Best of 2011: One blogger's opinion (Golden Pints)

I've no doubt there will be a proliferation of similar posts but wanted to get my thoughts down in any case. I love lists; so this will take the form of some top threes. I was right! I started drafting this at the end of November and since then Beer Reviews announced the golden pint awards; which I'll pop my nominations up for scavenging from my original rankings.

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
3. Bristol Beer Factory Indian Ink
Best Overseas Draught Beer
Cask: Flying Dog Oak Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter  (@ White Horse) see my post here
Keg: Mikkelelr Black (@ CASK )

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Mikkeller Monk's Elixir
Runner Up: Struise Pannepot
Best Overall Beer
Going by ratebeer and memory it has to be Buxton Axe Edge

Best Pumpclip or Label
There are so many good designs out there as highlighted by The Beercast recently, but for me it has to be Bristol Beer Factory with their bold colours and instantly recognisable logo.

Best UK Brewery

Buxton-Great flavoursome beers and a mix of new and old styles.
Bristol Beer Factory - from not being on my radar to trying most of their beers this year. If you haven't yet tried them, go get yourself a mixed case. I reviewed their stouts here.
Summer Wine-I've managed to try three of their beers so far and have been impressed
Hardknott catering for both extremophiles and regular pub goers with some tasty special releases.
Kernel who could fail to be impressed with the proliferation of great beers from these guys.Magic Rock created some impressive beers with great results with first brews.

Best US Brewery
This is limited by the fact that finding American beers in Northern Ireland is nigh on impossible!

1.Flying Dog. I can still taste that oak-aged Gonzo.
2. Southern Tier have enjoyed the few beers I've managed to get hold of this year and look forward to finding even more in 2012.
3. Odell from the core range to the mor experimental brews Doug and team make some excellent beers. The artwork is ace too.
4. Great Divide- tasty IPAs  and Yeti-range
5.Left Hand- good solid range including black jack porter and milk stout.

Best Other Brewery
Has to be Mikkeller as I've been continually impressed by the range of innovative brews pumped out by essentially one crazy guy! Honourable mention to Revelation Cat, whose New Zealand Pale Ale was glorious.

Pub/Bar of the Year
Another toughie, and I've not really been in all that many this year! A last minute winner pits the cask in pimlico to the post... the recently opened York Tap. Visited twice within the list few days and loved it. More when I get back in front of a pc!

Beer Festival of the Year
 Having only been to GBBF, Hilden and Belfast Beer Festival I'm going to have to pick Belfast as I had a chance to try some great beers and didn't have to use trains to get there each day!

Supermarket of the Year
The state of Northern Ireland beer is pretty dire and the best of a bad bunch supermarket wise has to be M&S who actually have a good range of own branded beers made at a range of different breweris.

Independent Retailer of the Year
This is a tricky one, having frequented a few establishments this year. Discovery of the year has to be The Vineyard, Belfast who have perhaps the best selection of bottled beers in Northern Ireland. Another off-licence I love and deserves a mention as it hasn't much in the way of online presence is Bitter Virtue, Southampton, well worth a visit if you're in that neck of the woods (bring reinforced bags...)

Online Retailer of the Year
Another toughie this, though for me it has to be Ales by Mail because both Paul and Karen are very friendly and I had beers reserevd for me for two months beforeI got around to paying for them!

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Another toughie as I only started buying beer books this year. Its got to be Pete Brown's Trilogy as they're what turned me on to beer blogging in the first place. Very much looking forward to the fourth (and fifth!). I got some other beery books for Christmas though; so they could take top spot next year!

Best Beer Blog or Website

Best Beer Twitterer
Has to be Dave @broadfordbrewer for his friendliness and retweeting skills. Honourable mention to Mike Crowbourne @okellsales as he has a knack of finding interesting beery news articles. But there's a whole host of friendly tweeps out there I could have mentioned!

