Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mikkeller 'I Beat yoU'

An American-inspired India pale ale that's brewed in Scotland by the Danes? Now there's probably not a lot of them about, but here it is, an Imperial IPA, which I suppose is appropriate as a globe-trotting style right from the origin.

Powerful hop aromas explode from the bottle even before pouring - lots of the aromas associated with other members of the hemp family. Amber colour with a rapidly disappearing lacy head. It's full-bodied, with a sweetness from the alcohol and not too much carbonation. Lots of vegetal flavours; grass and pine with orange and other citrus fruit, and the finish is all hops. I did wonder after the initial aroma burst whether I might be put off by the excessive hops, but actually it was quite palatable. If anything I found the sweetness more off-putting, and by the end of the bottle it was a bit cloying, it kind of felt like I was drinking an undiluted hop cordial, it just needed to be a bit more refreshing. However, a good range of flavours, and an enjoyable beer.

9.75% abv. £3.99 (33cl) from Beers of Europe

Friday, 23 December 2011

Brewdog Nottingham (Part II )

So BrewDog are moving in to Hockley (or the Lace Market - I'm not sure where one begins and the other ends).

They'll be on Broad Street, on the former Shaw's site. It's next to the Broadway Cinema and Café Bar, somewhere that used to be franchised as part of the Castle Rock empire (the bar part anyway) but is now entirely independent. I think the it will complement its neighbours rather well, hopefully Broadway/Bar de Nada rather than Revolution anyway, and BrewDog's arrival will make broad street altogether more interesting than another Tesco opening.

For more details see here on the BrewDog blog.

Looking forward to having a checking it out in February, and I'll keep an eye on things when I pop in the Broadway.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

BrewDog 'Alice' Porter

I thought yesterday would be an ideal time to crack open a BrewDog, after they seemed to indicate one of their next projects would be in my adopted home town.

Black, with a cappuccino coloured head. Lots of roasted malt aromas as you'd expect. Some gentle coffee too. On the palate there is bags of cherry fruit, liquorice and a dry, earthy finish. Good BrewDog juxtaposition in getting a medium bodied beer with 6.2% alcohol and deceptively rich flavour. Top stuff.

£2.59 (33cl) from Beers of Europe

On a more serious note with respect to BrewDog Nottingham, it'll be interesting if it challenges the small brewing scene in Nottingham. There is a new brewery opening up next month (in the form of the Navigation Brewery), and it seems that they, like Castle Rock, the perennial darlings of Camra (as you'd expect from a company run by a former Chairman), and The Nottingham Brewery will be focussed on 'Real Ale.' That's not to say that that's a bad thing, but, while Blue Monkey seem to have more of a modern outlook they seem too small at the moment to re-invigorater an area that I think could do with sparing a thought for where the next generation of drinkers is coming from. A non-traditional new pub with a focus on good beer rather than some awful theme bar with the beer coming a way behind. I think they'll do really well.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Brewdog Nottingham

So it seems Nottingham might be dragged into the whole crazy world of Brewdog's Craft Beer antics. According to the guys on Twitter an announcement is coming soon, and it seems that the site might be a former factory in the Lace Market which ties in with the uber-trendy/post-apocalyptic/industrial thing quite nicely.

This is all complete speculation so far (just a bit of fun and Twitter rumour), but it is interesting nonetheless!

Dark Star 'Sunburst'

Another of the three Dark Star brews I got for my birthday last month courtesy of my sister-in-law in Brighton, and an entirely different animal to the Espresso.

There was a slight haze to it, a golden, beer with a lovely frothy head. I got lemon on the nose, and on the palate it's a tease, it plays and flirts with resinous pithyness, while still remaining gentle, never leading you right into the grapefruit flavours. It's all tempered by a subtle sweetness in the finish, with a touch of spice, which makes it very moreish. OK, this was in a bottle but I can well imagine that on tap this would be close to my ideal pub pint if I was out for an evening rather than a cheeky swift one on the walk home. It's not the world's most challenging beer, but it's tasty enough to be interesting, and not all beer has to be of the contemplative (navel-gazing?) sort to be enjoyable.

4.8% Again, it was a present but as a guide, Beer-Ritz sell it for £2.50 (50cl)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

St Peter's IPA

Sometimes being objective is no fun, and there are certain things that you try your best to like, tastes you try to acquire. I've always tried my best to like St Peter's beers, ever since we sold them in Oddbins. I like the character of the brewery, they seem like the sort of company I like to support with my cash. Unfortunately I've just never been that inspired by the beer. There's nothing wrong with it, I've just never found it that exciting.

So I was quite excited to try their IPA since it was one I'd not seen before, and I thought 'cool, more hops...' as you do. On pouring it's a chestnut colour, with malt more noticeable than the hops in the initial aromas. Unfortunately this heavy malting seems to clash with the hops on the palate, almost as if they've taken a more standard style bitter and just added hops without much thought to how the flavours balance with one another. Another disappointment.

£2.03 (50cl) from Waitrose.

[The Waitrose in Nottiingham's beer selection is pretty poor compared to most I think, it only being a relatively small shop.]

Monday, 19 December 2011

Wine Recommendation

Alamos Mendoza Malbec 2010

The Americans are going mad for Argentinian Malbec at the moment, so for this one to be around at £7.99 probably means someone at Majestic's buying department got themselves a bit of a steal.

If you're like me and leave all your Christmas shopping until the last minute this is one to grab as a good solid wine that should keep things flowing over the Christmas period. Since it's not too overt a new-world fruit bomb this is one that can be enjoyed by everyone, even in the five minutes between Friday and Tuesday that they're not eating!

Expect lots of soft, autumnal black fruit on the nose, a faint whiff of bonfires. It's medium bodied with black cherry and blackberry all backed up with a faint tarriness and supple tannins.

£7.99 from Majestic

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Karmeliet Tripel

A tripel from Bosteels, the makers of Kwak, which is an old favourite of mine from my pub-running days (although I didn't enjoy having to wash the Kwak glasses out). They also make the Deus, which I still haven't got round to drinking from when I got it in for my birthday last month.

Looked pretty much as you'd expect from a tripel, although it was very clear, which makes me wonder how much fermentation really does go on in the bottle. There wasn't much on the nose - a slight dustiness, but nothing like as much as some of this style. The punch came on the palate, it's noticably fruity, and sweet, with lots of candied citrus fruits and a deceptive vanilla maltiness. There were sour milk and lemon cheesecake notes on the finish.

Overall it's a good beer, although I suspect it's deliberately made in a more approachable style than beers like Westmalle. I really found that sweetness a bit too much, and found myself wanting more of a dry, dusty kick from the wheat. It'd be an interesting one to throw into a blind tasting, I wonder if people might actually think it was a dark beer if they couldn't actually see it.

8.4% abv. £2.94 (33cl) from Ocado

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Brewdog 'Not So Punk' IPA

Something that Steve at Beers I've known mentioned in his post on Brewdog's new Camden bar got me thinking about beer and music matching. One of the more obvious of these is, of course, Brewdog's Punk IPA, but is punk really a good accompaniment to it?

It might make a difference what sort of punk. I've got bits of The Clash, Sex Pistols etc. in my collection, but the old stripped-down production punk ethos is far too raw for a slickly advertised, modern beer. Maybe some American stuff that's a bit newer; Rancid, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones?* Probably closer, it's conscious of how street-savvy it is, and brash and boisterous enough for Brewdog's style, but I'd suggest more the brewery than the beer itself. Maybe more hardcore? Life of Agony, Minor Threat? All a bit over-confrontational, too aggressive for a beer which, despite the marketing lead attitude, I've always found to be quite feminine, and far too floral for any punk tunes I can think of.

Alternatives? Well, at least in part because of the video rather than necessarily the original tune, but for me this is pretty close to getting those contrasts in one package... I hope you enjoy it.

* If you don't know it, check 'Another Drinking Song' out.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Badger 'First Gold'

I have a vague theory that labels indicating hop varieties will become much more commonplace. Perhaps not to the point where single variety beers become as common as seen in wine, but to the point where they are used much more as a shorthand, an indication of what the beer might taste like. In wine this has tipped over to the point where it has almost become meaningless. There are many wines on the supermarket shelves that, while ostensibly being varietals, only pay a sort of lip-service to the flavour potential of the grape variety.

