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 22nd, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    Perhaps this was served a bit colder than Marston’s would like, but forgive me, it’s been a rough day at the coalface if you can pardon me that expression. In fact, I’ve just pulled this bottle straight from the freezer after a short blast amongst the frozen peas and chicken wings, such was my need for ice cool beer refreshment.

    Perhaps why that’s why this India Pale Ale doesn’t burst forward with the verve and charisma of the ‘modern wave’ of British IPA’s. It has a more prominent hop character than the average beer and it doesn’t lack in the bitterness stakes either, but the wisps of delicate citrus and almost unnoticeable spicy pine needles are hidden under what seems to be a layer of damp, decaying hops. Over chilled maybe?

    Marstons Old Empire

    Marstons Old Empire


    Read the rest of this entry »

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    February 10th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    The Fuller’s Brewery probably stands a litle too far West of the City of London to claim it can hear the bells of St Clements (regardless if you favour the claims of the churches in Westminster or Candlewick).

    As London beer goes though, this is the only one I’d associate with a certain nursery rhyme , for no reason other than Bengal Lancer is orange and lemons through and through.

    A citrus nose, voluptuous marmalade rind body and a cheap grapefruit juice finish exert plenty of flavour over a temperate backbone of peppery-toffee.

    This hops and malt in all their IPA glory without been obtrusive or over zealous.

    In a bottle, Bengal Lancer has fast become a favourite from the supermarket (Sainsbury’s and Waitrose both stock it). On cask – if you’re lucky enough to find it during it’s all too short stint in London pubs – it’s equally tempting and subsequently rewarding.

    Whether or not it would have found favour in colonial India, who knows. But it sure packs enough of a punch to stand out whilst being tantalising undecided about it’s ability to quench or leave you desperate for more.

    Heritage artwork or crass marketing?

    Heritage artwork or crass marketing?

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    September 1st, 2010FletchtheMonkeyAmerican, Beer Reviews, Belgian/Trappist, IPA
    Great Divide Belgica

    Gallia Belgica this is not... An IPA this is not...

    There’s Belgian style IPAs (whatever that is) and then there’s Belgian Style IPAs (whatever they are).

    This is the latter.

    It’s sweet beyond belief, with a wispy wheat-led aroma that places a strong sense of doubt on it’s IPA credentials. But treat it like a lady and there’s a distinct hop bitterness to it that belies it’s Belgian façade.

    To say this is a mix of styles is an understatement. To say it doesn’t work would be…wrong. It’s a fascinating beer. At various sips and gulps it showcases flavours of ice cream, bitterness, lemon and a hint of vanilla smoothie – all the product of Euro/US hops and Belgian malt blended into a very light sandy golden beer of mammoth taste and enviable sweetness.

    All that and I don’t think I gave it a fair crack of the Roman whip, as I shared it on a train home from London with a stranger who may have become an acquaintance had I not lost their business card later on in the pub.

    This is one for the beer hunters and I’m wasting no time in tracking down again.

    Beer information:
    Beer: Belgica
    Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Co.
    Style: Belgian Style India Pale Ale
    ABV: 7.2%
    Country: USA

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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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    December 8th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    BrewDog Chaos Theory

    Complexity in the universe is often based on simple, fundamental rules. We don’t know all of the rules but we understand some of them; however despite this, life is still, at our level, an unpredictable and seemingly random existence.

    Deep Simplicity by John (and Mary) Gribbin is one of the best science books and makes my head hurt as much as a few bottles of BrewDog's Chaos Theory does

    Deep Simplicity by John (and Mary) Gribbin is one of the best science books and makes my head hurt as much as a few bottles of BrewDog's Chaos Theory does

    Chaos theory helps us get our heads around this (and then in the next breath turns our perceptions of ‘thought on its head). It also suggests that systems such as our universe are completely deterministic…in theory. But unfortunately we have to pinpoint the exact starting conditions of the system, which is a little more than tricky when every single tiny particle in our universe system was compacted into an unimaginably small space, a little over 13,700,000,000 years ago (plus or minus about 14 million years!).

    This chaotic nature has parallels with the brewing process, where we calculate the mix of initial ingredients, follow strict processes and end up with tasty beer at the end. But we can’t always predict the exact end result and consistency and quality in a brew can be more difficult than just throwing the ingredients together and sticking the heat on.

