Best of Manchester Centre

Greater Manchester is home to over 2.5 million people, with 440,000 alone in the city itself. With that many people its not surprising that a great many pubs are required. And by the law of averages at least some of these pubs must be decent. Comparable in size to both Leeds and Sheffield, Manchester has a similar number of decent watering holes as its Yorkshire companions.

Linked from Good Pub Guide website
One of the most well known is of course the Marble Arch, original home of the Marble brewery an done of three brewery owned pubs in the city.

Nearby to the Marble Arch is the Angel, a backstreet boozer whose backstreet has no been turned into a main road and it stands alone and proud as a beacon of decent cask ales. I didn't get there on this visit but it impressed when I was last in Manchester.

Alongside these more traditional venues are an up and coming range of bars serving an interesting range of both cask and keg beers:

Port Street Beer House will need no introduction from me as its been the subject of numerous other blogs in recent months. Its open Tuesday-Sunday from 4pm (don't make the mistake I did and turn up on a Monday evening!)*

Sister to the PSBH is the Common, a larger venue open all day and serving food. Not quite the same range of beers on draught but still has an impressive selection of bottled beers from the UK and further afield.

The Knott in Deansgate impressed me in August with its good range of local beers and veggie options on the menu and didn't let me down again on a second visit yielding Hardknott and Marble on cask. It was quiz evening when we arrived and had we had more time would have participated. There were certainly some challenging questions!

I mentioned the Odd trio in my last post on Chorlton. Odd is on Oxford Road and Odder in the Northern quarter and both are similarly eclectic in appearance. Odd had some good value simple cocktails which went down well after a belly-busting Chinese New Year Feast.

A bar I was recommended to visit and near to Odd (though I didn't realise until later) is the Font. This is a place I shall need to visit on a future trip.

Shopping need never be boring again as the Arndale centre has its own pub, the aptly named Microbar. Serving Boggart Hole Clough beers and other local guests and a good selection of bottled beers plus cheese platters from the neighbouring "Queen of Brie" cheese stall. There's a good review on Robert's blog.

Hidden on a side street, its easy enough to walk past
Perhaps one of the highlights for me (and on my list of places to visit after reading another blog) is the Soup Kitchen on Spear Street. Its fairly utilitarian inside with trestle tables and benches but reminds of all the best indpendent music clubs, like Brighton's Cowley complete with its own resident music and zine distro. The venue also puts on gigs in the cellar bar and was due to host a cheese and beer pairing evening on the Wednesday (we left Manchester on Tuesday). It was pleasing to see power sockets for customer use and free WIFI.

View to the food counter
The food menu is simple yet hearty, with soups and sandwiches featuring heavily. They also do home made baked beans which featured in my veggie breakfast with thick tortilla and veggie black pudding. I must get back some time to try the veggie scotch egg!
Shiny keg lineup
Part cafe, part bar, there a selection of continental lagers and a couple of local ales on hand pull. There are also some bottles if nothing on draught takes your fancy. This is certainly a change of pace from the bustle of the busy shopping streets.

If you're planning to visit Manchester you could do with staying a few nights to get a chance to get to all the decent watering holes. If you know of somewhere else I should have visited then please let me know!

*Thankfully it was the monthly "meet the brewer" evening and I was kindly allowed to sneak in for a few quick thirds before the venue filled up with those who had payed for tickets.


Chorlton Meander

Manchester has more beery attractions than the annual Winter Ales Festival. Being a fairly large city there are a number of decent drinking locations, though the highest density of pubs warranting Good Beer Guide Entries falls in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Luckily for me our hotel was but a mile's stroll away (but if you're in the city centre its easy enough to get a tram).
Emerging from the hotel at around 11:30 it was time for a late breakfast/early lunch and what better a bastion of Englishness than pie, mash and mushy peas. Or is that pi? Pi is the name of the Chorlton pub we first find ourselves in on the stroll down from Old Trafford. It feels like a Belgian beer cafe inside, with various brewery plaques and beeraphinalia on the walls. 
But we were hungry so it was time for pie...and mash....and peas. These are not just any pies, they're the Pie Minster pies that I love so much. Two veggie, two meaty. We split the veggie ones between us. Creamy wild mushroom and asparagus and my personal favourite the Heidi...goats cheese and sweet potato. The mashed potato was perfectly seasoned and the mushypeas just right. Simple food, done well. 
Now what to have with them?There's a hefty beer list of bottled stuff, 5 keg taps and four handpumps, with a cider or perry on. That it would be a beer is a no brainer and I chose to go with Red Willow's Directionless, a perfect partner to the cheese in the pie. There were another couple of local blondes on the handpumps and Broad Oak Perry for those that are orchard minded.

