Further Notes on JDW Autumn Fest

After my post earlier in the week I decided to go through rate beer in order to find out how many beers were new and was pleasantly surprised! By my count there are 28! I then decided to create all of the beers that weren't already listed and thought I'd post them here as a quick-find guide for those rating on the fly.
I'm not sure how many of these beers are aliases, the Cotleigh beer certainly is. You'll be pleased to see two retired beers have also been brought back into production. You have just over a fortnight starting on Wednesday 5th October. Happy sampling!

(Edit, you can now dowload the festival program here)


Another NI Cider Producer

After meeting two cider producers at the Hilden Brewery Beer Festival I made sure we would be getting some for the Belfast Beer Festival in November. I needn't have worried because Adrian was already on it from Tempted? and something called Toby's Hand-crafted Cider. Not having heard of these guys before I googled them to ask where I could get hold of their products and they were nice enough to send me through a bottle to review. This I have no problem with doing as a major point to this blog is to help promote the range of NI drinks producers.

Toby's Dry Cider
The clear bottle reveals a hazy straw blonde cider with thin layer of sediment. It certainly looks the part but how does it taste? On opening the bottle lets out a heady apple aroma and I'm instantly transported back to the last cider farm i visited. A sweet apple aroma with the spicy undercurrent of apple skin. It teases the tip of the tongue with an at-first sharp taste, which mellows out to a long dry and astringent rich apple finish. This is no shallow single-varietal, it has been blended to perfection.

The label too is well-crafted with a simple but instantly recognisable logo and easy-on-the eye font. Good stuff all round.

Thanks Craig for the bottle, look forward to trying the tub stuff in November! This cider highlights what I've been missing since leaving Somerset and I shall certainly have to have some more cider days now the new season is upon us.

If anyone is wondering, the logo on the glass was used by the Southampton University Real Ale Enthusiasts whilst I was at uni.


Wetherspoon Autumn Beer Festival

At the end of last week the Wetherspoon Autumn Beer Festival list was released, but I've only had a chance to look at it now. You can find it here.

Running from October 5th-23rd and is as big as ever with 50 beers available, with extra ciders and perries planned for the fortnight too. On first glance there was nothing all too inspiring, a lot of the brewers featured are the same as last time around, but digging a bit deeper there's still beers to get excited about. In addition to some decent old favourites (St Austell Proper Black, Thornbridge Brother Rabbit) there's a saison from Okells, Cossac Imperial Stout from Caledonian and an Everards beer single hopped with Whatauku. I love new zealand hops so look forward to getting a chance to try that. Northern Ireland is represented too with Hilden's new beer Twisted Hop.

Something to get more excited about are the five beers brewed by American brewers in the UK. Previously these international beers brewed in the UK have been festival highlights. This time we're treated to:

Eclipse Cascadian Dark Ale 4.8% was designed by Tonya of Bend Brewing. However she "was stranded at the airport" because of Hurricane Irene. Not sure where this was brewed.

Kalamazoo Black Silk, a 4% oatmeal stout from John Mallet of Bell’s Brewery brewed at Marston’s.
Fat Head’s Yakima Sun, a 5% US hopped ESB by Matt Cole, from Fat Head’s Brewery, has travelled to Shepherd Neame.
Odell 90 Shilling (5.3%) from Doug Odell was brewed at Caledonian. I've always found this beer a bit too sweet for my palate in bottle form; so look forward to seeing how it works in cask.

Stone San Diego Session IPA is probably the most exciting. Mitch Steele, from Stone Brewery has brewed a hop-forward session strength American Pale Ale at Wadworths brewery.
So there's actually plenty to choose from. I recommend you go along to your nearest branch (unless you know its a bad one...) and make use of the three thirds for the price of a pint. Remember you can get 50p off per pint too if you're a CAMRA member!

Northern Ireland Wetherspoon has again organised a coach crawl around all 9 pubs over two days over the final weekend (22,d and 23rd). Details can be found on the branch website under the what's on page. I went along last year and its great craic, so can heartily recommend it. The week before is the Northern Ireland branch 30th anniversary too, also at the Bridge House in Belfast.


