Friday, 27 July 2012

Meantime Chocolate Porter

Despite outward appearances this blog hasn't become sponsored by Meantime Brewing Company, but of the last few beers I've had in bottle, two of the ones that have captured my imagination just happen to have come from them. I've also got a whacking great big bottle of Meantime IPA awaiting my love and attention, so don't be surprised if they pop-up again.

On first pouring I got more of the porter aromas and very little chocolate. I though it might just be too cold, having just come out of the fridge, and so I left it in the snifter to get a bit of air and warm up a bit. I'm very glad I did. The aromas dramatically changed as the beer warmed, by the time I actually took a sip I felt like I'd been dipping my nose in chocolate for a while - I did rope in the assistance of a 'thirst-quencher' in order to enable resisting temptation. It's a lovely luxurious beer, the chocolate isn't overly sweet, meaning it stays drinkable rather than cloying. I'm not a massive chocolate fan, but I really enjoyed this, the chocolate and fudge-brownie complementing the porter elements rather than overpowering them and the balance is preserved. This is further helped by the dark chocolate laden bitter finish. 

6.5% abv. This was a gift from my wife. I was very grateful; as I was grateful for her generosity in helping me with the tasting notes. Her verdict: 'I'll have that again as my drink at Christmas.' Praise indeed. I thought the bottle warranted a mention too. I really like the Burgundy/Champagne touch in the bottle shape, it's eye-catching, which I suppose is just the ticket if you want your beer to make its way to someone's home rather than sitting on a supermarket shelf.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Chase Vodka

I had meant to complete this review a while ago but what with a (rather wet) holiday in Wales it rather passed me by.

This is certainly an immaculately presented vodka, as I think they need to be to stand any chance of being recognised amongst the many out there. Even though this is just a miniature it comes in its own box with a magnet seal, and a little union flag tag for opening.

Unsurprisingly it's clear, water-white and bright. On the nose there's an initial crème fraîche aroma and once water is added more of the sweet baked goods; brioche and patisserie cakes come to the fore. On the palate it is dry, with the alcohol being very soft, with surprisingly little burn for the abv (40%). It''s just more than light-bodied with delicate flavours of custard and light sponge-cake, along with a touch of fruit, like it's had a brief flirtation with a white table grape. However, I think it's the texture of the vodka that really indicates its quality; there's no harshness, and it has a silky-smooth creamy feel in the mouth. Highly recommended.

£30.49 (70cl) from The Whisky Exchange.

Meantime London Pale Ale

I've really been enjoying some understated hop-driven offerings recently; beers like the Great Newsome Pricky Back Otchan and the newest of Gwaun Valley's beers, the Bitter Ale. I don't mean spectacularly, in-your-face hoppy like the Jackhammer I had in BrewDog Nottingham the other night, which was great, but hardly the most sophisticated of beers. These are beers where the flavours are that bit more difficult to pin down, potentially all the better for that if you're enjoying a quiet contemplative bottle at home rather than a pint down the pub, where sometimes you want the flavours to leap up at you so you can get on with your conversation.

The Meantime London Pale Ale definitely fits into this category. I'm not sure if it's a traditonal or a modern beer. It's bitter, but it's not a brown bitter. It's pale ale, in the original sense of 'not dark' but it didn't really have the feel of either an American pale ale, or a more traditional Burton ale. I'm even conflicted as to whether it's a good thing that these beers are popping up in some supermarkets. Maybe I should just concentrate on enjoying it? There's plenty to enjoy after all. Lot of juicy, zesty, citrus fruit to back up that mown-hay bitterness and malty texture. (4.3%. £1.65 for a 33cl bottle in Sainsbury's)

Briefly returning to BrewDog. I also had a schooner of Libertine; the new black IPA that's going in as part of their core range. Despite problems I've heard from various sources about erratic Punk IPA quality and continued problems with their supply chain, BrewDog are still doing something right at least - this really is a superb beer. One cheeky query though. A brewer I know would like to know if it's BrewDog who've bought up all the Simcoe hops? If it's Simcoe that's responsible for the Libertine then can you please share? I for one would like to see more of this sort of thing!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Canned drink, won't drink?

James over at the Summer Wine Brewery was on Twitter on Sunday pointing out a list of canned craft beers that are available in the US. He was suggesting that this is something that will be picked up by the UK 'esoteric' beer scene (I'm only quoting that because I like the word and it hopefully sidesteps more 'definition of craft' debate.)