That said, this beer confused me a bit. I'd suggest we're not really at that point of hop-variety shorthand yet,  and so for a beer to be varietally labelled, and not particularly to demonstrate the characteristics of that hop, was rather surprising.

Poured reddish-brown. There's a slight hazelnut aroma. The palate is mellow, malt dominated, with a faint orange pith background and there's a smokiness to the finish. Overall just an average bitter. In contrast to the Oldershaw Caskade, if you were to ask me what first gold hops taste like on the back of this beer, I'd be struggling to answer.

4% abv. £1.59 (50cl) from Waitrose

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Oldershaw 'Caskade'

Yes, I can spell, and so can they. It's a pun, see?

Anyway, a single hop beer I got from a local farm shop that comes from just up the road in Grantham. I kind of fell out with Grantham having been stranded there after the mickey-mouse outfit that is East Coast Trains managed to make me miss my connection the other week, thus turning a long day of wine tasting into a long, freezing, evening on a platform. This could well be redemption in a glass.

Unsurprisingly this is a good demonstration of what cascade hops can bring to a beer. Light (natural) carbonation, and a zesty liveliness that I think is often missing in bottle conditioned ales of this style. Lots of floral and grapefruit character and a little spice. I sure die hard hop-heads wouldn't find it that exciting, but, like the Thwaites IPA I had last week, I think there is a place for tasty, lower strength brews that go down a treat in the summer. The problem for me is that so many breweries have jumped on the band-wagon without making a beer that actually tastes of much, so fair play to Oldershaw for not falling into that trap.

It's Camra credited too - although I'm still interested to find out how this comes about. See discussion on 'a certain symbol' on the CAMRGB website.

4.2% abv, I can't remember how much I paid for it. A quick google and it turned up on The Real Ale Store for £2.90, which seems a bit steep, but I think it's limited/seasonal so I'm guessing there's not a lot about. (50cl)

Brewdog Camden

So Brewdog Camden is open. There's something about an aggressively marketed company reaching south of the Scottish border that sounds familiar, but you know I can't quite put my finger on it...

Maybe it's just my imagination. I mean, this is entirely new, cutting edge, never-seen-before stuff isn't it?

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas Beer Delivery!

Just for Steve, here's the beers I got today - for whatever reason I couldn't upload them to the usual site I use but here we go:

Winter Wonders


Other stuff!

Edit: In response to the question below (easier to put the links in here). The tall bottle with the star is the Spanish Estrella Damm Inedit. I'd seen it recommended by Fiona Beckett in the Guardian and thought I'd give it a go since it wasn't stupid money!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brooklyn Brown Ale

Blogs are subjective. It's part of their appeal, and why it's fun to write them and fun to comment on them. I do drink more beers than I necessarily feel the need to blog about, sometimes due to time constraints but often due to the fact that a stand-alone tasting note is only interesting up to a point, and a blog that is just an extension of ratebeer or the like probably isn't that interesting to the people who are good enough to read what I do write!

This is different though. When I was doing the wine 'practical' part of my WSET diploma it was interesting to try so many wines that I could get to the point of recognising them as being very good, without them necessarily being something I'd buy - and not just because some of them were extremely expensive. Obviously this is more towards the beer or wine judging end of things, which goes away from my original point about blogs, but it was this beer that made me think of this and I thought I'd share. Do people encounter many beers that they objectively think are good, but just not really their cup of tea?

A dark brown beer, the head fades quickly. There's molasses on the nose and cinder toffee with slight floral notes on the palate. I got Marmite and other yeasty aromas as it warmed in the glass. Overall it's an interesting beer, with plenty of character, but I'm not convinced I'd buy it again.

5.6% abv, £1.69 (355ml) from Beers of Europe

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Beers, buying for guests.

Gutted to miss out on the spicy goodness that is Delirium's Christmas Beer, although it probably serves me right for not sorting my order out before I did. If you are still mulling over what to get in, I'd recommend you decide quick - get what you want while you can, Christmas orders are well under way.

One guest for Christmas (according to his wife) likes beer, good beer apparently; 'that triple-filtered one.' I take this sort of thing as a challenge, and so I've ordered in a lager that with a bit of luck will taste a lot better than Stella. I went for Meantime's Union - I've never tried it and so I'm hoping it's a good educated guess!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Colour Prejudice

I'd like to think that most people know that colour doesn't really equate to flavour, and hate to see things like this paraded as a truth (helpful quote from this article in the Morning Advertiser).

"If you’re eating as well, remember that darker beers tend to go better with strong flavours (pies and beef) and lighter beers with more delicate flavours (fish and chicken). For spicy foods and curries, lagers have the carbon dioxide ‘bite’ to cut through the strong flavours."

Incidentally, on the same subject, the Hairy Bikers, Tim Atkin and Meantime Brewing Company food experiment clip is brilliant. Have a look from about 23 min or so if you didn't catch it (currently on iPlayer but not sure for how long.) It showed that automatically equating dark beer to red wine and thus going down the same tired food-matching routes doesn't work, and it is worth trying something different!

Now I'm going to have a nice pale beer from someone like... Victory? Yeah, no danger that will overpower my delicate chicken salad lunch.

Edit: Hat-tip to Jeff Pickthall who tweeted about the Hairy Bikers clip.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The 'Golden Pint' Awards 2011

This one's prompted and organised by Andy over at Beer Reviews, all self-explanatory. (Or at least if it isn't I've failed to work it all out.)

  1. Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer: Blue Monkey BG Sips, best session beer I've had in ages.
  2. Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Currently the Williams' Profanity Stout, although since I've got a bottle of Deus Brut Des Flandres knocking about I'm hoping that's better given how much the wife let me pay for it.
  3. Best Overseas Draught Beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap at the Bread & Bitter, if only because I was drinking it to celebrate the birth of our first child!
  4. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Delirium Nocturnum
  5. Best Overall Beer:  Brass Castle 'Bad Kitty' probably equal with the BG Sips (#1) so I allocated the two pretty much at random - maybe a summer and a winter winner. Also fair play to these guys for avoiding isinglass for guilt-free veggie beer drinking.
  6. Best Pumpclip or Label: I'll defer to The Pour Curator on this one, if you don't read his blog you should have a look. Some stunning artwork on there.
  7. Best UK Brewery: Black Iris, Derby. Totally biased since I was party to their opening night through some friends, and spoken to them a few times since. and they're just top guys.
  8. Best Overseas Brewery: Huyghe, because of #4, and because the pink elephant always does it for me.
  9. Pub/Bar of the Year: The Pipe & Glass, South Dalton
  10. Beer Festival of the Year: Robin Hood BeerFestival, Nottingham
  11. Supermarket of the Year: Sainsbury's (due to the Great British Beer Hunt)
  12. Independent Retailer of the Year: The York beer & Wine Shop, source of my first ever Hardknott beer.
  13. Online Retailer of the Year: Beers of Europe, prompt & knowledgeable.
  14. Best Beer Book or Magazine: Isn't that what the internet's for? I suppose the Oxford Companion to Beer has provided a lot of reading material without me actually reading it. Roll on the second edition.
  15. Best Beer Blog or Website: Tough one, I enjoy so many. But I'll go for HardKnott Dave, I think because he writes from a different perspective to ones I've experienced in the wine & pub trade.
  16. Best Beer Twitterer: Simon Johnson. Entertainment.
  17. Best Online Brewery presence: Summer Wine Brewery. Enjoyable blog,and tweets.
  18. Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Bavarian Obazda & fresh pretzels with Hofbräuhaus Oktoberfestbier. We had it for an Oktoberfest party that I never got round to writing about.
  19. In 2012 I’d Most Like To… Better the best beers of this year!
  20. Open Category: Steve at Beers I've Known, and The Campaign for Really Good Beer. Kudos.
Cheers, all the best beverages for 2012.

Thought of the Day

It occurred to me this afternoon, while I was supposed to be busy doing something else, that books and Pinot Noir have a similarly alluring aroma to them.