Best Online Brewery presence
There's a big number of brewers embracing social media, but for me it has to be Hardknott who have the whole team, including mischievous Sooty tweeting and are quick to answer anything you may ask of them. They're friendly peolel too, having met them on #Twissup.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Something I need to do more of in 2012 but my best cheese and beer pairing was the Bristol Beer Factory Hefe and Ragstone Goats cheese at Cheese School because it was so unexpectedly delicious.

In 2012 I’d Most Like To…
See my "New Beers Resolutions" post on Sunday!

Open Category: You Choose: Top 3 ones to Watch in 2012

In addition to the above there are some breweries that continue to innovate and impress.

1.Thornbridge through changes in brewer line up beer innovation and quality remains consistent, expect more from this great brewery next year.
2.BrewDog with funds successfully raised for their new brewery and plans to keep the old kit as a trial plant expect even more weird and wonderful ideas along with outre marketing tactics from these boys in 2012. Looking forward to seeing the other bars emerging too.
3. Ards only recently started out but I very much enjoyed their stout and look forward to what else may be forthcoming



Something that I very much like within the beer world is how brewers share ideas, expertise and even ingredients amongst one another like one big family. Rather than trying to out-compete each other, many brewers are happy to help each other improve.

Sometimes the help is more basic, but nonetheless valuable like the sharing of yeast (Dark Star gave Saioson yeast to Bristol Beer Factory) or expertise, often done through Twitter, when homebrew enthusiasts can chip in too. In fact there have been home brew beers brewed in breweries, not to mention home brewers starting up full-scale.

One area that is becoming more popular is collaboration brewing. Over the last few years there have been a slew of beer writer brewery collaborations (Otley Thai-Bo, hedgerO and O'Roger; Brewdog Avery Brown Dredge to name but a few) and also brewery-brewery collaborations (not necessarily limited to just two!) with recent efforts from  Magic Rock+Dark Star & Brewdog+Lost Abbey springing to mind, not to mention the Wetherspoon organised trans-Atlantic collaborations for their beer festivals. 

I'm going to review a few of these here.

Looks and tastes good.
Bristol Beer Factory/ Arbor Ales/ Zero Degrees -Collaboration Tripel (6.8%)

This one has been sat in my parents garage for 6 months since I picked it up at Westcountry Ales before heading to Glastonbury Festival earlier this year. A very clear amber-brown with bubbly white head and gentle carbonation. Plenty of yeasty esters on the nose with noticable pineapple, but also some melon. In the mouth its a typical triple, without the cloying sweetness sometimes found in the style, there's a balance bitterness from the addition of new world hops, though their flavour has long since faded. A lovely beer, which I suspect would have been even tastier fresh.

A "quick one" in Sheffield Tap
Burton Ale in the middle
Thornbridge/ Kernel Burton Ale (7.2%)
There's a slew of these historical recreations coming up, with Fulelrs making their Past Masters and Kernel themselves brewing old London Recipes and this can only be a positive thing. This is a historic style of ale recreated from historical research. I was lucky enough to find it available in the Sheffield Tap. Ruby amber with thin white head. Ripe cranberries and washed rind cheese aroma. Initially sweet and Fruity with dry bitterness and long dried fruit finish. Would love to try this with a washed rind hceese such as Aardharan or Stinking Bishop.

Black Tokyo Horizon
Brewdog/ Mikkeller/ NogneO - Black Tokyo Horizon (17.2%)
I was prompted to open this for stout day, but never actually reviewed it. Have tried Mikkeller Black and loved it, wasn’t so keen on Brewdog Tokyo* but need to get hold of Horizon! Pours viscous and dark brown with an instantaneous cola coloured head that soon disappears. Slightly acetic rich chocolate and alcoholic nose. Initial burst of milk chocolate and shortbread. Very sweet and rich in flavour. Hint of alcohol and long finish. Probably the most expensive beer I've ever bought, but definitely worth it.
At 17.2% ABV I'd recommend sharing though!