After that filling dinner a stroll was required (though not too far mind) down to the high street. (I'm aware we passed the Marble Beer House, but having been to the Marble Arch the previous night we decided to save it for another time.) Our next destination was Electrik Bar where we opted for cocktails from their lengthy menu. I went for a Bramble...a gin and chambord creation whereas the lady picked a prosecco, peach schnapps and peach bitters creation. Very nice they were too. 
Inside its a bit loungey, with some arty bits on the walls. A decent enough food menu would have provided sustenance had we not just stufffed our face with pie. There are plenty of beers to pick from too and I can't resist a half of Hawkshead's new Oatmeal stout before we head on again. It won best bar of the year last year and they recommend we go to check out the Parlour, winner of best pub in the same competition. (We do and its packed; so don't bother staying).

Our next destination is down a back road and is a brew pub, the Horse & Jockey. But when we get there no sign of said brewery or even any of their beers is apparent. I have a quick half of Quantum Bitter then push on to pub number 4, named simply The Bar. For those who know Manchester, this is the sister venue of the Knott in Deansgate and as such the bottled beer list is the same. More Red Willow on cask to my delight and then a bottle of urthel saisonerre to share before heading to our final drinking spot just across the tramline.

They say good things come in threes. Marble currently has three pubs in Manchester, but quirkier still is the aptly named odd trio...Odd, Odder and Oddest. Decked out like someone's living room, complete with dangling lampshades and assorted chairs these bars could feel pretentious but are actually rather homely. This one is the local CAMRA branch's pub of the year too.

There are beers on handpull and mulled cider but the shooters look more interesting. We opt for a baby Guinness, the classic khalua and baileys combination and another whose identity I forget...
The pub gets busy in the evenings apparently and tonight seems no exception. Handily placed for the tram station its not long before we're headed back to the hotel.

So next time you go to Manchester, don't just prop up the bar in the Port Street Beer House or Font and instead venture out into the suburbs. You may just find some good beer.


Beer Alphabet G: Hardknott Granite

Resplendent in Hardknott glass
This is a beer that's been sat in my cupboard for a while, waiting for an excuse to #OpenIt.
Its an interesting drop. Very boozy indeed and akin to liquid Christmas cake. I like it, though perhaps a 330ml bottle would have been more appropriate! The 2011 vintage was bottled a few weeks ago, look out for it!

It pours deep ruby brown, with little in the way of carbonation or head formation. Damsons and sultanas and some marscapone cheese, plenty of booze too!Slightly marmitey yeast finish with a lot of alcohol warmth. Perhaps a hint of beetroot in the earthy after-taste! Certainly one for drinking at the end of the evening, perhaps with some decent unpasteurised milk cheddar such as Keen's and some oatcakes, wish I had some!


Wake up and smell the...

Coffee is probably my favourite non-alcoholic beverage. So when married with my favourite alcoholic beverage a match in heaven is formed (in my view, of course, to some coffee beer is akin to marmite). What's more the combination of beer and caffeine seems to work immediately, rather than a few hours later as with regular coffee.

A slew of brewers have been including coffee in their brews recently...or at least aging it over beans.I've reviewed a couple before...Hardknott Vitesse Noir and Summer Wine Barista.
There's always room for more coffee beers in my mind and with the creme de la creme of craft brewers indulging us I thought I may as well partake.

De Molen Kopi Luewak is dark brown-black with fizzy cola head. Rich and fruity nose with plenty of rich coffee flavour and a long fruity coffee finish. the high ABV (11.2%) is well hidden.

Kernel Coffee IPAs -In a world of stouts with coffee its refreshing to try a pale ale brewed with coffee, the fruity flavours pair well with those found in new world hops. I was lucky enough to try both batches. The first had tangerine and sherbert on the nose and an initial tart gooseberry followed by plenty of roast coffee and a pithy citrus/bitter coffee finish. Good mouthfeel, not to oily. Batch 2: Darker Amber with coffee much more to the fore on the nose. At first tangerine and a bitter sweet malt with long coffee finish. Well balanced this one. Mark Dredge's thoughts on this beer are here and Mark Beer.Birra.Bier here.

