Saturday, 30 June 2012

Preseli Brewery

This is the first lot of locally-brewed bottled beers I've picked up since I got down to Pembrokeshire. Preseli are based in Tenby. The Narberth Spar had five of their bottle conditioned range, and I got three (picked pretty much at random) for £6.50 - from £2.49 each.

The Baggywrinkle is billed as 'A traditional hoppy bitter' and it pours an orangey-brown colour. It's a decent enough bitter but I'm not sure I'd describe it as particularly hoppy; plenty of ginger-snap biscuits and the odd smoky note. Most of the aromas I got reminded me of a mash tun rather than bags of hops. There's a bit of pithiness on the palate and it's got a really earthy finish. Overall I thought it really could do with more bite. 4.5% abv.

The Powder Monkey is another bitter, but I thought this one had more character; with lighter, citrus fruits in there and the malt integrating a little more into the flavours making an altogether more rounded, balanced beer; although once again I'm not sure I'd describe it as 'full-bodied,' which is how it's described on the label. It seemed something of an exaggeration, although the bit about the crisp finish was far closer to the mark. 4.2% abv.

Last up was the 'Rocky Bottom' Golden Ale. I thought this was the best of the three, it had the most character, with some more spices and some of the promised wild berry fruit coming through. It still had that faint earthiness, as if some of the malt hadn't really integrated fully into the beer though. 4.5% abv.

If I were being critical, taking myself away from the holiday if you like, the Preseli beers I tried weren't all that inspiring, but I would try them again (or more of the range) for a few reasons. Firstly because they weren't out and out bad; I don't feel people will drink these beers and think they're being taken for mugs, although at the moment they're probably not offering anything more than the Brains that is ubiquitous in this part of the world - unless you subscribe to the idea that bottle conditioned beer is automatically better. I also think it's good to at least try and support local businesses when you're staying somewhere. Finally I'd give them another try because I think they're a small enough operation to make progress not only realistic, but likely. Yes, they are commercial enough to appear in local supermarkets, putting them right in the firing line, but that doesn't mean that they can't progress. Good luck to them.

Iechyd da!

Sunday, 24 June 2012


We're off on our holidays next week, heading for South West Wales. It's somewhere I'm quite familiar with since I've been irregularly visiting family friends down there for almost my whole life.

Welsh pub, Welsh beer
Here's a few that I'm already a fan of. I've written about Cresswell Quay before. I always used to try and make a trip to The Station Inn in Pembroke Dock, which I think I'm right in saying is now no longer a brew pub, although since we're staying a bit further from Pembroke Dock this time (over in Narberth) I might not make it this time. The Stackpole Inn is quite a recent favourite. I seem to remember having excellent food there. Other favourites (off the top of my head, I'm sure there are more if I asked others) are the Sloop Inn, Porthgain; the Freshwater Inn and the Tafarn Sinc, up in the Preseli Hills.

Arn from the Blood Stout and Tears blog recommends the Hope and Anchor in Tenby, which is one I don't remember having visited. I'm on the look out for more recommendations. Although there are some great pubs in some stunning locations I do remember the beer selections being somewhat predictable, so it would be great if anyone knows of any pubs down there that might stock something with a bit of variation from the Brains, Felinfoel and Worthingtons norm.

Does anybody know anywhere, particularly new places that might have sprung up since my last trip down there a few years ago, that are worth a visit?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Potato Vodka

At first glance vodka has something of a paradoxical nature. How can you objectively evaluate, which generally implies looking for character, a spirit which is distilled to a strength that guarantees it will have very little character of whatever it is distilled from?

