Beer E-News Archive 2006
From Issue 28 (December 06)
9) Japanese flavours
From Issue 27 (September 06)
From Issue 26 (August 06 supplement)
a) Shardlow - Five Bells (5.0%) From a Leicestershire brewery, which doesn't seem to have a website, this is a 'ruby coloured powerful ale with a bitter sweet finish'. Although our little group didn't formally vote an 'Ale of the Festival' this may have been it, but we tried it late in the day, and there was so much top-class competition, that it would be invidious to single one out from this group.
a) Blackawton - Head Strong (5.2%) This Cornish brewery has no website but delivers 'a deceptively smooth beer with sweet malt taste. A lingering hoppy finish rounds this strong and formidable fellow perfectly'.b) Acorn - XL(5.0%) In spite of the name, this beer from South Yorkshire is served in standard size glasses (though no doubt Keith will serve you a jug if you ask him nicely!) It uses Saas and Perle hops and lager malts to 'create an extremely pale, well balanced, refreshing summer ale' with an 'earthy aroma' which also comes through in the taste. http://www.acornbrewery.net/c) Downton - Polish Golden Ale (4.2%) Established 2003, so they have obviously been concentrating on the beers and haven't yet created a website. The Wiltshire brewery offers 'a pale golden beer made with 100% Polish hops. A distinctive bitter ale with a spicy finish.' It's interesting to compare this with the Acorn - our preferences went back and forth between them so we had to give them the same score - see what you think.d) Wylam - Magic - XL(4.2%) [This beer replaces Litton Potts Beck Ale shown in the programme.] A Northumberland brewery whose website is at http://www.wylambrew.co.uk they offer 'a light, crisp, refreshing ale with Amarillo hops and pale malts. Floral and spicy with a good bitter finish'.
a) Eastwood and Sanders - Nettlethrasher (4.4%) This west Yorkshire brewery is to be re-named Elland Brewery, although the web address http://www.eandsbrewery.co.uk/ reflects the old name, Eastwood and Sanders, which itself was the product of the amalgamation of two Yorkshire micro breweries, the Barge & Barrel Brewery Company based in Elland, and West Yorkshire Brewery, based in Luddendenfoot. The new name refelects the location. I hope you've been following all that?The brewer says this is 'a deep copper coloured traditional strong ale, brewed using six different malts and developing interesting flavours from the combined use of English and American hop varieties. All this goes together to make this a mighty mouthful!' but we couldn't agree, finding it a thin tasting basic bitter, which was not particularly special.b) Frog Island - Natterjack (4.8%) Based in Northampton, with a website at http://www.frogislandbrewery.co.uk/ which mercilessly exploits the frog connection, with lily pads to click on and several beers named after species of frogs or toads - some of which I suspect are either poisonous or hallucinogenic! They describe it as ' golden, smooth-drinking beer with a sweet, hoppy aroma. English Marris Otter pale malt and wheat malt is combined to give an initial sweet taste followed by a malty astringency. English Target and Goldings hops provide a sweet, floral flavour and slight bitterness.' Our experience found it only average.c) Springhead - Willy's Wheatbeer (5.3%) This Nottingham brewery has a rather stark looking website at http://www.springhead.co.uk/ which says they make 15 beers but only mentions 13 of them, and this is one of the omissions. They have a forum, where someone waxes lyrical about it and considers 'it must be the best wheatbeer on the market'. They've obviously never been to Belgium! While it has some of the characteristics of a traditional wheatbeer, it also has a strange oily mouthfeel which is most unusual for the type, and which we found rather off-putting, so we only gave it 3 ticks.d) Weltons - Loverly Jubbly (5.7%) I gave up trying to find this one online since there are the complications of the mereger of Hepworths and Weltons, with the current and old websites not mentioning this beer, whereas at least 3 other brewers make a beer using this reference to 'Only Fools and Horses'. It is described as 'Smooth, rich, and on the dark side'. We found it slightly sweetish, not unpleasant but not outstanding.
From Issue 25 August 06
a) Robinsons Double Hop (5.0%) 'Brewed with extra hops for extra flavour' www.frederic-robinson.co.uk/ A clear golden brown with a short-lived white head and a pleasant floral hoppy aroma. The advertised 2-stage hopping is supposed to produce both aroma and bitterness. It works in the first instance, but this bottled variety was so full of fizz that it was just like drinking the old-fashioned 'Corona' (Come on, own up - I'm not the only one here old enough to remember that!) The flavour was pleasant enough and when it eventually settled down it was refreshing, but we didn't feel that it worked as the brewer intended, and only gave it 2.5 ticks. It would be good to see how the draught version compares.