De Struise Black Damnation II - Mocha Bomb is another dark coffee beer, with a rich and fruity nose andh rich coffee flavours. Theres a roasted barley astringency to the finish. Some hints of vanilla appear further down the glass.

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (slightly disturbing video there) has a near cult status as it uses coffee reclaimed from the poo of the civet, supposedly the freshest you can get. Rich and viscous black pour with temporary teak head. Subtle smoky coffee on the nose. Coffee fills the mouth and coats every surface with underlying chocolate and a ling roasty and astringent finish. Alcohol tingle but otherwise very well balanced.

As for my favourite? Well at the time of drinking I rated Hardknott Vitesse Noire the highest, with the De Molen Coming in right behind.

So get some ocffee beers in your life if you haven't done so already! With at least one more coffee stout planned in the near future (Summer Wine KopiKat) 2012 looks set to be as caffeine fueled as 2011.


Live Beer Blogging: NWAF

Today I'm at National Winter Ales Fest in Manchester and I'm planning on live blogging what I get up to...
I expect I'll soon get too caught up in beer to remember to update this, or failing that my phone battery will die. I'll probably update it when I get home again with any paper-based notes/ pics I take.
12:05 fair sized queue out in the drizzle but its beer time soon.

12:30 After finally getting Blogger to work on Android (had to revert to old interface as can't scroll on the new one) I can report that we secured seats right in front of the German beer bar. To start? A fresh fruh kolsch for her and an astringent and roasted Thwaites tavern porter for me. Off in search of some Hawkshead New Zealand Pale Ale now.

A sizeable crowd
12.55 buggerit, its all sold out. As is magic rock rapture so its a high wire for me. Pretty similar to the bottle on Tuesday but a bit more hop freshness in taste. Very enjoyable. A taste of Liverpool Organic Kitty Wilkinson Chocolate and Vanilla stout, like bristol beer factory chocolate and milk stouts combined.

13.20 FABPOW alert! Okells saison and...a banana! Fruity dry hay and slight spiciness complement richness of banana. Also tried Red Willow Wreckless. Starts off nice enough but a hint of butterscotch ruins it for me (Edit: seems it was a tired cask as tried fresh at "The Bar" in Chorlton it was a lovely drop). Other half is now on Josef Grief Weiss, very pale and cloudy with lemon and cloves. Lots of familiar faces behind the bars and spotted @tandleman on way in.

14:20 Turned to the dark side as recommended by Phil (@filrd) with Liverpool IRS. It's full of flavour but drinks nothing like its abv; Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche next. Smokey but so well balanced - like sweetcured maple smoked Bacon. A quick tsster of an 8% German IPA (not gunna pay £3 a third) proved a damp squib in comparison. 
We're now onto some Offbeat offerings. Way Out Wheat is full of aromatic white pepper and the IPA is as good as any I've tried. Time for a breather methinks
Offbeat Way out Wheat and Out of Step IPA
My takeaway selection
15:30 half an hour off, a purchase of a fuzzy logic book (mainly for cashback) and some bottled beers for takeaway then its back to the draught stuff. A Kirby Lonsdale jubilee stout for me and Red Willow Heartless for her. It's a lovely chocolate stout, dark chocolate, roast barley and a slight sourness work well together. Paired with 70% cocoa chili chocolate its even better. Time for some Shaws beers now if there're any left!

16:20 Reaching the end of the afternoon now and its a Red Willow Smokeless for the lady and Shaws quantum stout tor me. Both are delicious but the Red Willow just edges it. Shame the Stella IPA ran out, I love those peachy antipodean hops. 
Just bumped into Paul, husband of the brewster from Offbeat. There's a new tasty sounding beer coming up. 
Gunna have a final third each then head off to the Marble Arch I reckon. Im a sucker for puns so its Wessex Russian Stoat for me and continuing on the German theme its hacker-pschorr oktoberfest for the other half. (No more updates, need to preserve some battery to find where were booked to eat tonight! Will round it off next tues eve when I get home!)