    As you might have guessed there’s a parallel between all this and BrewDog’s last beer in our Sainsbury’s beer competition series. Chaos Theory is an ode to chaos theory (although at 7.1% it doesn’t really help me get my head around the physics much!). Read the rest of this entry »

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    October 19th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA
    Hardcore IPA
    Harcored IPa is one of those beers that has a little bit of the wow factor (or the woah factor depending on your taste buds).
    It has a crazy, tropical Um Bonogo aroma that’s sweet and exciting. It’s smells like sweet, e-number fuelled heaven traped in a bottle.
    Fruit salad penny sweet smells give way to a bitter overload, hops completely dominating and filling your mouth. Aromatic beers usuaky mean bitterness, but the pineapple aroma makes you expect something with an exoic fruit taste.
    If you can work through the IBU frenzy you will get some of that , but boy does that take some acclimatisation.
    This is a big beer. rink it too fast and it becomes medicina;, but sip it slowly and it’s a world of hops, passionfruit and titilating tongue tingles. Oh, and it’s strong as hell to boot, so don’t down one befoThere b

    The first BrewDog in our Sainsbury’s Beer Competition series is one that we’re relatively familiar with. So far we’ve only got around to reviewing Punk IPA and Dogma, but we have quite a few ‘Dogs ‘in stock’ and it’s about time we wrote something about them.

    Hardcore IPA is one of those beers that has a little bit of the ‘wow’ factor (or the ‘woah’ factor depending on your taste buds).

    It has a crazy, tropical Um Bongo aroma that’s sweet and exciting. It smells like sweet, e-number fuelled heaven trapped in a bottle.

    Hardcore IPA by BrewDog

    Hardcore IPA by BrewDog

    Fruit salad penny sweet smells give way to a bitter overload, hops completely dominating and filling your mouth. Aromatic beers usually mean bitterness, but the pineapple aroma makes you expect something with an exotic fruit taste.

    Beers with an imperial tag usually come at a certain strength and richness. Hardcore has the strength but it’s hidden treasures are perhaps just a little too inaccessible.

    If you can work through the IBU frenzy you will get some of that, but boy does that take some acclimatisation.

    This is a big beer. Drink it too fast and it becomes medicinal, but sip it slowly and it’s a world of hops, passionfruit and titilating tongue tingles. Oh, and it’s strong as hell to boot, so don’t down one before bedtime.

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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 12th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    This years Sainsbury’s Beer Competition has an unmistakable Scottish feel to it. The Tartan army has no less than 7 entrants in the list of 15 finalists, and the verve and enthusiasm from the two breweries in question is unquestionable.

    First up we have BrewDog with three entrants, Hardcore IPA, Dogma and Chaos Theory. Never ones to err on the side of blandness their ales are heavily hopped and infused with such delicacies as poppy seeds and honey.

    Williams Brothers Brewing Company are also keen on supplemented good ol’ hops, barley and malt with locally sourced ingredients, with their beers featuring heather infusions, gooseberries and tayberries amongst other plant and fruitlife.

    Williams Brothers dominate the Sainsbury's beer competition with 4 entries making the final 15 beers

    Williams Brothers dominate the Sainsbury's beer competition with 4 entries making the final 15 beers

    The second of Williams beers to be reviewed (the first was Birds & Bees) in this series is their IPA. India Pale Ale is usually regarded as a traditional ale, one from a empirical time long gone and remembered only in statues and grand dockside buildings.

    But for Williams Brothers IPA’s are most definitely a modern concept, that is compared to the heather beer for instance, which has been brewed in Scotland for 2,000 years (according to the Sainsbury’s fact sheet).

    So with experience making beers that have paryicularly strong heritage how does this IPA fair?

    Well, it’s a fine example of British India Pale Ale style.

    The golden liquid has a hoppy aroma which precedes a similarly hoppy taste. You can tell this comes from this side of the Atlantic because of the malty finish which balances the whole beer of. This doesn’t dry your mouth out, it’s crisp and bittersweet, which a character that is lost in many of the US hop monster IPAs.

    Williams Bros have made an IPA that is rooted in tradition but is a competitor to the likes of White Shield and Meantime. It might not have your taste buds partying like Hop Devil or hit your senses like Halcyon, but this is an IPA you could drink a couple of in an evening and thoroughly enjoy.

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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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    August 18th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyIPA

    Punk IPA by BrewDog

    Punk IPA was the first BrewDog beer I ever came across, on the supermarket shelves of Tesco, Lincoln whilst Sarah was living there earlier this year.

    I’ve had it a few times but never written anything, and it’s not far off being in that category of beers that are the hardest to review – those you’ve had many times before.

    The first thing that struck me on the first taste back one Friday in Lincoln, and again yesterday when I picked it out specifically for review from my all new beer cupboard, was it’s North American influences. Having mulled over US reviews of Punk IPA, many people comment how English it is, so I guess they might get quite a shock if they picked up a pint of Greene King on tap! The revival of IPA by craft breweries in the States has led to some notable IPA interest in the UK, and in Punk IPA there’s a clear swing towards the US style of IPA , one much more floral and aromatic than those of it’s homeland.

    Punk IPA by Brewdog

    Punk IPA by Brewdog - transatlantic India Pale Ale

    Read the rest of this entry »

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