It is argued that vodka simply doesn't taste of very much, which is why it just gets mixed in with something else to disguise the 'flavour' of the alcohol. Will the years of experience of the Cognac master-distiller who was brought in to distill the latest vodka shine through a couple of hundred millilitres of Irn-Bru and ice? I'd say probably not. It's also easy to be cynical about the rise of 'premium' and 'super-premium' vodkas. I think it would be naive to suggest that some brands are anything more than a constructed product that rely more on advertising and creating the 'next big thing' than actual authenticity. Sidney Frank, the creator of Grey Goose vodka, once famously said that vodka was 'just alcohol and water,' and his entire business idea seemed to be creating a brand that he could sell for 50% more than the market leader at the time which was, and still is, Absolut (owned by Pernod Ricard). Frank's plan clearly worked; Bacardi paid $2 billion for it when they bought the company, still the largest drinks brand acquisition in history.

So where does that leave the flavour enthusiast? Should vodka be dismissed out of hand? Well, no, and I think potato vodka provides a good illustration of why. Despite popular preconception, potato vodka is a bit different to the norm. Potatoes are not as efficient a source of fermentable sugars compared to other sources, and as such most vodkas are based on grains; or indeed whatever is to hand where it is made. These base products do have an effect of the eventual quality - the best vodkas are considered to come from wheat, barley, rye and potatoes. In a similar way to the grain character of the Snow Queen vodka I reviewed here, I would expect potato vodkas to have certain characteristics of their own along with the purity you'd expect from a quality vodka. In particular I'd be looking for a rich, creamy texture - like properly done mash, and more body than other vodkas. This character is quite an important distinction. Although the two vodkas I have to sample are from different parts of the world they are first and foremost potato vodkas, it is that that will define their style rather than geographical origin.

The two I've got to taste are the British distilled Chase and Cold River, from the USA. Reviews to follow since I've rambled on a bit here.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Viñas Del Vero 'Secastilla' 2003

I raided the cellar for this one since it was our wedding anniversary on Monday. I was a bit late on the celebration but Tuesday's dinner was far more appropriate to celebrate with than Monday's, and what's a day after three years? Appropriately enough this one's actually from the year we got together.

The Secastilla is made by Viñas Del Vero and it's a single-estate Garnacha from Somontano, a DO in Aragón, northern Spain, almost directly to the East of Rioja. This is at the forefront of something of a Grenache turnaround in the region. Whereas before it had faded into use for rosado production Viñas Del Vero resurrected this particular vineyard in order to take advantage of the old Garnacha vines.

As you'd expect at this age the ruby colour's started to fade and there's a definite brick-red colour to the rim. There's still lots of fruit on the nose; plums and cherries, all backed up with vanilla oak.

On the palate again there's still plenty of fruit; more red and autumnal notes. The tannins are a little dry and dusty from the age but I think that's counterbalanced by dark chocolate and olive flavours coming through. There's an almost Australian finish with uplifting eucalyptus and cherry notes. It's very much a wine still in its prime, and its big Mediterranean flavours brilliantly accompanyied the aubergine lasagne with ciabatta, salad and balsamic dressing.

I've no idea where I bought it but I paid £12.99 back at the end of 2005. I might be wrong but this could well have been from the first vintage under this particular label. I can't see any information about earlier wines, and certainly the prices seem to climb in subsequent years. 14% abv.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A Big Beer Question

It was a big week last week. I got a phone call last Monday asking if I could be the new head of Heineken. I said yes, but only on the proviso that I started on Thursday as I was busy Tuesday getting a guarantee of world peace and Wednesday curing all known diseases.

Straight into production.
All right, none of this really happened; but just as a bit of fun I wondered what I would do if I could exert some influence over a massive company like Heineken. It's two-fold really. My first question is 'What do big beer companies do for us?' and by us, I mean the tiny minority; the beer geeks. The other question is 'What could they do?' which is potentially a far more interesting one.

