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.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Wold Top 'Golden Summer'

A confession to something of a local bias - I grew up near Driffield (my Mum worked there) and I have tried Wold Top's beers before courtesy of Roberts & Speight, who used to be my local wine merchants and off licence when I was far too young to be appreciating these sorts of things.

Having said that, I was prepared to be quite underwhelmed by Golden Summer. There are an awful lot of low to mid strength pale beers knocking about, and so many of them are very samey. When I was in a pub this weekend I tried three different ones which tasted so similar it seemed to be something of a misuse of two beer engines and space in the cellar.

Rant aside, this was actually very good - far from being another also-ran. It might have been because it was brewed up to 4.4% but they've done a good job of getting some character into the beer. There is a sneaky hop bite to it but it's not an American style hop-monster, you have to go looking for it lurking amongst the barley, which makes it all the more interesting!

Only criticism is that it seems a bit of an injustice to call it a summer beer - I reckon I'd be happy to drink this at any time of year. Hoping to get a chance to try it on tap - preferably in place of a bland, pale, 3.5% 'session' Deuchars IPA/Oakham JHB/Castle Rock Harvest Pale copy.

4.4% abv. £1.89 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Monday, 26 September 2011

Caledonian 'Flying Dutchman' Wheat Beer

Nicely designed, very dutch orange label, I'm sure the royal family would be proud. Unless they taste the beer that has shamelessly used their colours - because it's just a bit... Meh.

It's suggested that the beer is served chilled, but it didn't actually taste of very much so I let it warm up a bit. This didn't particularly help. It's supposedly flavoured with orange, coriander and liquorice but, certainly at fridge temperature, it's so subtle as to be wasted.

Light body, refreshing but really kind of disappointing. Talking about the label is rarely a good sign at the start of a review, it's like when you're at school and you say 'What do you think of that essay?' and the teacher says 'Well, the handwriting is good.' So I guess, 'can do better' is appropriate - and Caledonian can!

4.5% abv, £1.89 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Friday, 23 September 2011

Joseph Holt 'Two Hoots' Golden Ale

Well it was all going so well! The standard of the beers in Sainsbury's beer hunt has been excellent so far so I suppose it's almost inevitable that some are not going to be so great. Maybe I am being a little harsh but this wasn't up to the dizzy heights scaled by previous beers I'd tried. This one's from Joseph Holt up in Manchester.

A golden-brown beer that comes in a clear bottle - bad idea form the start, beer doesn't react well to light. Head collapsed quite quickly.

Pleasant malty aroma (coming from crystal malt as I understand it) and a decent hoppy bite on the sweetish finish, but overall it was nothing spectacular.

4.2% abv. £1.89 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Wine Recommendation

Domaine de Villargeau 2010 CĂ´teaux du Giennois

Currently on a deal at Majestic, this was in Decanter a couple of years ago as one of France's top wines for under £10, so now, at £9 each if you buy two, it is a real bargain.

A Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire's Central Vineyard areas, bargain price I suspect because this relatively young appelation (est. 1998) simply doesn't have the reputation that its more prestigious neighbours in Pouilly and Sancerre do - in a similar way to Mentetou-Salon.

Don't expect a kiwi tropical fruit bomb, this is Sauvignon at its most graceful - a glass of elegant, steely finesse.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Harviestoun 'Wild Hop' IPA

Another corker from the beer hunt range, this time from Harviestoun.

Gold colour with quite a short head retention.

I wasn't sure of the ideal serving temperature, so I tried it cold then again once it had warmed up to around cellar temperature.

When cold it's a big hop head-shot, almost making your eyes water! All citrus, particularly grapefruit, and the coldness seems to take away any floral hoppiness and replace it all with bite. Seemed a less feminine IPA compared to something like Brewdog's 'Punk' IPA.

When it warmed up it mellowed a bit (although it's all relative) and some of the floral hoppiness came through. Still a hop belter though.

5.2% abv. £1.99 (50cl) from Sainsbury's.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Beer and Wine Labels

Bit of a blog about blogs. I came across some articles today about beer and wine labels. The beer label one seemed almost to be the antithesis of what the guys at Pumpclip parade are up to*, but still, it's quite amusing to see what some people find 'inspiring.' Brace yourself for Badass Redneck Lager:

Showcase of Over 45 Inspirational Beer Logos and Labels

Moving swiftly on, and hopefully more interestingly, a couple of articles (well, a load of pics really) from a graphic design blog on wine labels. Interesting to look at this through the perspective of a graphic designer rather than a wine drinker. Some of these are held up as 'exquisite' examples of graphic design, and indeed that might be a perfectly valid comment, but I'd question whether many of them actually make good labels for wine - however talented the creator.

