Friday, 27 April 2012


I've just had a brilliant couple of days away with family. I visited a beautiful pub near Stonehenge...

...and a Belgian café-bar. Fantastic stuff, although there's not much to write up in the tasting note department.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


I popped down to BrewDog today to have a chat with Max, who's running the Nottingham bar. He's worked in all the BrewDog pubs and shortly he'll be heading off to Manchester to help get their staff trained up for the opening of their latest bar.

Apparently my blog post on Sunday was picked up and emailed round BrewDog's bar managers - and it's worth bearing in mind that there aren't that many of them. For all the noise they make, they're still a small operation, certainly if you're just talking about the bar division. Apparently the post was taken in the manner it was meant. I was reporting what I thought was a genuine issue, not having a go at BrewDog, as I was accused of doing on Twitter.

Dazed and Confused,
or Communication Breakdown?
Max reiterated what he mentioned in his comment, that he was surprised that the short measure issue arose, and it wasn't official policy to refuse to top up to the line of an over-sized glass. The blog post from Max's colleague Jonny is written in a personal capacity, although I'd like to think Jonny realises that topping up to the line is simply good customer service, and not a matter of legality. Max also told me that many of BrewDog's bar staff are new to the job, and amidst lots of instructions you get given in that situation, you are going to forget some of them. I can sympathise with that. I for one have never been at my best in my first few shifts behind a new bar, and I say that having worked behind enough to make it difficult to remember how many.  If someone in a busy situation interprets an instruction such as 'Don't top these up to the brim' as 'Don't top these up at all' then they've made a mistake, it happens. BrewDog generally are also doing what Bitburger did years ago (hence the pic) with their oversize glasses; making them a bit smaller so it's easier to serve the correct measure and not leave a huge gap over the head.

A final thought. If pubs are going to survive at all then sooner or later a generation of younger managers has to take over, ones who aren't going to sit there and blame everything on the fact that women are allowed into pubs, or bemoaning having to think about a food offering, or repeatedly blaming the smoking ban, craft keg or whatever it is that becomes construed as the latest 'nail in the coffin.' Like them, loathe them, feel indifferent towards them as you will, but continuing a theme that's been discussed by other bloggers in the last week, I think BrewDog's bar division are going to switch far more people on to beer than stuff like this.* They'll make the odd mistake along the way, who doesn't? Their advertising silliness will more than likely annoy you at times, that's fine too, I recommend a healthy dose of taking the piss, it's one of our country's finer traditions.

* Or this... I could go on.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

'Would you mind topping that up please?'

Simon at CAMRGB HQ was on Twitter the other night mentioning that he'd heard complaints about short measures being given out at the newly opened BrewDog bar in Newcastle. He also said that one person had had a request for a top-up refused. This also happened to a friend of mine at the opening weekend at BrewDog Nottingham. When he asked for his beer to be topped up,  the bar staff refused, saying 'We've been told not to.'

I'm sure everyone's aware of how weights and measures legislation affects this sort of thing, and in the end I'd say this is just a matter of poor customer service rather than a sinister conspiracy.

Having said that does serve as a reminder of a virtue of keg over cask from a stock-taker, or more particularly a pub company's, perspective. Casks are simply a lot more wasteful. Years ago I worked as an assistant manager to a guy who had moved back into running pubs having been a stock-taker for Scottish and Newcastle. This gave me an insight into how much more beer it's possible to get from an 88 pint keg as opposed to an 88 pint cask. Every now and again it's worth taking a mental step back and considering whether participation in the 'craft beer revolution' (or at least the 'un-demonising' of keg) might just be a case of 'Over 100% yield? Yes please.' It'd be paranoid to think it's always true, but naive to dismiss it totally.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Oak Exploration Summary

I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of my oak exploration. I might well be turning the beer/wine geek dial up past ten, but I'm just trying to get my thoughts clear on it in order to aid my understanding of how oak works.