£25 wine under screw-cap.
Tetra next?
I think that it is pretty much inevitable that more and more breweries in the UK will start to use cans for quality beer, but equally as inevitably there will be a discussion about whether or not cans are a suitable container. I won't go into the prospective benefits of cans, I think that's pretty well documented, but it does strike me that this discussion will run along similar lines to the screw-cap versus cork argument that has been running for years in the wine industry. As with screw-caps, one of the biggest barriers to convincing consumers to buy expensive beer in cans will be preconceptions, some of which will be based on the image that cans have rather than genuine suitability. Compare some domestic wine industries where there is something of a movement in favour of tetra-packed wine, but in the UK consumer research has suggested they're simply not something people would buy, and it's not because consumers have checked the science behind it.

What I think it boils down to in the wine industry (putting aside questions of suitability for long-term ageing) is that if the screw-cap is good enough, it is a far more effective closure than even the best quality cork, but by the same token a bad screw-cap is simply a bad closure. Hence the parallel with beer. Just as putting your beer in a clear bottle suggests you don't really care about what state the beer is in by the time it gets to your customers; using an old-fashioned, non-coated can suggests the use of cans is probably just a way of getting things done on the cheap. As ever, the proof of the beer is in the tasting.

Still, I wonder if the toucan can make a comeback? (Pun intended)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Well far be it from me to say that Shakepeare, through Juliet in this case, was wrong, but it wouldn't 'smell as sweet' because apparently you can't smell sweetness. It would, of course, still smell like a rose, so as an analogy it's perfectly correct, and I'm definitely not about to advocate the re-writing of Romeo and Juliet for the purposes of a bit of discussion on taste.

When I was sitting the tutored tastings for the wine diploma there was some discussion about the notion of whether or not you can smell 'sweet'. This had nothing to do with the shower facilities at the local hotels, as it turns out it's about associations. When we think something smells sweet, it's because we're associating that particular smell with something that tastes sweet. In wine tasting metaphors are of vital importance, and to a slightly lesser extent the same applies in beer tasting - and that only slightly lessened because of what you can add to beer. Thus, a Sangiovese can smell like cherries, as a beer that has never been anywhere near a grapefruit can taste like grapefruit.

Some good, some bad? Or just... different?
With a nod to Boak & Bailey and their referencing longer articles for further reading here's one on the confusion of taste and smell. It talks about how the palate can be distracted by the nose, and vice-versa, even if in the experiments they talk about rating how sweet things smell, which further confused me since as I understand it the first real detection of sweetness occurs on the tongue - we're back to the metaphorical again I think.

All of which leads me on on to this video. I don't think it's particularly revelatory to say It's the most interesting video on the subject of spaghetti sauce I've ever watched, and if you can spare quarter of an hour or so to watch it it might well influence you next time you get into a discussion about whether or not a beer is 'good.' If it's not enough to realise that our bodies are far from perfect at tasting things, then is it further damning to think that maybe we don't even know what we like? I'm off for a coffee; dark and rich, naturally.

Video stumbled across because of a re-tweet by Juel Mahoney.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Viva Portugal

I saw a bit of a worrying article this morning (via André Peres) suggesting that the way forward for Portuguese wine was via international varieties. I genuinely hope not. I'm always recommending Portuguese wines like this excellent Tuella from the Symington Estate to friends and family I think that generally Portugal offers some great wines at some very keen price points. However, in a country where most people buy their wines as another commodity, something chucked in the supermarket trolley along with the toilet roll and the dog food, Portuguese wines are not a great seller. Why? Well people buy the familiar, often through positive association; having enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc they'll try another, and that's an awful lot more difficult when the varieties are a speciality of a region and you're not going to see very much (if anything) of them elsewhere.

I think it would be a shame if Portugal's unique identity was lost in favour of producing more homogenised wines the likes of which we see from every other wine producing country. Yes, there might be a short term gain in planting international varieties, but in the long term the investment would be better off going into establishing names like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca in the wine drinking public's consciousness. I'm hoping that Portuguese wines, like those of Italy, retain their identity for a long time yet - go on, give them a try!

Tuella Tinto Douro 2009, lots of body and autumnal fruit, and very indicative of what Portugal's native grapes can offer - who needs Cabernet Sauvignon? A bargain at £7.99 from Majestic.

Turn To Red

Red beers seem to me to have a bit of an identity crisis. Rightly or wrongly the drinking public associate colour with flavour. When I worked in a bar in Australia the Guinness was viewed with suspicion by some, and it was suggested that it 'did strange things to you' despite it being 1% abv lower than the XXXX that was the 'standard' beer. In the minds of some, a dark beer is something warming and wintry; beer to ward of the chill, and pale beer is the summer or warm weather alternative; beer for the garden. It's an easy stereotype even if the preconceptions aren't always backed up in reality, a little like the 'brown is boring' tag. IPA and other big hop-hit beers are the darlings of the 'craft beer scene', praises being sung from rooftops here and across the Atlantic, so where does this leave red ale - ignored and lonely?