From Issue 24 (July 06)
a) Stoodley Stout 4.8% from the Little Valley Brewery near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire - website www.littlevalleybrewery.co.uk Among the UK range at Trafalgar Wines. The word 'Organic' appears on the label and reflects the concern of the owner and master-brewer (who is Dutch-born and Bavarian-qualified) to use environmentally sound methods and natural ingredients in the production of his range of English and Continental style beers. Here the ingredients contain chocolate malt with oats and wheat. This is a bottle-conditioned stout of dense, dark mahogany hue, which pours with a light brown head. There are pleasant aromas of coffee and burnt toast. The mouthfeel is full, slightly oily, and the flavours include burnt toast and liquorice with a good bitterness in the lingering complex after-taste. Definitely worth 3.5 ticks and we would be interested to see some of the other beers from this brewery.
b) RW Randall 'Cynful' 3.5% a mild from Guernsey, website www.itsnotacyn.com A dark red-brown body and a big pale brown head, stout-like aromas of toast with caramel and a taste which had a hint of sweetness - if it were a sherry you'd call it medium dry - and toasty flavours leading to a dry finish. Perhaps some of the write-ups ('a living gem'), and the presentation, made us expect too much. We could only it 3 ticks, as a competent beer, but not as outstanding (at least in this bottled version) as we had been led to believe.c) 'Two Water Grog 4.0% from the Broadstone Brewing Co Ltd of Retford Notts. They purport to have a website at www.broadstonebrewery.com but the address currently leads to a holding page by a domain name seller. The label description say " Complex and malty ale. Blend of 4 different malts, which gives a full-bodied taste, and the Bramling hops leave a long dry finish". It also relates the background story, that this beer is only available on draught from the brewery tap, the Rum Runner Bar in Retford, and the name is taken from the diluted tots given to sailors, made of 2 parts water, one part rum. It displays a pale cream head over a dark amber body. The aroma seems slightly sweet, the body is smooth, and there is a good bitterness in the flavour. It is a competent bitter, deserving 3 ticks, but does not really match the big build up.d) Strong Stout (Christmas 2005) 7.0% from the Craftsman Brewery of Wretton Norfolk. Get out your hankies folks, this is a really sad story! We got some of this 'bottle conditioned strong stout made with 5 malts and 2 hop varieties' from Beers of Europe, and got around to trying it today. It had a solid black body with a full pale brown head. The aroma started off with digestive biscuits, it had a good full body, with a slightly prickly mouthfeel and the first thing we noticed was the pleasant warmth of the alcohol. This was followed by flavours of toast, liquorice, malt, hints of peardrops, not too bitter, with a nice slightly smoky aftertaste. It was complex, satisfying and robust enough to accompany foods with strongish tastes - sausages, roasts, casseroles, in fact any warm winter food, although we enjoyed it in the summer. It was voted an instant 4 ticks.
Now for the hankies . . . When looking for brewery websites a reliable source is www.quaffale.org.uk and there I found that the entry for Craftsman Brewery was headed 'Closed'! Reading on to the history of the brewery I found "Opened September 2005, it was a partnership with Wissey Valley. It was using equipment from Wissey Valley Brewery and brewing at the Clover Social Club, Low Road, Wretton, King's Lynn. The brewery ceased to exist in February 2006, when the partnership split and it reverted to Wissey Valley."
We find ourselves wondering what human dramas lie behind this zythological tragedy. The ancient samurai compared their lives to that of the cherry blossoms which bloom gloriously for a short while and then are gone; so too did the Craftsman Brewery arise, produced this delectable stout, and then was no more!
With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I checked out the Wissey Valley website www.wisseyvalleybrewery.com where its Potted History page informs us that the brewer's career started in 1999 and the article ends with the words 'And so the Wissey Valley Brewery, craft brewers of ales, milds, porters and stouts was formed and opened in July 2003.' The website was updated in May 2006, and it looks as though any mention of Craftsman Brewery was wiped from the page. What mysteries are here? Like any good soap opera, there is scope for a follow up. . . we see that Wissey's bottled range includes Khaki Sergeant 6.7% Strong Stout. Does Craftsman's Strong Stout live on? Watch for "Strong Stout 2 - The Sequel" coming soon to a webpage near you!