40 Wine Labels That Will Delight You

On the other hand, this, for me at least, seemed like a better selection:

12 Wild Wine Label Samples

* Incidentally, not entirely confined to UK brewers, shame on you Lindemans!

Monday, 12 September 2011

My Blog (or not)

Created this so I can use it as a blogspot profile but I'm not currently using it.

Blog posts are at

Of course if I knew what I was doing I could probably re-direct but hey ho!

Ridgeway Brewing 'Bad King John' Black Ale

A black ale - the name's a giveaway I suppose.

Lots of coffee and dark chocolate on the nose. Coffee and chocolate continue through on the mid-palate, with a robust earthiness. Smack of hops stops the beer being cloying, keeps a refreshing dryness. Lingering burnt malt finish that goes on and on.

Another excellent beer, real multi-layered complexity. Picking winners out of this lot is going to be tricky! Label could probably have done with some serving temperature information - I drank it at cellar temperature but only through guesswork - although it was great.

6.0% abv. £2.09 (50cl) at Sainsbury's.

Oxfordshire Ales 'Churchill' IPA

A rich reddish gold coloured beer. Another entry to Sainsbury's Beer Hunt from Oxfordshire Ales - beautiful colour.

More malty than I expected - lots of toasty and smoky flavours and aromas along with caramel. Perhaps a little over fizzy for my liking. Decent if unspectacular old-fashioned IPA - reminded me of the old McEwans IPA that S&N binned years ago (although I am probably guilty of remembering it with a certain rose-tinted nostalgia!)

4.5% abv. £1.89 (50cl) from Sainsbury's

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Williams Bros. 'Caesar Augustus' Lager/IPA Hybrid

- A what?

- Lager/IPA hybrid - you know?

- No bloody idea what you're on about.

- Look at the back label then...

The first one of the Sainsbury's beers I picked out was brewed as a lager then had hops chucked in - presumably to give it more character. Fair enough.

Here's what Williams say about it:

"We use the term lager/IPA hybrid because we cold ferment this beer with a classic lager yeast. The initial fermentation takes at least two weeks, after which we lager (store) the beer at zero degrees for a minimum of four weeks, during which we add a chock load of classic IPA style hops and allow the two to marry - fanfare!"

The result? A really good beer. Gentle, floral hoppy notes, the lagering seems to have rounded out the flavour - holding back the aggression you can get from some IPAs. A crisp, clean citrussy beer with enough fizz to give it a pleasant, creamy texture, and a light, sweet, honey-like kiss on the finish.

One thing I've always liked about Williams bros beers (and I've reviewed a couple on this fledgling blog) is that they can do the subtle well, they don't feel the need to have 'shouty' flavours, character through a melding of different flavours rather than letting one go mad. Of course, I've not tried the Profanity Stout yet (I'm thinking that sounds less subtle.)

This is a really excellent beer, a bridge-builder if you like, that could be enjoyed by hop heads and lager drinkers alike. If this is the standard of the Beer Hunt beers than everyone is in for a treat!

4.1% abv. £1.89 (50cl) at Sainsbury's

Friday, 9 September 2011

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt

The big supermarkets are generally held up as being the enemy of the smaller producers of wine, beer, local producers, and high street businesses in general, often with considerable justification. However, it seems fair to point out when they do do something that promotes people who are making something other than the usual mass-produced, high volume product. In this case it is Sainsbury's attempt to address the micro brew market. It could be argued that once one of these beers is brewed on the scale required for a company such as Sainsbury's that it might lose its character, but again it is unfair to prejudge - and since I have only ever tried one of these beers (Wold Top comes from near my parents' place) - I am looking forward to trying this lot.

Bad King John: Ridgeway Brewing Company
Bishop's Farewell: Oakham
Caesar Augustus: Williams Brothers
Churchill Ale: Oxfordshire Ales
Flying Dutchman: Caledonian
Full Bore: Hunter's Brewery
Golden Seahawk: Cotleigh Brewery
Golden Summer: Wold Top
Ivanhoe: Ridgeway Brewing Company
Profanity Stout: Williams Brothers
Stronghart: McMullen & Sons
Two Hoots: Joseph Holt
Wye Not: Wye Valley Brewery
Wild Hop IPA: Harviestoun
Worcester Sorcerer: Sadler's Ales

I'll price the beers individually under their own entries, but they are currently on a 3 for £5 mixable deal.