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 4th, 2013olikenyonBeer Reviews

    Sacrebleu! Even ‘King Eric’ is talking about hops. If you haven’t seen it yet, the new Kronenbourg 1664 ad stars French football legend Eric Cantona masquerading as a hop farmer. The commercial is set in an Alsace village where the local crop growers are treated like soccer stars for producing the hops “that make Kronenbourg so special”. Cracking marketing no doubt, but perhaps a kung-fu kick to the face of beer geeks everywhere courtesy of the Heineken owned company.

    It came just days after Beck’s (an arm of American brew giant Anheuser-Busch InBev) launched its new 6% ‘Sapphire’ beer during last Sunday’s Superbowl commercials; the main selling point – other than its fancy black bottle and singing goldfish – the use of ‘German Sapphire hops’, apparently to aid their “smoothest Beck’s yet”.

    The ads themselves have been well received on social networking sites for their humour, however gimmicky; though I’m not sure the feeling is shared amongst real ale and craft beer aficionados. Independent brewers of specialist, hoppy beers face enough competition from their peers without the big boys and their huge advertising budgets muscling in.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    January 9th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    Hercules Double IPA lives up to it’s name from the first overloaded sniff. To paraphrase The Boss (and a bit of Bob too) the hops hit you like a freight train running through the middle of your mouth; this beer was definitely born in the USA.

    Hercules is bursting at the seams with tangy grapefruit bitterness, and he ram raids my tongue and the back of my throat. Pow. He’s strong too and thumps me in the head with a 10% alcohol punch. Kaboom.

    Balance isn’t Hercules’ strong point. But it’s not supposed to be. This is not a session beer, at least not in the English sense. This beer is a drinking challenge, like the multi-meat vindaloo hiding at the bottom of the menu with a caption ‘invented by our favourite regular, Lucifer’.

    And it’s well named. A brute force hop monster dominated by bruising bitterness, seeping resin and slowly bleeding booze; a hedonistic but messy mix of crazed pine cones and hyperactive barley.

    Hell if hops could spontaneously combust this beer would be on fire.

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    Hercules, the Hop Warrior

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    March 11th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyComment

    The world is hopping mad.

    Or at least that’s the impression one might get from the beer world at the moment.

    Beer blogs and beer geeks are (generally) pretty crazy for the flavours that hops can impart on beer. Breweries experiment with single hopped beers, late hopped beers, green hopped beers, dry-hopped beers; and some even subject their products to post-boil hop treatments, passing their liquor de malt through flavour-imparting contraptions filled with…guess what…even more hops.

    Even a cursory glance at the beer labels on the local supermarket shelves will reveal the rock star status of hops within the brewing process, as English bitters and paler beers are crafted with American and New World hops such as Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe and Citra (no doubt helped by their price in comparison to English hops in recent years). The influence of hops has long stretched to beer paraphernalia - glassware, pump clips, logos, pub names and even the side of pub buildings.

    Hopping mad: Chaos Theory

    Hopping mad: Chaos Theory

    The list of breweries that have crafted ‘singled hopped’ beers seems only on the increase (Acorn, Mallinson’s Pictish, Mikkeller, Kernel, All Gates and BrewDog are but a few) Read the rest of this entry »

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    March 3rd, 2011FletchtheMonkeyAmber ales, Beer and travel, Beer Events, Beer Reviews

    When beer and art collide: Modern Art Oxford’s limited edition green hop beer

    Down a dark and wet side street between the less historical buildings of the city’s shopping district, the white washed walls of Modern Art Oxford are accustomed to the strange and gangly structures of modern sculpture. But to the strange and gangly structures of humulus lupulus they are not.

    Twisting, reaching, helixing, yearning upwards, the leaf-heavy green bines have designs on the famously spired skyline.

    The structures on this occasion are just printed images, but Modern Art Oxford does in fact have a hop garden, just a few miles away at Plot 16, the museums community allotment in the Rose Hill area of the city. And unlike the plaster-cast sculptures on show at the museum one cold Saturday afternoon between Christmas and New Year, the ambitious hop plants aren’t restricted by the white washed ceilings of MAO’s warehouse home.

    Plot 16 green hopped beer, Modern Art Oxford

    Plot 16 green hopped beer, Modern Art Oxford

    Since March 2010 artistic collaborators Leora Brook and Tiffany Black have been farming hops. Inspired by the MAO gallery’s history as a nineteenth century brewery, their ambition to grow hops to create a beer from their produce was realised in December 2010 when, after a communal hop picking harvest, Plot 16 was launched in 1000 limited edition bottles.

    And the fruits of their labour?
    Read the rest of this entry »

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    March 17th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Events
    Thornbridge beers at the Sheffield Tap

    Thornbridge beers at the Sheffield Tap

    The Sheffield Tap is arguably one of the best stocked pubs in the North of England, with a regular range of Thornbridge beers on cask (the venue is a joint venture between the Derbyshire brewers and the chaps behind Pivo in York) and an inventory of bottled beers that make most beer cabinets look like a beery footnote. It’s a case of any excuse will do to persuade me to hop on the 42 minute train from Leeds, and last night the excuse was the chance to meet the team that brew Thornbridge’s beers who were hosting a Meet the Brewer session in the former first class refreshment lounge of Sheffield’s main station.