From Issue 23 (June 06 supplement)
a) Alcazar Gaoler's Ale 7.5% website www.alcazarbrewery.co.uk/ This is an old ale with a clear dark red-brown appearance. The light brown head is fairly shortlived but the aroma is complex: 'yeasty, jammy, fruitcake' were some of the words that came to mind. The flavour is smoky, slightly sweet, fruity, and the warmth of the alcohol is quite evident. Although some of the famous Belgian after-dinner beers are stronger, this one could hold its head up in the company of those classics. It does very well as a digestif, as a nightcap, or an accompaniment to cheese. We had no hesitation in awarding it 4 ticks, and will be including it in our next order, along with other products from this brewery. (They do an 8% Imperial stout which sounds worth a try!)b) Arkells Bees 4.5% website www.arkells.com This is supposed to be Arkells first Organic Ale, launched 2001, and (they say) 'recently voted Organic Ale of the Year'. They stress it's made with organically grown malted barley, hops, and includes organically produced honey - and no doubt brewed by an organic brewer used a mash tun made only from wood from sustainable forests etc etc . . . No, shouldn't mock, especially as it's not a bad drink. Supplied in a clear (recycled??) glass bottle, which is perhaps not so good for protection against UV, but allows the golden colour to show to advantage. The finishing touch is added to the appearance by having a black foil cover to conceal the crown cap - wine bottle style. It pours with a dense white head, which dissipates fairly quickly. The organic honey which has been added is very pronounced in the aroma and although obvious in the flavour it is nicely balanced with hop bitterness, to give a light refreshing effect. We thought it worth 3.5 ticks as a good summer beverage.c) Arkells 3B 5.0% Another from Arkells, with a cryptic name which stands for 'Best Bitter Beer' (or as some would have it 'Big Boys' Beer' - although Jeannette liked it a lot too!) It comes in a clear glass bottle, which looks elegant and is obviously positioned as premium beer since the bottle contains only 330ml. The body colour is dark amber and it pours with a creamy white head. Sweet malt is clear in the aroma. The taste is complex, smooth and distinctive - malty, slightly sweet, with hints of vanilla, and a dry finish. It reminded us of Innis & Gunn, which is aged in oak whisky barrels and also comes in clear 330ml bottles, although I & G is stronger at 6.6%. (I & G was reviewed in May 05, and is on the website at www.simpson.uk.com/beers/RecentDiscoveries.htm It's currently on promotion at Waitrose so our cupboard has been replenished.) Like I & G, 3B is a beer to be savoured slowly, but at the same time is better for those who want less alcohol per glass. We awarded it 4 ticks.d) Greene King Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale 6.0% website www.greeneking.co.uk The brewer's website modestly says" Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale is unique and unrivalled in this country." It goes on to explain" It's a blend of two ales: Old 5X , which is brewed to the maximum strength possible (around 12% abv) and left to mature in 100-barrel oak vats for a minimum of two years, and BPA, a dark, full-bodied freshly brewed beer which is added just before bottling." They conclude "The result is a unique beer – strong (6% abv), dark, fruity, oaky and very, very special!" - so what did we think? It pours with a shortlived pale brown head over a dark ruby body. The aroma is spicy and fruity. It is full-bodied, with hints of caramel and burnt toffee, and high notes of vanilla from the oak-aged component. The aftertaste showed some bitterness and we were well aware of the warm glow from the alcohol content. It was definitely enjoyable, so why were we left with a feeling that something was missing to make it match up with the hype? It may be that it suffered by following the Arkell's 3B - by comparison this Vintage Ale showed less complexity, but was still worth 3.5 ticks. Can't help wondering what the Old 5X 12% might be like if it were sold unadulterated . . .
e) Now pay attention at the back, and no sniggering Wallace minor, because we're going to talk about Piddle in the Hole 4.0% , one of the regular products from the Wyre Piddle Brewery - website www.pub-explorer.com/realale/wyrepiddlebrewery.htm And first we must be clear that the name comes from Puddle - although the pump clip used when this beer is produced in cask form shows someone doing something they shouldn't into a hole on a golf course. The brewery, actually located on a farm near Pershore, gets its name from a children's rhyme which was popular in the area around Wyre Piddle village:
Upton Snodsbury, Peopleton and Crowle,
Wyre Piddle, North Piddle
And Piddle in the Hole
Some of W P brewery's output is sent to the Aston Manor Brewery in Birmingham, who do the bottling for them - which is how we were able to get a sample to try. The dark bottle has a label showing a rowing boat which has sprung a leak - it doesn't equate to the name as well as the pump clip but is probably more acceptable for the retail trade.
With all those gimmicks you might have some misgivings about the beer, but it's not at all bad - in fact it's very nice. The body is a clear deep gold with an abundant dense white head. The aroma is vinous and fruity, and these elements are even more pronounced in the flavour, with a hint of sweetness. In the mouth it is full-bodied and satisfying, with a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. We thought it deserved 4 ticks. Can't wait until it arrives down here on draught - "Landlord, another pint of Piddle if you please"!f) Sneck Lifter 5.1% from Jennings www.jenningsbrewery.co.uk/ a brewery based in Cockermouth, Cumbria. This strong bitter is currently available through Waitrose and we felt it was more interesting than the same brewery's Cumberland Ale 4.2%, which can also be found in Waitrose. Sneck Lifter has a dark mahogany body, with a huge pale brown head. There is burnt toast in both the aroma and the flavour, with well balanced hop bitterness and a dry aftertaste. It is an interesting and complex beer, to be savoured slowly - definitely not a session beer! We gave it 3.5 ticks.