This applies to both the new; the freshly opened lively new world Pinot or the sometimes medicinal, clean print smells of a book you've just bought, and the old; the more illusive, the reassuring atmosphere created by old books in a library or the leafy humus and farmyard aromas of a a mature wine.

I'm sure this can't be a coincidence, even if it's entirely psychological.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Thwaites 'Indus' PA

A really good, readily available, flavoursome beer that achieves flavour without having too much alcohol. That's not to say I have anything against strong beers, it's more a question of if Thwaites can get flavour at low alcohol volumes how come so many others fail to do so?

I thought this was quite a good beer, while there's a nod towards the more aggressively hopped American styles of IPA, it's weak enough to drink by the pint and has enough interest for the hop-head. Greene King IPA it isn't. Pours golden, with spice and pithiness and a good long toasty finish.

Although of course it's not an India Pale Ale it's an Indus Pale Ale, so I'm sure that any comparisons are invalid!

4.6%, £1.89 (50cl) from Ocado.

Dark Star Espresso

I've been looking forward to trying some Dark Star brews for a while, and my sister-in-law coming up from Brighton to visit gave me the opportunity to get some brought up.

As I have ranted about on this blog recently, there is a lot of rather mediocre beer knocking about. a lot of it seemingly constrained by having to be a certain style in order to fit into certain market brackets. This is a 'speciality beer,' and while I hate the term when used by supermarkets to describe anything that's not cans of generic lager or bitter, in the case of flavoured beers it's more appropriate.

It's a black beer and I initially found more 'export stout' aromas than coffee, but once you dive in the bitter coffee takes over. It's a lovely rich (without being sweet), robust beer, but multi-dimensional too. It's not just the coffee flavours, there's bitter cherry in there too, and an excellent smoky finish. The depth of flavour without lots of alcohol is impressive, and it doesn't seem to rely on the coffee to achieve it, there's much more to it than that.

Not sure how much it is since it was a (scrounged) birthday present! 4.2% abv (50cl) Beer Ritz charge £2.42.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Hog's Back 'Traditional English Ale'

I have had this one before, and though I wasn't too impressed with it I gave it another go on account of it being delivered by mistake. Free beer always tastes better after all. Or not. It's a brown beer. Now of course there's nothing wrong with a beer being brown, but there is when it seems more to be a flavour profile than a colour, when it becomes a way of describing an unchallenging, middle of the road beer, then that's when I object.

As a parent of a six-month old daughter I find I also end up with objections to pink. Again, pink's just a colour, there's nothing to worry about surely? But when you are buying a pack of baby spoons and the nice lady needs to ask 'boy or girl?' with regard to cutlery for an infant, then something doesn't sit right. If you've no idea what I'm on about then check out this article about marketing science (c/o Pinkstinks). Or, if you can bear it, check this out - it's kind of a 'Guess the number of damning social constraints we can enforce on you from a young age' puzzle.

Oh yeah, beer...

Well it's about choice. Going into 'Toys'R'Us' and absolutely everything in the girls' toys aisle is pink is equivalent to walking into a supermarket's 'speciality beer' section and being faced with an awful lot of beer that is essentially just a minor variation on a theme. I used to work for someone who complained that Fosters we sold wasn't as good as the Carling they used to sell. But really, are the two that different? And are they that different to their competitors - and by the same token can't a similar thing be said about those speciality beers? I'm picking on this one in particular but the whole idea of traditional=good really doesn't excite me.

For me it's just lacking something, kind of hanging around in no-man's-land without knowing what it wants to be. Maybe with a further kick of spice or fruit or something it would be better, but as it is, not too impressed.

A+ Wine Day, The Red Wines

This is just to finish off things with regard to last week's tasting at Australia House with my pick of the reds.

Flight 6: Pinot Noir (6)
I picked the Yarra Valley Innocent Bystander 2010 from this bunch. Not necessarily because it was the best wine, but because I thought that at £12.99 (on the list, through a search it's £11.95 from Wine Direct) it was really keenly priced. It's full of exuberant fruit as you might expect, bursting with cherry and strawberry, but with an underlying spicy complexity that marks it out as a more serious wine. Most of the rest in the flight were £20+, which puts them into the realms of some pretty serious Burgundian/Central Otagan wines, and I didn't think they represented that good value for money. Certainly if you like the your Pinot on the pongy side, only one, the De Bortoli 'Reserve Release' 2006 fitted the bill.

Flight 7: Shiraz (8)
The best of the Shiraz flight was indicative of a shift in focus for Australia's signature grape. the First Drop 'Mother's Milk' Barossa 2009 as made from fruit selected fruit from two vineyard areas at different altitudes, resulting in a delightfully aromatic complexity with really fresh fruit flavours. Lacy Tannins create a pleasant texture, with a touch of spice and absolutely no hard edges. £16 from Harvey Nichols. This would make a great wine for the Christmas dinner table. There's enough fruit for it to be a crowd-pleaser but it's not too aggressive - and definitely not from Old School Barossa wine making.

Flight 8: Shiraz blends (3)
For me the Turkey Flat 'Butchers Block' Shiraz Grenache Mourvédre 2009 Barossa Valley showed the sweetness of the Grenache well, nicely balancing with the alcohol. The Mourvédre provided a certain earthiness. A well-thought out use of different fruit and considerate blending. (£10.95 from Formulawine).
For all the talk on the day of the wine revolution taking place in Australia, it was interesting that this was one of the wines which seemed to reflect the terroir the most - remains to be seen if the quest for 'regionality' results in less of a focus on single-variety wines.

Flight 9: Cabernet Sauvignon (6)
I agreed with Tim Atkin and Nick Stock on this one, the Hollick Coonawarra 2009 is a superb wine, and a bargain at £16.65 from Slurp. This is what modern Australia can do best, power with elegance, and nothing overdone - plenty of fresh blackcurrant fruit as you might expect, but without the sometimes overpowering eucalyptus leafiness that can be off-putting at times, and with silky smooth ripe tannins.

Flight 10: Fortified Wine (4)
OK, not red wines but worth a mention was the powerfully spicy, dried fruit Rutherglen Muscat from Stanton & Killeen - £12.40 from Slurp. Having said that if you're into sticky sweet dessert wines this style is well worth a try in whatever form you find it - treat yourself!

Tim Atkin summed up by saying he was more optimistic than he had ever been about Australian wine. Some of these wines are definitely at the forefront of disproving some of the old Aussie wine myths - and most enjoyable for it.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A+ Wine Day, The White Wines

Having written a post the other day about Australia Wine's One Day Wine School I thought I'd write up some thoughts on the wines themselves.

There was close to fifty wines throughout the course of the afternoon, and so what I thought I'd do is just pick out some of my personal highlights, the best of the flights - along with any other interesting comments that were made at the time.

Flight 1: Sparkling Wine (2)
Both the Jansz 'Premium Cuvée' and the Brown Brothers Brut  'Méthode Traditionelle' were excellent, very little to choose between the two, and either one will be far superior to any bargain basement Christmas Champagne deals you'll find in supermarkets this month. Personally I preferred the elegance of the Jansz but I'd happily drink either.

Flight 2: Semillon (3)
I love Semillon, but perhaps with more bottle age than was shown here, although I'd imagine older examples are going to be particularly hard to get hold of. The best of these was the oldest, a 2003 'Vat 1' from Tyrell's in the Hunter Valley. It had mellowed out with the couple more years it had on the other two; pithy, delicate and flinty. A superb apéritif. £25 from Majestic.

Flight 3: Viognier (3)
The first glimpse of d'Arenberg's distinctive red stripe, and an old favourite, the 'Last Ditch' Viognier, 2008 vintage. Generous stone fruit and smokiness, by contrast with the Yalumba Eden Valley 2010 which had much more classic honey , orange blossom and floral notes. Couldn't choose between those two. £9.95 from Wine Direct and £12.10 from Slurp Wines.