Large beer companies come in for some pretty heavy criticism on beer blogs; I'm as guilty of it as anybody and don't really make any apologies for it. However, that's for other posts. Credit where credit is due. It was great to read about Martyn Cornell's brewing trip to Cardiff, not least because of it marking the setting up of a brewery that hopefully will be producing some interesting beers. Recently many bloggers enjoyed the hospitality of some pretty big corporate sponsors at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and similarly the recently announced British Guild of Beer Writers' annual beer writing competition has picked up sponsorship from similar firms. On a more personal level, Worthington's White Shield provided an ideal accompaniment to England's opening match at Euro 2012 - this I can definitely say is a big brewery doing a good thing.

So I'm sitting in my entirely hypothetical office, wondering what I can do with all this power to improve the beer industry. I've got some ideas which I'll share in a follow-up post, but if anyone fancies coming up with any, than that would be great. It doesn't have to be realistic, I'm sure there are enough marketing types round here to make absolutely anything profitable. Well, almost anything...

All right, all right. What would you do?

Images are taken from and I'm assuming are therefore the property of Trendhunter. Original 'R2D2' article and other images can be seen here. Original 'Heels' article here

Monday, 18 June 2012

Spoilt for Choice?

Note: This is an article I wrote for the Nottingham Drinker, hence why I refer to Nottingham. However, I'm also interested in hearing if this situation sounds like a familiar one in other places!

Here in Nottingham we can be rightly proud of some great local breweries keeping us all happily contemplating life through the bottom of a beer glass. However it's interesting to compare the range of choice that we have in Nottingham compared to other great beer cities like Sheffield and Leeds. Although the East Midlands now has more breweries than our neighbours up in Yorkshire, many pubs don't take advantage of that range.

Why is this? I think that in some ways there is a vicious circle that has arisen that restricts our choices. We have our city's award winning ales, and it's only natural that publicans want to stock them and drinkers want to enjoy them. This all sounds rosy, so what's the problem? Well it can mean that one pub ends up stocking a very similar range to other pubs nearby.

A pub manager can hardly be blamed for wanting to stock and advertise 'award winning ales,' and indeed if everyone around you is doing so you are almost obliged to just to keep up – it's a competitive business after all. Similarly you can hardly blame the breweries for selling the pubs the award winning beers they sell so much of, they too are fighting to make a living. Unfortunately it can provide a disincentive for diversification.

We, as drinkers, when faced with an array of different beers, are often attracted to the familiar, or understandably enticed by the 'Champion Beer of...' sticker on a pump clip, if only to see what the fuss is all about. To digress briefly; try popping into your local wine shop the day after one of their wines has been recommended on Saturday Kitchen – I'm pretty sure it'll all have gone.

The final part of this circle is the award system itself. Again it's entirely natural for people to want to rank and order things – getting together with like-minded individuals and thrashing out opinion on what's better than what and why is a lot of fun. The problem is that once the award is decided upon, the loop closes, and it can lead to a homogenisation of the range on offer.

Is there a solution? I'd certainly not advocate increasing a pub's range of beers for its own sake, too often it can come at the expense of quality. Should we ban the CAMRA, SIBA and the like from holding their beer of the year awards? Well, no. It's impractical, unreasonable, and quite frankly why spoil the fun? It's what beer is about after all. More awards? Well, the more awards you have the less the fact that a beer wins an award becomes relevant. I do think that there is scope for a re-think in terms of how awards are given, particularly in the light of the explosion in numbers of breweries, and especially in regognising the new and innovative. Although ale is a traditional product there is nothing to suggest that introducing it to people has to be done in an old-fashioned way.

On a more personal scale I do think that there is also a point here about customer and pub relationships. If pubs are to survive and prosper they need to be dynamic and forward thinking, and coming up with new ideas can be difficult. If customers build a good relationship with a pub's management then they can become a great source of those ideas. So if there are interesting beers or breweries out there that you'd like to see more of, why not see if it's possible for the management to get them in?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

La Trappe Tripel

This was supposed to be my good luck beer for watching Holland play Germany the other night. I've got family over in the  Netherlands and despite being armed with inside information that the Dutch defence might not be up to much (a text from my brother; he was right) I settled down with a fair degree of optimism.