And now, what you've really been waiting to hear - where did they get that name? The answer is on the label, in the small illustration of an 1828 6d (six penny coin - you don't know what that is? - all you post-decimalisation pupils stay behind for extra tuition after class!) As you all know (?) 'sneck' is Cumbrian dialect for a door latch, so a sneck lifter was a poor man's last 6d which enabled him to lift the latch of the pub door and buy himself a pint, hoping that some kind friend would buy him the next one! (A pint for 2.5p - read this and weep!)g) Humdinger 4.1% from Joseph Holt of Manchester www.joseph-holt.com/ The brewers give us 'hum' in the name as they obviously couldn't think up a title with 'buzz' in it, but just in case you haven't got the point, the label is largely taken up with a picture of a beehive - and there's a scroll proclaiming the honey too. The website proudly announces that this was "Winner of the Tesco Beer Challenge 2004." It also informs us that it is "brewed with a combination of quality English malt, Mexican Aroma Honey and Citrus flavoured Traditional Whole Hops. Provides a rounded, tongue-tingling taste with an exciting aroma" - and to be fair, we'd agree with that. The honey is very clear in the aroma and in the taste, where the sharpness of the lemony hops offsets it nicely, making it refreshing and not at all sweet. Definitely worth 3.5 ticks.h) Melton Red 4.3% from the Belvoir Brewery of Melton Mowbray, who as at June 2006 seem to have registered the domain name www.belvoirbrewery.co.uk/ - but not actually created a website yet! Watch that space. In spite of the name, the body colour is more of an orange brown, with a small creamy head. The aroma has caramel, malt, citrus (grapefruit?) and the taste is sweetish, with caramel overlaid by hoppy top notes, then a long dry finish. It was interesting enough to be worth 3.5 ticks.
We always like a label with a bit of interest to it and this one does not disappoint. In Melton Mowbray, on 6 April 1837 after the Croxton Park races, the Marquis of Waterford and a large group of his friends decided to paint the town red - literally! And there's a nice picture of these aristocratic vandals at work - bet they didn't get 30 hours community service for their prank!
We didn't have a Melton Mowbray pork pie on hand to try with the beer, but the bitter finish would be effective in cutting through the richness of fatty foods, so it might be a good combination.i) Moonlight 5.0% Yet another from Arkells. This time the bottle carries a blue-tinted photograph of a WWII Lysander aircraft, with the caption 'He landed by moonlight' - what's it all about? But first, the beer. A golden brown body, with a good white head, and clear malt and hops in the aroma. The mouthfeel is slightly oily, with substantial malt and hop flavours, and a hint of caramel in the dry aftertaste. A very pleasing competent bitter, and well worth 3.5 ticks. Now back to the plane.
Anyone remember a series called 'Moonstrike' on black & white TV? No? As I thought, you're all too young! It was a series about the RAF Special Ops squadron who flew missions into occupied France to support the Resistance. Lysanders were used because they could fly slowly and land in fields at night, so the pilots had to be exceptional fliers and risked being shot as spies if captured. Peter Arkell OBE, whose picture in RAF uniform is on the back label, had a distinguished career in the RAF and was in the Special Duties Squadron from 1940-1945. 'Moonlight' was brewed to celebrate his 80th birthday. If they keep on brewing beers as good as this for his parties we hope he'll have many happy returns.j) Rolling Hitch 5.2% is an IPA from the Darwin Brewery http://www.darwinbrewery.com No, it's not an import from Oz, this brewery is based in Sunderland! The label carries a picture of a sailing ship and of course all you jolly tars (or weekend yachtsmen) will know that a rolling hitch is a nautical not (or should that be knautical knot?) The associations in the name pay homage to the origins of the beer style.
IPA stands for India Pale Ale and comes from the days of the Honourable East India Company, whose captains would turn a personal profit by taking out a few home comforts to the expatriates who were administering the then colony. Among these was beer, and a favourite was 'October beer' - a strong, pale, well hopped stock beer brewed in the autumn. It was recommended in the 1760's that it should be kept 12 months before bottling, and a further year before drinking - thus it was two years old before it was ready to drink. As luck would have it, this was the ideal beer to spend a long 4-6 months sea journey to India. The slow, regular temperature changes it went through and the rocking it received in its oak casks on the voyage had a magical maturing effect, so that on arrival it was as mature as a brew which had spent six times as long in an English cellar. It was extremely popular and quickly became a widely established style.