Anyway, to beer. Since we seem to have skipped summer in favour of a second, slightly warmer, winter, I wondered if a few red beers might be seasonally appropriate. I had Buxton 'Kinder Sunset', Great Newsome 'Pricky Back Otchan' and Welbeck Abbey 'Red Feather' kicking about so, with a nod to  Killing Joke's debut EP, I thought I'd compare them.

I have had beers from Buxton before and always enjoyed them, although apart from the Moor Top that I had on my way up to the Thornbridge Brewery the other week I can't remember what they are. I'll never make a ticker, it's a good job I've got Untappd to keep an eye on me. The Kinder Sunset pours a deep ruby red, and it has sweet cherry fruit on the nose and flavours like the toffee off a toffee apple. I found the soapy hops a bit off putting, it's one of those things I like in a beer in small doses but sometimes it's too much. (5% abv, Slurp sell it for £2.75 for a 50cl bottle.)

Given the reputation that Buxton have I was pleasantly surprised that I preferred the Great Newsome 'Pricky Back Otchan'. The hops were less soapy, and there's a delicious minerality to it, an almost metallic dry bite that I really enjoyed. It's a bit less red-coloured than the Buxton, possibly veering away from the red theme, but it's as close as I had. Again there's plenty of malty, biscuity aroma. (4.2% abv, £20 for a case of 12 50cl bottles if you can pick it up from the brewery.)

Last up was Red Feather from the Welbeck Brewery. A tasty brew, enough body despite its relatively low alcohol to give it some structure. This one is definitely all about the malt, there's lots of sweet biscuity flavour and a touch of spice, all backed up with chocolate and caramel. (3.9% abv, £2.70 for a 50cl bottle from Hops in a Bottle.)

Red beer; difficult to pin down to a style maybe? Given it seems we have a love of getting everything labelled and neatly compartmentalised - placed into a genre - maybe that's why it's a bit tricky. It's a bit like reggae-dub-punk-metal-industrial-gothic-synthpop bands I suppose...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Houblon Chouffe

Back in my pub-management days we used to have La Chouffe on tap fairly regularly, and despite it being a whole lot more pricey than the usual beers we had on draught it always used to go pretty quickly. The consumption was also helped along by some very keen staff and their rigorous attention to quality control by way of constant tasting.

As a result of this beer's stable-mate being such an old favourite I was a little worried I might not like this one, it being labelled up as a double IPA, albeit in a hybrid with a tripel form, I thought it might just end up being a one-dimensional hop-monster. My worries were unfounded.

It pours with a slight haze. On the nose there's light citrus; lemon and a hint of pine. It starts light and almost sherberty and then the floral hops kick in on the mid-palate, I love the way the hops sort of sneak up on you as you drink it. For such a strong beer it comes across as really light and refreshing - dangerously drinkable. There's a crisp clean finish that also contributes to its moreish nature. All in all it's pretty spectacular, I really enjoyed it.

£7.44 (75cl) from Beer Ritz

Friday, 6 July 2012

Gwaun Valley Brewery

It was our last day in Pembrokeshire and we braved the weather in the Preseli Hills and made the half-hour trip from Narberth to the Gwaun Valley Brewery.

Sometimes you find out about things in the strangest places. I noticed some cider, and a price list, in the window of a camera and sports optical shop in Narberth - an unusual combination if I ever saw one. I popped in to see if they had any beers and ended up with a couple from Gwaun Valley, which led me to have a look where they were - hence the trip across the Preselis. I jokingly asked the guy in Celtic Vision if he had any trouble getting an off-licence for a camera shop. 'Oh, it was far weirder than that, we own the ice cream shop next door and we had to get the licence to sell our home-made alcoholic ice-cream.' Now that is proper entrepreneurial thinking, Richard Branson's got nothing on these people!

We had a couple of samples off hand-pull at the brewery along with a nose of some different malts and some hops. It's only a small operation based in an old granary. It stemmed, like many microbreweries I suppose, from a home brew project, and they brew six hundred litres or so of beer a couple of times a week. We made off with a couple more bottles ( I was driving), one of which went down a treat with the home-made ciabatta bread pizza we had for tea. I'll do some reviews as I crack open the bottles. If you do ever find yourself in Pembrokeshire I recommend paying the brewsters at Gwaun Valley a visit, if nothing else they have a very good roof.