It pours a lovely dutch royal orange colour. Although that may be more bronze if you're not affected by the all-pervading glow that is the current Dutch home kit - which I'm guessing is designed to lessen the carbon footprint of the Netherlands by reducing the need for landing lights at Schiphol. The coriander is noticeable on the nose, and initial flavours are of apple and spice. As it warmed a little (It lasted me until the second half) the sweetness on the mid-palate came through; I got Satsuma and Brazil-nut notes. It's dry and malty with a pithy-orange finish. All rather Christmassy really! I love Trappist beers, it is probably these more than any that got me really exploring the world of beer, taking me away from my comfort zone of British beer when I was working in pubs. While this isn't my favourite, I still enjoyed it and I'm going to make an effort to try the others in the range if I can.

So as a talisman for a Dutch victory it didn't work; the Germans were too good. As a beer for the match? Well, it was orange, and it left something of a bitter taste in the mouth. Which is kind of appropriate I suppose.

Here's to a victory over Portugal on Sunday. Hup Holland!

8% abv. £2.81 (33cl) from Beer Ritz.

The De Koningshoeven brewery that brews the 'La Trappe' range is well known as being the only Trappist brewery outside of Belgium; this official status allows them to describe their beer as 'Trappist' on their labels and use International Trappist Association logos - although this has been a point of dispute in the past). However, this may all change with the Stift-Engelszell monastery in Austria now brewing, As far as I understand it they might have to wait a while before being able to take advantage of full Trappist status and it isn't necessarily a given. It seems that the Abbaye du Monts des Cats that brew 'bière trappiste' and are listed on the ITA website under 'Trappist Breweries' will not be granted that full status because of the beer not being brewed within the abbey walls. If you'd like to know more have a look at Chuck Cook's Belgian Beer and Travel Blog. Finally, rumours also abound about the set-up of a Trappist brewery in Massachusetts, although it seems this might well be the world's ninth once things get moving.

I apologise if any of this information is incorrect, it's just what I've been able to see on a brief look around on the web - and I'm sure everyone knows how reliable that can be - any further links/posts/information will be accepted with the grace it is offered.

Friday, 15 June 2012

New Project.

Partly due to reading some interesting blogs by the home brewers of Twitter (I'm looking at you David) and partly just due to wanting to understand a bit more about how brewing works, I'm thinking about having a go at brewing some beer at home.

I'd rather not take up space in the house if I can avoid it, and having a baby crawling around the place means it wouldn't be a great idea to give her something else she can get into which she isn't supposed to! I do have a cellar though, and if it's feasible to get a small set-up in there it would be ideal.  I first mentioned it to a few people the other week, and Graeme of Chromosphere blog fame kindly suggested brewing lager would be a better idea because of the cooler temperature. From what I've been told/found out so far a starter kit would probably do the job, but it sounds like I'm going to have to make sure there's a lot of yeast available.

At the risk of sounding like I want to get everyone else to do my research for me, I want to get everyone else to do my research for me (Well, not entirely). So where do I start? Any pointers/helpful websites I can be directed to etc. would be appreciated.

Here's where I am so far:

  1. I have a space, although I obviously need to do some sorting out! You can't see it in the picture but there's a tap in the garage next to the cellar.
  2. The Flagon & Cask home brew shop is near me so I should hopefully be able to get whatever equipment I need quite easily.
  3. My mate Darryll's used some sort of brew kit before, I'm hoping he'll be able to help.
That's it. Go!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

'These views are mine, and not those of the BBC.'

Now in my case this is demonstrably true. I don't work for the BBC, and I never have, so no issues for me there. If you follow some of the people who do work for the BBC on Twitter though, you'll know how large an audience they get, and I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that while their views are personal, the fact that they're on the TV or radio just might get them a larger audience.