So, if the label shows that the brewers know a bit about beer history you begin to suspect that they might have academic qualifications - and you'd be right! Darwin Brewery, established in 1994, is owned by three micro-biologists who hail from Brewlab at the University of Sunderland. Not only is the latter organisation respected for its research work, it provides the authorised Tasting Kits to CAMRA - and is famous for its courses which teach all the essential arts associated with brewing. (Anyone who is contemplating a career change, or dreams of spending their life in a brewery, should surf to www.brewlab.co.uk and sign up right away!)Nice story, what about the beer? A lovely clear amber colour and a h-u-g-e white head. The brewers are probably thinking of selling to that other former colony, because they use Amarillo hops to make it a 'US style IPA' - sounds like some confusion between historical links and pressures of marketing creeping in there, chaps! Nevertheless it does have a beautiful hoppy aroma. The taste has malt and hops with what the brewer says is citrus fruit, but we felt was closer to autumn fruits - who's quibbling, it's still tastes very good! It finishes clean and dry. We awarded it 3.5 ticks, though could have wavered towards a 4.
From Issue 22 (June 06)
a) is for the Alcazar brewery, based in Nottingham, with the rather verbose web address of http://www.sherwoodforestbrewingcompany.co.uk/ to make sure you know they are "on the edge of old Sherwood Forest in the shadow of Nottingham castle". No prizes for guessing that they plug the Robin Hood connection for all it's worth! They also provide a rather imaginative definition of the word 'ale' - I prefer the more likely explanations of the Saxon source given in the authoritative tome: Beer, the Story of the Pint by Martin Cornell. (An excellent reference book - for details see http://www.simpson.uk.com/beers/Books.htm#UK ) So the first one we tried was Maidens Magic 5.0% The brewery says "This is a smooth, lightly hopped and aromatic English-style brown ale, pleasantly malty with a hint of honey in aroma and taste. It perfectly complements light seafood dishes, mild cheese dishes, vegetable dishes and salads." Our notes record that it has a lasting, light brown head on a red-brown body. The aroma is very full, with the malt and honey coming through clearly, with hints of smoke and woodiness, but we didn't notice much hop aroma. There is a trace of hops in the flavour but again it's the malt and honey which hits you, making you think of mead. They seem to have got the balance just right - the background hops prevent it from being sweet, and if there were more honey it would make the flavour too pronounced. As it stands it is a very pleasant and interesting drink with a difference, but you need to choose the right occasion for it. We took the brewer's advice and had it as an accompaniment to a salad, and it worked very well, so we gave it 3.5 ticks.b) is for a brewery on the Isle of Man, from where our next interesting specimen comes. It is a wheat beer and the label says it is brewed at Okells Falcon brewery in accordance with the Manx Beer Purity Law dating from 1874. This made me rather wary at first, since I, and others, have discoursed at length about the problems created by the German Purity Laws, but all is explained on their website http://www.okells.co.uk Fortunately it seems that Tynwald is less rigid than the German government, because they amended the law in 1998 to give more flexibilty in lager making, but the full might of the law still applies to top-fermented ales, as follows:No brewer shall use in the brewing, making, mixing with, recovering or colouring, any beer, or any liquid made to resemble beer, or have in his possession any copperas, Coculus Indicus, nux vomica, grains of paradise, Guinea pepper or opium, or any article, ingredient, or preparation whatever, for, or as a substitute for, malt or sugar or hopsNow I don't know about you, but I'm quite happy that a brewer should be restrained from adding any opium or grains of paradise to my pint. The only thing which I'm now worrying about is whether English brewers, without such controls, are slipping a bit of nux vomica into their ales - certainly the Saturday night scenes in the High Streets of this country might make you think so!!! (Just checked it out on a 'herbals' website http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nuxvom08.html which tells me nux vomica has the same characteristics as strychnine - what were they doing in the IoM prior to 1874 to need such controls?)After that little excursion into horror, it's a relief to report that the beer concerned was excellent, well worth seeking out, and we awarded it 4 ticks. Here are the full notes:Okell's Mac Lir 4.4% We start with a dark, elegant looking bottle. The colours on the label are restrained greys and greens, with a Celtic style typeface in white, and between the words Mac and Lir appears a small version of the three-legged symbol of the IoM. The background illustration is a Druidic head with flowing locks and long beard, totally appropriate since (as you know???) Mac Lir was a mystic warrior and wizard from the island's legendary past. It pours a clear amber-gold, with a big white head. There are hops in the aroma and a good hop bitterness in the taste. A hint of sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness, leaving an excellent flavour without being too 'in your face'. The mouthfeel is slightly oily, and the finish is dry and refreshing, tickling the tastebuds, so it is an excellent prelude, or accompaniment to food. The reason for the hop aroma and flavour become clear when you see the brewer's tasting notes, which explain that they use "a veritable oast house full of little green plants: Pride of Ringwood from New Zealand, Cascade and Cluster from the US, Saaz from the Czech Republic, Styrian Goldings from Slovenia, and First Gold and Goldings from England." This is in total contrast to Belgian and German wheat beers, where the hops are normally applied with a very light touch. So the result is a very distinctive brew, full of interest and character. If you come to it expecting a Belgian wheat beer, you'll be disappointed, but accept it on its own terms and it's a very worthwhile drinking experience, which we can't wait to try again.
