Wetherspoon Spring 2013 Beer Festival

Wetherspoon do a lot to further the availability of real ale in the UK and the biggest push comes twice a year during their fortnight-long real ale festivals. The Spring 2013 list has just been released and seems to feature even more international collaborations than ever, including one with the illustrious Kelly Ryan of Good George (formerly Thornbridge and Epic).

It runs from 3rd to 21st April.

By my reckoning there are 34 new beers, which is a major improvement on previous beer festivals, though there a lot of similar breweries again. There a umber of interesting styles including the obligatory spiced beer, but there is also a California common beer and two black IPAs as well as a Belgian dubbel brewed by a Trappist monastery's head brewer.

I'll be looking out for the Corfu coffee porter, the Deschutes beer, Wadworth's strong anniversary ale and the IPA from Acorn.

Read on below for more info on the beers and Ratebeer links. As always I'll post some thoughts on whatever beers I get to try once the thing's over.

Arundel Budding Beauty 

Inveralmond Frisco Steamy 

Shepherd Neame New World Pale Ale 

Titanic Molly Brown  

WharfeBank Spring Hop   

Otter Seville Bitter 

Cairngorm Pollination   

Marstons Single Hop Pacific Gem (cask) 

Conwy Riptide  

Leeds Vienna Mild   

Lancaster 1842 Pilsner 

Corfu Ionian Coffee Porter (cask)  

Lodewijk’s Fly By Night (Cask) 

Banks’s Cereal Thriller   

Hawkshead American Red  

Skinners Sennen 

RCH Wheat Beer  

Pivovar Kocovnik Vivat Bohemia (Cask)   

Robinsons Hoptimus 

Elgoods Spring Gold 

Central City Red racer IPA (cask) 

Nethergate Bowler 

Hydes Burnt Sienna 

Wadworth 6X Anniversary Ale  

Everards Malty Tasker  

Vasileostrovsky Siberian Red  

Devils Backbone American Amber  

Deschutes Twilight Ale (cask)  

Celt Experience Continental Drift   

Acorn Barnsley IPA  

Orkney 1878 

Daleside Spring Tide   

Good George Pacific Pearl  

Hilden Number Four  
Rudgate Pursuit of Hoppyness
Caledonian Brewer's Passion
Phoenix St George's Flag
O'Hanlons Red
Brains Willy Nilly
Holts IPA
Belhaven Black
Lymestone Pounamu
Wickwar Station Porter
Adnams Belgian Style Abbey Ale
Batemans Mocha
Moorhouses Amber Rambler
Mauldons Blackberry Porter
Wolf Tasmanian Wolf
Thwaites Daniels Hammer
Wood's Twist Grip


Humulus Hit

Northern Ireland's newest beer comes courtesy of the biggest brewers  -Whitewater. Originally brewed for the Belfast beer festival last November it proved such a success there (being crowned Champion Beer of the festival) that they have made it a semi-regular brew. I managed to try it at my now favourite local haunt, The Brewer's House.

It certainly looks the part pouring slightly hazy dark gold with fresh tangerine and noble hop herbal aroma. This has hops! Dry hop bitterness with simcoe? oranginess and dry finish. It reminds me a lot of Fullers Wild River

Very moreish, easy to drink too for its 6% ABV...very dangerous!

Its also available in bottles; so look out for it in various supermarkets around the province. I'll certainly be looking out for it, more like this please Irish brewers!


An eclectic bunch

One of the most consistently interesting brewers in the UK is Summer Wine. Back in January 2012 I reviewed their core-range. Here are three of their more "out there" offerings.

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 photo P2200015_zpseb9a64bd.jpgDr Paracelsus' list of ingredients reads more like some kind of exotic curry than a beer. The ingredients which include black cardamom, Turkish pepper and licorice root really shoudln't work together with the hops but SWB have managed it. Pours hazy dark amber red with fluffy creamy head that collapses to a lacing in short shrift. Spicy pepper, cardamom and ginger with underlying tart blackberry on the nose, especially on swirling. A touch of pickled egg emerges then disappears again. Gentle carbonation with a peppery hit at the tip of the tongue followed by full mouth warming, then some sweet juicy malt, more spice, meaty notes, tart fruit and long savoury finish. Medium mouth feel, touch of ginger and earthy hops as it warms, with some mouth numbing pepper heat. Its an intriguing beer that would make a great match for a sweetish savoury dish like bbq pork or teriyaki salmon. 