Factoberfest 2011

Door into the Cafe
Lovely redbrick factory
After a lot of Northern Ireland beer drinking recently it was time to get back across to England and where better to visit than one of my favourite “discoveries” of the year, BristolBeer Factory (BBF). Last weekend saw the return of the annual Factoberfest to Southville in Bristol. 

Just up the road from the brewery, the two-day event is held in a converted Tobacco factory. In addition to the regular bar and café was a temporary stillage set up outside with a selection of 30 beers from across the South West and beyond. There were also ciders and a perry for those fruit inclined and a selection of food and craft stalls and a stage for live music completed the picture.

A selection of bottles to buy
Turning up on the dot at twelve o’clock (due to panicking I may not be able to try all the beers I wanted to in time for my return train at 4:30) I was met with a fairly empty courtyard with a few stalls. Following my beer hunting nose I turned a corner and met with the site of an open but empty bar…perfect.

After sussing out the prices (a very reasonable £3 a pint, regardless of ABV) I began my day with Arbor inferiority complex and set about to perusing the beer list in order to formulate a plan of attack. A reimagined mild but packed full of resinous and aromatic floral notes from the blend of hops from all the usual suspects finishing with a dry and bitter aftertaste. Tonnes of flavour for its 3.4%.

Sticking to halves (which as all good beer festival attendees know means you can try more beers) I ordered myself a half of the Oak Aged version of the BBF No.7 Having not tried the original No. 7 I’m not in a position to compare the flavours, but taking the beer on its own, the presence of the oak is immediately noticeable. Rounded caramel and vanilla notes along with the general “oaky timbre” of a virgin wood aged beer were to the fore, with a malty bitter hiding in the background, finishing with an orange peel note. Certainly less one dimensional than certain Scottish barrel users…

Half of the beers on gravity
 Needing a palate cleanser after that oak attack I went for the BBF Independence. A good example of a new world pale ale this beer was pithy, resinous and clean with a floral aroma. The beer really benefitted from its 60 minutes continual hopping with centennial, cascade and amarillo, probably my favourite three US hops.

I was felling peckish by this point and decided to investigate  the food. Wooed by the free samples I settled on a tub of Chilli Daddy mixed beansprouts and Szeuchan noodles. This went perfectly with Melissa Cole/Otley’s collaboration beer Thai Bo. Light blonde with noticeable galangal and subtle lime on the nose. The lime on the palate helped to cool the spicy chilli of the noodles and a spicy malt finish with a hint of the bubblegum/hay/tangerine flavours from the sorachi ace hops. A brilliant and unique beer.

After that slew of pale beers I fancied something darker. I’d hoped to be able to try the vanilla stout (part of the upcoming twelve stouts for Christmas range) but the brewers were not happy with it so instead I opted for the other newcomer Chocolate Stout. Pitch black with a chocolate malt nose with spicy rasins with cocoa powder and a hint of peppermint. Very deceptive for its 5% with a chalky dry yet sweet finish.

It got busier throughout the day
Having heard a lot of noise in the blogosphere about Moor’s unfined beer I decided to try their Confidence. Starting well with a pithy, orange peel the flavour became dominated by earthy yeast and wheat notes, killing all the other flavours and ending with a weird soil/milk note. This was probably my biggest disappointment of the weekend. Not to worry however as the next beer would turn out to be one of my favourites, BBF Saison. Light amber with banana and gentle cloves in the nose. Plenty of black pepper in the body, but also a slew of tropical fruit flavours with pineapple and tangerine particularly boisterous. A chat with the brewer revealed that these flavours came from the high dose of Bobek hops with First Gold and Pioneer providing ample support in the bittering department.

After being so impressed by Arbor Ales first thing I decided to go back and try their other two. Stella is another Australian hop variety and not one I’ve knowingly tried before. Grapefruit and redcurrant on the nose of this single hop creation with a pithy shortcake body and bitter finish with a hint of melon rind. Next up was their Black-eyed “Pale” Ale, a black IPA. Dusty Terry’s Chocolate orange on the nose with more pithy orange in the body and a dy chocolate sweetness. As a comparison I decided to try the Otley Oxymoron. This was almost a dark saison with coriander and chocolate on the nose and a spicy lemon peel taste and bitter finish. I preferred this to Arbor’s attempt but both were enjoyable.