Oak can easily overpower a subtle wine and I'd suggest that that this is no different to beer. If you brewed a simple, neutral-flavoured beer and matured it in a small, new oak, barrel, it's a simple fact that the flavours will be drawn more from the barrel than the beer.

Although oaky wines, ie. wines whose flavours have been overpowered by oak, aren't generally considered to be the best quality - and I don't mean faulty - that's not to say that there aren't people who will like them. 1  Again I think there's a direct parallel with beer. I'd suggest that here is a question as to what the goal is in brewing a beer which is going to take on so much oak character that whatever original flavours it did have are overpowered. Some oak-aged beers may well be well-made, in the same sense that mass-produced market leaders are free of faults, but that doesn't make them multi-faceted beers of character, and that's not just a subjective matter of personal taste.

Some of this seems somewhat incongruous when you consider that some of the world's finest wines, including many, if not all of the first growth chateaux in Bordeaux aren't averse to using new oak. However, as I tried to explain my understanding of it here, there's much more to this than a simple imparting of oak flavours. As is suggested in the Oxford Companion to Wine:
Within a given type and style of wine, the richest wines will absorb the most oak with positive effects2 
Finally back to beer. There are certain styles that seem more suited to oak ageing, and within those styles it is the beers with the most robust character that appear not only stand up to oak ageing, but flourish because of it.

Now the plan for the weekend is to actually drink some of the stuff. I have it on authority from The Reluctant Scooper himself that BrewDog have got some oak aged beer on tap. Surely an appropriate starting point. Thanks for reading and I hope the wine references haven't put you off too much. Comments and observations are always appreciated.

1. Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.) p. 491. I've also put the reference to 'oaky' as a tasting term in my post about oak chips and wine here. 
2. Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.) p. 775. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Barrels vs. Chips

This is a bit of an overspill from my beer blog, but I just wanted to clarify a point I was trying to make on the Aleheads blog. It's essentially why I feel that chips are not as good as barrels with respect to quality wine-making. Brother Barley makes the following point with reference to using oak chips rather than barrels:
First, there’s the problem of stigma. In the wine industry, many (if not most) educated oenophiles won’t even purchase a wine if they believe it’s been aged with oak chips instead of barrels. Even though blind taste tests have proven that wine drinkers can’t tell the difference, there is still a strong belief that wood chips are the “wrong” way to oak-age wine. While this kind of “old-school” mentality is less prevalent amongst Aleheads than oenophiles, it’s still an issue.
Although I'm loathe to disagree with the point that Brother Barley makes in that there isn't a discernible difference between oak chips and a new oak barrel, because I've never been in a position to taste the same wine made using the two different methods. I think the point about it being an old school mentality is a bit of an over-simplification.

The problem is that, in a way, saying you use oak chips is pretty much confessing that your wine is no good in the first place, as would using new oak simply to make up for a lack of character - it's no substitute for making a good wine in the first place. To quote the Oxford Companion to Wine:
Oaky is a tasting term usually applied to wines too heavily influenced by oak flavour, which smell and taste more of wood than fruit, and may be aggressively tannic and dry.*
What you can't do with oak chips, which Brother Barley explains in his following paragraph with reference to "used bourbon-barrels or scotch-barrels," is impart character from the 'previous inhabitant' of the barrel, as it were. In the case of wine-making, this previous inhabitant is invariably wine rather than something else. Because new barrels are expensive and their characteristics not always desirable (they can overpower a subtle wine) they are generally used with moderation, and in conjunction with older barrels - complexity of flavour is the key.

Top wineries that do use a lot of new oak allow the wines an extended period of maturation in the barrels, and I'd suggest this process of slow stabilisation and clarification, along with a mild oxygenation, is at least as important as a simple imparting of wood flavour. Almost inevitably, there are relatively new micro-oxygenation techniques that are designed to replicate even this, but they are yet to be widely used.