Flight 4: Riesling (6)
Things were starting to get into less-charted waters here, a flight of six Aussie Rieslings? Well if these couldn't showcase the differences in the regions, what could? There was a few interesting wines in this lot. I thought the Ferngrove 'Cossack' Great Southern 2010 (£14.65 from Slurp) was great if you like a leaner, steely, petrolly style of Riesling. It's still young and somewhat austere, and like the Mitchell Wines 'Watervale' 2010 it would be interesting to see how they'd pan out with age. The Watervale had more floral and lime notes, classic Clare. Long way to travel to try this since it's available where I used to work at Weavers in Nottingham, £13.50.
Also of interest was the 'mesh' Eden Valley 2009, a collaborative effort between two winemakers who vinify separate wines from the same parcels of fruit (hence the name). I actually thought this was the best of the bunch, although I could see Nick Stock's point about wanting to try both of the wines to see what the winemakers did with the original fruit. Lots of lime cheesecake, where often I find Aussie Riesling to be a bit overpowering on the lime cordial stakes this had a lovely, almost chalky, creaminess which took the edge off. £16.60 from Slurp.

Flight 5: Chardonnay (9)
I've not done a great job of finding favourites so far, and given this is the biggest flight, I failed to do so here. Report of the death of Australian Chardonnay, crushed to death under a mountain of new oak, have been greatly exaggerated. But if you've survived this long then I narrowed it down to a pick of one from each of the three areas (there was three wines from each region).
The first group was from the Mornington Peninsula, the best of which I thought was the Ocean Eight 'Verve' 2010 which had just a touch of reductive matchstick aroma and a good chalky minerality (struggled to find this one, although apparently it's imported by Hallowed Grounds, expect to pay around £24).
The de Bortoli Yarra 2008, a former Jancis Robinson wine of the week, and again a tricky one to get hold of, had much more peachy fruit and was a more rounded style. According to the listing I was given it is a Wine Society line but they list the 2006 at £13.50, not this vintage.
Finally the Adelaide Hills 2009 from Shaw and Smith was beautifully aromatic, with lots of mellow fruit and a gorgeous supple mouth-feel and texture. (£24 from Majestic).

Plenty of food for thought there I hope. I'll return with some reds when I get a chance.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mediocrity... and Gueuze

So there I was musing about the commercialisation of beers we might well think of as craft/real/artisan, worrying that marketing people might be running off with our favourite brews, then everyone was all over twitter being offended by Jeremy Clarkson, which is nothing unusual. This is a guy who has a talent for finding publicity, he'd been given a prime time TV interview and he'a got a DVD out (this is a guess, it's Christmas soon.) And so, Clarkson ignored as usual, thoughts turned back to beer... but are there beers you might find offensive? Stella Artois is the biggest selling UK brand, and as such is fairly heavily mocked among those of us who consider themselves to have a tiny bit of taste, but is it offensive, or just... dull, at best 'reassuringly' mediocre?

Of course there are some amongst us who find mediocrity pretty offensive. Perhaps this is best left in the hands of Aussie comedian Steve Hughes*, a man who walks on stage to Slayer. There was plenty of people who got all hot and bothered about Angel of Death in 1987, but his rant? Boy bands or, as he puts it:

'Corporate Shells posing as musicians to further a modelling career.'

Still, at least they're not making beer... Bugger.

* Full clip is well worth watching here.

Jacobins Gueuze

So this is a beer that many might well consider offensive, but it's anything but middle of the road. I'm guessing Gueuze as a style is never going to hit the mainstream, look pretty, have a number one single. And I'm glad of that.

The Jacobins is actually a fairly low-key example (not that I've tried a huge amount), and I think is decent enough as an introduction to Gueuze. It pours a dark-gold, 'real' (ie. slightly oxidised) apple juice colour. On the nose there's earthiness and faint cider-apple. There's refreshing citrus; clementine flavours that border on the taste of Matlow's Refresher Chews but a short finish which means the sweetness is not too cloying, leaving you wanting more.

5.5% abv (25cl) £1.49 from Beers of Europe

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A+ Australian Wine One Day Wine School

Five in the morning is far too early to be getting up and thinking about wine, but this is what I found myself doing this week courtesy of an invitation to one of Wine Australia's inaugural 'A+' One Day Wine Schools in London, as set up in conjunction with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

I was unsure about how to do a write up for this as a day. Nick Stock, one of the guest speakers (the  others being Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin MW) was on Twitter earlier and described it as 'epic,' which is no overstatement. If there is any criticism at all it is about the level of ambition. Fitting so much into one day was always going to be difficult, and when you add guest speakers that encourage the audience to challenge them with questions and in turn enjoy answering, then a packed day becomes even more so. This blog post is about the day itself, rather than the wine, which I'll talk about another time.

After the introductions the first main speaker was Andrew Jefford, who treated us to a lecture which, I assume, is a first glance into what his forthcoming book on Australia must go into in unparalleled depth. It was a more detailed examination of Australian climate and geology than in the WSET diploma, and so not for the faint hearted, but superbly presented and illustrated - with plenty of information provided for us all to digest at our leisure afterwards.

The focus of the day was how wine is being re-assessed in Australia, and how there is a movement away from wine as a commodity and towards something genuinely invoking a feeling of place. Nick Stock suggested that during the first Australian wine boom exporters had 'forgotten to take the back-story' which left them struggling once people had tried those initial wines and then said 'What next?' This is why Andrew Jefford's lecture (and the information surrounding the wines later) was so geared towards terroir, the feeling being that Australia has proved itself time and again with regards to technology-driven fruit expression, and is now moving forward.

A great wine is always enhanced by a good atmosphere and good company. Australia House certainly provided the atmosphere, and the guests were great company. As a self-confessed wine geek I'd have been happy to pay the train fare just to sit and listen to these guys talk about Australian wine, but there was nearly fifty wines to taste too.


If anyone in the wine trade is interested is even vaguely interested in how Australia is pushing itself forward as a home of something more than supermarket wine, then I would highly recommend you try to get on this course. Even if Australia isn't your thing then it is fascinating to see something that is now coming to light, and it will be interesting to see if other countries follow suit. There are lots of great books and writing about the 'Classic' wine regions. but this is in many ways a whole new discovery, and it is that freshness that makes it inspiring.

Friday, 25 November 2011

'Premiumisation...' and Anchor Porter

Apologies for using a crass marketing term but it's something that's been going on in the industry for a while and it's also something that I think gets to the point often discussed in beer blogs and on the Twitter hop-vine. There has been a move, particularly in the spirits category, towards more interesting drinks, ones with provenance, history, and (at least according to the sellers) flavour. I would suggest that 'Fancier Pints' and the burgeoning UK 'artisan' beer sector are far more a part of this than they are a product of campaigning from consumer groups such as Camra.

Take an example like Grey Goose vodka, as made by a Cognac Master Distiller, with water filtered through volcanic rock (and however much marketing blurb you'd like to insert here). All well and good and it's good as far as vodka goes - I tried it a few years ago courtesy of a rep from the parent company, Bacardi (hardly a small artisan company). The fact is that it sells far more as a statement than a flavour choice. It's a bit like the vodka version of a Ferrari, everyone knows it, everyone knows it's expensive, but it's arguably a cosmetic thing. Another example from closer to home (for me) is in the wine industry where (anecdotally*) some winemakers have seen a big upsurge in sales by considerably bumping up the prices.

The Campaign for Really Good Beer has been attacked by some for not knowing what it stands for. Firstly I would have thought the clue was in the name. I think part of the charm, and maybe even its raison d'etre is the very fact that it defines good beer by something as simple as whether the the person drinking it is enjoying it. Although I'd suggest part of the fun is to be able to describe the beer and argue its merits - and maybe even cut through some of the bullshit?

So educate your palate so you can trust it. Try new things but don't be fooled, because people in marketing never miss a trick, they're coming for your microbrew.

* Remarked upon by the guests at an Australian wine day this week.

...and the beer.

I also tried Anchor Porter recently, and I really enjoyed it. Not too intense a flavour despite its 5.6% abv.

Good creamy-brown head that stayed around, not too fizzy.

Bitter chocolate, mocha, touch of sweetness on the finish. What I like about it is while it has plenty of character, nothing is too dominant, and so it has a lovely balance. Moreish to the point of being dangerously drinkable.