My point? Well, Twitter's a strange beast at times. I've been involved in a conversation today about this piece, which caused something of a furore when I asked Melissa Cole (amongst others, my wife being one of them) whether they thought it made a fair comment about women as customers. It was originally re-tweeted by a very well-respected figure in the wine industry. I follow him because he led a superb class on Italian wine I took as part of my wine diploma. I was interested in reading the article because it was written by my ex-boss. Now, however much a claim to fame being my ex-boss is, I think it's pretty safe to say it isn't the reason why Julian Grocock is writing on the 'Inapub' website. No, it's because he's both a licensee, and chief executive of the Small Independent Brewers Association. So there is the problem. If you say something that is, shall we say, controversial, and your reason for being considered worth listening to is because you are the head of something, then anything you are documented as having said will always reflect on your organisation. Is that fair? Probably not, but it is human nature.

Gnomes: small.
I know some bloggers can get quite caught up in their reader statistics, but being a 'person worth listening to' seems to me to be both blessing and curse. Sometimes people will listen to you; then you have to be careful what you say. It might be worth bearing that in mind next time you're wondering whether your next blog post is worth writing because nobody will read it. Here's to the little guy!

Luxardo 'Maraschino Originale'

The reason for spirits appearing on this blog is because of an impending exam I've got coming up in November. It is supposed to be just about spirits but since I got given this as a blind tasting I though it might be interesting to review it anyway. From the outset I was struggling; cherry spirit in the form of kirsch is something I'm not really familiar with, and doing an objective review of its sweeter cousin was going to be even more tricky! I've simply not tried enough examples to be able to compare it. However, at the time I tried it completely blind - so I had no idea at all what the liquid was in the glass. These notes are 'in the raw' so to speak (when I thought it was a spirit) and I'll comment a little more below.

It pours clear and bright, water-white with noticeable legs/viscosity. Oils are obvious on the addition of water but there is no louching. On the nose I thought it was floral, lots of blossom aromas, and quite 'spirity.' On the palate it is medium-sweet and very smooth, with well-integrated alcohol. The main flavour is of candied fruit; glacé cherries and syrup, with hints of marzipan. The finish is short, with the sweetness becoming more dominant. In terms of quality there's no harshness to the spirit, but I'm not sure that it really exhibits a lot of character from the base fruit (for reasons I now realise - see below).

As I mentioned above, this isn't really something I know much about. It was certainly interesting to try, and maybe next time I'll know what I'm looking for! Apparently the marzipan flavour comes from the cherry stones, which are crushed to form the original distillate. Cakes from the cherry pulp (once the juice is removed) are macerated in the original, stone, distillate. This produces the liquid for the second distillation. After ageing in ash sugar syrup is added then allowed to marry (again in ash barrels so no colour comes out) before being bottled.

32% abv. £20.75 (50cl) from The Drinks Shop.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Worthington's 'White Shield' IPA

When I popped the top on this one I wasn't sure whether it was worth taking a few notes or not. It's not like I was going to be able to tell anyone anything different about it. Once I'd got going though I thought another voice in its favour was no bad thing. So much is written criticising huge industrial brewers that it's quite therapeutic to have a beer like this that's not only faultlessly made, as big brewery products generally are, but interesting to boot.

Football on, seventies M&B dimple mug full of Burton IPA - not a bad place to find myself of an early evening. It pours brown, with reddish hints, and retains its head well. I'm still not sure how much yeast has to be put in to get the bottle fermentation going in order for it to qualify for being 'bottle-conditioned' and get the little sticker, but when poured quite vigorously it was clear, and I couldn't see any yeast hanging about in the bottle. What initially got me was how much malt aroma there was; lots of shortbread biscuit backing up the grapefruit of the hops - there's no way you'd mistake this for an 'American' IPA. On the palate there's layer after layer of complexity; dried and citrus fruit, toffee, spices and orange peel. There's a faint reductive 'spent-match' quality to it too, which, like petrol aromas in Riesling, I can imagine is not everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it added a little to the beer. Similarly the finish has some of the soapiness that I know puts some people off cask beer, but in this case it actually works - it not being too dominant. This beer's all about the balance of flavours, not too much, not too little.