    On arrival the tiny bar was busy – not quite heaving but certainly a far cry from quiet. A bustle of artisan beer fans, jaded commuters and groups of talkative drinking buddies crowded over the small tables and lined the restored bar. Tucking our elbows in we (Rob from HopZine, Tom from Reet Good Leeds and me)  joined the fray to admire the array of beers on offer, a veritable beer geeks heaven Read the rest of this entry »

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    October 14th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA, Mild beer

    Tremendously excited about a beer named after a band I’ve held on a pedestal for over 50% of my life, I jumped on the chance to grab a couple of these when I picked up a few beers for a Soccer Saturday marathon and catch up with mates from my uni days. Trying to conduct a beer review in front of Jeff Stelling and co is never easy, especially when it isn’t the easiest review to write.

    How To Disappear Completely - it's very complicated

    How To Disappear Completely - it's very complicated

    How To Disappear Completely is something else.  To say its heavy on the hops is an understatement! The aroma and the first sip are larger than life, a complete juxtaposition with the Radiohead song it’s named after. This is, as the bottle suggests, is imperially hopped.  That’s something I can be pretty keen on, but of course with beers super charged with hops, balance is inevitably lost. My first reaction is that for the piney-hoppy-dark-malt fest that this beer is right from the start, this isn’t alcoholically strong, begging the question where does this taste come from (or where does the alcohol go?!).

    BrewDog’s beers are generally very drinkable, especially considering that they are usually above average strength, and How To Disappear Completely is deceptively light. And considering the immense bitterness this beer exudes, it is sort of drinkable…relatively speaking. But if I’m honest I just didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as Punk IPA or Chaos Theory.

    It’s not a bad beer by any means, there’s a depth of flavour that I found quite overpowering and perhaps a bit OTT, something I find with Stone Ruination IPA – a beer of such character that it can barely get into it before it’s tripped me up and spat my back out. How To Disappear is similarly hopped, I’ve no doubt the ascerbic power of this beer will take you by surprise and the off-the-scale theoretical IBU count of 358 (or something) will have your taste buds screaming for mercy and jumping ship like lemmings.

    It feels like a seasonal beer, something suitable for the autumn and winter, not one of the last hot and sunny days of summer, watching the football results with accumulator in hand. The flavours are astonishing – I’m sure that cocoa, cigars, grass, fruit and leaves all hit me at different points when I wasn’t stunned by the bitterness. The malt manages to make brief, fleeting appearances and adds a smoky, roasted flavour …but blink and it’ll disappear. The flavours of the beer do disappear and intertwine like the do in the same way, just in a much cruder way.

    How To Disappear Completely by BrewDog

    How To Disappear Completely by BrewDog

    My friends Jimmy and Jay were not at all impressed, this being too far flung from the safe arms of Birri Moretti and Erdinger, about the fanciest they get. Their first reactions were knee jerk – this was just way, way too much to handle.

    And I’d agree to a certain extent. For me I like the idea and I like it that a milder beer (ABV wise) can be amazingly complex. But How To Disappear Completely didn’t strike me as interestingly intricate, I found it difficult. For me its balance is lost and the hop/malt struggle within this beer isn’t a tug of war of the taste buds but more of an uncoordinated rabble that peters out leaving an uncomfortable aftertaste. The stormy brew doesn’t ebb and flow, the flavours crash and erode, leaving your senses a little worse for wear. That’s if you’re able to get through the bitterness and find those flavours!

    Let’s put aside the hyperbole and verbose descriptions for a second. When it all boils down, How To Disappear is a beer I’ll try again. Maybe my taste buds will become attuned to it, maybe I’ll find something else in it,  but it’s not one I could drink regularly, and certainly not something I could convert friends to easily.  Like the song, which wasn’t my favourite on Kid A to start with, it really took a lot of effort to get under the skin of it, and I still don’t fully get it. But I love the song now, so maybe the beer is a grower?

    If I had to choose, if I could have only this beer or the song of the same name, then I’d have to take the song every time.

    But being an optimist, I’d definitely take the song and the beer if that was an option, even if I’m never able to quite enjoy it or get it.

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    October 5th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyAmerican, Beer Reviews, Pilsner Lager

    I should have taken more note of the hop image that dominates the label of Prima Pils. It’s not exactly inconspicuous!

    Victory Prima Pils - no ordinary pils

    Victory Prima Pils - no ordinary pils

    Thinking this would be a typical pils with an American influence I wasn’t expecting the almost overpowering hop aroma that exudes from this beer.

    Hops rule supreme throughout the taste as well, bold, floral, fruity with an abundance of resin punching over everything. The lupulin is strong in this one!

    You can see (well, taste) the similarities with Victory’s Hop Devil, a monstrous and complex ale. Here too they are to put it lightly ‘on the strong side’.

    This could be a great pils beer, as Hop Devil is a great (if unbalanced) pale ale. But the hops here are too much for me. Turned down a few notches this would still be hugely challenging to those that like there IBUs turned up high, but a bit more drinkable and actually more interesting than.

    The trouble is that you don’t become attuned to the hops here, they get deeper as you drink.

    I’d recommend this beer to any hop head, you have to try it, it’s an interesting and experimental addition to the pilsner style. But this ain’t a pilsner for those that like their Budvars or Urquells, and one that might just take you by surprise.

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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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