#OpenIt is a multiparticipant Twitter organised beery event, much like #Twissup and #TheSession. The aim of it is to get you to open those beers that you've been hoarding and get writing about them. Andy over at Beer Reviews has declared this weekend to be the first such event in 2012. As with many people I have a fair few of these sat around so chose to go for the (lucky for some) target of 7 bottles to review. I did not drink all of these on the #OpenIt weekend, but they were enjoyed in the spirit of the event in any case!

Ballards Duck House
The first beer is a case in point for why its not necessarily best to hoard beer! Ballards Duck House is the annual  barley wine released by Sussex brewer Ballards. Bought from the brewery on the release date dec 2009. Its passed its BBE. This beer is a crib-sheet of off-flavours.Pours completely flat, no head whatsoever. Dark ruby. There’s balsamic vinegar and sherry on the nose. Very complex medium body reminiscent of an oud bruin. Oxidised of course with a lot of vinegar, some soggy cardboard, autolysed yeast marmite flavours, a hint of lactic acid, rounded body, quite sweet, vinous fruit. Long savoury finish with more marmite. Despite these seemingly jaring flavours the beer was quite enjoyable!

In addition to the Gales Prize Old Ales we got through at Alan's last weekend I took a number of other beers along.* Enjoying the evening too much to make copious notes I did however do some cheese pairings (how unpredictable(!)).

Law of diminishing returns?
First up is Bell Ringer by Franciscan Well covered here by Reuben from Tale of Ale in much better prose than I could ever muster. To me it was very redolent of Fuller's ESB and to pair with this some sparkenhoe red Leicester was enjoyed, which really brought out those marmelade hops.

After the Gales were polished off we went onto Deschutes the Dissident. This is one complex beast of a beer. Taking inspiration from Belgian brewers this ends up as a kriek/ Flemish red hybrid. Its fruity and bretty on the nose, but without the lactic character put plenty of acetic acid. Some Langres washed rind cheese helped to take the edge off a bit.

That evening was rounded off nicely by The Lost Abbey The Angel's Share. This has all those oaky flavours in abundance but the robust malt bill is big enough to handle it. Milleens cheese is a great pairing, pulling out those fruity depths from under the vanilla. (This also went very nicely with the Gales Prize Old Ale).

And finally onto a beer style that everyone has in their cellars, the Imperial Stout. To link cleverly with the last beer reviewed, these two are also barrel aged, as brewers of big stouts are wont to do.

You knew there'd be cheese involved!
Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti is the brewery's top rated beer on ratebeer and one inside the top 50 on the nose initially a hint of dry cocoa powder giving way to rich malted milk biscuits or horlicks. On the next waft the perfumed sweetness of vanilla asserts itself, almost custard-like and a touch of alcohol. Opaque black  with bubbled tan head. Slipping down with the smoothness of milk and a gentle carbonation  at first there's molten milk chocolate followed swiftly by roast barley and acrid coffee leading to a fairly dry finish. After eating some blue cheese the vanilla is coaxed out from the bitter depths transforming the beer from espresso to mocha latte, whilst at the same time the beer embraces what was a fairly timid stilton and cajoules it to release those salty, slightly funky peniccilium roqueforti flavours finishing with some pepper. I reckon this beer would match well with a custard tart. Beware...the ABV is certainly well hidden!

Evil black depths
Mikkeller brews a lot of imperial stouts, perhaps the most well known of which being Black Hole.
Dark brown-black with thin brown tinged cream head that soon collapses to a lacing. On the nose its caramel and vanilla with a hint of beechwood and fruity coffee. Very full bodied and warming with coffee up front and booze following on quickly. Then we get biscuit and charcoal, vanilla and burnt toast. The finish is rich and boozy, lengthy, a hint of red apple. Fairly lively carbonation

*Having only just acquired the Goose Island Bourbon County it has ended up back in the cupboard with some other Impys for a future supping occasion.


Gales Prize Old Ale

@beersiveknown Well i managed three weeks off...
Old ales are beers that have been kept for a period of time before being bottled. Very few true old ales remain within the UK today, of those Gales Prize Old Ale is one of the most well known but perhaps least tried of the beers. Originally brewed at Gale's in Horndean it was worried that the beer would be lost when the business was sold to Fullers in 2005. People need not have worried however as Fullers cotinued to brew the beer, keeping back a little of the previous years brew to innoculate each fresh batch and thus preserve the flora and fauna or "wee beasties" down the years.
 The three beers I'm writing about today, although the same in name vary subtley. I shared these bottles with my beery partner in crime Alan (traPISSED) as a pretext to visit his beer cellar (stay tuned for more info). Roger Protz wrote about them here. Des de Moor Reviews a 2007 bottle here and Jeff Evans here.
Gales bottles were smaller and crown-capped.
Older bottles are probably going to be harder to find these days, and certainly the fullers Brewery Shop is out of stock. I picked mine up from Bitter Virtue, but I've been hefting the 2006 around for a good five years. A glance at the price labels leaves me pleasantly surprised as they only cost me ~£2.50 each...surely a bargain for such a complex and hefty beer.