£1.85 (355ml) from Beers of Europe

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bottle Variations

It strikes me as odd that there isn't more variation in bottle sizes.

I worked for a while in pubs in Queensland, where the tradition is to drink pots; about a third of a pint - so the beer doesn't get warm - as the pseudo-Australian rubbish lager ad says 'well you wouldn't want a warm beer' and, in the case of XXXX 'Gold', you probably wouldn't want it cold either. I can only imagine how horrible it would be warm. Brakspear 'Oxford Gold' is a decent enough beer but if you sold it in wee stubby bottles, like French picnic beers I reckon it'd go down a treat in the summer. Just a thought.

It was the  Oxford Gold that lead me off on this tangent, which might suggest that the beer itself wasn't all that exciting. Perhaps a bit unfair, it's not exactly a beer particularly suited to a November evening.  However my point was more one of whether tradition sometimes interferes with selling a summery-style beer in a different way that might appeal to new drinkers. The same applies to the Cotleigh 'Golden Seahawk' I tried recently too - a beer I've seen described as bland - which I would say is unlikely to appeal to many beer geeks who've seen it all before. Do we need more mid-strength pale ales with a bit of a hop-kick in the finish? They might though be good beers to entice lager drinkers away from their favourite fizz. But would the the packaging help or hinder that?


Brakspear 'Oxford Gold' Organic Beer 4.6% abv $1.87 from Waitrose (50cl)
Cotleigh 'Golden Seahawk' 4.2% abv £1.89 from Sainsbury's  (50cl)

Friday, 18 November 2011

Marramiero 'Inferi' 2003

This one's a bit of a blast from the past, and a blast it is. It used to be an old Oddbins staff favourite. One of those wines that used to be talked about on the company grape-vine (sorry, couldn't think of another phrase) before it came into the warehouse and invariably fought over by the managers who wanted allocation for their 'customers.' This really meant it was snapped up by staff on pay-day, if not delivery day, and customers' chances of getting to try some was rather less.

It's a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a big ripe inky wine, coming in at a whopping 14% alcohol. Even having mellowed a little over the years since I bought it the tannins are still grippy and there is still masses of black cherry fruit, tempered by smoky vanilla and spicy oak.

I'm sure some might argue that it's a bit load, and all this barrique ageing and fruit is too international a style, but I've always enjoyed this - and I think it's still got enough of an Italian accent to be proud of, rather than disrespectful to, its heritage.

One I've had for a while, probably somewhere around £15, although I'm not sure who stocks it now. If you see it, grab some, but don't be afraid to let it cellar.

The Big Book of Beer. Or not?

I recently used one of my favourite books for a class I run. It's about sherry, it's called The Big Book of Sherry Wines, and it's commissioned by the Conserjeria de Agrucultura y Pesca - I don't speak Spanish but I can work out that that something we used to have a parrallel version of over here; The Min of Ag & Fish (Now, I think, under Defra).

It is a beautiful book, full of absolutely stunning colour plates from the region. There are chapters on Land, Nature and Scenery and The architecture of Sherry Wines to name but two. It thus functions as a history, a wine guide, and perhaps most importantly, a stunning advert for tourists.*

So what has this got to do with beer? Well it made me think about what we have in this country by way of an equivalent, and, while there are plenty of beer publications on the market, is it possible to imagine a government department thinking that beer and brewing is that important as an industry to get behind it in this sort of way?

I think it'd be moving into the realms of Sci-Fi and beer, and that's someone else's blog.

* Or at least it would do if you could get to have a look at a copy - it's not exactly a Waterstone's bestseller.

Additional: It's not just me! This was c/o Melissa Cole on Twitter 23/11/2011: Beer and Britain's Rural Economy. This article about the NFU asking for more support was also tweeted by the guys at St. Martin.

Hop Cheese

I got some of this from a local farm shop yesterday and I'm still undecided as to the best beer match. It's faintly aromatic (citrus maybe a giveaway to hops) but generally quite a creamy, subtle, earthy cheese. It would get blown out of the water by my original thoughts which were all 'big IPA' related. Research will have to continue.

I've got a good selection of beers in at the moment since I was allowed to splurge because of a birthday. This includes a bottle of Deus Brut des Flandres, which is not a beer that's in my usual price range, and I'm very much looking forward to that.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Great Beer or Great Times?

A piece Mark Dredge wrote about pubs with views got me thinking about how the situation you are in can affect the enjoyment of the beer you're drinking.

I'm going to assume anyone reading this is generally on the look out for a quality beer. It could be a pint of something you've been looking forward to for a long time, one you've read about, even to the point where it's been recommended as the best beer in the land, and finally you come across it in in a pub. A pub with a hen party/football team outing/karaoke competition/insert pet hate here, or any number of other extraneous factors that might just cloud your judgement.

I would argue that tasting is a subjective thing no matter how 'expert' we become at it. This is not a bad thing - I don't want to read opinion from someone whose writing isn't born of a passion. There can't be many wine show judges who would say 'I discovered my passion for wine by tasting and spitting eighty samples of a morning' but I'd like to think their passion got them there. When I worked in wine retail we used to get customers that came in saying 'I had this great wine on holiday, do you have...' but while I might have been able to sell them the wine I could never transport them back to the place and time they had it, although I hoped the fond memories would return irrespective of how good the wine was.

I commented on Mark's blog about drinking Worthington's Firewater in the Cresselly Arms in Pembrokeshire. Tide permitting we used to potter up the river from Burton Ferry to the Arms in my uncle's little dinghy. We'd sit on the quay overlooking the river enjoying a beer served, via a jug, straight from the cask. A great beer, or a great situation? A beautiful pub in one of my favourite parts of the world with people I love, and love to be with. On reflection I'd take an indifferent beer in those circumstances over the world's greatest beer and a hen party, but maybe it's just me.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Notes on Notes

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. - Ira Glass

Writing good tasting notes, by which I mean ones that people will relate to, understand, and be informed and entertained by, to the point where they will keep coming back and reading more, is a creative process. Like any other creative work, it isn't easy (hence the quote above). It's the old 'walk before you can run' cliché, and it's why I thought Victoria Moore's piece in the Telegraph back in September wasn't particularly helpful. I think she overlooked the fact that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust diploma course that she thought was so prosaic, and therefore dropped out of, was a matter of writing to demonstrate understanding of fundamental things  for an exam. It is a starting point. There is also a difference in a purely personal tasting, and tasting with an audience in mind. I doubt anybody at the WSET is suggesting that following their rigid guidelines is likely to get you a column in the Telegraph, but most of us, when we take our first tentative sips, need to have terms we can immediately relate to. When I am trying to get people to examine the flavours of wine for the first time, articulating their thoughts is invariably the most difficult part - they are usually convinced they're 'wrong'. I always tell people that tasting wine is a learned skill, there is nothing particularly difficult about it to start with, and once people practice as a matter of course they'll get better and enjoy a more rewarding experience.

To someone with a will to learn about, but not a knowledge of, wine, an expressive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a fantastic wine because the flavours are so up front and identifiable. A similar sort of thing can be seen with beer. Pointing out hoppy and malty flavours may not be that interesting to readers of beer blogs, but without knowing such fundamental style differences your tasting notes will never improve, and indeed sometimes overlooking the basics can be as bad as being unimaginative. There are parallels in other disciplines that rely on both the creative and the mechanical, not least beer and winemaking. It's perhaps stretching the point somewhat, but few would argue that there is no art or creativity in architecture and the architect certainly needs to know the building they are designing won't fall down. Picking out an American IPA and saying to a beer novice, 'try this, this is what a hoppy beer tastes like,' might lead to a similar revelation seen with 'try this, this is what wine people are on about when they say gooseberry flavours!'

Villa Maria 'Cellar Selection' Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine I remember ever remember feeling like I could in any way describe the flavours of - I picked it for a staff wine sales competition with Oddbins and won (although I am sure I had some help from sympathetic colleagues). Since then I have been working through the WSET qualifications - the prosaic mechanics of educating my palate - and I hope eventually to fight my way through to the point where my work is as good as my ambitions.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Goose Island 'Honker's Ale'

Been off radar for a while since I've been busy doing the uninteresting things that I am hoping will earn me the money to continue my exploration of all things beer-related. It's also been a rather indifferent week on the beer front after the excitement of Stout Day and The Session.