* 3rd Ed. p.491

Innis & Gunn

When I set out on my mini-exploration of a few oak-influenced beers it was because I'd amassed a bit of a collection, more by accident than design, and so I thought it'd be a bit of fun. I may have been mistaken. I honestly do try and avoid negative reviews, so I am hoping that this is the last one I do for a while, it being rather self-imposed because of the oak exploration idea rather than wanting to openly criticise a beer or, as it turned out, three, Innis & Gunn beers.

There is a plus, although it probably comes across as a bit of a backhanded compliment. The beers look good, which is presumably a big selling point (hence the otherwise unjustifiable clear glass), particularly the Original.

Sorry, I forgot one!
Original: Banana, caramel, vanilla. Some toffee and brown paper notes on the palate. Medium bodied. Drying oak finish. For me too many of the flavours and aromas come from the American white oak, and not enough from the original beer. I wasn't overly complimentary about the Tullibardine for the same reason, but it's actually better than this.
Rum Finish: Pours darker, the banana flavours and aromas are still there, but riper this time, as if more time's been spent in the fruit bowl. More tropical fruit and spice on the palate but apart from a bit of sweetness the rum doesn't really come to the fore. I'd suggest that this wasn't a cask from a really full on dark rum like the excellent Doorly's XO. The finish is confected, cloying and a bit unpleasant.
Winter Beer 2011: The banana is back. It's boozy, with a bit of a pithy bite - think mixed peel. It tastes somewhat synthetic, kind of carrying on from the confected character of the rum finish. It has a similar finish to that too. I definitely needed more body, and more spice.

So how to put a positive spin on this little exercise? I'd still give their recently released whiskey stout a go. From trying superb beers like Ola Dubh and some of BrewDog's Paradox range I'm beginning to think a richer, more robust beer simply stands up to oak better. To use a wine comparison. Oak use in white wine production has become a lot more sophisticated, leading to oaked whites that allow the fruit to come through rather than being like biting a twig.  A lesson learnt in some brewing circles but not others?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

'I don't like beer'

Sorry, that's kind of a tabloid attention grabbing headline, but I was commenting on Boak & Bailey's excellent post about bad beer not saving beer and an analogy occurred to me.

When I run introductory wine tasting courses, I start by asking people about what wines they like. I appreciate that this can be a pretty difficult situation. You're in a room full of people you've never met before, on a course you've signed up to on the basis that you want to learn about something - rather than knowing something - and you're asked to pass comment at the outset. At this point, someone usually says 'Red. I don't like white wine.' (or, of course, vice versa). I love this sort of comment, because it means that there's someone who is ready to be enthused.
Beer's problem? It all tastes the same...

I alternate weeks. Red wine one week, white wine the next, and I have never known anyone flat out refuse to drink one or the other. I've also never have anyone end the course without becoming more aware of the incredible variety of flavours that wine of whatever colour can offer. Notice the beer comparison yet?.

There's no doubting there are people out there who think that food is at its best from McDonald's, Nescafé is good coffee, Blossom Hill is a sophisticated natural product full of Californian sunshine, and all a beer needs to be is 'refreshing.' This is fine, as is the fact that most of these people aren't interested in being disavowed of these preconceptions. However, 'moving people onto beer,' from wine, spirits, WKD, (insert your own pet hate as a beer fan), isn't inherently a good thing. If they move from tasteless wine to tasteless beer that's not gaining some sort of loyalty to a sector, that's just fashion. I'm always referring to the range of flavours in beer and spirits when I'm in wine classes and tastings - once their taste buds are woken up people don't look back, and with a bit of luck they're lost to the marketing people forever.

Don't like beer? Game on, I love a challenge.

Edit: Check out this 'Case for Beer' Infographic.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Decisions, decisions...

I don't think it's a particularly controversial point to suggest that most reviewers of beer, be it bloggers or untappd/ratebeer users, strive for a certain degree of objectivity. Having said that there are always other factors that can colour judgement. Similarly, when faced with a multitude of choices as to what beer to actually spend your cash on, it's almost impossible to be completely objective, even when you are thinking about an internet order rather than the sharp-end - standing at the bar with other customers breathing down your neck, their palpable thirst willing you to get a move on and make a decision.