Much as I may disagree with many things they do, and stand for, I know the people at Molson Coors aren't daft, so here's hoping they carry on letting the brewers keep this one as it is. I'd be happy to re-visit it every now and again, and I hope others are too; you'd miss it if it were gone.

5.6% abv. £2.15 (50cl) from Ocado (I think, seems to be a pretty standard price though.)

Monday, 11 June 2012

Snow Queen Vodka

Snow Queen is an organic vodka from Kazakhstan, and if memory serves me correctly it's the first time I've drank anything from Kazakhstan - it's certainly not the first country I think of as being a major drinks exporter to the UK, but of course that's not to say that they don't know how to make vodka.

It's an unflavoured vodka, and I tried it blind, so I had no idea what it was when I started. Thus in my notes I put that it's a water-white liquid which shows no louching on the addition of water. I got fresh citrus and a slight earthiness on the nose. It's dry, with well-integrated alcohol; light-bodied with no harshness. Although it was, as you'd expect, a neutral spirit I did pick up citrus and brioche flavours and a grainy quality; it's noticeably a wheat vodka. I thought it was good quality, there's certainly nothing to detract from the purity of the spirit - I'd compare it more to Scandinavian/Northern European styles than Polish vodkas.

40% abv. £22.09 (50cl) from Waitrose

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Fyne Ales 'Avalanche'

Well my first beer of the weekend, during my third game of rugby of the day, ended up being one to toast the only home nations victors of the week. On the weekend of the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival, I would have loved it to have been the Purple Moose beer I've had sitting around for a while in anticipation of an historic Wales win. It wasn't to be, and once again it was Scottish beer, and Scotland were the only winners of the week. Fair play to them. Although I'm sure it'll be dismissed because of the conditions, both teams had to play in them, and Scotland coped better. Roll on the Melbourne test, and in the mean time apparently there's some football on.

Back to the beer, since this isn't a sport blog. It pours a lovely pale straw-yellow with a slight haze. Initial aromas are all hops; fresh lemon and gentle pine. This continues through on to the palate, backed up with a some rich-tea biscuit flavour which helps give it a bit of body. Overall this beer's all about that freshness though; the finish has even more citrus, grapefruit, bitterness, and it rounds off a perfect summer session beer. Fine Ale indeed.

4.5% abv. £2.76 (50cl) from Beer Ritz.

A bit of a diversion from the beer 'in hand' as it were. Wednesday's Thornbridge trip was pretty inspirational. Mark commented on the post that he'd like to go on more brewery trips, and I think I'd share that sentiment. Even if you are not necessarily that excited about or inspired by the beer itself, talking to people involved in making something that they have pride in and a passion for is motivating in itself.

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of beer out there that, on its own, isn't really going to motivate you to get the keyboard out and write - as Nick points out over on his blog there is an awful lot of uninspiring beer about. I tend to default to hand-pulled beer if I do get out (which isn't that often) if only because it's something I can't get at home, but sometimes I find myself wondering why I bothered. This can of course all change if you bump into the right person, or you are out and about and find a new pub that just lifts your spirits; an escape from the mundane, or maybe just a timely roof to protect you from the equally wearisome British summer. In the right moment, a beer you might otherwise overlook can provide something that the most flavour-packed 8% hop-monster you've been looking forward to for ages might not.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Havana Club 'Añejo Especial'

This is the real Havana Club; Cuban rum that is still fiercely Cuban, although part-owned and distributed by Pernod Ricard. It's a golden rum, aged but not dramatically so, retaining the integrity of style.

