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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    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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    September 23rd, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Pale Ales, Seasonal beers

    I feel harsh saying this looks like a pale piss yellow coloured beer, but hey, I’m saying what I’m seeing. M&S Essex Ale looks watery when poured into a glass and not quite the post-work refreshment I had in mind.

    So raising the not-so-enticing liquid to my face I’m caught off guard by a gust of floral loveliness and the punchy tropical fruit aroma. Perhaps there’s grapefruit, perhaps just a hint of grass. Soft fleshy fruits dominate the first sip before a gust of bitterness overwhelms – it’s sweet but not overly, a little piece of an exotic climate that Essex can only dream of. This beer is vibrant and invigorating and just what the doctor ordered. This is Kernel Pale Ale territory yet I picked it up from the supermarket (albeit a posh supermarket, but supermarket nonetheless).

    This is very good news indeed.

    Unfortunately this bottle doesn’t maintain these qualities in the same way that something like Kernel Centennial does (a beer I’d cut a few fingers off to have a lifetime supply of) but even so, Essex Summer Ale knocks the socks off it’s peers.

    If it has one flaw it’s that it suffers slightly from smells-better-than-it-tastes syndrome, that most frustrating of beer qualities, the equivalent of getting Kelly Brook naked in your bed whilst you are forced to spend the night wrapped tightly in industrial cling film right next to her.

    Crouch Vale have done M&S proud with Essex Summer Ale and no doubt it’ll fly off the shelves. In fact, I’m going back tomorrow and clearing the shelves, summer’s nearly out and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to try this again (it may well be the last summer beer of 2010).

    M&S Essex Summer Ale by Crouch Vale Brewery

    M&S Essex Summer Ale by Crouch Vale Brewery

    Beer: Essex Pale Ale
    Brewery: M&S/Crouch Vale
    Style: Pale Ale
    ABV: 4%
    Country: England

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    July 17th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Pale Ales

    The guy behind the counter looks as decrepit as the shop, and the shop doesn’t even look open, it’s grape-bordered window dressing might be confused for a long boarded up newsagents. It leans against Ladbrokes on the Dereham Road,  just a short walk (and not very scenic walk) from the pot-holed streets of Norwich city centre.

    Ivanhoe jumps off the shelf, of all the local beers it looks the most promising (though in fairness surprisingly few of the local beer label designs would make Pump Clip Parade). Adorned with knights jousting, something feels right about buying this beer in Norwich, a city that was once second only to London and is now an oft-overlooked destination for cultural delights.

    And the beer fits the bill that the label tees up – malty, almost sour and distinctively English in all elements (inherited from the English Maris Otter and chocolate malt, the Golding and Admiral Hops). 

    Ivanhoe English Pale Ale

    Ivanhoe English Pale Ale

    Pale ales nowadays don’t often come without the promise of tropical fruit or a hop roll call scaling double figures. Ivanhoe redresses the hop/malt balance and if anything hints at English harvest fruit.

    Ivanhoe shows that nothing more than a hint of the historical is needed to make a beer I’d happily revisit regularly.

    More regularly than I’m likely to joust.

    And unfortunately more regularly than I get to ramble amongst the cobbles and wood beams of Norwich.

    Beer information:
    Beer: Ivanhoe English Pale Ale
    Brewery: Ridgeway Brewing
    Style: Pale Ale
    ABV: 5.2%
    Country: England

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    March 24th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Golden Ales, Pale Ales
    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    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 brother stealing all of the attention in the Fletcher household, John Gilbert of the newly formed Hopback Brewery was quietly supplying his local beer festival with a special beer for their annual event. He answered their brief not with an amber bitter or a dark mild, but with a golden well-hopped beer. Read the rest of this entry »

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    February 16th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Belgian/Trappist, Fruity Beers, IPA, Pale Ales

    Terrible beer, great name.

    Flying Dog Raging Bitch - orange in colour; orange in taste

    Flying Dog Raging Bitch - orange in colour; orange in taste

    Of course not, it’s the other way round. Disclaimer starts here: I love this beer.