Beer... There's a lot of it about (c/o Beers of Europe's Video)
There's the obvious parts to the decision making process. Have I tried it before? Have I enjoyed other offerings from the brewery? You might be attracted by good label design, or have had a beer recommended via friends, Twitter or Facebook.

It's this that made me think that with social media being so prevalent there are other factors that have little to do with the intrinsic qualities of a beer that might draw you to choose it over another. I'd be more inclined to buy a beer if I've had a positive experience with the brewery through these media, as far as I can see it's all an extension of good customer service, and good customer service is always a big selling point for me. The flip side is that some breweries just use social media as an extension of their advertising programme - and if it feels like that, then for me it can really reduce appeal.

I'm not going to name names, and how pleasant a brewery comes across on the web is far from being the only way I choose a beer, but I do have a sort of mental 'yeah or nah' list in terms of how supportive some breweries appear to me as a novice blogger.* Is it just me or do others have similar lists, and what is it that gets breweries on one side or another?

*Have a look at this brilliantly encouraging post at The Tale of the Ale if you are a 'noob' (Reuben's word!) like me and are unsure if any breweries are supportive of bloggers!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Tullibardine 1488 Whisky Ale

Not so long ago I'd have come out of a shop like the Whisky Shop in York an awful lot poorer than I went in. This is of course assuming I'd go in, rather than walking past thinking it was an Orange shop - as opposed to just an orange shop (lucky my missus was there really). So when I did go in it was with a certain amount of fear for the future of my bank balance (I'm a big whisky fan, as I'm sure some of you know). However, since I was pretty poor walking in, their selection of whisky related beers probably saved me from becoming completely destitute.

Unlike the Ola Dubh Highland Park, Tullibardine is a whisky I'm not familiar with so hopefully this is as objective an account as I can give. It pours amber-gold, with a tight head that collapses quite quickly. The nose is ester-dominated, with banana continuing onto the palate. It's nutty, with a caramel, ginger and a little too much carbonation. There is a warming finish which you could easily attribute to the whisky, but at 7% abv it's difficult to tell, although the drying effect does seem to be more about American oak than alcohol - it was certainly not the sherried sweetness I've had from other whisky cask matured ales.

I wouldn't normally blog about beers I'm not impressed by, but since this is part of a series rather than a one-off I thought I'd comment. The problem is that there just isn't that much character to the beer, and if the barrel ageing has imparted something extra then that suggests the original beer isn't that great. Tullbardine isn't a particularly old distillery and maybe it's the case that the beer didn't have a strong enough character to put up with what might have been relatively new oak.

£4.25 from The Whisky Shop in York.

On a more positive note, Tullibardine do a Banyuls finished whisky. Banyuls is a Southern-French red dessert wine which has proved a favourite when I've hosted food matching evenings, it's always gone down brilliantly with chocolate cake (there's a great one available from Weavers). I'd love to try this whisky and I'd suggest these would be excellent casks to use for maturing an Imperial or chocolate stout.

Edit: In case you haven't been and my Orange Shop comment completely confused you: The Whisky Shop...

...once you get inside though it's less ambiguous!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Harviestoun 'Ola Dubh' 12

Having finally banished the cold I had I thought I'd throw myself back into my oak-aged beers.

This one's from Harviestoun, a brewer I first came across when we had their Schiehallion lager on hand pull in the pub I was working in, many years ago. I have to admit to certain preconceptions, Highland Park being a whisky I'm a fan of. I was certainly interested in seeing if any of the heathery characteristics I associate with the whisky would be transferred to the beer.

From the opening of the bottle there's a blast of Pedro Ximénez sherry and demerara rum aromas. It pours black with a tight tan-coloured head. The aromas on actually smelling it are like an Irish coffee, all cream and whisky. The initial sweet sherry aromas don't come through on the first sip, the beer (somewhat mercifully) taking over. There's lots of coffee, walnut, burnt malt, smoke, tobacco and cinnamon on the palate. Compared to something like BrewDog's Paradox Jura it retains its 'beery' character well, rather than becoming a completely different animal. It's heady without burn, but it's in the finish that the whisky really shines through, and it's there you can detect the heather of the Highland Park.

