensive sounding claret, are the ales. There is a broad farmhouse style table for tasting on the spot if you can’t wait to get home, or you can take away. Not wanting to upset Mrs B I went for the latter option, and chose a couple of the guest ales – a smart promotion for the Great Newsome Brewery up at Winstead, Hull.

    Pricky Back Otchan (you’ll need a translator for that one) is a sweet amber bitter with enough hop to make it a fanciable session beer and, at 4.2% ABV, it has a roundness and complexity to keep you guessing. Hints of citrus but without ruining what I found to be a solid enough brew. It went well with pasta and chicken pesto but I would imagine deep chunky casseroles would be the best match. A nice alternative to Shepherd Neame’s Late Red of which I’ve been chewing down recently. Read the rest of this entry »

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    February 8th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters

    Admittedly Ringwood Old Thumper has taken a while to grow on me. Approximately 10 bottles to be relatively precise.

    Perhaps it was the nose that created images of toffee apples doused in vinegar or meths. Or the uncertainty of trying to enjoy the gone-off flavours of rotten veg, crab apples, musty drawers and dirty rags?

    Yet, Old Thumper kinda grows on you.

    Ringwood Old Thumper

    'Hint of apples' is a whopping understatement...

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    November 1st, 2010fritzromanovBeer Reviews, Bitters, Pubs & bars

    I was hoping to get to the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem to do a piece on its unique atmosphere and selection of beers. Time and circumstances didn’t allow however. They did allow my wife and I to visit the The Joseph Else though, a Wetherspoons pub in Nottingham’s Old Market Square.

    The original review was going to focus on the pub as well as the ale but, with this being a Wetherspoon’s there’s not much point. The pub was, well, it was a city-centre Wetherspoons. The spilt-beer-encrusted carpet had seen better days, and the air was awash with the banter of the pre-football crowd (though as Notts County were at home that day, it wasn’t very large.)

    The Nottingham Beer Festival was on that weekend and, never ones to pass up an opportunity, Wetherspoons were having their own ‘beer festival.’ We chose a pint and a half (mine was the pint – honest) of Game Keeper bitter (from Milestone – a local brewery based in Newark) and retired to the first floor, which at least afforded us the luxury of sitting down.

    The bitter had a nice foamy head, which survived the walk upstairs and the search for seating, and a clear, mid-brown colour. At first taste it was very pleasant; slightly hoppy without being too much so, with a sweet hint of honey. It’s decently strong at 5.2% but didn’t taste overly sugary and was a smooth and easy drink, without once ever feeling cloying or sticky as some bitters can. I’d have quite happily have had more but, again, time and circumstances didn’t allow.

    Definitely one to look at for if you see it around.

    The Joseph Else is named for the 19th century sculptor who created one of Nottingham’s iconic landmarks, the lions that adorn the Town Hall. Many a relationship has been forged in some way by those lions, the meting place of choice for generations of Nottinghamshire lovers.

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    July 16th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters
    After the rush of Glastonbury came the gold

    After the rush of Glastonbury came the Gold

    I vividly remember sneaking down the stairs, having long since worked out which ones would squeak loud enough to give me away, and which ones were the trusted, silent partners in crime. In reality the only crime would have been disturbing the rest of the family as I tiptoed towards the end room.

    I’d pull out the arm chair and squeeze between the furniture that housed my Dad’s long serving midi hifi system. I pretended the record player was a more exotic separate with a fancy name like Stereophonic 4000 or Vanguard 625, rather than the faded black Panasonic box with double cassette deck.

    This lowly stereo introduced me to the crackle of vinyl and the beauty of long player album sleeves. Crouched over this lacklustre box I fell in love with the toe tapping wonders of Songs in the Key of Life, the infectious guitars of Let it Bleed and the warbles and jangles of Highway 61 Revisited.

    I distinctly remember finding the innards of After The Gold Rush; the tension of slowly removing the tea stained artwork from the sleeve and gingerly turning the pages, too scared to hold it lest the crinkled pages tear apart.

    Gold rush by Wagtail Brewery

    Gold rush by Wagtail Brewery

    And aptly, I’m now sat at home after a manic weekend at Glastonbury, drinking a beer called Gold Rush. A few nights ago I was watching Neil Young on the Pyramid stage belt out hit after hit, desperately hoping he’d slow momentarily for the title track of his iconic album. We got the heart strings of Heart of Gold instead, and, surreptitiously for this beer, that kinda works too. We also got the longest encore in musical history comprising of the chorus of Rocking in the Free World no less than 17 times..

    Gold Rush is  a fitting drink to help me recover from the raptures of Glasto. Golden, sweet, easy going, with middle of the road use of malt and hops that don’t give enough of any one distinct fruit to write home about. Little head or fizz make this easy to quaff (it’s not flat though) but it’s missing that special something to make it a regular beer cupboard fixture.You could easily get lost in it and let your mind wander elsewhere, which probably makes it the perfect accompaniment to a night listening to After the Gold Rush on vinyl.

    If you’ve succumbed to the beauty of that then perhaps this beers fruitiness is slightly better suited in nature if not name, to Neil Young’s Harvest. And if the label harks more to America’s gold rush of the 19th century it would still look like pretty good sat next to that legendary album cover.

    Beer information:
    Beer: Gold Rush
    Brewery: The Wagtail Brewery
    Style: Golden Bitter
    ABV: 4.0%
    Region:Norfolk, England

    The eagled eyed amongst you will notice that Neil Young played Glastonbury 2009, and that yes, this post is a year old, salvaged from the notebook after returning from Glastonbury 2010. And if you’re that eagled-eyed give the label a read, a nice bit of Norfolk history for you.

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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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