19:30 at Zinc bar and Grill now. Just been via Marble Arch. Shared 9 cheese plate and 2011 special saison. CABPOM ALERT! Cocktail time now, Singapore Sling and Espresso Martini. They arrived after our food turned up; so we had them taken off the bill...bargain!

21:00 Arrived back at hotel and collapsed on bed.

Edit: Although it may make amusing reading I decided to tidy up the spelling on the post and add some pics. To sum up I really enjoyed the day, even though I only spent five hours in the festival I managed to get through a fair few beers. Best UK cask beer for me was the Out of Step IPA and best German beer had to be the Aect Schlenkerla Eiche (thanks Simon johnson for tweeting about it). I've since drunk all the bottled beers purchased on the day, but not going to blog about them as I didn't really make notes!

All that remains is to thank all of those who put their hard work into organising and staffing the weekend. I know how much effort it is to work at a beer festival and remain cheerful three days in and everyone did a sterling job.


Magic Rock vs Brewdog

There were some quiet murmurings in the blogosphere that some of the Magic Rock core range reminded them of a certain brewer from north of the border. At the time I suggested someone do a comparative tasting, yet no one seems to have taken up the gauntlet (too scared of repercussions perhaps?); so I've decided to put the issue to bed myself. I'm aware I'm a bit late to the party, but its difficult to get any beers over here!

Regardless of what is found out it won't take away from what Magic Rock has achieved in the short months since it has been opened, a great set of brews, with some tasting spot-on at the first attempt. I've tried all bar the bearded lady and enjoyed the lot. Dark Arts was my keg beer of the year. Their branding is eye-catching and memorable, their web presence is great and they've already done a collaboration brew (Rock-Star) with more to come. . They're certainly going places in 2012.

I'm going to be as objective as possible, though as always, taste is subjective. To prevent bias I'm going to taste them blind* with the help of a third party. I'll present my findings and let you make your own conclusions.
Someone's gotta drink 'em...may as well be me!

 Rapture (4.6%) vs 5am Saint (5%)

Radiant Reds

Malts: 5 varieties including Crystal Rye,
Vienna and Dark Crystal.
Hops: 6 varieties
OG: 1048
IBU’s: 25
Malts: Maris Otter, Caramalt, Munich Malt, Crystal and dark crystal malts
Hops: Nelson Sauvin, Amarillo / Dry Hops: Simcoe, cascade, centennial. ahtanum, Nelson Sauvin
Sight: see above. Forms foamy head in big pour.Sight: see above
Smell: Pine resin, kiwi fruit and oranges Smell: orange peel, caramel and lotus flower
Taste: Caramel sweetness with citrus pith Taste: Sweet and fruity with citrus zest.
Palate: Sticky with medium carbonation Palate: Gentle carbonation
Finish: Drying bitterness Finish: Astringent and pithy

High Wire (5.5%) vs Punk IPA (5.6%)

Perfect Pales

OG: 1053
IBU’s: 45
Malts: Maris Otter Extra Pale Malt
Hops: Chinook, Simcoe, Ahtanum, Nelson Sauvin
Sight: Light gold, effervescent Sight: Slightly darker gold.
Smell: Pineapple, lychee and mango Smell: Cats urine and ripe mango
Taste: Sweet tangerine, mango and gentle
Taste: Mango rind, butterscotch and lime juice
Palate: Gently carbonated and light in
Palate: Tingling carbonation, light in body
Finish: brief tropical fruit Finish: Fruit salad jacks

 Human Cannonball (9.2%) vs Hardcore IPA (9.2%)

Aesthetic Ambers
Hops: Apollo, Summit, Target, Warrior
OG: 1083
IBU’s: 150
Malts: Maris Otter, Crystal malt, Caramalt
Hops: Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe / Dry Hops: Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe
Sight: Medium orange amber Sight: Medium orange amber, slightly less carbonation
Smell: Sticky toffee, melon, green apple and ripe peaches Smell: Black pepper, orange and marmalade
Taste: Sticky toffee, resinous and pithy Taste: Liquid orange extract, zesty citrus
Palate: Highly carbonated Palate: Light carbonation
Finish: Very bitter Finish: Orange pith
*Not literally, else I'd probably pour the beer down my front. The glasses were labelled 1 & 2 and bottles were chosen at random. If you want to know more, just ask me!