On the oak exploration front, does it need it? Possibly not, although I've not tried the Old Engine Oil porter that inspired this beer, I certainly will if I get a chance - if it's half as good as this it'll be a great beer. Does the barrel ageing help? Most definitely, it's all about the whisky rather than the oak, but I can't see how you'd get this depth of character and flavour without it. Great whisky's finish goes on for days in the depths of your mind, and this is a beer that comes close to recreating that.

8% abv. £4.25 (33cl) from The Whisky Shop

This one's called... Dubh. Deep, dark, dirty and not to everyone's taste.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Kelham Island 'Pale Rider'

I've had to put my oak exploration beers on hold for a few days. I'm full of cold and I wanted to do it properly - if you can't use your nose you can't taste anything, it is after all 'the most acute human tasting instrument.' *

I do have a beer to write up though, while I'm waiting for my olfactory receptor cells to recover and reading about Nobel prize winners.  I had a bottle of an old favourite of mine, Kelham Island Pale Rider, last week. A mate of mine used to run the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield, and this is a beer I fell in love with on returning from a year of fizzy lager (with some rare but very notable exceptions) in Australia. Going back to beers you have a nostalgic fondness for is always dangerous, but I didn't have the expectation levels I would if I'd seen it on draught (which would probably lead to pant-wetting levels of excitement), and so I thought I was pretty safe.

In the end I suppose I was right, it's simply not the beer I remember it being on tap. However it's got a decent hoppy bite that grabs the side of the tongue, a good fruity complexity, showing lemon sherbet and a touch of soapiness in the mid-palate, all polished off with a moreish bitter finish.

It's still a good beer, one I'd be only too happy to drink again, and aside from the shift from draught to bottle, I can't help wonder how much my perception of it has shifted in the interim years while I've been refining my taste buds. (I know that sound horribly pretentious but I have sat an awful lot of wine exams since I used to drink in the NBT - and I'll concede it could be I've just been getting older and more picky!)

* The Oxford Companion to Wine

Friday, 6 April 2012

What Drives Beer Bloggers?

This month's beer blogging session is hosted by Brewpublic and the question being asked is 'What drives beer bloggers?'

I've been meaning to do a bit of a review of my first few months of beer blogging, and so this seems like a bit of an opportunity. It's probably entirely self-indulgent so you might want to stop reading now.

I was chatting on Twitter to a fellow blogger the other day and he was thinking about packing the writing in.* His suggestion was that the world doesn't need another rubbish blogger. I've read similar sentiments from others while not referring to themselves - there's some pretty negative stuff in some beer publications that seem to delight in denigrating new bloggers in particular. Amidst all the talk about beer snobbery that goes on, this is the sort that for me is the really damaging kind, knocking people for daring to be enthusiastic rather than keeping silent. On the other hand getting into beer blogging has also lead me to chat to some really interesting people - I've learned a lot from others and their many different styles of writing - and I'm ever grateful for the support I get from many of those that make up a great on-line community. Were it not for them I may well have given up already so they're definitely a driving factor!

I'm under no illusions about how good a writer I am, or how many people read what I write anyway, but, as I suggested before in reference to writing about wine, I'm not going to get any better at writing by not doing it.

What motivates me isn't the numbers, it's the beer and the infectious excitement surrounding it. You only need to read up on things like last week's #impoff event to get the idea. I enjoy beer, and at the moment I am enjoying writing. Simple I suppose. As to the future? Well Sturgeon's Law already suggests I'm probably in a large majority with the rest of the other rubbish, and I don't need established authors telling me that I should stop because they've been 'writing for longer than I've been alive' - and so some sites I've just learned to avoid. Maybe there is another law that suggests I'll give up - but I won't just yet.

* If you're reading, don't!