So this post is due to, but not really inspired by, Goose Island 'Honker's Ale' which is apparently inspired by visiting English country pubs. All well and good making beer in an English style, but there are plenty of English beers out there that, although they are faultlessly made, are in the end just not that interesting!

Lovely brown colour with a hint of orange. It has a vague roasted malty nose, and there's a sweetness to start, which doesn't linger into the finish since it's taken away by a kiss of hops.

Not the sort of beer that inspires, although it was more interesting than the Lone Star by Pabst, and Samuel Adams Boston Lager, both which almost made my hop-thirsty palate feel like I hadn't drank a beer. Again, not unpleasant, but indistinguishable from many of its contemporaries. In its defence the Sam Adams had some richness that reminded me of some German Oktoberfest beers, but lacked the punch that the real thing has.


Apologies if this all comes across as a bit negative, since I don't like posting negative reviews, but it strikes me that with the Craft beer scene in the USA thriving, and feeding a similar resurrection of interest in different beers over here, it would be a shame if these sort of beers are held up as examples of a new beer scene in the US. And perhaps more worryingly it did make me wonder what sort of beers are ending up state-side and our friends in the US are thinking 'this is OK, not exciting, but OK... I hope my Sierra Nevada's cooled down so I can have that next.'

Goose Island Honker's Ale, 4.3%, £1.59 (355ml) Beers of Europe
Lone Star (Pabst), 4.7%, £1.59 (355ml) Beers of Europe
Samuel Adams Boston Lager, 4.8%, £1.59 (255ml), Waitrose. Also £30 a 24 bottle case at Majestic.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Masserian Pietrosa Verdeca 2009

One of the reasons wine is put forward by some as the world's greatest drink is the rich variety involved in the raw ingredient – the grape. In a discussion on which was 'better' wine or beer, the fact that Italy alone has over 1000 different native grape varieties was used as an argument that wine was more varied than beer. While this may be a legitimate point, if you have to be a geneticist and DNA profiler such as Dr José Vouillamoz, a contributor on the subject in the Oxford Companion to Wine to tell the difference then really that makes absolutely no difference at all to us as consumers. The point of all this? Well, this is a single varietal wine, made from Verdeca, which is a pretty obscure variety – it's not listed in Oz Clarke's book Grapes & Wines and its entry in the OCW doesn't run as far as flavour characteristics (it's actually more of a suggestion that it doesn't really have any.) The question is I suppose one of whether wines such as these represent a genuine case for preservation of obscure varieties on the grounds of taste rather than purely academic interest.

The wine itself is a lovely colour, pale gold with green hints. Lots of lime on the slightly floral nose. There's plenty of fresh green apple and lemon flavours. I also thought it had a pleasant texture, a slight oiliness but since it was backed up with a decent acidity, which must have been a worry with a Puglian white, it seemed to work.

I don't think that Verdeca is ever going to take the world by storm (not exactly sticking my neck out there) but given it is declining in popularity as a crop in Puglia, it would be a real shame if were to die out entirely. I have certainly had plenty of Italian white wines that are far less interesting than this.

£11.99 (75cl) from Delilah Fine Foods in Nottingham

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Oakham Ales 'Bishops Farewell'

The spectacle of beer advertising aimed at women came up again today courtesy of Greg at The Pour Curator and an innocent question about Sunday dinner from Emma Cole on Twitter. I have mentioned it before and frankly the whole thing is hardly worth dredging up again because it should be fairly obvious to anyone with even half a brain how patronising most of this stuff is, but hat-tip to Melissa Cole, not so much dripping sarcasm as standing in quite a deep puddle of it. I've yet to try Chick Beer or Uptown Girl - don't hold your breath.

I have, however, tried Bishops Farewell (sic) from Oakham. It's a pale blonde, hoppy beer, along similar lines to many that I tried at the Nottingham Beer Festival recently. Floral and pithy on the nose. Lots of citrus on the palate, and with a slight soapiness that I felt knocked the clean edge off the finish. Although this is probably bordering on the sacrilegious I think I might have been better off drinking this one cold rather than at cellar temperature, and I'm pretty sure it'd come across better on tap. Still, one of the more interesting pale ales that's generally available at the moment.

5% abv, £1.99 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Pipe & Glass

I was glad to see that the Pipe and Glass in South Dalton, East Yorkshire won the Michelin Pub of the Year award. I was brought up near there and it's a pub I've been visiting on and off most of my life since my parents still live nearby.

While it's generally had a good reputation locally, in the last few years it's really kicked on from there; good Yorkshire beer, an excellent wine list and superb food, which has earned it a Michelin star - and it's our venue of choice for birthday dinners and other celebrations. It also has good vegetarian options which, importantly, don't leave you wanting a snack by the time you have got home.

Highly recommended if you're ever in that part of the world. Friendly and unpretentious, proper Yorkshire hospitality.

More in The Guardian.

The Pipe and Glass

I was glad to see that the Pipe and Glass in South Dalton, East Yorkshire won the Michelin Pub of the Year award. I was brought up near there and it's a pub I've been visiting on and off most of my life since my parents still live nearby.

While it's generally had a good reputation locally, in the last few years it's really kicked on from there; good Yorkshire beer, an excellent wine list and superb food, which has earned it a Michelin star - and it's our venue of choice for birthday dinners and other celebrations. It also has good vegetarian options which, importantly, don't leave you wanting a snack by the time you have got home.

Highly recommended if you're ever in that part of the world. Friendly and unpretentious, proper Yorkshire hospitality.

More in The Guardian.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Guilty Secrets

My first contribution to The Session (#57)

I had to have a think about this one. I grew up in Yorkshire, where obviously all the beer was perfect (hmm). It wasn't until I went of to University that I got my first exposure to indifferent beer – and then that weird fizzy stuff which, I had to have explained to me, was lager.

It occurred to me to think about the guilty pleasure side of things. When I worked down in a London Oddbins which was next to a video shop, we used to try and match wines or beers with films, so I think what I'm asking is what is the ideal beer to go with the kind of film you might flake out of concentration (and probably consciousness) in front of, an accompaniment to the cerebral level required to fully absorb the delicate nuances of a mid-nineties Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster.* The film you rent to watch with some friends, that you're probably going to talk across rather than actually watch.

The great thing about great beer or a deep, complex wine is that it encourages thought, reflection and deliberation. However, if at all times you are analysing or deliberating and, almost by default, ignoring everything else life has to offer, then you are missing what it really does best, which is enhancing life. Even us beer geeks should sometimes ignore the beer, ignore what's playing on the idiot box, and enjoy the company we're in.

Recommendations? Polskie piwo dobre – 'nuff said (that's the limit of my Polish, and even then it's probably wrong!)

* For the record, it was Pirates of the Caribbean which stopped this sort of thing. Un-watchable no matter how many beers I'd had.

The Session #57 is hosted by Steve at Beers I've Known

Williams Bros 'Profanity' Stout

This is one of the beers that was in the Sainsbury's British Beer Hunt earlier this year (some of which I blogged about here) and since it was Stout day yesterday (a sort of Twitter-hashtag induced beer holiday) it seemed like a good excuse to getting round to trying this. As I've said before I'm a big fan of Williams Bros - and so I've been looking forward to this one for a while!

A smartly-packaged beer that pours with a hint of brown to the head - it's a black beer with a reddish hint when you look through it at a bright enough light! Serving it cold, as suggested, did seem to restrict the nose at first, but more of the malty/coffee aromas did pop up as it warmed a little. Full-bodied enough to carry off the alcohol, with an interesting, almost grainy texture (potentially from the oats) which contributes to the satisfying nature of the beer. Lots of dark-roast coffee flavours that are supplemented by dried fruit as it warms.

Like a good wine it's a beer that invites you to dwell on it and savour it rather than knock it back. A cold and rainy winter afternoon beer, to be matched with a good book or the Sunday papers.