It's a clear, bright, pale gold rum. There's lots of fresh mandarin and other citrus fruits on the nose, more than you might expect from an aged spirit. The ageing is noticeable without it being over-oaky or moving towards dried fruit; there are Demerera sugar notes, along with vanilla and coconut. It has a medium sweetness, with a little burn from the alcohol. It's towards the light end of medium bodied, and along with the expected vanilla and coconut (American oak, suggesting ex-bourbon casks) there is slightly more oak and some citrus and honey flavours. The finish is simple, but mellowing to sweetness. All in all a decent enough molasses based light rum, well balanced with well-integrated gentle oak flavours.

40% abv. Widely available. Expect to pay just short of £20 for a bottle - which I think is a decent price in comparison to what you might get for the money with other spirits.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thornbridge Brewery Tour

A few of us went for a tour of the Thornbridge brewery yesterday, along with  a stop at the Monsal Head Hotel, or at least the Stable Bar bit, somewhere I first visited for a bit of refuelling on my way to my stag/beer and walking weekend in the Hope Valley. If you've never been up there then you're missing out. You might be be prepared to accept indifferent beer because of the view, but you don't have to, the Buxton Moor Top was amazing; session beer for hop-heads, with a great supporting cast courtesy of the Wincle brewery. Frankly, even if the pub was horrible it'd probably still get a good review from me by virtue of a couple of Michael Jackson books being scattered around as reading matter.

I won't go into details of how the beer is brewed - there are people far better qualified than me talking about brewing on many a blog, so I'll just put a few photos below so those of you who want to have a bit of a look at the shiny stuff can do so. It's certainly an impressive site, wearing its modernity and its craft beer credentials with all the pride, if not all of the volume, of one of its ex-employees.

As for the beer, well we got to try the Lord Marple there and then, and all of their regular lines are available bottled form the brewery shop. I also bagged myself a few Thornbridge Hall beers, which is the brand they are labelling their experimental brews under - reviews of those to follow anon. They're brewed at the older, original brewery site. After finishing the tour we headed over to the Sheffield Tap to make sure we got the whole Thornbridge experience - we're nothing if not dedicated - Jaipur and the superlative Kipling on hand-pull rounding off the afternoon's tasting experience nicely.

Thanks very much to Thornbridge for a fun and informative tour and some excellent beer - I'm looking forward to the Thornbridge Hall beers and a return trip to the Tap. Cheers!

More Michael. Style!
Tasty bits.

Shiny stuff! (Mash tun)
Mmmmm, hops...

Brew lab.
Sam. Getting thirsty.

More shiny things.
Bottling line, for about 30% of the beer.

More tasty bits!
More shiny stuff. They've got something like 300 awards!

Some fizzy keg rubbish...
...we found hiding in the cold store.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Long Bank Holiday

This weekend I don't intend to drink anything that's from ANY commonwealth country. Cheers!

Brouwerij Van Steenberge 'Gulden Draak'

Brouwerij Van Steenberge's signature Golden Dragon, a beer that seems to have something of a crossover nature. Is it a Belgian brown ale, a dubbel, a tripel or none of those?

It pours a deep mahogany brown with a slight haze. On the nose there's lots of sweet, boozy fruit; dried fruit and cherries. At first I found the sweetness a bit hard to get past, it's almost confected, like cola bottle sweets have been soaking in your beer. Once your palate gets used to the sweetness, the vinous character and the vanilla spices come through a bit more, and right through to the finish more flavours just keep on coming. This really is a tremendously complex beer. While it's a bit sweet for my liking, I can see why it's held in such high regard.

£2.59 (33cl) from Roberts & Speight

Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Reposado

When is tequila not tequila? Well, when it's made outside of the regions of mexico in which tequila is permitted to be made. Tequila is a geographically specific version of mezcal, and is made along stricter rules than its often rougher country cousin.