Edit: If you haven't read Andy's superb analysis of the #impoff evening, you should. Also a slightly 'different' account of the evening from Phil.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Session Beer

A rather amusing (to me at least, even if not deliberately so) rant about what defines a session beer on Ding's Beer Blog got me thinking about drinking habits.

For me the point about session beer is that it is pretty vague, it suggests a certain approach to a day enjoying the pleasure of beer rather than your day job which might well be worrying about fractions of percentages. I'll concede you might be a bit cross if you ask for a session beer in a pub and they want a tenner off you on producing a pint of some sort of triple imperial rocket fuel. In the end though it's a legal requirement to show the alcohol content of drinks served - and it's that you should be relying on rather than a bit of ethereal nomenclature - assuming you believe the label of course. If you can't work out that a 7% beer is going to get you more drunk if you throw multiple pints of it down your neck in a short space of time than a 3.7% beer would, you probably shouldn't be drinking at all. Similarly if a pub put up a list of 'session beers' on a chalk board that weighed in at six or seven percent they'd not exactly do their credibility much good but, rather like asking for a session beer without clarifying the abv first, I think that's pretty unlikely.

Beer. Friends. Session.
I'd suggest a session beer isn't simply defined by abv - some fruit beers in particular come in at a low strength, and are perfectly enjoyable, but I'd suggest even the more ardent fan wouldn't want to be drinking pint after pint of them.* By the same token, a drinking 'session' could consist of a bottle of Chimay while reading the Sunday papers or people watching from your seat outside a café  - the beer taking the place of a glass or two of vino da tavola in another universe, presumably that European one that 24 hour licensing was supposed to transport us all to.

And now? The sun is trying to shine, and I think a beer and a session of quiet contemplation and conversation beckons. With the right approach any beer can be a session beer (to misquote Aleheads), if beer's just a route to getting hammered, none of them are.

* Yes, it's a generalisation and I'm sure there are exceptions!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Traquair 'Jacobite' Ale

The first of my 'barrel aged' beers, for trying to get my head round oak and its influence on beer, isn't barrel aged at all, but it is from the UK's only brewery that is still using unlined oak barrels to ferment their beer in - the Traquair House Brewery up in Scotland. In the wine world this technique is sometimes used for white wines, as an easily controllable way of imparting oak character, and less frequently as a way of 'finishing' partially fermented reds (after the removal of all the skins etc.) to soften the wine.

The beer pours an almost black deep brown, the brown showing when you hold it up to the light. There's a tan coloured head which deteriorated rapidly. The aroma is dominated by malt; treacle and molasses. On the palate the beer is noticeably heady and quite sweet. It's full bodied, almost to the point where it feels chewy and sticky, with intense chocolate flavours. The treacle also returns on the palate, along with buttered malt loaf and black forest gâteau (hat-tip to my wife for that one!) The finish is sweet, and mellow.

In terms of the oak effect it's difficult to say. According to the label there are spices added, and it's also a very big, robust beer. The website says some of the barrels are two hundred years old, and I'd suggest that at that age, while they're not artificially lined, use has almost resulted in a lining of its own. There are flavours of vanilla in the beer, but since that's a spice it's impossible to tell if that's added or from the wood.  I would suggest that the beer has been mellowed out by the wood contact though, allowing it to carry its 8% abv a bit better, and the toast flavours do seem to complement and enhance those primary malt flavours.

£2.50 (33cl) from York Beer and Wine Shop.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Waste of Good Beer?

Since I started learning more about wine and spirits I've found oak a fascinating subject, and so I thought I'd attempt to do a bit more exploration of how it effects beer. It seems to be something of a divisive subject among beer enthusiasts judging by posts such as this one on Rob's beer quest, and Ghost Drinker's defence. If, as has been suggested, 'there is no such thing as a great barrel aged beer' then I'm going to have a go at finding one anyway.