As many people will know, in 2006 Gales sold to Fuller's and the historic brewery in horndean was closed. Here the Prize Old Ale was aged in ancient oak tanks, with all the wee beasties that provides. This gave the beer an understable lactic character necessitating the blending of fresh with old. 2006 was the last beer to be brewed and bottled at Gales in this way. In 2007 the beer brewed at Gales the previous year was shipped to Fullers and bottled without blending. This proved to be too sour for the taste of the marketing men and the following year John went back to the blending method, though odf course the beer is now aged in regular fermenters.

The 2011 (Fuller's) Gales Prize Old Ale
The 2011 was both brewed and bottled at Fullers. I actually had a bottle of this 6 month ago, so it will be interesting to see how it has changed with the extra time in the bottle. It pours a dark amber with fruity sherry notes on the nose. In flavour its closer to rum with toffee, burnt sugar, caramelised apple plus some juicy pear, which I'm beginning to recognise as hallmark of some Fullers aged beers. It finishes with a fairly astringent bitterness which suggests its not quite in its prime yet. In fact I think I preferred it younger.

The 2007 was of course a different kettle of fish. That lactic acid was immediately present on the nose as expected. This helped to make the beer lighter in body. Flavours much the same as the 2011, though with an unsuaul watermelon flavour at the finish.
Star of the show for both me and Alan was the 2006. This was a relief for me after the aformentioned disturbances including moving to Northern Ireland and a previous loss of liquid through the cap. Lactic acid again but a greater rich fruitiness like a good christmas cake, a touch of oxidation balsamic vinegar, heavy mouthfeel, some raspberry in the finish. Could easily have had a few bottles of this each.

From: http://www.gourmetbritain.com/
The stinky washed rind cheese were bought to bear for this session and for me the Irish cheese Milleens worked the best. Full of fruity flavours it accentuated some of those flavours too delicate to assert themselves from beneath the malts.

This seems to suggest that the beer improves with age (production location aside) and I'm tempted to get a case of the next release (this year?) and lay them down for a good few years. If you've not yet had the good fortune to try these then may I suggest you look out for them!


FABPOW: Beetroot Soup and St Stefanus Blonde

@beersiveknown  Food and Beer Pairing of the Week (another Mark Dredge Creation)
 A few months ago a group of bloggers were invited for an all expenses trip to the Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium for the the UK relaunch of their beer. Badged as St Stefanus (@StStefanus) instead of Augustijn the artwork and bottle underwent a redesign. Upon their return they received a glass and two bottles of beer through the post, as did some other bloggers who didn't attend. A whole host of reviews left me salivating to try it; so I cheekily asked if they had any sample packs left. A few weeks later and I'm sat with the package on my coffee table.

The bottle shows the
expected flavour changes over time
As others have mentioned its well put together, a snazzy box replete with carboard holder for two bottles of beer and an attractive stemmed glass. Theres also some beer mats and a bit of the info behind the beer. The bottle as you can see is stylish, with info about how the flavour profile changes over time and a colourful cap. All the bottles are aged for three months before release, so my bottle dated november 2011 is 6months old on tasting. I'll keep the second for another six to see how it changes.

Glorious golden beer with thick head
and attractive glass.
The beer pours an attractive ever so slightly hazy blonde with half inch dense white head that lingers. Slightly dusty with banana esters on the nose it's highly carbonated and full of fruity yeast notes. Fairly sweet without being cloying as some can and a good robust body. It finishes with a spicy earthy bitterness.
Its a long lasting finish and a sipping beer, despite the alcohol being hidden. A very enjoyable beer, its reminded me that I need to get back to Belgian beers this year after a few years off. I'd be keen to try some of the rest of their range, especially if I can find them to drink at home.

Beetroot soup with beer bread
Its still cold so I was after a soup again. I had a great beetroot soup starter on cheese school so decided to try it out myself. The fact that I found some reduced fresh beetroot at the shops sealed the deal. I looked up a recipe online and added some English goats cheese instead of feta plus a good pinch of chilli flakes. (Caution: grating beetroot leads to purple hands!) Served with home made beer bread its great on its own but with the spicy fruitiness of the beer the sweet and earthy flavours of the beetroot and sweet oven-roasted tomatoes. Those sweet goaty flavours with a hint of pepper are really allowed to shine through too, the carbonation scrubbing the tongue to refresh the palate.

A glance at the ever-reliable Brewmaster's table suggests that I'm not the first to pair a Belgian with beetroto, though actually it appears wheat beers are a more common choice. I can certainly see that working with this dish too, as goats cheese and wheat beer (especially weiss) goes very nicely together too.
Other beers to try: Bristol beer Factory Weisse, Thornbridge Weisse Versa, Schneider Weisse, Duvel, Piraat.


2.8 - Common in photography

...And becoming more prevalent in beer. There's been a fair furore in the blogosphere over the decision to raise duty on those beers over 7.5% ABV to counteract the reduced duty on those 2.8%ABV and below. There have been a lot of strong beer reviews, but very few of the new wave of 2.8%-ers. Browsing the beer aisle in Tesco today I was pleased to find an extra few shelves had been gained from wine by beer. On closer inspection three of these beers turned out to be the mythical 2.8% brews I'd not yet seen. Feeling game for something different I bought one of each and I'll let you know how they worked out.