On the way back we had something to eat and a cheeky half of 'Cwrw Tafarn Zinc' which is apparently brewed especially for the Tafarn Zinc - it's the pub you can probably just make out for the glare of the sun in the photo. I've no idea who it's brewed by but I figured it was a little more authentically Pembrokeshire than St Austell Tribute and Worthington's. Also in Rosebush, just round the corner from the pub, is the amazing Pant Mawr Farmhouse Cheese shop, where me, my wife and our daughter munched our way through a selection of six of their cheeses - all of which are veggie friendly. Best of the bunch, or at least the ones we decided to smuggle back over the border, were the 'Caws Preseli' and the 'Mature Cerwyn' although it was a close run thing for me with the two smoked cheeses. If I have a particular moment of inspiration I'll see how they match them up with some of the beers.

So that's Pembrokeshire done for another year, and as a bonus I've got a haul of beers to enjoy and  review. The weather was as bad as I ever remember it being, as I may have mentioned once or twice, and I have been going there on holiday almost my whole life, but I know I'll be back. It's a beautiful part of the world, and it seems that the explosion in breweries is reaching to the far west, I hope it continues!

Sir Benfro... Diolch yn fawr!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Tomos Watkin 'Cwrw Hâf' & 'OSB'

Cwrw Hâf from the Tomos Watkin brewery over in Swansea is apparently 'A Taste of Welsh Summer.' Well indeed. In the six days we had in Wales we had six days of what I heard a local describe as 'Pembrokeshire sunshine.' Maybe the taste of summer reference is a nod towards the percentage of water in beer?

Anyway, the constant deluge of rain didn't stop me sniffing out some Welsh beer, although I didn't get to as many pubs as I might have liked - although that was mainly because of having to drive. I got these two from the Spar in Narberth. The Cwrw Hâf is perhaps a little more of a commercial style than the more locally brewed beers I tried, it's not bottle conditioned and it's simple, but tasty. Initial aromas are of citrus, particularly lemon, and there's a good refreshing bite and a sweetish, clean finish. It's not a particularly complex beer, and I think that means it wouldn't really benefit from being bottle conditioned, sometimes it's fine to keep things simple! 4.2%.

'OSB' or 'Old Style Bitter' is a bit more full-bodied; it's a copper coloured bitter with a spiciness and a bit more pithyness/orange peel flavour to it, along with more expressive biscuity malt. Good head retention. Again it's not going to register as one of the world's most complex beers, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. A drinker not a thinker? 4.5%.

Not entirely sure how much I got these for, I think it was about £3.60 for the pair. Well worth it if you want something tasty for sheltering from the south-west Wales rain!

Iechyd Da!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Penlon 'Ewes Frolic' Lager & 'Tipsy Tup' Pale Ale

A gap in the terrible weather today and a great time was had by the family down in Saundersfoot. As a bonus we swung by 'The Quay' for a half of 'Firewater' which, from what I can work out, is just cask Worthington's which has retained an old nickname back from when Firewater was actually one of the beers served at the pub. Since it's served via a jug from firkins tucked away behind the bar you're hardly besieged by branding telling you exactly what it is you're drinking, so I guess it's pretty easy for an old name to stick.

The 'Ewes Frolic'  and 'Tipsy Tup' are two from a selection of Penlon beers I picked up from Ultracomida; a coffee-shop/wine-shop/deli in Narberth. It's not quite as local as the Preseli beers I tried the other night, but they're brewed not too far north of here in Ceredigion. The 'Ewes Frolic' is a bottle-conditioned lager which pours clear up to a point (I shared it, my wife got the clear half). There's enough citrus hop character in there to get your mouth watering and it keeps its lager credentials with its light body and good, clean, smooth finish. It wears its 5.2% abv well. Although I was a little suspicious of the addition of 'a teaspoon of corn syrup' to get the bottle maturation going I enjoyed this one - it certainly didn't end up with the sweet corn taste you can sometimes get in an American adjunct lager.

The 'Tipsy Tup' is a pale ale, and again it's bottle conditioned. It pours a not dissimilar colour to the lager, with a good thick head to it. It has a touch of soapiness on the nose, but not enough to make it unpleasant, in fact it provides a good counterpoint to the gentle pithy bite of the hops. I thought this was at least as good as the lager, it would make a really good session beer - in fact it'd be great if the Cresselly Arms would get this in cask as the new Firewater! 3.8% abv.

Just as an aside if you do have these beers in bottle they do have quite a heavy sediment, if you don't like yeast in your glass let it settle for a good while and pour very carefully. They do actually recommend decanting into a jug then into your glass, presumably so you can see the sediment better while you pour as well as get a good head on your beer.

I'm not sure on the individual prices since the receipt isn't entirely clear but I got a selection of four Penlon beers for £10 from Ultracomida.

All of the Penlon beers I got are vegan friendly.

Iechyd da!