Brewdog/ Three Floyds - Bitch Please (11.5%)
A lighter beer than I’d anticipated, chestnut brown with cream coloured head and a light level of carbonation. Fantastically complex nose, I can detect toffee, hops and smoked malt with some oak wood character. Smoky/peaty flavour certainly to the fore on the first taste with noticeable alcohol presence and a fruity sweetness that reminds me of toffos. Finishes with unmistakable sugar butteriness of shortcake an alcoholic warmth and the ghost of the wood. A good solid beer.

Brewdog/ Mikkeller- Divine Rebel (2010)(13.8%)
Ruby brown beer with fruitcake aroma, fairly sweet with plenty of noticable booze in aroma and in body. A sticky texture with robust malt and alcohol burn, though otherwise a bit disappointing. Very little hop character, the whisky takes the fore here. Much prefer Fulelrs Brewer's Reserve.

Actually much redder
The Kernel/ Redemption/ Dark Star/ Zero Degrees/ Brodies/ Brew Wharf- Big Brick Red Rye (8.9%)

The Kernel look set to challenge Brewdog for their collaboration supremacy, and with their prolific brew releases it may not be long for this 2011 BGBW Brewer of the Year. Pouring a hazy amber-red with fluffy cream head the noticable aroma is pine resin. Tasting fairly pithy up front the flavour becomes resinous and quite boozy but with a very smooth body and fruit flavours with a long bitter finish.

2011 has indeed been an excellent year for beer and long may it continue. I'd like to see more collaborations like this in 2012 because everybody benefits!

Addendum: Got a chance to try the Magic Rock/ Dark Star at the York Tap and it is a lovely beer.


C is for...

My second review for Ben's Beer Alphabet.
I'm a fan of sour beers. Lambic and aged beers respectively. But some commercial examples are just not good. And Chapeau Gueuze is one of those. Mistakenly ordered from Drink Store (it was advertised as the Cuvee).

It certainly looks the part, thick green glass bottle with cork and crowned it could pass as one of the greats. Pouring a hazy brown, with thin white head with acetic redcurrant aroma. In the mouth it was cloyingly sweet, made my teeth stand on edge. Vinegar sour, no lactic character at all and just a hint of Brett. hay and manure its only redeeming feature. 

Its just about tolerable, but that's only because I'm reluctant to pour money down the drain.I think without fruit even those of sweet tooth would find this a struggle. Avoid!

Edit: I had to tip away the last third...


Festive cheer

A number of breweries release Christmas specials at this time of year. At worse they are rebadged versions of regular brews,* at best they are an entirely different beer or regular seasonal with a good Christmas kick. In between this are the regular beers that have been adapted to some extent, as with Brewdog' Christmas porter (see Reuben's blog for a review). But this post isn't about that. This post is about making your own Christmas cheer in beer form. This post is about mulled beer!

I got a home brew kit for my Birthday...Woodforde's Wherry. Its a nice enough beer but I'm certainly not able to get through 40pints by myself! I've decided to mull up a few litres of it. I've previously mulled cider and perry; so this is just a continuation on that theme. You need a fairly malty beer, hoppy and bitter beers become a bit unpleasant once heated up.

Per 1.5 litres

2xcinamon sticks
4 x black peppercorns
2xstar anise**
sliced root ginger (optional)
blade mace (optional)
sugar (to taste)

Pop it all into a pan (with a lid on or your booze will evaporate!) and bring to just below boiling. Keep simmering for a few minutes then switch off heat and allow to steep (usually the longer the better). Taste it to see if its spicy enough and adjust as necessary. You can add fruit to it if that's your bag. I prefer mine with a tot of whisky (blended stuff mind you, single malts is sacrilidge!)

Serve to the assembled throngs on its own or with nibbly bits and bask in the shared joy.

*See the Wetherspoon Christmas guest list...
** I had run out of star anise so used a pinch of fennel seed.