    I first sampled The Bitch at the Flying Dog UK tasting in Leeds. This 20th anniversary beer jumped out of its take-home tetra pak like a bat out of hell. Its nose blasted my clean out of my seat and before the night was out it was on its way to being a beer phenomenon.

    Raging Bitch’s Belgian influence is the first thing that strikes me: it’s fruity esters and yeasty sweetness that only Belgian beers can pull off. Until now.

    Massive grapefruit pith and outrageous sour fruit intertwine with a sweet malt finish and a bitter attack from an armada of late hops. The nose is huge thanks to a dry hopping assault by Amarillo hops. You pluck out the names of most of Sainsbury’s exotic fruit aisle if you close your eyes; for me the grapefruit ebbs and flows against tangerine and apricot. Read the rest of this entry »

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    February 2nd, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Pale Ales
    Beer by Highland, glass by Purity - a pale ale double whammy

    Beer by Highland, glass by Purity - a pale ale double whammy

    One of my favourite meals at the moment is grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and cous cous (interchangeable with rice, fried potatoes or other carbs to please your taste buds). Yes, the roasted veg is usually pre-chopped from ASDA – we’d never use a full courgette if we bought one – and the cous cous is Ainsley Harriot’s finest, but it’s a simple and hassle-free evening meal that’s healthy whilst ensuring we eat at a reasonable time.

    It’s a meal that doesn’t want a big fancy beer. It needs something refreshing and palette cleansing, a light golden ale with qualities that mean the meal slips down easily and the night is mine to relax afterwards.

    Step up Highland Brewing Company and Scapa Special. It’s a ‘world class pale ale’ and it fits the bill presented by its description: ‘golden and sparkling’, ‘light hop notes’ and a ‘balanced malt/hop middle’. 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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    September 23rd, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Pale Ales

    A frothy head though less aromatic than the Halcyon I tried earlier on today, (yes, it’s taken me a while to upload this review!) but boy does the first sip make up for that!

    Hop Devil is bursting with flavour, whether or not that’s to your taste I can’t say. It’s not exactly balanced (overwhelmingly in favour of the hop heads) and is very complex – especially if you can wait for the lingering spices in the aftertaste.

    Victory Brewery's Hop Devil is one hell of a beer

    Victory Brewery's Hop Devil is one hell of a beer

    The hops are deep, man. They are more moorland heather than summer fields (perhaps prairie grass even?!). The malt really shines through and that’s something I personally like.  Combine this with deep, pungent spices and you have a lot going on, but you might not notice for the first half the bottle whilst you acclimatise to the intense, unapologetic hop character. The other elements will (well they did for me) seep out from this as you drink it, but for the at least my first few minutes this was a determinedly one track beer.

    I recommend taking a short break mid way through this bottle as I did, particularly if you shoot out of the traps like a greyhound (as I also did). Alternatively take it slowly and allow the aftertaste to mature and blossom in your mouth, throwing new flavours with a ferocious nonchalance.

    The spicyness and underlying maltiness simply will not leave your mouth alone. They say the fires of hell will burn for all eternity – well Hop Devil certainly practices this dogma!

    Drink slowly to appreciate – but no matter how quickly you sup Hop Devil, I’m sure you’ll come away exclaiming that this really is a devil of a beer.

    A good or a bad thing? … You decide

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    September 9th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyAmerican, Pale Ales

    A beautiful aroma wells up from this beer. It is  resiny, citrusy and sweet, with a strong hoppy start and a deep malty flavour that takes over.

    St. Lupulin clearly blessed this beer with an amazing gop and malt character

    St. Lupulin clearly blessed this beer with an amazing hop and malt character

    This beer – brewed by Odell Brewing Company is one of the most balanced pale ales – even just ales – that I’ve had for a long time.

    And it comes with a little story behind the name too, a title which more than hints at it’s wonderful character (you’ll also notice the hint in the Latin name for the hop plant, Humulus lupulus).

    Lupulin glands are the bits of hop leaves that contain the oils that impact hop flavour or hop aroma, and those glands are certainly put to masterful use in this beer.

    And it tastes absolutely fantastic!

    Despite being hoppy this isn’t overpowering, and it has a character that most beers can only pine for, with much more flavour than the summer ales that have been around in abundance over last few months. It tastes a little earthy, very fresh and sweet at times.