Almost ready to head on there was just nough time for a pieminster pie and a few swift halves. I chose the Heidi (feta, sweet potato and spinanch) which went down amazingly with the chocolate flavours of the black IPA. (I would return on the Sunday for the other veggie option, asparagus and wild mushroom, which was also superb). BBF Sunrise dry-hopped with Galaxy would provide my penultimate beer. I was impressed by the use of this hop in St Austell Trelawny but feel Greene King murdered it in Old Golden Hen. Sunrise gave a good blank slate on which the hop could work its magic with grassy malt and caramel sweetness being taken over by the dry hoppiness and peach of the galaxy

No beer festival would be complete without a “silly” beer and this was provided in the form of a cherry stout from Fyne Ales (makers of the superb Jarl). Plenty of black cherry and plain chocolate on the nose the ruby brown beer and a cherry yoghurt flavour with a dry and fruity finish. This rounded off the day nicely and all that remained was for me to grab some 5-chili olives and rush back to the station for my trip home. All in all a superb day, with no dull beers and few disappointments. I’m certainly looking forward to BBF’s Christmas Stouts if the chocolate one was anything to go by. If you haven’t yet tried any of their beers, why not?! The postage rates are very reasonable, so get onto their online store and order yourselves some!

 There are no pictures of the beers as I was too keen to drink them!


Hilden Beer

Getting arty with my wide angle lens.
As I have mentioned in one or two other posts I volunteered at the Hilden Brewery Beer festival this year.  I've already reviewed the other Northern Ireland breweries bottle ranges (with the exception of new guys on the block Inishmacsaint); so decided it was time I pay the same courtesy to Northern Ireland's oldest brewery.
I came away from the beer festival with two each of 2 Hilden beers and 3 College Green.  

I decided to break out the champagne glasses again that I last used for my first post way back in May. As you can see, with the exception of Molly's the beers are fairly pale and could even be mistaken for each other on first glance. Does this similarity in colour carry over into flavour? See below.

From Left: Belfast Blonde, Molly's Chocolate Stout, Headless Dog, Cathedral Quarter Beer & Titanic Quarter Beer.
College Green was originally to be a microbrewery attached to the fantastic Molly's Yard restaurant in Belfast, but the beer is now all produced at the main Hilden brewery for commercial reasons. There is a range of three beers.

Belfast Green Belfast Blonde
Starting with the lightest of the bunch, Belfast Blonde (4.3%) is the beer that attempts to win over lager drinkers from the ubiquitous brands of Tennents and Harp and is often to be found on font rather than cask. Certainly if the Hilden Beer festival was anything to go by it seems to be working as whenever word got out that the beer was pouring again around twenty men would appear as if out of nowhere to buy pints of the stuff.
So how does it taste? Floral hop aromas on the nose with underlying honey sweetness. Prickly carbonation, malt sweetness with a clean lightly bitter finish. Served chilled on a summers day this would slip down nicely. 

College Green
Molly's Chocolate Stout
Pouring garnet red-brown with minimal head Molly's Chocolate Stout (4.2%) had noticeable legs, which I find unusual for a beer of its ABV. Hint of beech-smoke then rich roast barley on the nose. Robust body with bitter coffee, dark chocolate and burnt toast. Finishes with a not unpleasant coffee astringency. 
It would certainly make a good beer for pairing with food. It has Coffee and chocolate notes that would pair perfectly with cakes and chocolate dishes but its robust barley burntness, sweet malt and slight smokiness would make it a good match for barbecued or roasted red meats.

College Green Headless Dog
Headless Dog (4.2%) completes the trio of College Green beers. It pours gold with a thin white head and steady stream of bubbles. Dusty blackcurrant and Farley's rusk on the nose with some heather honey. sweet and grassy, bitter spike, then dry malty finish. I would have liked a bit more of the hop character from the nose to assert itself on the palate but an enjoyable beer nonetheless.
This beer would pair well with game as well as traditional Irish dishes like colcannon and stew.
The Hilden bottle range is to be a series, currently consisting of two beers and named corresponding to two of the cultural "quarters" in Belfast. A third in the range "Queens Quarter" was due to be released in 2009 but seems to have fallen by the wayside for the time being.