a) Colomba bière blanche 5% [Why the French? Of course you knew that Corsica was a French province and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, didn't you?] This is allegedly "made from Maquis, the wild flowers and herbs of the Corsican forest". ['Allo, 'Allo - I thought the Maquis was the name for the French Resistance!] Well, it pours with a pale cloudy yellow body and a good white head. The aroma is fresh, floral and wheaty. First impressions are of the prickly mouthfeel, then the taste emerges as you swallow. There are hints of vanilla and lemon zest. Chilled, on a hot day, it's very refreshing. [Yes, we tried it during the English summer - you know, last Saturday!] Bearing in mind that Inbev is going all out to dumb down and kill off the classic Belgian Hoegaaden wheat beer, this makes an easily accessible substitute, although it doesn't have the character or complexity to put it in the same class as Belgian wheat beers such as St Bernardus witbierb) Pietra bière ambrée 6% Having ingested the herbs and flowers of the forest, we then started on the trees - this one is allegedly made with chestnuts in the malt, and it announces the fact in several languages on the label to make sure you notice. It's a clear amber beer (just as the name says) and has a shortlived white head. The aroma is malty with hints of woody vegetation. Like its stablemate, the initial impression is of the prickly mouthfeel, but it settles down to a malty taste with woody notes and a lingering bitterness. It's refreshing, and displays a distinctive character.
From Issue 21 (May 06)
With impeccable timing, CAMRA has chosen 17 May (just before
our German beer tasting course!) to launch their Good Beer Guide to
Germany, and kindly arranged for me to get an advance copy. I've already
perused it from cover to cover and can sum up in one short sentence:
If you have even the slightest interest in the beers of Germany YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK!
a) Hairy Helmet 4.9%A rich gold colour, sedimented as it is bottle conditioned. Small short-lived head. 'Warm' hoppy aroma with a hint of caramel. The mouthfeel is almost oily, very satisfying. Taste quite complex - the initial bitterness seems to fade as flavours of caramel and digestive biscuit come to the fore, then returns to linger pleasantly in the aftertaste. An easy drinking, refreshing beer to which we awarded 4 ticks (although we almost considered making a deduction for the weird name and cartoon Viking on the label!)b) Bespoke 5.2%Amber colour with a big, lasting white head. Hoppier in aroma and distinctly fizzier in the mouth than a). The taste is clean with medium bitterness throughout. It is refreshing but less complex than H.H., so only gets 3 ticks.c) Porter 5.4%Dark red-brown body with a creamy head that lasts. There is malt and liquorice in the aroma though the latter does not appear in the taste. With a hint of bitterness, it is not very complex but is fruity and satisfying with a warm aftertaste, so we gave it 3.5 ticks.
(The labels for b) and c) just show the Ale Conners sitting at a table - presumably in a puddle - wearing the garments denoting their trade!)
I noticed you mentioning the range of beers at Sainsburys. I am very pleased with the range on offer at Morrisons. Our local branch always has 40 to 50 British bottled beers which they sell for £5 for four half litre bottles. And the range is from all over England and with a couple from Scotland. They add and subtract several from this range every few weeks. This is in addition to a modest section of bottled beers from other countries.
From Issue 20 (April 06)
a) 1648 Brewery - Ginger Nol 4.7% http://www.1648brewing.co.uk/This is one of their 6 seasonal beers, being on offer from November to March, and it's a nice winter drink combining smoked malted barley with fresh root ginger - both tastes are discernible individually and yet blend well. Definitely 4 ticks.Custom Beers of Haywards HeathFor students of brewing history this company should make a nice case study for a PhD thesis and you can start your research using various links within the quaffale website http://www.quaffale.org.uk/php/brewery/955It seems that everything started in 1994 when Peter Skinner and Peter Halliday set up a small brewery in the cellar of their pub, The Evening Star, Brighton - at that time they called it Skinners Ales (not to be confused with Skinners Cornish brewery in Truro). In 1995 they were joined by Rob Jones - he was formerly with the Pitfield Brewery (and just to add to the confusion Custom Beers are currently brewing for Pitfield while the latter tries to get new premises!) This new partnership was called the Dark Star Brewing Company and over time the Skinners name was dropped. In 2000 Peter Skinner left the partnership and set up Skinners Custom Brews using the Rectory Ales brewery but production was halted in 2001. Meanwhile the Dark Star brewery set up a larger plant at Ansty and by 2002 all their production was concentrated there. Peter Skinner now brews as Custom Beers (based in Haywards Heath quite close to the Dark Star brewery). Custom Beers started operations in February 2005 yet already has an impressive list of beers to their credit which you can see atIf you can order in sufficient quantity, Mr Skinner will brew beers to order for you. So now we've seen a brief history, let's get on to the beers.b) Custom Beers - Chinook 4.2%This one uses Chinook hops giving a rather different aroma and taste but still leaving a good hoppy bitterness in the taste and finish. We didn't think this reached classic