Magic Rock are on Twitter as a brewery and individuals; MD Richard Burhouse, Brewer Stuart Ross and Scott Caverley.

Brewdog are on Twitter as a brewery, MD James Watt, Head Brewer Martin Dickie and a whole host of other Brewdoggians if you care to search!

All beer logos were linked from the respective breweries' websites. Images of beer my own.


Some heftier Norse Offerings

Last week I reviewed some of the special beers from the NogneO range but they also have a number of the more common styles. Today I will review no less than 5 IPAs (all above 7.5% ABV!) plus a brown ale, porter and Imperial stout. (Two IIPAs formed my FABPOW post). Better get my drinking head on then! 

The first couple I tried were both disappointing. Not that there was anything wrong with them. Both the Porter and Brown Ale are competently brewed beers and drink well enough, but there's nothing stand-out about them. I can get better examples of each for half the price I paid in any number of off-licences in the UK. 
For the Norwegian market they showcase the respective styles, but its not a beer that would find much favour in the home of these styles.

The Pale Ale was bottled exactly 6-months ago and the hops have already faded leaving us with a pithier version of Fuller's ESB. It's marmalade hops backed up by robust malt with a good whack of bitterness/ 6% ABV but very drinkable it didn't stay in my glass for long. After the initial shock of bitterness passion fruit and tangerine make themselves known leaving you with a long fruity finish.
I'd love to try this one fresh.
The same applies to the IPA. You know that its cascade in there, that grapefruit bitterness and hint of lemons is recognisable but the taste is somewhat diminished. Its a bit stickier that the pale ale and a slight alcohol burn at the end. It doesn't need to be this strong. Heftier still at 8.5% is the Two Captains another home-brew competition winner. Its nice enough with sprightly carbonation and pineapple esters on the nose. Its almost Belgique, but apparently just a UK yeast.

Turning to the dark-side we have the Imperial Stout top rated of the range with the Rate Beer crowd. So how does it stack up? Its very viscous black, tan head. The complex nose of vanilla, bourbon, tobacco, toffee invites investigation of the flavours. Thick and rich in body, sweet malt, sticky, slight sourness. The finish is as you would expect full of rich roasted coffee and dark chocolate, but also a fair bit of dried fruit too. It didn't disappoint!

Of those I've tried I'd suggest the Holy Smoke as my favourite and if you're a fan of rauchbeer  or [eaty islay drams give it a go. The imperial stout is also particularly good; so look out for that. Aside from that try the pale ones fresh  and only try the others if your wallet can stretch that far.

Of course, NogneO produce a lot more beers, which I may try in the future, but I doubt I'll be specifically seeking them out as there are so many other brewers, UK or otherwise, I've not yet tried at all. It seems its best to try them in the UK though as (although pricey) they're apparently cheaper here than in Norway!



@beersiveknown FABPOW stands for "Food and Beer Pairing of the Week", a term coined by Mark Dredge of the excellent Pencil and Spoon blog.

I'm a big fan of soup. Its pretty easy to make, filling and gives me an excuse to fire up the breadmaker (not that I need one). For Christmas I got Madhur Jaffrey's excellent Curry Easy book, which to my delight has a number of Indian soup recipes within its 70s wallpaper inspired covers. I decided to make the tomato and lentil  soup (I'm not sure I can reproduce it here, due to copyright issues, but its similar to this one). Its pretty spicy; so decided to try it out with some IPAs. Double IPAs in fact.

Two boozy bottles 10% ABV each.
 What could be better than a 10% double IPA? That's right two of them! Brewed by Nogne O for the 100th and 500th brews respectively they proved popular enough to remain staples of the range. As you can see from the picture above, both #100 and #500 are very dark for IIPAs.

Mmmmm Tasty soup

#100 had a strange nose of soapy coconut and the body was just too much sticky caramel and little malt, with a bitter finish. Paired with the soup however the sweet tomatoes and fragrant corriander combined to coax out some previously unseen hidden flavours of chocolate and citrus. I'd class this beer as an American style barley wine rather than double IPA.
#500 on the other hand worked quite well on its own. It was very mameladey on the nose (think good quality spicy seville orange) with dark burnt sugar and candied orange peel in the taste and a treacley finish. When tried with the soup it picked up an unpleasant earthy hop/metallic flavour which jarred with the tomatoes.