Maelstrom is SWBs Double India Pale Ale (DIPA) is photo P2200017_zpsd6764a5d.jpg hazy dark amber with fluffy white head. Aroma is lime sherbert and slightly sour citric acid. Medium carbonation, predominantly sour peach and sweet malt with pithy citrus and bitter bite following after. Some melon on swirling. Big body but not at all boozy. I think it needed drinking sooner to get the hops at their fershest, but all in all enjoyable.

 photo P2200018_zpsa405c36b.jpgFinally we have Calico Jack, named after infamous Bahamas pirate Jack Rackham. pours a dark garner black with a fluffy tan stockings head. Sweet stem ginger battles dry dusty cocoa and rich burnt toast roast barley for nasal supremacy. Underneath that us a meaty umami note that makes this a savoury beer. Medium carbonation plays on the tip of the tongue, chocolate, followed by spicy stem ginger, a touch of lactose sweetness then peppery ginger all over the tongue. A touch of chalk and peppermint and mature cheddar wraps up the finish.Its a truly interesting AND enjoyable imperial stout that is well worth seeking out. Sheriff Mitchell agrees with me.


MacIvor's Scoops Silver

Greg and the team at MacIvor's cider are this week celebrating their first of hopefully many awards for their cider. The traditional dry cider (reviewed on this blog back in June 2012) won silver in the International Brewing Awards for a cider above 5% ABV, coming second to the Behemoth that is Thatchers Vintage.

Copywrite Simon Dewhurst Photos Ltd
Ciders were judged by a panel of 6 international cider expert producers chaired by Bill Taylor chief brewer at Lion Group.

Its great to see Northern Ireland products gaining recognition at such a high level and I hope that this well deserved award will help to promote our regions products to a further audience. Greg et co can be proud for this fantastic achievement after just 6 months in earnest operation and that a well-deserved sales boost is seen off the back of this. Here's to the 2013 crop tasting even better!


Total eclipse of the palate

Its sometimes interesting to compare two or more beers in a series, to find out what different treatment can bring to the flavour of the beer. Sunturn brew is an 11% barley wine from our Norwegian friends  Nøgne Ø. This one is brewed with 30% peat smoked malt and 20% rye malt. 
It pours impenetrable black with the merest suggestion of ruby brown corona when held up to the light. As you'd expect it reeks like an Islay whisky and peat is the only flavour in your mouth for the first few sips. Once the palate shock has subsided however, other flavours are allowed to come through. There's the juicy red berry rye flavours and a whole jumble of dried fruits and chocolate from the malt. Its a complex beer which evolves as you drink it and you certainly have plenty of time for contemplation as that alcohol is not shy about showing its head.

What happens when it is aged in a bourbon barrel then? in this case an unfortunate mess. It starts off promising with al the requisite vanilla and butterscotch on the nose, but the tasty peat phenols have disappeared altogether to be replaced with harsh alcohol flavours and unbearable caramel sweetness. If I'd kept some of the unaged version I dare-say they'd have made a beer greater than the some of its parts, but on its own the barrel aged version has just been left for far too long and is a struggle to get through.

What have we learnt then? It takes a deft hand to barrel age a beer well. We've also learnt that brewers will still try to sell their beer when its been ruined, especially if gullible beer buyers (this one included) will part with their cash for it.


The ones that got away

Here are some breweries, bars and beers I'd hoped to try whilst in New Zealand but for whatever reason didn't get a chance. Again, by no means exhaustive. If you're headed that way feel free to bring me some beer back ;)

Brothers: This is a new brewery in the CBD of Auckland. My phone died whilst I was away, so without the address I resorted to asking around for directions. After a fruitless half hour looking for it we resolved to return the next day, only to find it had closed for a New Year's break d'oh!

Hallertau Brewbar: Based to the North of Auckland this brewbar with a decent menu and well regarded beers was just an arse to try to get to on public transport and will have to remain for another day.

Brewmoon: another well regarded brewpub, this time to the North of Christchurch. Lack of transport again being the deciding factor against this one.

The Twisted Hop: the plan was to head here on the final day of our trip, but the precipitation put paid to that. I did get to try their old ale in Pomeroys and it paired well with sausages in onion gravy.

8-Wired Saison Sauvin: try as I might I couldn't find this beer anywhere! It must have been on at least 5 menus but it had sold out and careful searching for it in off-licences yielded no joy either. I have found it online in Germany but shipping is the kicker there...the search continues!

Edit: the fantastic Bottle Shop in Canterbury saved the day with 5 untried 8-wired beers in stock!


Its not just about the beer

It seems I have been unfair to wine. My belief that I disliked wine was driven by the fact that the majority of wines tried to date weren't very nice. But when on honeymoon on New Zealand we found a few wines that changed that.

The first (and a wine synonymous with New Zealand) was Sauvignon Blanc. I love New Zealand hops and one of the best is Nelson Sauvin, named for its ability to produce similar flavours as the aforementioned grape. Cracking open a fresh bottle of wine in New Zealand and this comparison is immediately apparent with sherberty lime and passion fruit notes at the fore with gooseberry grapey flavours.

We enjoyed the Lawsons Dry Hills interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc so much that we came away with a bottle of it (you can buyit from Majestic in the UK)! This could easily be substituted for a pale ale or IPA with less of the associated bitterness and a higher alcohol to make you drink it more slowly (and thus not be filled up by drinking too much liquid!). I also very much enjoyed the Riesling whilst daisy favoured their award-winning herbal Gewürztraminer.