Normal size Geordie bloke, whacking great big barrel,
still nowhere near 10,000 gallons though.
My initial thought is that, like most things, oak used well will contribute to the character of the beer. Judiciously used it should add complexity to rather than detract from the 'primary' flavours that come from the base ingredients. I'm not claiming to know anything about how beer works with oak, hence the exploration. However, from my wine and spirit studies and tastings I think I've got a fair idea of what flavours could possibly be imparted from an oak barrel, and I apologise if I have to dip into wine vocabulary and terms. I'm also going to try and find out how the barrels are used, to get away from a simple 'barrel aged' statement, which I think can be pretty meaningless - as I've mentioned before. The devil's in the detail - a beer like Dogfish's 'Red and White'* which has been matured in a 10,000 gallon oak tank is going to pick up relatively little (if any) flavour due to the ratio of liquid to surface area of wood - certainly compared to a beer matured in a smaller barrique sort of size (like the smaller ones in the photo.)

The beers I've got for this mini experiment (at the moment) are from Harviestoun, Innis and Gunn, Traquair and Tullibardine. Since I love Scottish beer in the first place I suppose the question is whether it will be ruined by the barrel? The plan is to taste the beers as I normally would but I'll try and decide what difference the barrel ageing (or in one case, fermenting) has made by way of a conclusion.

* Thanks to Phil for pointing this one out.

Monday, 2 April 2012

TTT: Flying Dog vs. Meantime

It's been a while since I did my first Transatlantic Taste Test so I though I'd have another go. I fancied something a bit lighter after all the heavy beer I had last week - I think Sam Smith's Imperial Stout was the lightest one I had! Flying Dog Old Scratch (Amber lager) and Meantime Union (Vienna style amber lager) seemed a reasonable enough pair to compare so away I went.

Said it before but Steadman rules!
Appearance-wise the big difference was in the head, which was noticeably darker in the Old Scratch, the copper hint contrasting with the white of the Union. The Old Scratch had more of a reddish hue and there was a slight haze to the Union. On the nose the Old Scratch had a dusty aroma that I normally associate with Belgian tripels, backed up with toffee. There was more spice on the Union, hints of ginger and more green, aromatic hops.

On the palate they're both pretty restrained, as you'd expect from lager - these aren't big pithy hop-bombs! Having said that there is a more definite hop bite in the Old Scratch, balanced out with a gentle caramel malt and biscuit flavours. The Union is softer and more nutty with brioche and fresh bread flavours.

Picking between the two? Well they're both good, and particularly in the garden on a hot summer's day (you remember the summer, we had it last week?) either would go down a treat. So I'd say a commendable score draw, although I think if I absolutely had to choose it'd be the Meantime because I think the high alcohol of the Old Scratch means it's not quite got the Union's balance - it's potentially a bit subtle for 5.5%.

Flying Dog Old Scratch, 5.5% abv, £1.99 (355ml)
Meantime Union, 4.9% abv, £1.39 (33cl)
Both prices are from the Beers of Europe website.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout

I couldn't really participate in this weekend's 'Impoff,' a Twitter tasting that seemed a lot of fun when I had the chance to dip my toe in the water. Judging from the comments I've seen today, it also lead to some pretty intensive Sunday morning coffee sessions, this time of the more literal kind rather than a flavour component to last night's rather heady brews!

The Imperial Stout I did get to try was Sam Smith's, it's a brewery I have a long association with since the first pub I started regularly drinking in as a nipper was a Sam Smith's boozer - one that has very much resisted the changes that seem to have happened everywhere else since. The pub on the corner opposite has undergone at least two major refurbishments and name changes, and now seems rather more like a café bar than a pub.

The beer itself is rather more savoury than many Imperial Stouts I've had before, very much a grown up beer. There was lots of coffee and bitter chocolate on the nose and on the palate there was liquorice root and a remorseless bitterness, although I suspect I was drinking it a bit cold since it yielded slightly more mellow cherry and dried fruit flavour as it warmed a bit. Cracking beer though - and good to see it's seaweed rather than isinglass fined.

7% abv. £1.95 (33cl) from York Beer and Wine Shop