Black Isle Small Batch

I recently ordered a pick n' mix case from Black Isle Brewery in North-East Scotland. I drank a few of their beers at the weekend (review here). In addition to their core range they release special "one-off" brews, three of which I managed to get hold of.

Export Scotch Small batch is a souped up version of their regular export scotch (reviewed at the weekend) Its pretty challenging but enjoyable all the more for it. Dark brown.Dry and spicy, hint of rum, hedgerow fruits, treacle, liquorice. At first quite dry and fruity, wood, sultanas, tobacco, leather, smoke, molasses and kola in the long finish. That 7.9% ABV is very well hidden so beware! Quite sticky but also prickly carbonation. Would happily drink this again.

Red Hot Chili Bock was brewed by Tim Anderson (2010 Masterchef winner, yes he gets around a lot!) for a food and beer pairing dinner.Fluffy tan head on a ruby tinged black beer. Sweet aroma with golden syrup, a bit of smoke and black pepper. Sweet malt followed by an oily chilli with milk chocolate, a hint of coffee and mustard with an escalating chili warmth in the finish. A bit overcarbonated and thin in body, surprising for a 7%-er. I reckon that this could be tweaked to make a great beer.

Black Isle Black Islay is the brewery's stout aged in Bruichladdah casks. Bruichladdah being the dram that made me realise I enjoy Islay whiskys after all I've been pretty keen to try this one. Coming in at a whopping 8.3% and in a  750ml bottle this is definitely one for sharing! Except I neglected to listen to my own advice and have polished off the best part of a bottle in short shrift as its so enjoyable! Dark ruby brown bordering on black with big fluffy cola head and iodine/seaweed/briney/fruity aroma. Very smooth, vanilla, moderate carbonation, smoke. Long complex finish, a bit more vanilla, dried fruit, that seaweed. If you get your hands on any Black Isle beer I'd recommend this one. Its made me want to try the base stout too!

I also had one final "core range" bottle (it didn't fit into my rainbow) Heather Honey beer. Pale honey amber coloured with brief fluffy white head. Slightly dusty sweet honey and butterscotch nose. Light palate with gentle floral notes, vanilla and a sweet shortcake finish. Like a kolsch/helles in some ways, refreshing and probably a match for chicken or white fish.


B is for...

Ben is running a weekly beer alphabet series on his blog, open to anyone who wishes to contribute. I had no "a" beers at home but have plenty of "b's". Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is a Barley wine, perfect for sipping in front of a crackling log fire as the nights draw in and the days are laced with frost.(I think I should score double as both the beer name an dthe beer style begin with b! )

It begins unassuming as if a regular bitter, bit the Seville orange marmalade and toffee notes hint at what lies within its mysterious ruby-mahogany depths.Dusty candy sugar and Turkish delight on the nose. A fluffy tan head which soon collapses to a lacing. The first sip, oh my, what is this? Pithy bitter bomb. This is not what I expected! One of the hoppiest beers I've come across from Sierra Nevada and plenty of booze too at 9.6%. Crisp carbonation thick body sweet and pithy. Alcohol punch, big bitter finish.


I Can Drink a Rainbow

"Red and Orange and Yellow and Green...blue and indigo and violet. I can drink a (scientifically correct) rainbow, drink a rainbow, you can drink a rainbow too"

I love the simple design on the black isle labels, textured and organic, like the beer itself, with a single spot of colour to distinguish between each. I decided to drink them in rainbow-colour order.