7% abv, £1.89 (33cl) from Sainsbury's (although since the beer competition is finished it's probably not available there any longer.)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Victory 'Prima' Pils

Looks like a wheat beer - cloudy, straw-yellow and a short head retention, but got some big hoppy nose going on there, and when you taste it, there's a whole lot more. There's a herbal whiff of the more specialist Amsterdam café, and it snatches a bit of balance back from the big hop bite with a touch of sweetness in the finish. On further investigation, once you get past the hoppiness there is some spice (ginger) and lemon. Light bodied without overdoing the carbonation. All this contributes to a really rewarding beer, and it's refreshing enough to be deceptively quaffable.

I'm not sure how this is a 'German Style Pilsner,' I don't remember having had a German beer that was this intensely hoppy. The hops and malt may be German but the style? Although in the light of recent controversy surrounding the Oxford Companion to Beer (mainly surrounding Martyn Cornell's comments and how they were received) I think sometimes it's not that bad a thing to remain blissful in ignorance. I think I'll stick to drinking and thinking about it.

5.3% abv, £2.49 (355ml/12 fl oz - whatever they are) from Beers of Europe

I had to check up on the abv since it's not actually on the label. I'm surprised they get away with bringing it into the EU without it, but apparently there are reasons for this lack of information that go back to 1935 and post-prohibition laws, and some state legislatures still ban alcohol content labelling. Of course, the Surgeon General's warning about alcohol is still there despite them not telling you how much is in it. Crazy world indeed. More in this feature by Joe Strange.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2010

As far as I can remember this is the first time I've tasted a Tasmanian Pinot Noir. Climatically Tasmania is well situated to produce good wines from cool-climate loving varieties, providing some shelter can be found from the winds.

As New Zealand Pinot Noirs seem to be getting more and more international recognition, and thus becoming more expensive, it was interesting to try this one to see if a relatively unknown area of a country not generally that well regarded for Pinot (apart from certain areas) could compete.

If you're a fan of the light, Marlborough style of Pinot Noir then I'd say this wine, from the Devil's Corner range of second wines from Tamar Ridge is well worth a go. Lots of perfume on the nose, violets and red fruit, and a tart raspberry and redcurrant palate with refreshing acidity levels.

£12.75 (75cl) from Weavers in Nottingham

PS. I'm going to duplicate blog posts to here in case I start to have issues again with fasthosts and their crazy bandwidth restrictions like I did at the end of last month.

Great Newsome 'Stoney Binks'

I picked this one up as part of a set while I was at the Beverley Food Festival at the beginning of last month.

I hadn't come across the Great Newsome Brewery before, and beer from a relatively new brewery (2007) from near where I grew up was far too tempting to pass up as an opportunity! The unusual name comes it being named after a local shale bank off Spurn Point.

This is one of their occasional beers,  an attractive amber ale with a malty nose and a hint of cinder toffee. There are toasty notes on the palate and a slight toffee sweetness which nicely balances the hint of orange. This isn't one for the hop-heads, don't be expecting a big hop kick, but it is a moreish, mellow, relaxing drop. Most enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to the others now!

4.1% abv, 50cl. Not sure on the price since I bought it as part of a set, although it's available for about £1.55 (£18.50 for 12 if you can collect) at the brewery.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pabst 'Blue Ribbon' Beer

I've had a couple of days of dealing with internet things I don't really understand so it was nice to get back to beer yesterday evening. I'm not really claiming to understand beer either, but since it makes me feel better then I don't really mind. Having said that I am grateful to all the beery people I follow and chat to on Twitter for dispelling some of my ignorance, and I'm also very much looking forward to the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Beer. This gratitude also makes articles like the hopelessly uninformed one from Peter Preston in this morning's Observer all the more irritating.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a pale yellow lager with a gentle lead-in sweetness, and a soft floral/blossomy finish. A decent enough apéritif beer, I suppose it ticks the boxes but it is not exactly an inspirational beer.

On the subject of uninspiring beers, according to the Pabst website they used to brew, or at least one of their subsidiaries (G. Heileman Brewing Co.) used to brew 'Carling's Black Label'. I was under the impression that Carling was a Canadian brand rather than American, so somewhat confused by that. The ignorance turns a full circle, but I suppose without ignorance we'd not have the fun of learning. Worth drinking to.

4.7% abv, £1.69 from Beers of Europe

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I am going to start separating wine and beer stuff I'm blogging on, so I have started up where I am going to put my beer musings.

Wine stuff remains at so long as the bandwidth allows!

New Beer Blog Home

Due to bandwidth issues I am going to be posting my beer stuff here now. I've put a couple of my articles up from the old site from the last week while I get used to this interface. All good fun!

Thanks to everyone who has been reading, rather than robot spamming, my wineadvice blog - I guess someone must be or they wouldn't have stopped me using it. Older beer-related stuff and any wine posts should be back up on the wineadvice blog from the first of November.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hunter's 'Full Bore' Strong Ale

There's a lot of fuss on the Twittersphere (is that the right preposition?) at the moment about the government's increase in duty as applied to beer above 7.5%. The claim is that it will stop people drinking beer that's too strong - I am assuming the likes of Special Brew. Anyone with half an ounce of sense can see that this is not going to work (White Lightning anyone?) but what it will do is reduce the sales, and the stocking, of some really interesting artisan beers, especially 'specialist' imported beers that, and it may be because I don't hang around in the classier streets, I don't see people walking down the road swigging from a can.

If the tax was fair, then OK, but it means there is more duty on these beers than wines that are half as strong again - Blossom Hill anyone? I'm guessing that the House of Commons Cellar has a lot of wine, but not a lot of Belgian beer. Anyway, more of that here, and please sign the e-petition.

All of which brings me round to Hunter's Full Bore. I think that a beer that comes out at 8% should have massive amount of character to balance the alcohol. There is dried fruit in there, and a caramel sweetness, and it's certainly not a bad beer, but it's not really that exciting. So this isn't as good as a beer that's been brewed along similar lines by monks in Belgium for hundreds of years, it's no Westmalle Dubbel for example. But I guess the point is that if the tax man kicks the arse out of the market for potentially interesting beers that can be dwelt upon rather than knocked back, then we are going to miss out on the imports, and miss out on our brewers who will be less likely to brew this sort of beer, and therefore get better and better at it. In the mean time Carlsberg will carry on, and the Brew is unlikely to be influenced by the burgeoning domestic craft brewing scene.

£2.12 (50cl) at Sainbury's

I also tried McEwans Champion Ale recently. Certainly makes the Full Bore taste good. Deep brown beer with bunt toast aromas and flavours, a harsh, artificial, sweetness which really doesn't have any fruit flavours (like in the Full Bore) to back it up. Bitter finish but unfortunately a really inelegant beer, the hops simply fail to complement the sweetness, seeming almost completely at odds with it. Not at all clear what this is the champion of, but I wouldn't fancy tasting the competition!

7.3% abv. A quick internet check and it's available for £1.65 in Asda - I didn't buy this one.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fallen Angel 'Fire in the Hole' Chilli Beer

Spurious attempt to clear my cold/cough/bad chest/man flu the other night. This is one of two chilli beers that Fallen Angel brewery - I'll review the Black Death at a later date.

No head, amber beer, poured with a slight haze (I'd had it flat in the fridge due to overcrowding). Left a load of yeast sediment in the bottle, and there was a noticeable fizz - lots of secondary fermentation going on.

Loads of fresh chilli aromas. A real prickle on the tongue rather than an out and out fizz. Great sourness from the fruit and a gentle warmth. Reminded me somewhat of gueuze beer in terms of how the fruit came across. Really interesting and different, although a whole 500ml serving was a lot - if it were me I'd be inclined to go for a smaller bottle size - but only personal preference.
Not the first time I've had this one and no doubt it won't be the last, I first picked this up at the excellent chilli festival in Brighton. Love this one as a chilled, refreshing change.