Of the two I marginally preferred the #500, being closer to an IPA, though conversely #100 paired better with the soup. They're very boozy though so I'd like to see them in a 330ml bottle, though probably wouldn't buy either again.

Does anyone else have beer and (veggie) soup pairing suggestions? 

You can see my other NogneO reviews here and here.


Debate on PubCo Reform

This afternoon a debate was held in the House of Commons on Pub-Co reform, whether the recebtly announced self-regulated code of conduct will be effective or whether the Government should have looked to legislation. Numerous other issues were touched upon that I will mention here.

Most readers of this blog will be aware at the high rate of pub closures in recent years. Its gotten as high as 63 pubs per week, but even now 25 pubs are closing a week. There are a number of factors that are causing this, but one of the greatest in the eyes of those who matter (the tennants who run the pubs) is the unfair pub tie arrangement. (Over 87% of those polled stated they'd rather be free of the tie). When you look at the facts it becomes obvious why this is. Pubs that are tied pay a massive premium on drinks supplied to them by PubCos. Free from competition they feel they can charge whatever they like and often charge 1.5 to 2 times more than the wholesale prices available to Free Houses. One example given was Strongbow, avaiable at ~£65 wholesale and £110 through Punch, a 70% markup...no wonder pubs are unable to make any money!

In a recent survey 57% of those subject to tie vs 43% in the free trade said they were struggling financially. This shows that more tied publicans are struggling than those in the free-trade...the difference being they are tied to supplier via the tie.

Over the last few years a number of organisations and MP groups have been campaigning to get this altered, even getting the issue to the attention of the OFT and today's debate was the culmination of this hard work.An allegation of collusion with the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) was made of the minister for business innovation and skills as the response to a freedom of information request (FOI) was copied almost verbatim from the BBPAs suggestions to the Government.

Even those in favour of reform were quick to point out than an unfair tie is just one aspect of the challenge pubs  face at the moment. In additition is the tax burden on both alcohol, particularly beer and in terms of business rates. In addition there is the fact that people are more likely to drink at home, a big driver of this of course being cheaper supermarket alcohol but also people not wanting to head out to pubs for a drink, prefering the convenience of drinking at home. Of course, another thing more convenient to do at home is smoking as now the smoking ban has been introduced smokers have to take their habit outside.

Pubs were defended as integral to communities, being part of the solution to irresponsible drinking, raather than a part of the problem and supporting the local economy, both directly in terms of jobs and sales and indirectly by bringing custom to other businesses in the area.

Despite there being a small element of opposition in attendance, the motion for an Autumn review of the voluntary code of conducts efficacy was passed unanimously. It now remains to be seen if the self-policing by the PubCos will work or if the Government will have to legislate after all. From their history of broken promises I don't hold out much hope that this new initiative will have any effect.

To read a synopsis of the debate, blogged live see here.


Naked Islands and other romantic notions

Beer is seeing a resurgence all over the globe, with decent breweries cropping up in the most unexpected of places. One such place is in Norway, where NogneO have carved out a niche for themselves producing "over twenty styles of beer". After spending the best part of a year reading about the brewers I finally came across their beers in stock in Ales by Mail and shortly later Drinkstore.

I ordered everything they had, so ended up with 15 to review,
which I'll split over a couple of posts.

First up with the lowest ABV (4.5%) is the Bitter. Modelled on that classic English style and hopped with Goldings, its nice enough and probably works well as a session bitter in its home market, but having to pay import prices its just a bit disappointing. Typical goldings nose, perhaps a bit paler than a typical bitter with plenty of bitterness in the finish.

A Christmas duo next then Underlig Jul and God Jul - respectively Peculiar Christmas and Good Christmas. The former was consumed on a train between York and Edinburgh and is your fairly typical spiced Yuletide beer. Pepper noticeable on the nose and into the body where it is joined by cardamom at first with roast malt and ginger following on in behind.
The God Jul is a different kettle of fish. Much darker and weighing in at a hefty 8.5% (the previous being a lowly 6.5%...) the change in strength isn't really noticable. Darkest brown with a fluffy tan head, treacle nose. Quite a lot of marmitey yeast umamai too. Fairly sweet with a rich maltiness but not cloying or alcoholic for its ABV, with just the hint of tropical fruit from those centennial hops. A true winter warmer.