Hacienda De Chihuahua is different again. It is a sotol, being from Chihuahua in the north of Mexico where local laws dictate that the spirit is distilled from dasilyrion wheeleri or desert spoon plants. These are related, but are not the same species as the blue agave used in tequila production. Both are succulents, as are cacti, but neither tequila nor sotol are made from cacti. Hacienda De Chihuahua Sotol Reposado is apparently fermented using Champagne yeast, and the 'Reposado' of the the title means it has been 'rested' for six months in new Limousin oak to mellow out the flavours. A salt and lemon afterthought to chase up a night of lager it isn't. This is a serious spirit.

So how does it taste? Well it pours a clear, bright, pale gold. The oak is noticeable on the nose and it's earthy, but with citrus fruit coming through too with a pleasant oily lemon aroma. On the palate there are pungent limey flavours, it's clean, and with lots of earthy and leafy vegetal complexity and good length. Overall I thought it was excellent, although never having had sotol before it's difficult to compare it to anything else! Certainly there's lots of complexity for quite a light spirit, and all those different characteristics meld really well together.

38% abv. £35.69 (70cl) from Gauntleys.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Roberts & Speight Spring Wine Tasting: Reds

Yesterday I wrote a post about the whites I enjoyed at Roberts and Speight's Spring Wine Tasting event. Today I thought I'd finish up with a post about what I though were the best of the reds.

Cuvée Guy de la Nine Rouge, Provence,  2006. A Syrah /Cabernet blend with a lovely forest -floor earthiness and spice from the maturing Syrah backed up with good tannic structure from the Cab. Both this and the white were some of the undoubted stars of the evening for me! £21.49
Ch. Coquillas Rouge 2009, Pessac-Léognan. Although this still has a bit of maturing to go I thought it was great. Die-hard Bordeaux fans might find it a bit fruity but I don't see anything wrong with taking some of the better characteristics of new world wines and giving them a French twist. (The white was also good.) £19.99.
Federico Paternina 'Clisos' Rioja Reserva 2005. This is rather modern and fruity but still has big, bruising tannins and almost port-like flavours. Good, but not for the faint hearted. £13.99.
'Il Passo' Nerello Mascalese 2011. For me the best red I tried for the price. Reinforcing my long-held theory that drinking away from the fashionable is where you can get the real bargains, I thought that this was fantastic. Extra concentration is achieved by a viticultural technique similar to that patented by the Grossets in Clare Valley; Cordon Cutting (See Mt Horrocks Riesling). The result of the clipping is a drying of the fruit on the vine, hence the nod towards (if not the DOC rule-infringing use of) 'ripasso' in the wine's name. The fruit concentration is superb, with a lovely perfume and bags of black fruit and dark chocolate flavours and silky ripe tannins. £12.79.
Masard & Brunet 'Humilitat,' Priorat, 2009. A   Cariñena/Garnacha 50/50 blend with lots of red fruit on the nose. The Grenache seems to be the power in the blend, there's lots of juicy, alcoholic fruit in there, it might benefit from a little more bottle age but if you like your wines to be powerful and fruity then this would be ideal. £16.99.
Pago De Los Capelannes, Ribera del Duero, Crianza 2008. Another big, porty, tannic wine - it's still very young! A testament to the amount of ripeness that they're getting in the Duero. Lots of herby spice from the Tempranillo and judicious use of oak. £19.99.
Langlois-Chateau VV Cabernet Franc, Saumur Champigny, 2005. Unfortunately it was a little bit dwarfed by the big Spanish wines I had before it, but still a very good, savoury wine that I thought would go brilliantly with food. Restrained and with a good minerality rather than being fruit dominated. £16.99.

All in all some fantastic wines and a great evening. Most enjoyable and I'd highly recommend it to everyone who can make it next year, I certainly hope to do so.

On a final note, it was great to see that the Wold Top Brewery had a table at the tasting last night, and from what I can see they looked like they were doing great business too. Hopefully this is a sign that beer is gaining the same level of acceptance that wine enjoys in terms of being something with flavours worth exploring rather than being dismissed as less rewarding. Long may the rise and rise of beer continue!