status, so it got 3.5 ticks, but I've included it here because of its individual nature. If you see it, try it, and it may well grow on you.c) Custom Beers - Dark Roast Porter 5.5% (no website see above)This traditional dark porter caused a lot of confusion for the Festival organisers. The printed programme and the sign on the cask was initially 'Honey Porter' and the programme notes assured us it was 'tempered with the addition of honey'. However when the brewer turned up he categorically denied that any honey was added and the cask label was quickly changed to read 'Dark Roast Porter'. When we tried it, we could understand where the confusion arose, as there was a distinct impression of honey in the aftertaste, and this was confirmed by others at our table who tried it. Well, however it's done, Mr Skinner has produced a very nice beer which merits 4 ticks.Dark Star Brewing CompanySee above for the history of this company which has won lots of CAMRA awards in its short life. Now a confession: considering we are just a short train ride from Brighton, and the Dark Star's brewery tap, the Evening Star is very close to the station, I'm ashamed to say we've never been there, although we have been consistently impressed with all the Dark Star beers we have encountered at festivals. However, it looks like Dark Star is coming to us as they have very obligingly taken over the Duke of Wellington pub in Shoreham so a trip there is a must for the near future.d) Dark Star - Oatmeal Stout 4.5% http://www.darkstarbrewing.co.uk/A nice dense black colour, it's a rich, smooth drink with caramel and liquorice flavours and a good bitterness in the aftertaste. No question, 4 ticks.e) Dark Star - Nut Brown Ale 4.5%Another Dark Star offering which we just had to try. It is a traditional ale with a nice mid-brown colour and nicely balanced malt and hops in the flavour. Another member of the 4 ticks club.f) FILO (First In Last Out) - Cardinal 4.4% http://www.thefilo.co.ukWe had heard of this Hastings brewpub and were keen to try their products. The website has a nice write up of their brewery, ingredients and procedures. We agreed with their description of Cardinal as 'a dark porter with burnt caramel malt and dry finish' although we didn't pick up the 'coffee' flavour in the finish. A pleasant drink, above competent but not quite special enough for 4, so it got 3.5 ticks.g) FILO (First In Last Out) - Ginger Tom 4.4%Having enjoyed 1648's ginger offering we looked forward to trying this but found it disappointing. The ginger was evident in the aroma but the body was thin, and the ginger flavours were, to say the least, unsubtle. With our background of Belgian beers we are open minded about the practice of flavouring beers, having met some classics of the style. However, trying this one gives you some sympathy with the views of those who say 'Why add anything to beer?' It just made 2.5 ticks
h) Gribble - Pigs Ear 5.8% http://www.gribblebrewery.co.uk/From the website: 'A fuller bodied Old Ale with a rich ruby brown colour, brewed from a well researched old traditional recipe, which has been handed down from father to son'. The colour is good and although we found the aftertaste did not linger long, it's very refreshing for a beer of this type, and we thought it worth 3.5 ticks.i) Hammerpot - Madgwick Gold 5.0% http://www.hammerpot-brewery.co.ukHammerpot only started in August 2005 and we encountered Red Hunter, the second beer they produced, at the Worthing Beer Festival. We gave that one 3.5 ticks and said 'If Hammerpot can continue to produce beers of this quality they will be a force to be reckoned with'. With Madgwick Gold, which received its first outing at the Sussex Beer Festival, they can only enhance their reputation. It is a golden ale, with intriguing flavours of citrus and hints of spice. It is a very easy drinking and refreshing beer, and is an excellent addition to their range, well desrving 4 tick status.
I chastised Sarah at Oakleaf for their sneaking out the bottled version of Eichenblatt Bitte without telling me. (We discovered it as Southwick Brewhouse - see issue 18). So she relented and put out a newsletter which contained another surprise - they have squeezed a shop into their tiny premises. If you're passing through Gosport now you can stock up with a wide range of Oakleaf brews - for more details see their website http://www.oakleafbrewing.co.uk/index.htm
From Issue 19 (February 06 )
From Issue 18 (February 06 )
And if you want to make a day of it, you could do a lot worse than head for the village of Worlds End, as we did when our friends introduced us to the delights of this area. There you will find the interestingly named 'Chairmakers Arms' - it may stem from the fact the local river valleys provide just the right kind of green wood used in 17th century chair making techniques. It is a Gales house, so you can choose from Gales HSB or Gales Bitter. But it's worth the trip, because it was the nicest pint (or two) of HSB I've had in a long time. The pub is a big rambling building, so you can find not only smoking or non-smoking areas, but also rooms where the muzak can be turned off by request! As well as looking after their beer, they also know a thing or two about food. Sausage and mash consists of excellent Cumberland sausage (when uncoiled, it reaches right round your plate!) and chive mash with red onion gravy. Having spotted that, I didn't need to look any further down the menu but Jeannette assures me there were over 20 other tempting main dishes, before even consulting the blackboard for the specials of the day.