A Belgian spiced beer style, Wit, is next up. Its remarkably haze free for one with so much wheat and a nose of Floridian orange groves. The citrus carries on into the body with just the barest suggestions of coriander and a pervasive but subtle TCP which is perhaps contributed by the yeast. Certainly an interesting take on the style.

Following on from the spiced beers, we have a few that are spicy and a Belgian style that has become more popular in recent years - saison:  one regular and one "India" Saison. The first is fairly typical in colour for a saison. It has all the things I enjoy on the nose, complex, some horse blanket, a hint of lactic acid. In the taste there's the unmistakable EKG but they soon fade into the background and the yeast strain is allowed to work its magic of pineapple esters and dry spiciness. The second is a collaboration with the Aussie Brewers Bridge Road. From the moment the bottle is opened the enticing peachy aroma of galaxy wafts up to your nasal passages. It pours a darker amber than the regular saison and retains its head for a good while. There's also the mango associated with citra, which must come from Stella, a hop I have very little experience of. Immediately lighter in body and at once heavy due to increased malt bill. The tropical fruits are there too but at the same time plenty of bitterness. The fruity hops repeat in the finish with the sweetness of fruit salad jacks...remember them? Underneath that is the same earthy spicy yeast in the regular saison. It perhaps loses some of its saison drinkability but an interesting beer all the same.

From spice to smoke and travelling South-East through Europe we get to Bamberg, home of the Rauchbier style. The beer in question? Holy Smoke, winner of a home-brew competition. Looking at the ingredient list its not a true rauchbeer as it uses peated malt rather than beech-smoked. It has the complex nose of an imperial stout with roasted and lactic notes. In the mouth its thick and slightly peppery before the  rich smokiness comes through. None of the harsh phenol of your Laphroaig here, this is much more akin to Bunnahabhain, playfully smoky but plenty of other stuff to tantalise the palate, tobacco, cola, liquorice. Its very drinkable for its ABV (6%) and my favourite of the range so far.

Next week I'll cover the remainder of the beers that I picked up!


10 beer commandments

ONE: 'You shall have no beverages before beer.' Beer is the one true beverage.

TWO: 'You shall not drink of any "near beer" substitutes, nor shall you create them' What is the point when there is such variety with the real thing?

THREE: 'You shall not take the name of  beer, any beer, in vain.' Don't be negative, be positive and support brewing in its many guises.

FOUR: 'Remember the session day and keep it holy' Beer blogging Friday is but once a month, its easy to take part so do it!

FIVE: 'Honour your beer elders' There's precedent for everything and people who have been around for longer probably know more than you.

SIX: 'You shall not kill interest in a beer by endless negative criticism' Its that old chestnut "if you don't have anything nice to say..." of course you may not like a beer, say so, give constructive advice, but don't just dismiss something out of hand.

SEVEN: 'You shall not cheat on beer with other beverages.' Similar to rule #1, beer is king (or President if you dislike monarcy)

EIGHT: 'You shall not drink other people's beers without permission' Common sense, don't help yourself and remember to share and share alike.

NINE: 'You shall not pass comment on beer without having tried it' So many people dismiss a beer if brewed to a certain style, or by a certain brewer. The only way to know if you like something is to give it a go.

TEN: 'You shall not covet the beers that others have had' There are too many beers in the world to try them all. Some beers are rbewed in small batches. Don't be jealous because someone else has found a beer you wanted, but endeavour to seek it out. Find new beers and tell other people about them. Don't overhype beers just because they are rare or because the current "brewer of the moment" has brewed them.

I'm aware that this exists, but wanted to do one closer to "the original. Plus I was bored.
I expect some of these are contradictory of others...its just a bit of fun!


Is York best beer city outside London?

I spent a few nights in York after Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed myself, so much so that I'm heading back before EBBC next year (see you there?). 

Why do I think its a contender?