Red Kite Ale (4.2%) was up first. A ruby amber in the glass. It forms a good fluffy head which remains down the glass and has the typical earthy and slightly metallic notes you expect from English hops.In the mouth initially its sweet with caramel and shortbread, with a balancing bitterness following in behind, leaving a dry finish.
Goldeneye Pale Ale (5.6%) is golden blonde with floral, caramel and lemon notes in the aroma. Quite pithy but also sweet with an unplacable but not unpleasant vegetal note near the finish, which is also quite sherbety.
Yellowhammer (4%) is Black Isle's session pale ale. Burnished gold. Lemon and spicy malt nose. Slightly prickly carbonation. Bitter finish with lemon and biscuit malt. 
The Blonde (5%) for some reason has a green spot, I guess the yellow had already  been taken! Beautifully clear and pale gold with a fluffy white head.Nose is pineapple and yeast esters. Clean malt with a biting carbonation and just enough hops to balance. Kind of a hybridised lager and quite enjoyable. 
Onto the big guns. Black Isle Hibernator oatmeal stout weighs in at a hefty 7%. Dark chestnut brown with thin beige head and roast barley/coffee nose. fairly prickly carbonation with roasted barley to the fore in the flavour with a smooth body and dry chocolate finish. Its deceptive and my 330ml bottle disappeared in no time.
Scotch Ale (6.2%) is a traditional Scottish style. Dark ruby with dense off-white head. Rich and fruity nose with a hint of licorice. Thick bodied, red berries, alcohol warmth, caramel sweetness. A triumph of malt. 
My final beer for the day was the Porter (4.8%). Dark brown with ruby corona. sweet, slightly lactic roast barley aroma. Silky, bubbly body with chocolate and a sweet finish. A decent session porter, one of my favourite UK beer styles.
All in a all an acomplished "core range" of beers proficiently covering the more popular styles. I'd like to try them all on cask and wouldn't refuse if someone offered me a bottle again. I've also got three bottles of "small batch" beers, so look out for them later this week (barring any disasters).

You can get hold of all of these beers from the brewery online shop and follow the brewery on twitter here and their brewer Col and sales chappy Chris.


Beneath the tracks

From the excellent article by Will Hawkes
I happened to be in Camden Town on Wednesday evening for an event but at a loss for what to do in the mean time. I needn't have worried however as the ever friendly Mark Dredge invited me along for a look around Camden Town Brewery. Squeezed into the space beneath Kentish Town West station is the shiny new brewplant, in operation for about 18 months now.

                                                            "We have no heat in the brewery offices; so I'll take you through to the brew room";
says Mark, ever the Southern softie.
The brewery is organised logically under the five arches, flowing from storage, to the brewing room, filled with shiny mash kettle and lauter tun and three massive grain silos where the malt is piped in once a month from German tankers. Under arch number three are the fermentation and conditioning tanks and I'm informed that the brewery has ordered some larger external conditioning tanks to maximise capacity. The tanks that arrived a month ago were so large the entire glass front had to be removed. Through the door to arch number four and we see the packaging room, both a bottling line and kegging machine, plus a few palates of beer waiting to be shipped. "A few weeks ago we were down to about 6 kegs left in total, its great that we're selling so much, but it means we don't have much flexibility if one of our accounts wants to order extra at short notice". The final arch holds the offices and serving area, though this is to become a fully functioning bar in the new year. The plans sound ambitious, but given what the brewery has already achieved they won't even break a sweat.

Spent malt in lauter tun raked
to extract the maximum wort
There's a brew on, the second of the day and steping through into arch number two we're greeted by the comforting smell of stewing malt, its breakfast all day at the brewery and with three brews needed to fill each fermenter beer is often being made 24 hours. We stand in the warm and the hops are released into the mash kettle. I know this because the air is filled with the at once soporific and invigorating aroma of noble hops, the hop pellets crumbling as they hit the roiling wort.
Back into the tasting area and I espy some pellet hops on the bar which I'm challenged to identify. I fail miserably but at least getting the country correct. They're simcoe, stalwart of the Camden Pale.

The Black Heart, Camden
Palate (ok the analogy breaks down here a bit!):
The brewery is full of young workers and use of space is ingenious. There's something crammed into every corner. The lines are being cleaned so I'm recommended to try the brews at the nearby Black Heart pub. Ninety minutes have flown by and I'm running late for my next stop; so I thank Mark and head on.