    Already straight into my list of top beers (a list as changeable as a British summertime), a beer with instant class and a lingering impact.

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    September 2nd, 2009FletchtheMonkeyIPA, Pale Ales
    It’s with great pleasure that I post this on the day of Thornbridge’s grand opening of their new brewery (thanks to Reluctant Scoop for the pics).
    This is an IPA that I’d been eyeing up in my cupboard for a few weeks before I sat down with, and boy, did it not disappoint!
    Halcyon has a hugely hoppy aroma – a grassy rather than floral scent that tingles your tongue on the first sip. It’s initial taste is full of spices and contrasting flavours, and that’s only the beginning! Texture and colour wise it looks uniformly opaque (although I poured it pretty quickly),  but even this doesn’t reflect it’s deep and multifarious taste.
    This is a glorious IPA, remaining refreshing whilst being charismatically strong. It’s strength lingers throughout, becoming more complex with each gulp.
    Let’s use Goose Island IPA as a benchmark of floral, tasty, downright excellent IPAs. Put simply, Halcyon is stronger, deeper and brings more to the table. Let’s not downgrade Goose Island, it’s in my Top Ten Beers Of All Time, but I can have a few Goose Island on a night out (my last night out in Leeds passing through Reform Bar proofs that) but I might struggle to drink more than one Halcyon in a bar.
    For a hoppy night in however, I don’t think you could do any better. I actually took a break from drinking Halcyon to sample a Sam Smith’s Strawberry beer that Sarah was drinking (fruity beers so far are all she can stomach!) and coming back to Halcyon after it was an absolute joy. The explosion of taste in my mouth seemed twice as powerful and twice as enjoyable as before.
    To sum it up, Halcyon is bloomin’ brilliant, and, like Radiohead this weekend at Leeds, I’m glad it something had to wait a few years for, despite the glowing and unrelenting reviews that tempted me so often.
    I can honestly say this is a beer that isn’t caught up in hyperbole not ballyhoo (yes I used a thesaurus for that one!)…it really is very, very good beer.
    not cloIt’s with great pleasure that I post this on the day of Thornbridge’s grand opening of their new brewery (thanks to Reluctant Scoop for the pics).

    Halcyon IPA

    This is an IPA that I’d been eyeing up in my cupboard for a few weeks before I sat down with, and boy, did it not disappoint!

    Halcyon IPA by Thornbridge has a hugely hoppy aroma – a grassy rather than floral scent that tingles your tongue on the first sip. It’s initial taste is full of spices and contrasting flavours, and that’s only the beginning! Texture and colour wise it looks uniformly opaque (although I poured it pretty quickly),  but even this doesn’t reflect it’s deep and multifarious taste.

    Halcyon - the best IPA in the UK?

    Halcyon - the best IPA in the UK?

    This is a glorious IPA, remaining refreshing whilst being charismatically strong. It’s strength lingers throughout, becoming more complex with each gulp.

    Let’s use Goose Island IPA as a benchmark of floral, tasty, downright excellent IPAs. Put simply, Halcyon is stronger, deeper and brings more to the table. Let’s not downgrade Goose Island, it’s in my Top Ten Beers Of All Time, but I can have a few Goose Island on a night out (my last night out in Leeds passing through Reform Bar proves that) but I might struggle to drink more than one Halcyon in a bar.

    For a hoppy night in however, I don’t think you could do any better than this, another hop affair from Thornbridge. I actually took a break from drinking Halcyon to sample a Sam Smith’s Strawberry beer that Sarah was drinking (fruity beers so far are all she can stomach!) and coming back to Halcyon after it was an absolute joy. The explosion of taste in my mouth seemed twice as powerful and twice as enjoyable as before.

    To sum it up, Halcyon is bloomin’ brilliant, and, like Radiohead this weekend at Leeds, I’m glad it’s something I had to wait a few years for despite the glowing and unrelenting reviews that tempted me so often.

    I can honestly say this is a beer that isn’t caught up in hyperbole nor ballyhoo (yes I used a thesaurus for that one!)…it really is a very, very, very good beer.

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