Titanic Quarter Beer (4.2%) The first of the Belfast Quarter Beers was specially commissioned to mark the regeneration of the Queen's Island site. This is a pale ale brewed with the beers in mind that were once shipped from the UK around the world. Clean and refreshing with a good level of bitterness. The Titanic Quarter of Belfast encompasses the once mighty industrial area of the Harland and Wolff Ship Yard, builder of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Today the area is at the beginning of a renaissance which will put the quarter back as a focal point, not only of Belfast's commercial but also social and cultural world. Pale golden beer with honey malt aroma and a trace of black pepper. Balanced sweet/bitter body with sweet hay finish.
 Cathedral Quarter Beer (5.3%) - The second of the Belfast Quarter Beers is a rich warming, premium beer. A classic red Irish ale with a full bodied flavour.The area Belfast knows today as the Cathedral Quarter is based largely around St. Anne's Cathedral. Before its modern re-invention, the area was best known as a trade and warehousing district. With the decline of Belfast's traditional industries, arts and cultural organisations took the opportunity to establish themselves in the area. Today the area continues to revitalise, placing itself at the centre of Belfast's social and cultural scene.
Not so much red as dark amber, this beer has a savoury sweet aroma like honey roasted parsnips with golden syrup and raspberry and maybe a hint of rosemary. Robust body with fruity sweetness and mouthwatering moreish party ring biscuit finish.

Reviewing beers certainly works up an appetite, so I decided to finish off the bottle of Belfast Blonde with a Mediterranean style dish of olive and chilli bread with melted mozzarella and herby balsamic tomatoes. The clean malty body helps to cut through the acidic vinegar and tomatoes, whilst the floral hops help to scrub the mozzarella oiliness from the tongue. A nice simple pairing that I'd repeat again.

All in all a solid range of beers, though I would like to see some of the other Hilden range available in bottle, particularly the stouts and porters. These will no doubt be the subject of a future post. 


Northern Ireland Craft Cider

At Hilden Beer festival a few weeks ago I met two of the players in the resurgence of artisinal cider making in Northern Ireland. Both were more than generous in letting me have some bottles of their wares to take home for tasting. Yes I know cider is not beer, but real cider is still worth campaigning for and I drank cider long before I tried beer, being Somerset born and bred!

Seán and Davy ready to start serving on Saturday afternoon

Tempted? Medium Sweet
Tempted? Cider is the youngest of the two producers, coming up to its third season of pressing around about now. Currently they make just two products, a medium dry and a medium sweet both 5.7% ABV

I was given a bottle of the medium dry but butterfingers dropped it! Luckily I tried it at the beer festival so can still let you know about it. Quite a juicy cider with some sweetness. Golden delicious apples with medium carbonation. Thirst quenching. Fairly pale for a cider, look almost perry like. 

The medium sweet is unmistakably from the same press. Golden delicious apples and apple pulp on the nose. Very appley, a mix of dessert and cookers i think, slight level of tannin leaving a sweet taste at the finish. 

Of the two I preferred the medium dry, but the medium sweet served over ice as it was at the beer festival could beat Koppaberg and Magner's at their own game.

Mac's is now at the ripe old age of 16. It has a range of four bottles, the traditional range of sweet, medium and dry plus a lower alcohol option, Lyte.

Mac's Dry
The dry is immediately different to the Tempted? ciders. Cloudy orange-gold with smells of apple peel, chutney, cinnamon and slight acetic acid. Initial flurry of apple with a rounded body and long drawn out finish with slight funkiness and hay. This a complex cider and worked very nicely with the ploughman's dinner I ate with it.

Mac's Lyte
Lyte in name (ABv 3%)doesn’t mean light in flavour in this case. Golden with slight carbonation and a scent of sweet, red skinned apples like coxes and a hint of something else that I can’t quite place. Initially tannic but with a long sweet finish, not as complex as the dry but certainly plenty of flavour for its lower strength.

Mac's Sweet
The Sweet is lighter gold than the dry and plenty of natural condition. Nothing to betray that this cider is sweet on the nose, dusty wood pulp, apple skin and slight cider vinegar. The initial taste is very dry indeed with plenty of apple fruitiness and a sweetish finish. Definitely not one for those used to artificial sweetness in their ciders. Long appley finish. Pleasantly more complex than I was expecting for the moniker "sweet", though the dry pips it to the post for me.

All in all a great bunch of ciders and I look forward to trying this year's crop when its all pressed up. Thank you Seán and Davy and for giving me the bottles to take home!