We asked about the future of the pub, now that Fullers has taken over Gales, and the staff thought there were plans to serve Fuller's London Pride alongside the Gales HSB (but will the HSB be brewed in Horndean or Chiswick? Fullers are conducting a 'strategic review' of their brewing facilities . . .) So if you want to be sure of the beer, as well as the food, get there asap. And do your bit for the Save Gales campaign http://www.savegales.org.uk/index.html
Although Gales own website seems to have faded to unhelpful blandness, as far as their pubs are concerned, this link below will take you to a location map for the Chairmakers
When perusing the shelves at the Southwick Brewhouse I was amazed to see Oakleaf's Eichenblatt Bitte in bottles! Ever since I discovered Britain's answer to Bavarian smoked beer I have been importuning the brewery to release it in bottled form, so that we poor souls who live too far from Oakleaf-supplied pubs can get some. And here it was, having crept out quietly without any fanfare! We reported on this beer in issue 9 of the newsletter, now in the archive at http://www.simpson.uk.com/beers/RecentDiscoveries.htm Hopefully Southwick Brewhouse will have replenished their stocks by the time you go looking for it but I cleared the shelf last Friday! They also have Oakleaf's Blakes Heaven, a good winter ale, and Maypole Mild. The Oakleaf website www.oakleafbrewing.co.uk still does not admit to these being available in bottled form.
The proprietor of the Southwick Brewhouse recommended we try Triple fff's 'Gilbert White' beer, taken from a recipe by the famous 18th century naturalist who apparently had as big a reputation for his own strong ale as he did for his studies of the flora and fauna of Selborne. We weren't around to try Gil's version, so can't say how Triple fff's offering compares to the original but we were very impressed by it - a big full-bodied warming traditional ale, tasting stronger than the 6% abv declared on the label, and leaving a lingering, smoked after-taste http://www.triplefff.com Today's lunch was Eichenblatt Bitte, preceding the Sunday roast, Gilbert White to accompany it and a Trappist Rochefort 8 to wash it down - the perfect combination to cheer up a cold wet grey February day!
From Issue 17 (February 06 )
Step 1 - get yourself a good packet of cup-a-soup. (This is much easier if you happen to be in Belgium, where even the humble packet soup comes in a more interesting range of flavours and higher quality than you find over here. The Royco range is widely available, so we always bring back a supply. But any brand - Belgian, UK, Sainsbury's or Tesco's finest etc - will do for the trials.)
Step 2 - choose a beer. (A 25 or 33cl bottle of Belgian beer is ideal for the purpose, but any beer can be used for the experiment.)
Step 3 - open the beer, pour a small quantity into a glass and taste it to make sure it's OK and to check that the taste is likely to complement the flavour of the selected soup.
(Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated several times until you are sure you have found the right beer.)
Step 4 - put the contents of the soup packet in a mug, and add a small quantity of water that's just off the boil, and stir vigorously to make a paste. Now add more water, still stirring but don't fill the cup.
Step 5 - add a small quantity of the beer to the soup and stir. (At this point you are likely to see the amazing sight of instant soup with froth on top.)
Step 6 - taste the soup, and make notes of your impressions, so that you will have a record of which are the best beer/soup combinations.
Step 7 - don't forget to drink any remaining beer.
Step 8 - get lots of beer and instant soups and invite all your friends to a dinner party the like of which they've never experienced before.
Seriously, it can work quite well. I tried using an Affligem Abbey Tripel (which in the grand scale of things is probably not a bad beer, but pales into insignificance next to Belgian Trappist tripels). For the soup I had Waterzooi, a speciality from Ghent, which isn't always easy to find in the instant soup version. It's a sort of creamy chicken and veg stew in the original dish and the soup is a thinner version of the same. The slight bitterness imparted by the beer gave it an interesting piquancy.
For Jeannette I prepared a French onion (instant) soup. The Tripel worked very well with that, balancing the sweetness of the onion nicely.
For the next experiment we''ll try something hearty, like pea and ham soup, and see how an Abbey brown or even a rich dark beer like Kasteel goes with it.
Do give this form of beer cuisine a try. It's got to be easier than those complicated dishes which the galloping gourmets, naked chefs and domestic goddesses tell you you should be making! And if you find some particularly happy combinations, let me know and we can share them through this newsletter.
From Issue 16B (January 06 supplement)
From Issue 16A (January 06 supplement)
From Issue 16 (January 06)
From Issue 15(January 06)
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