The pubs for a start, there are (allegedly) 365 of them, but its not the quantity that matters but the quality. As well as the new York Tap there are;
Pivni -(The original Pivovar venue) is tucked away in the shambles. Somehow they managed to cram a load of casks and kegs in (you can see the casks stillaged behind the bar) and on my visit it was standing room only. (Twitter)

House of Trembling Madness (also a magnificent bottled beer shop) - I didn't get a chance here but did peruse the shop. Its amazing, a good thing I didn't bring my wallet as I'm sure I would have struggled to carry home my purchases! (Twitter)

Brigantes - Spent a lunchtime here, fairly upmarket looking inside, but prices are good. I liked how the handpumps were split into light and dark beers, with prices clearly displayed on the blackboard. There's a fair bottle selection and my burger was excellent. (Twitter)

The Maltings- A true street corner local, with bare wood floors, old notices adorning the walls and a bar counter made out of reclaimed doors. Simple but tasty grub. Look out for the rude clock! (Twitter)

The Punch Bowl - the best of the 4 Nicholson's pubs in York. Just a small front bar for drinking as the rest of the pub is set up for diners but an interesting range of beers (outside of the usual Christmas specials you might expect) plus mulled wine and cider. Just the thing when its cold and wet outside. (No Twitter)

The Volunteer Arms- a backstreet local, you wouldn't expect to find much in the way of beer here but they have 4 handpumps and real cider, all in good nick, friendly staff, no noisy background music and comfy seats. Spent a pleasant hour here on my final evening in York.(Twitter)

There's the York Beer and Wine shop (resplendent with cheese counter) that's been there for 26 years.

There's even a brewery within York city walls. (Twitter)

Outside of beer there are a host of tasty eateries, cultural and historical attractions (York Dungeon, Jorvik, The Walls, Art Gallery, Museums) and plenty of decent independent shops, tea rooms and other miscellanea tucked in all over the city.

With the high density of bloggers in Leeds it seems York doesn't get as much coverage in the blogosphere as perhaps it should. It is only 20 minutes away by train after all.  If you've not been for a while or even ever then do yourself a favour and head along. I'd recommend booking a  room though as there's too much to do in a single day!


Session #59: Not Beer, but its brother

This month's session is hosted by Mario at Brewed for thought. He's keen to know what we beer bloggers drink when not on the beer. The obvious one for me to write about would be cider, as hailing from somerset its in the blood, so to speak. But I've reviewed the Northern Ireland ciders; so will think of something else. I drink a lot of coffee but am not really a coffee buff; so my post would be as bland as some freeze-dried pap found in a discount store. Something I do enjoy drinking and linking in well with beer because its basically distilled beer without the hops is whisky.

As I said last month, whisky was my first taste of alcohol and I have a good collection of bottles (though nowhere near as large as some beer bloggers (Ghostdrinker, I'm looking at you!)). I've been to a fair few distilleries in my time too; though as I was under 18 for a lot of them I had to make do with getting high on the fumes whilst drinking lemonade.

Flavour map for some of the more widely available distilleries.
(They're owned by Diageo) You can get free entry here.
My favourite whisky is perhaps the Talisker 10, though as with beer, its a voyage of discovery with the potential for better whisky to be out there that I haven't come across yet. I'd love to visit Skye to tour the distillery and will perhaps combine it with a visit to Islay (eye-luh) and other West Coast spots as its an aresa of Scotland I've not yet been to. Speaking of Islay whiskys, I've only recently come to appreciate them, finding them far too phenolic previously, smokey is fine, Talisker has it in spades but I could just not get on with the peaty flavour. However like blue cheese, olives and more recently red peppers my palate has become trained to the flavour and I'm just beginning on my journey of discovery here.

Aside from visiting distilleries I'm partial to a dram or two at home; so thought I'd use the opportunity to review a couple here. Both are Scotch whiskys and not Irish Whiskeys (note spelling difference) as I find Irish ones to be a bit harsher and less enjoyable. I've never thought about whisky whilst tasting it, outside of thinking I like this, I don't like that; so its interesting for me too.

I like a small splash of tap water with my single malts, it helps to draw out the flavours I think. Proper whisky bars (like the Blue Blazer) have a tap on the counter for this purpose.

Talisker 10 y/o pours a burnished gold with plenty of smoke on the nose and just the slightest hint of TCP. Buried underneath are vanilla woody notes and a hint of pith. Fairly mellow in the mouth, with a rounded sweetness, the smoke and alcohol come in the finish.

Dalwhinnie 12 y/o is of the palest blonde with parma violets, almonds and vanilla nose. Very smooth flavours, with grass and a sweet yet fiery finish that lingers and burns the lips.

After drinking both of these before 6pm I'm now feeling warm and ready for bed, not sure how people manage to drink these all day!