CABPOM September: Southern Tier Iniquity and Isle of Man Oak Smoked Cheddar.

Baked beans are a notoriously difficult food to match beers with as they have multiple elements, whilst certain flavour components work with certain beers, other characteristics jar on the palate. In response to Mark Dredge's original search I suggested a dark mild. When it came to the actual pairing Mark chose the Kernel mild, which was perceived to be too bitter. My suggestion was more along the lines of a traditional mild a la Greene King XX Mild or Brains Dark. Fast forward a few months and I decided to revisit the challenge myself.

Being a vegetarian my sausages didn't contain any meat, and my ovenbaked chips are not a patch on Mark's home-made masterpieces (still waiting for a dinner invite ;) ) but the comparison still holds. I like cheese on my beans; so used the tasty oak-smoked mature cheddar from Isle of Man. I also added some chipotle sauce to the beans. The smokiness of the chilis really helped to bring out the smoke in the cheese.

On to the beer pairing then. Rather than going with one of my own suggestions I decided instead to try something completely different Black "IPA"s have become a bit of a fad recently. One brewery that was perhaps ahead of the curve was  Southern Tier who first produced their Iniquity a good to and a half years ago now. Iniquity is by far the best example of the style I've tried. As you can see from the pic its a black-brown beer with frothy brown head. Roasted barley and chocolate on the nose, followed by a burst of tropical fruit activity. First sip gives a quick chocolate attack, followed by mango and pine resin. Enough alcohol that you can feel its effect on the back of your throat as you breathe in and see the legs on the side of the glass; so I'd not recommend this with a lunch meal, unless you plan on lying down to sleep for a few hours afterwards! Bitterness balanced  the malt bill and it finished with roast coffee and dark chocolate.

Together these are truly something special. The fruit flavours compliment the tomato sauce of the beans, whilst the dark malts help to accentuate the herbiness of the sausages and the smoked cheese enhances the chocolate notes in the beer. The thickness of body compliments the potatoes. The carbonation and aggressive hops tackle the fat of the cheese and sausages. In short each of the elemnts in the beer tackle different facets of the dish and the dish helps bring each aspect of the beer to the fore, a perfect match!

Another beer that I thought would go well with the dish is Panther Black; so will try this at a later date and get back to you with my findings. This one is more of a lunchtime beer, at exactly half the alcohol content!

Of course this wouldn't be a proper cheese and beer pairing post without tasting the beer and cheese on their own.The initial maturity of the cheese drys the tongue but the beer scrubs this off well making each new mouthful seem like the first. The smokiness really accentuates the chocolate flavours of the beer, whereas the mature cheddar itself serves to bring out more bitterness than in the beer alone. I didn't try this melted on toast but that would probably be the best way to try this CABPOM.

I know I promised no blue cheese and dark beer this month, one out of two can't be bad. Those of you needing a blue cheese fix, try Cornish Blue with Rochefort 8, mouth full of fruit, yum!


Clanconnel Brewing Beers

Northern Ireland doesn't have many breweries (5 now though!) so my task of reviewing each isn't too onerous. The difficulty is finding somewhere that stocks them! Luckily the fantastic Vineyard in Belfast keeps a good range; so when I had the use of a taxi I made the most of it and brought a big box full home, including the three beers which I am reviewing today.

Clanconnel Brewery is a fairly new (just over three years old) venture based in Waringstown County Down. They brew a range of but three beers, which seem to be the necessary portfolio for any Irish brewery, a stout, an Irish red and a blonde.

From the pictures below you can see that the labels have a simple yet recognisable design across the range, with only the background colour varying. By pure coincidence I read this post last night written for #TheSession by Nick at lautering.net. The logo is a crested crane, which is the family crest of the Waring family, for which Waringstown is named. The family motto "neither by violence or cunning" also applies well to the brewery whose beers speak for themselves with no need for subterfuge or flashy gimmicks.
Weaver's Gold, McGrath's Irish Black, McGrath's Irish Red

Clanconnel McGrath's Irish Red
First up is the McGrath's Irish red. According to the Clanconnel website:
"McGrath's Irish Red is named in honour of the 'Mighty' Master McGrath, the greatest greyhound to have ever raced and who won the hare coursing Waterloo Cup 3 times in 1868, 1869 and 1871.
Owned by the 2nd Baron, Lord Lurgan of Lurgan, Co Armagh Master McGrath became the town's most famous sporting hero being renowned both nationally and internationally. During his racing career he was defeated only once in 37 course meetings."
The brewery are interested in promoting local history and there is a good write up on their website about the history of the local area. 

