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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    February 6th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyStout & 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.

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    Courage Imperial Russian Stout

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    Catherine would be pleased

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    January 4th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    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 carcinogenic charred; 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.

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    Shepherd Neame

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    Double Stout

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    June 14th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    4.9%

    That’s less alcohol by volume than a bottle of Cobra washed down with a mild chicken korma.

    So where does the boozy aroma of a complex strong stout come from?

    Presumably Hardknott Dave had had one two many glasses of a something cosmic when he bottled this, he’s confused his 4s and 9s, right?

    Hardknott Dark Energy stout review

    Hardknott Dark Energy

    Dark Energy pulls me in with it’s deep ruby tinted complexion and lacy, spice-plumed head.

    It’s 9.4% I tell myself, definitely.

    Then I take a few sips. They turn to gulps. Where did the strength go, has it disappeared completely?

    Ebbing and flowing with wisps of berries, booze and cocoa beans it shares the weightlessness of strong imperial stouts – visibly and aromatically pungent but vapid in body.

    There’s a reason for the name I convince myself as the foamy promise tricks me into feeling high and dry, but then hooks me on it’s fleeting astro garbage of cigar fouled chocolate tiffin.

    What type of stout is this? Where do these flavours appear from? I’m confused, lost in space.

    How strong is this again?

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    May 2nd, 2012PaulBrownBeer Events, Pubs & bars, Real Ale, Stout & Porter

    As the centenary of the ill-fated Titanic was justly commemorated around the country, my home town had more reason than most to reflect on the tragedy. And being a northern mill town, real ale naturally formed part of the process.

    One of the most memorable of many poignant accounts from the final moments aboard is the solace eight musicians provided as they played on to the very last. Their valiant bandmaster was one Wallace Hartley, a man born and bred in Colne, Lancashire. He and his fellow players sadly perished but he has never been forgotten by generations of local folk.

    Hartley has been honoured by a handsome headstone, commemorative plaques, street names and a bronze bust outside the church where he began his musical career. And a respectful beery nod was forthcoming in 2008 when Wetherspoons acquired the former King’s Head Hotel and christened it the Wallace Hartley.

    And to mark the centenary in its inimitable fashion, the Wallace held a Maiden Voyage Beer Festival spanning the dates the Titanic was at sea a hundred years hence. On tap were a multitude of beers fittingly supplied by Titanic Brewery.

    Titanic Beer Festival Colne

    Titanic Beer Festival Colne

    The first I sampled was one-off collaborative ale by Keith Bott from Titanic and Mark Szmaida of Chelsea Brewing, New York, evocatively named Ship of Dreams. This burnished copper brew was nicely balanced with hints of damson giving way to a sweet and nutty malt finish. I enjoyed it while digesting a felicitously ripping yarn in the form of Treasure Island.

    The interior of the Wallace Hartley is bedecked with dark bevelled tiling, wood panelling and bespoke sculptures and paintings creating a tenebrous maritime theme. Characteristically large and open-plan spaces abound with more secluded nooks and crannies for a quieter pint also around.

    During the festival most of the dozen hand-pumps carried Titanic beers, with a smattering of regulars and other breweries efforts in evidence. Just some of the themed ales on offer were Iceberg, Lifeboat, Steerage, Black Ice, English Glory, White Star and Nine Tenths Below.

    Wetherspoons Colne

    Wetherspoons Colne

    Treasured pint

    Treasured pint

    Titanic Brewery Ship of Dreams

    Ship of Dreams

    Titanic beer list

    Titanic beer list

    I’m a stickler for sampling new stuff where and whenever I can, so I’d previously tested all of these nautical tipples, but one in particular stood out for another slosh: Titanic’s Cappuccino. This potent stout had an über-rich coffee and vanilla nose that really intensified in the mouth. A deeply delicious drink worthy of any occasion.

    Although not a beer festival in the traditional sense, this formed a fitting tribute to the Titanic and its heroic home-town band leader. Let’s raise a glass to Wallace!

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    January 9th, 2012PaulBrownBeer and Food, Seasonal beers, Stout & Porter

    …my true love gave to me a delicious homemade lasagne. It really was absolutely scrumptious, but not particularly in-keeping with the season.

    So to accompany this feast and herald a climax to the Yuletide festivities, I brought a centuries old recipe back to life in the form of wassail.