Another we enjoyed was the Syrah from Topknot Hill on Waiheke island. This a red wine unlike any we had tried before. Intensely fruity with well rounded body and long blackberry finish. More of a sipper this would substitute well for a malt-led imperial stout or old ale as an after dinner drink or with robust red meat like beef or venison. They're worth a visit as they also have a microbrewery and restaurant on site.

We also visited a vineyard in Kaikoura, and whilst we were gave warm welcome by our host, we weren't as taken by any of the wines on offer. They're a fairly young operation though, so the wines will only improve with time.

It seems I will have to give wine a chance more often...but not so often that it becomes a costly habit!


Dining at the White House

by Peter Griffin

No, not that one, this one!

Something that neither of us had ever done was experience a tasting menu; so I picked a likely suspect from the NZ Cuisine awards and we rocked up there for dinner after visiting the Wellington Museum of City and Sea.

The tasting menu has ten dishes, and there's an optional wine pairing for $85 more. Of course I chose to accompany mine with beer and Daisy had a couple of cocktails. There was an okay selection of styles from local brewers, though nowhere near as extensive as the wine list.

To start I chose Mussel Inn Captain Cooker, a manuka beer whose sweet and savoury flavours i thought would pair well with the amuse bouche, a chicken liver parfait macaroon. The texture of the dish was perfect and the herbal manuka notes in the beer paired well to the chicken liver.

The sweeter oatcake and caramel flavours worked well with the next course, which brought a smile to the face. Arriving in a terracota flour pot with a "soil" of rye crumbs and very fresh lemony goats cheese was a freshly transplanted radish from their rooftop garden. A great simple starter.

Dish number three was octopus sushi with a crayfish roll and konbu. Three Boys Wheat chosen here which turned out to be a wit, rather than weisse I was perhaps expecting. Slightly too much clove in the finish to be a really good match. Whilst I like the branding of three boys, I found their beers to fall in the fair to middling category, which meant I didn't go out of my way to try any of their others.

The dish itself was very pretty with edible flowers, again taken from the rooftop garden, though not enough crayfish to really get a taste of it. The flavours all melded well and the dish would be good as a full sized starter.

Another fish course after that and another local specialty, whitebait. This suited the beer choice more, but i still think a weisse would have been better, especially with the hollandaise and asparagus.

After another amusing dish, a palate cleansing apricot sorbet shaped like soap we were brought a duck dish which I paired with Tutara's porter. 
This was a tasty dish and the pairing worked well. Tuatara also impressed with their Ardennes Belgian strong ale the previous day and I feel like i should have tried their larger format pale ales that I spotted in regional wines. I only had limited carrying capacity however!


The porter gives chocolate, red berries and caramel on the nose. Fairly dry with smoky malt and same flavours as aroma and this brought out more meatiness from the duck and intensified the sauces. Still not a fan of hoisin though!

A lamb dish followed this which was particularly tasty, the berry flavours in the beer being intensified, certainly a good pairing. I particularly liked the pea puree and dehydrated pea. this would probably be my choice for main course if just eating the regular 3-course menu.
Moving onto dessert I chose to finish on a cocktail as none of the beers sounded like they would pair quite as well. The first dessert was perhaps the most disappointing dish however. We were served a perfectly competent creme caramel thatwas justa bit dull after all the fantastic preceding courses.

Another favourite was the 9th dish, chocolate canelloni with different textures of raspberry. I'm a big fan of raspberries but couldn't help but yearn for a good frambozen or kriek to pair with it.


We finished with a selection of petit fours and an espresso. The passion fruit marshmallows were particularly tasty.

It was a good experience of a tasting menu and use of local speciality ingredients. I particularly likedthe fact they had a rooftop garden, but would have liked a slightly longer beer list! Nevertheless the fact that they had anything outside of the usual mass produced lager selection was a positive in itself.
We'd certainly try a tasting menu again in the future if we were feeling flush with cash!


#TheSession #72

This month  Ryan at Monatana Beer Finder has asked us to talk about how we love beer. In what way do we show our love for beer.

First and foremost of course is actually drinking and blogging about the stuff. I let people know about the beers I've enjoyed to share the joy of a good pint. This progresses to the next logical level by letting people try my beer when I'm out and about or even buying people a drink. I like to pass on the tips that I've been given myself.

Whilst in Auckland I gave a sample of the Epic Coffee & Fig Stout (not a cheap beer!) to a couple of Americans sat on the table next to us. It opened their eyes to a different style of imperial stout, being barrelheads. Sharing beer is a great way to show your love.

Aside from that I'm writing a cheese and beer book to showcase my dual loves of UK cheese and UK beer. I help to run beer tasting at beer festivals and stand behind the bar to proselytise about good beers the rest of the time.

This year I plan to deepen my love of beer by starting to homebrew. Taking a beer from inception to the end will give me a deeper appreciation of how beer loves me and increase my love for it in return (I hope!).