4.0% abv (50cl) £2.29 from Beers of Europe

PS. While on the subject of chilli products, there's a new Doritos flavour out: Jalapeno Fire. Generally the more mainstream snacks come up with all sorts of claims about how hot they are and are nothing of the sort, but these do actually have a bit of flavour to them (even if it isn't really jalapeno) and I thought they were pretty good!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Wine Recommendation

San Gimignano Sangiovese 2008

Another one from Majestic that's on a deal at the moment (2007 is advertised on the web site) - £8.99 if you buy two.

One of the first places I visited in Tuscany. A slightly unusual area in so far as it does have its own DOCG (DOC 1966-1993) for whites, under the guise of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, from a local strain of Vernaccia thought to be unrelated to any other, but at the moment is awaiting DOC status for Rosso di San Gimignano despite it having had success with Sangiovese for quite some time, and more recently with super Tuscan style international blends.

But, given all of this red-tape means the price might well be more competitive, enjoy this one at the deal price! Fruity enough to be approachable, lots of characteristic cherry flavour, but balanced with enough oak and savoury tannins to make it a more satisfying drop.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Nottingham 'Robin Hood' Beer Festival 2011

I went to the Nottingham Beer Festival last night, a Nottingham Camra organised festival - and a very well organised one at that. £12.50 gets you in, ten beer tokens (3 of which get you a half, 2 for a third of a pint) and a glass to put the beer in. There is a massive range (over 900) of beers, more than enough to keep you busy for the whole weekend should you feel so inclined.

What I think set this festival apart from, for example, Camra's Great British Beer Festival was the focus on it really being a Nottingham festival - local brewers and local bands providing a focal point, and a real festival feel rather than it being about beer geekery and nothing else. Small criticisms but I did think it wasn't that easy to find a specific beer if you were looking for it (although it might just have been me chatting rather than trying that hard), and if Camra are trying in any way to lose their image that they are often maintaining on numerous blogs is so outdated then that T-shirt stand should go - it's embarrassing.

Despite my rather scatter-gun approach to tasting the beers on offer I didn't have any that I didn't enjoy. I was looking for a couple in particular, the Brass Castle 'Bad Kitty' and the Magic Rock 'High Wire' but apart from that I tended to go for the ones I thought would have enough of a flavour punch to keep me interested - hops away!

Black Iris 'Intergalactic IPA' - The fledgling brewery's new brew, and a very good one too. Pale with a delicious hoppy bite. 6%
Brass Castle 'Bad Kitty' Porter - Excellent vanilla porter, like a vanilla and dark chocolate milkshake but without any cloying sweetness. Rich and satisfying. 5.5%
Empire Brewery 'Bedlam' - tucked away in the back of the entertainment tent, pale golden ale. 5.9%
Magic Rock 'High Wire' - American IPA style beer, great finish, long on the hops! 5.5%
Maypole 'Kiwi' IPA - One of the local brews but with Sauvin hops from Nelson, NZ. Really floral and with a citrus finish. 5%
Nottingham 'Knight's T'Ale' - A new one from the Nottingham Brewery, a traditional coppery bitter. 3.9%
Raw Pacific Ghost IPA - Another big, citrussy American style IPA, but made with NZ hops. 5.9%
Severn Vale 'Seven Sins' - Since we were waiting for Seven Little Sisters to come while chatting to Nigel who was engineering the sound this seemed the natural choice. Lovely dry stout - marked contrast to most of the big hoppy beers I went for but possibly all the more pleasant because of that. A  SIBA champion. 5.2%
Springhead 'Roaring Meg' - Although I'd tried this before I wanted to have a beer that was pulled through a sparkler (Northerners eh?). A more traditional style pale ale, not so much of a hop monster, and rather mellow for a 5.5% brew.

Had I had more time I'd have sought out Thornbridge, Dark Star and Blue Monkey beers, but there's only so much you can get through, so maybe next time.

Cheers to Nottingham Camra!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sadler's 'Worcester Sorcerer'

I enjoyed this one from Sadler's Ales - the packaging is a bit cheesy, not sure what Gandalf is doing there. Did he drink ale as well as having a go at the halflings' leaf?

Anyway, Lord of the Rings aside it's a really good, flavoursome bitter. Plenty of hoppy bite with a sweetness from the malt that gives it a good complexity, and all at a mere 4.3%. Moreish, and just what I'd want from a proper pint (or bottle as it is in this case) of bitter!

4.3% abv. £1.89 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Trinity Hill 'Trinity' 2002

Dug this one out of the depths of the wine cabinet this evening. It's a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah blend from Trinity Hill in Hawke's Bay.

I had the chance to look round some of Hawke's Bay's wineries in 2005 courtesy of another ex-Oddbins staff member Greg Beachen at Grape Escape - it's a diverse and interesting wine area often overlooked because of Marlborough's dominance, although Stonecroft wines used to pop up in Oddbins and CJ Pask wines are available from my local independent, Weavers.

The brick red rim of the wine gave an indication of its age but there was still plenty of fruit on the nose, lots of Plummy Merlot. The palate was more lifted, red currants mixing with leather and earthy flavours, all supported by the oak ageing. Not sure there was much more life left in it so it's probably a good thing it got drunk this weekend - but an enjoyable drop, and one that brought back a few kiwi memories to add to the brand new one brought about by Wales' fine victory this morning!

Interestingly, according to my New Zealand Wine Atlas, these guys grow Montepulciano, as well as the grapes Hawke's Bay is rather better known for.

I'm not sure where I got this one from or how much I paid for it but similar blends from more recent vintages seem to be around £12-£13. (Label)

Friday, 7 October 2011

Wye Valley Brewery 'Wye Not?'

Some beers are difficult to write about, not because they are necessarily boring, or bad, but because they are 'good, solid performers' - the beer equivalent of the box to box midfielder who 'does a job.' For this reason I am resorting to football writer clichés rather than a probably even more tired and clichéd tasting note. Well, not entirely...

Amber-gold beer with a clean white head. Slight malty sweetness but balanced by a marked pithiness and a bitter finish. A pleasant all-rounder (I'm stopping the sporting metaphors now.)

Just had a nosey at the Wye Valley Brewery website. It's no reflection on the beer but is the whole Dorothy Goodbody thing necessary? Anyway, it's there if you feel like a titter or two apparently - I think I'll pass.

4.5% abv. £1.89 from Sainsbury's

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ridgeway Brewing 'Ivanhoe' Pale Ale

Apparently made to have a balance between the malt and the hops. Fair enough.

It's a really refreshing beer considering the 5.2% abv - enough of an orange-pithy hoppiness to keep things interesting and malty enough to give it some body. Rather moreish though, possibly rather dangerous for such a strong beer - not that I'm complaining!

It's not as good as the 'Bad King John,' lacking a little bit of character to be at that sort of level, but better than some of the other, rather dull offerings in the hunt.

£1.99 from Sainsbury's

Friday, 30 September 2011

McMullen 'Stronghart' Bitter

Here we go, off the back of a chilly summer it must be time to have a go at the winter warmers as the nights draw in. Something warming and fruity to ward off the cold... Oh... Bugger... So that's what happened to the summer - it was down the back of the sofa all that time! Well, going for the beer anyway.

A deep, dark beer - ruby red colour when you hold it up to the light.

Powerful stuff, liquorice aromas with a fruit tang. Lots of burnt, smoky flavours - treacle but not overly sweet. Pleasant dryness on the finish. A well made beer - I can see why the McMullen got beaten in the GBBH by the Bad King John (see below) but that's an honourable defeat.

7% abv, £2.12 (50cl) from Sainsbury's - presumably while stocks last!

I'm still in the process of reviewing the beers, but the winners were announced today. First place went to Ridgeway's Bad King John and second to Williams' Caesar Augustus. Two very different beers, both of which I reviewed earlier this month, but both equally worthy winners - well done!

As far as I understand it these beers will be rolled out to 150 Sainsbury's shops for a 6 month run.

I also heard on the grapevine (twittervine?) that the 'British' beer hunt didn't run in Wales. Obviously the final had no Welsh or Ulster beers but I assumed this was because they had been knocked out in the qualifiers or whatever, but if they were just not included - and thus not included in the sales end for people to try - then that's not a good move by Sainsbury's.

Generally though, good beer, good fun.