    This winter warmer is a heady concoction of dark ale and spices fortified with a splash of something a little stronger. It’s a bit like mulled wine for real men.

    Various versions of this traditional English beverage are described, many based on cider, some on wine, others on ale. Many recipes involve mixing raw eggs with hot beer rendering a rather bizarre form of eggnog, but I fancied something a little more palatable.

    Thankfully – and somewhat miraculously – I still had a third of a barrel of home-brewed stout left over from Christmas. The perfect base for my wassail was at hand!

    Wassail and toast

    Wassail and toast

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    November 23rd, 2011FletchtheMonkeyDark Mild, Seasonal beers, Stout & Porter

    Just as the fire starts to reach what might be a peak – and that’s without one of my best friends throwing one of our six garden chairs on it – there’s a cold snap in the air and a damp feeling on our collars.

    “There’s rain in the air” someone shrills in typical British fashion, and the next hunk of wood gets chucked into the wood burner in typical British defiance.

    It’s a week after the clocks changed, and standing in the garden it’s the first night of the year that stirs thoughts of winter beer.

    Nights like this conjure all sorts of comforts, marshmallows and mittens, fireworks and fairgrounds, bonfires and Bovril. We’re on the cusp of the year, a blend of autumn and winter, darkness and bright lights, cold bodies and hot remedies.

    So what is the quintessential winter comfort beer?

    Creamy milk stouts or deep smoky porters? A beery cup of tea in the form of dark mild?

    Autumn ambers, chestnut bitters? Spicy Christmas beers stronger than Nana’s Snowball Surprise, or decadent, thick chocolate stouts sweeter than a year’s worth of Quality Street.

    Or for sustenance there’s dark ?erný pilsners, roasted best bitters, coffee bean ales, strong Baltic porters, extra nutty specials or filling oat stouts.

    Or perhaps the perfect winter beer is simply the beer that gives the most joy, that warms you without you ever noticing, and the one that you can afford to keep well stocked in case of unexpected snow days.

    As the winds pick up in the garden, and the flames turn to embers, we swig back our mulled wine, our Corona’s and limes, our celebratory sparkling fizz, and let our booze jackets wrap a soothing arm around us.

    Here’s to winter, and the home comforts of whatever our favourite winter warmers may be.

    Me enjoying winter beers

    Me enjoying winter beers

    Winter fire, winter beers

    A little winter fire

    Sparklers!

    Wouldn't be a winter garden party without sparklers

    Sparkler Fight!

    Sparkler Fight!

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    September 17th, 2011PaulBrownBeer and travel, Pubs & bars, Stout & Porter

    Since the dawn of my drinking days I’ve been a big fan of the dark side. Stouts, porters, milds or brown ales, I’ve always enjoyed savouring their brooding malty richness. And as autumn has arrived with a bang, it’s fitting that I happened across a couple of unusual and very worthy offerings from Wentworth on my travels last week. This South Yorkshire brewery is one step ahead of the game in the stout stakes this year and has concocted a delicious selection of flavoured fancies for their “2011 Stout Festival” (as advertised on the pump clips). So if you aren’t a fan of wacky adjuncts or prefer your beer plain and simple you may want to look away now….

    My first find was at the Narrow Boat in Skipton, a fantastic backwater pub with a cracking reputation and repertoire of real ales and foreign beers. Nestled amongst a typically eclectic mix was Wentworth’s Medium Chilli & Chocolate Stout (4.8%). The dusky half pint certainly lived up to its billing. A rich coffee and chocolate aroma persisted after the initial sip oozing into a silky palate. With perfect punctuality a fiery crescendo kicked in and lingered through the finish; a great counterbalance to the soft cocoa foundation. An explosion of taste and just up my street!

    The Narrow Boat Skipton by Bob W

    The Narrow Boat Skipton by Bob W

    A few days later I found myself in Bury for lunch. This good-sized town just north of Manchester is famous for its fish market, but it also has a peppering of top-notch real ale outlets if you know where to look. One such place is Malt Bar at The Met (which also plays host to the enticing Bury Beer Festival in November). Despite being quite a classy modern cafe bar it always serves a few cask beers, usually from Outstanding Brewery with occasional guests. This was my lucky day as they had another Wentworth special on tap: Vanilla & Almond Stout (4.8%). A faint whiff of vanilla guided me into a maelstrom of sour cherries, dark fruits and berries riding on an undercurrent of mild bitterness. I was just beginning to wonder where the almond was lurking when it caught me by surprise in a delectable marzipan finish. Well-crafted with a powerful yet nicely balanced punch. Mmmm….