On to the beer. It pours a russet-brown with fluffy off-beige head. The aroma is at first musty, a bit like an old attic but gains a more pronounced booze soaked dried fruit character after a few moments. The body is fairly dry, with gentle carbonation with shortcake, candy sugar and custard(!) flavours. Astringent yet sweet on the finish. This is one that I'd like to try on cask.

Clanconnel Weaver's Gold
Weaver's Gold (4.5%) is a different beer entirely. Named for the historic linen history of the area, this beer  pours a lovely burnished gold with pillow-y white head. Aromas of pineapple and lychee waft enticingly out of the glass. On first sip these flavours jostle for the attention of the tongue but soon disappear to be replaced by the shortcake maltiness of the Irish Red and end with a brief bitter spike leaving a clean palate and a need for another glug. I would have liked the hops to have lasted a bit longer. This is the beer using American hops and its definitely apparent, but their flavour is all too brief for my liking. Again I'd try this fresh to see if more of that hop flavour is retained. I definitely see it as more of a blonde ale than the lager that Tania found it to be.

Clanconnel McGrath's Irish Black
The final beer is one I've tried and enjoyed many times before. McGrath's Irish Black is the 2010 Champion Beer of Belfast and its easy to see why. This is the stout that Guinness probably used to be and wishes it still was. Its the best session-strength stout that I've tried. A good looking dark stout  with a roasted coffee/earthy aroma. Stouts that still retain the aroma profile of porters score highly for me. Fairly thick in body with a light brown head that is retained down the glass.  Chocolate malt flavours preside over the proceedings at first dry and roasted, giving way to a mellow finish and caramelised malt aftertaste.This is a beer that is even better on cask than it is in bottle and I hope to see it at Belfast Beer Festival again this year.

Clanconnel, then, is a good solid brewery, I'd like to see their beers more widely available in the North, though as ever they're fighting an uphill battle against the monolith that is Diageo. It would be great for them to expand the range with a few specials too. I recommend having a pint if you see these on draught anywhere and be sure to visit the Vineyard if you are in Belfast, at £2.04 a bottle these beers are a steal!


Session #55: Beer Art

Its that time of the month again, yes the session is here. This month it's hosted by Curtis Taylor at Hophead Said. This month its all about artwork on beer labels and other forms of brewery adverts. At one point I was planning to collect beer labels. I knew the secretary of the British Labelogist Society and one of my friends collected labels to send to his Czech friend. I had a pile of bottles stored at the bottom of my bed, but never got around to steaming them off and when I moved houses they all ended up in the bottle bank.

Odell Double Pilsner
I love all of Odell's beer labels. They're on matt paper with a slight faded beige colour and use pastel shades giving the impression that they're either hand drawn or come from some time in the past. I also like their beer name font. The design is applied across all beers meaning they're easy to spot on a crowded beer shelf. I think they were all designed by tbd who have also worked with Deschutes.

I particularly like this one because its very attractive and would appeal to both genders plus I'm a fan of owls. Also spot the upside down owl forming the lower half of the face! And (as Reuben points out in the comments below) the smaller owl between the eyes of the main owl.
I asked Odell what the reasoning behind an owl for pilsner was and was told "The owl is a classic yet sometimes mysterious creature, like the beer". I can see that.  (I wasn't actually a fan of this beer, finding it a bit too sweet for my palate but the label is brilliant. )

Odell also has a great logo with the company name sculpted to fit into the outline of a hop. Again this is consistent across bottle tops, beer mats and stickers. Sometimes the bottle lid will say "seasonal ale", sometimes it may be a different colour, but they all stick to the same house style, meaning you can spot them in a pile of bottle caps.

Whilst on the subject of owls, special mention must be made of the Hitachino Nest bottle lids and labels. These Japanese beers feature owls heavily. Its worth visiting their website which is well designed, cute and fun to play with. I gave a bottle lid to my girlfriend and she now has a small collection of other bottle lids.