All three of these are 2.8%
Its not often that I review the Family or Regional brewers on this blog. I know a lot of people think they are staid and boring. If you're still reading then the brewers in question are Greene King (as Tolly Cobold), Fuller's and Marston's. First thing to mention is that at £1.39 a pop, there's no discernible saving over regular-strength brews. If you're looking for bang for your buck its not here.

The Greene King Effort is up first. Tolly Cobold Tolly English Ale is described thus: "This Fine Amber ale has been brewed using a complex mix of hops to offer balanced bitterness with strong tropical notes. All the flavour you would expect from a great English ale but at only alc. 2.8& vol." Will it stand up to that appetising introduction? Well, not quite. It starts off well with a good English hop nose, earthy and spicy with a hint of that metallic fuggles character. The digestive biscuits of caramalt are immediately apparent in the mouth, joined today by all-butter shortbread as a tolerable amount of diacetyl is added to the mix. There's a ghost of sweet pineapple, those aforementioned tropical hops must have been added in a minuscule amount. It finishes with a surprisingly moreish dry bitterness and peppery red fruit. I'd take this over GK IPA any day. (But please GK, sort out those clear glass bottles, I don't want to end up tasting something light struck!)

Similar in appearance, yet world's apart in taste is Marston's Pale Ale, likely a reworked version of their regular pale ale. On first getting the bottle open I grimaced as the familiar "Burton Snatch" prevalent in a lot of Marston's beers rears its ugly head. I don't enjoy the sulphurous quality at all in beer, reminding me of Icelandic drinking water, though some people swear by it. Thankfully it doesn't get into the taste and the eggy-pong soon dissipates leaving some sweet fruit esters. These are the most dominant flavours in the beer too, almost artificially so, I wonder if any unfermentable sugars went into this for body purposes? Finish is fairly sweet and a bit thin. Not dreadful but not inspiring either.

A beer that has had a few mentions in the digital world is Fullers Mighty Atom (launched October 2011). I did not like this one bit! Toffee and honey on the nose the body is like a mix of stewed oatcakes and melted butter. There's a touch of pithy bitterness that momentarily hides the butter then it returns in abundance Being a mainly malty beast I can see this as being a good beer for use in batters and stews. This was a disappointment for me though as I like the majority of Fuller's brews.

All three beers are well made, but of the bunch I'd probably only drink Tolly English again. It also shows that you shouldn't judge a beer by this brewer, as in this case the brewer I usually enjoy least produced the beer I enjoyed most in the bunch. Of course you might prefer one of the other two! I'd be keen to try some other styles of beer at 2.8% or below. Although a touch on the thin side I enjoyed the trial brew of Brodie's summer stout at GBBF. I think darker beers would have a bit more body so am quite surprised that all three of these examples are pale ales. Has anyone else come across any low ABV beers launched since the tax reduction came into effect?


CABPOM February: Marble Special 2011 & Stinking Bishop

Mixed marinated olives
February's CABPOM is similar to lat month's in that its the same style of beer paired. A beer I kicked myself for not buying whilst in York in December just so happened to be available at the Marble Arch on a visit recently. The beer in question is of course their 2011 Special, a saison brewed in collaboration with Mark Tranter of Dark Star (whose saison was one of the first brewed in the UK and I'm still yet to try!) Saison is one of my favourite styles and a number of UK breweries have produced them recently. A stalwart feature of the Marble Arch is their legendary cheese boards. We opted for a 9 cheese selection as a starter to our planned meal at Zinc Bar and Grill.
9 cheeses and a bottle of saison

1. Hereford Hop
2. Desserts de Trappistes
3. Cropwell Bishop's Stilton
4. Barber's Cheddar
5. Northumbrian Baltic unpasteurised ale washed cheese
6. Stinking Bishop. perry washed rind
7. Epoisses de bourgogne. unpasteurised washed rind in marc de bourgogne
8. Cotswold Blue

Cheese menu front
cheese menu reverse

Cotswold Blue Brie
blue brie: Slightly metallic, very ripe ammonia. Not a particularly good match and I think probably overripe.

l'alpini: no notes made. I think the cheese was quite delicate and overpowered by the saison.

Stinking Bishop
Epausses: sweet pineapple esters, rich strong aromatic...lovely

cheddar. bread and chutney.

hereford hop, very drying, bitter jarring with the beer

stinking bishop perfect match, meaty flavours, accentuated hoppiness.

barber's cheddar
northumbrian very gentle gruyere style reminds of Caerphilly, beer too powerful.

Trappistes almost as good with the beer as stinking bishop.

colston basset. not one for saison but a great finale cheese


That seems to suggest that it will go well with washed rind cheeses, its a difficult choice but I think CABPOM this month has to be Marble Special 2011 and Stinking Bishop. I Dare-say any washed rind with a saison may be a good match. If you've not yet had a cheese platter from the Marble Arch, do get along there and remember, the most fun you can have with beer and cheese is just to try something out and see what works for you!

Thus concludes my Manchester series and blog posts until March (except for any major news of course!)