    Peculiar and flavourful craft brews are growing in popularity and are well worth sampling if you get a chance, if only to illustrate just how different quality real ales can be. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more weird and wonderful stouts while the season lasts!

    Wentworth Chilli and Chocolate Stout

    Wentworth Chilli and Chocolate Stout

    Wentworth Vanilla and Almond

    Wentworth Vanilla and Almond

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    October 22nd, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    Smoky as hell to smell and like a burnt caramel bar to taste, M&S’s London Porter is a sweet beer to devour with masses of chocolate or marshmallows over a camp fire.

    If you don’t fancy the great outdoors then no worries, the lingering smoky presence hangs around for a long time in your mouth and may invoke daydreams of sitting under the stars and gazing at the heavens.

    It’s packed with malt variety: you can settle for adoring it’s remarkably sweet Cadbury’s flavours, or close your eyes and take in the notes of liquorice, coffee and molasses that may or may not be hiding under the covers of darkness.

    For best results wait for a cold, wet October night when the light recedes before you’ve even left work. Use as a slow burning nightcap, and crack open in place of a steaming mug of fluffy hot chocolate. Nestle deep into the sofa, dip into your gastronomic vice of choice and have a bit of mid-week you-time.

    London Porter brewed by Meantime for M&S

    London Porter brewed by Meantime for M&S

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    April 7th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer and Food, Stout & Porter
    Rhodesian seafood on the rooftops of Lindos

    Rhodesian seafood on the rooftops of Lindos

    I love mussels almost as much as I love alliteration. Ever since my first taste I’ve wanted to try them in as many different guises as possible. The best dish I ever had was sat on a rooftop in Lindos on the Greek Island of Rhodes – cooked in a hot and spicy tomato sauce, and not those small shrimp-like examples you buy in Morrison’s, but large, juicy, succulent mullusca in giant iridescent shells harvested earlier that day.

    Seafood isn’t something I find particularly easy to cook at home, and Monday through Thursday it’s all about ease of cooking in our household (it’s a different story at the weekend though!). Enter our nearest supermarket and ready prepared mussels: cardboard-packed and shrink-wrapped in a garlic and white wine sauce.

    These are really easy in an evening. We boil some tagliatelle to our preferred softness whilst frying some large farmhouse mushrooms and onions, throwing the mussels and sauce in a pan, and stirring the lot together. Voila.

    Martsons Oyster stout with mussels

    Martsons Oyster stout with mussels

    If you’re lucky enough to have a better half who will cook for you (because, 1) you can only cook within geological time frames as opposed to minutes and 2) you have an instinctive need to dirty every last utensil and pan in creating gastronomic delights) then I’d recommend spending the 10 minute cooking time selecting a nice porterstout from your beer cupboard to accompany the tasty morsels.

    Marston’s Oyster stout is a pretty typical partner for this meal – it’s easily available in supermarkets and tasty to boot. It’s  dark with a thick, off-white head. It’s usually creamy yet dry to finish, with hints of burnt wood sitting next to (often) slightly spicy fruit and sometimes molasses. The finish makes me think of dirty tyres, at least when it washes down our bivalved fruits de mer. It’s not bursting with flavour, it’s far the blandest stout, it won’t break the bank. And it goes well with mussels (and I guess oysters too!)

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    March 23rd, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    Burton Porter and some mussels on the hob

    Burton Porter and some mussels on the hob

    Smelling this beer from Burton Bridge brewery as I wait for a plate of mussels and pasta, I think to myself I’ve made a mistake. Not about Burton Porter (it’s excellent) but on this pairing). It smells of treacle – sweet and sticky – and compared to Sarah’s white wine seems too thick and dominant for the creamy seafood dish. A quick taste an there’s chocolate, with a hint of fruit, perhaps from hops.

    But on tasting I change my mind, it might just work. A long, hefty sip leaves me wanting more, it is dark in colour and flavour but not to the detriment of drinkability. This isn’t smooth like Guinness but it might as well be, the ease is such as it glides own your throat.

    It isn’t as sweet to taste as it first smelt, it’s different, tobacco, charcoal and smoke coming to the fore. It’s heavy with the mussels, but I love dark stouts with this particular meal, it changes it from something light and fresh to something rich and earthy. Read the rest of this entry »

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