In search of food later I seek out the pub recommended and am pleased to see four camden beers on font plus a good selection of other brewery's offerings should that be my wont. I order a half of each but the pale has run out. Its a lovely beer and I've tried it before and I'll have it again.

L-R: Wheat, Lager and Ink
Camden Hells Lager: a clear golden helles with hay aroma. Sweet and silky there's just enough of a hop bite in the finish to let you know they're there. Perhaps a tad too carbonated for my liking but I can see this being very popular with macrolager suppers.

Camden Wheat: I'd tried this on bottle, but served at the correct temperature its a different beer. Very clove heavy before the wheat beeer flavours are now in balance, with the banana in the nose following into the body and the wheat spiciness beckoning you in for a further gulp.

Fabiola Santini loves the Ink
Camden Ink: The new arrival to the family. Silky black with foamy head. Coffee, roast barley and milk chocolate nose with smooth body and plenty of roastiness. Long bitter chocolate finish. A great stout that will hook drinkers away from that ubiquitous G-stuff. As if to prove my point a punter turns up and orders one of the usual. On being informed that they don't have it he looks dejected but perks up at being offered a taste of the Ink:

"Its a bit too bitter on its own but actually it has a really lovely aftertaste. I normally drink Guinness with blackcurrant but this is better"
He still goes for the blackcurrant though, ah well, small steps!

Second pizza of the evening!
I share all of my beers with an Italian rock music journalist as my food appears. They all go well with my choice of sustenance: goats cheese, rocket, artichoke and pine nut pizza, made fresh to order. With decent food, music and beer its a pub I'm sure to return to.

Camden Town has a solid range of beers, a great location and workforce and plenty of ideas for the future. They'll certainly be ones to watch in 2012 and I'm definitely intending to return when the new bar is operational. Thanks Mark for the tour and samples and see you soon!

Follow the brewery on Twitter here.


New Dog in Town

A London bus and a shiny new bar.
It's not every day that I get invited along to an event for bloggers and its even less often that I can actually get to them! But fate was smiling on me this week as I happened to be in England for the first time in 6 weeks on the very day the event was to take place...the event in question? The opening of Brewdog bar number 4, right in the heart of Camden in London.
Being in Mark Dredge's stomping ground I naturally asked him if he was going along, but he couldn't make it. I was however offered  a visit to the brewery he works at, one I naturally couldn't refuse and I'll write about that later this week.

So back to the Brewdog bar then. Much has already been said about the success of this Scottish company; so I'll not bore everyone by regurgitating same and instead talk about the new bar.

Rees and Milly try the Scotch Ale
The tasting was to begin at 6:30 but due to late-running was closer to 7pm. This suited me perfectly as I'd managed to head in completely the wrong direction until I checked my Google maps and realised (I'm not sure how I survived before I bought my smart phone!). I grabbed myself a half of the Christmas Porter, a gently spiced version of Alice, a favourite of mine and headed downstairs, intriguingly being given a blindfold en route.
Waiting for us downstairs was James Watt, MD who led us on a tasting of three core beers Punk IPA, 5AM Saint and Hardcore IPA, interspersed with humorous anecdotes of the trials and tribulations of setting up the brewery.
Tim hands out free pizza!
James introduces the beer
What came next was an interesting concept; beer, music and food pairing. 2010 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson designed the Brewdog food menu to complement the beers and served them to us himself! I really enjoyed the breaded aubergine, mushroom and basil vegetarian creation, a sweet and savoury blend of textures that went well with the new prototype Scotch Ale. I had tried this bottled and found it a bit lacking in body, but served properly on draft new flavours were coaxed out, tangerine and brandy in the nose with tobacco and rasins in the body, alongside the big toffee and robust malt the style is known for. The music? Hardcore Punk, naturally.

Hands outstretched for the surprise!
The climax of the evening approaching, we were all asked to don  our blindfolds and hold out our hands to receive a glass. No blindfold, no beer! The beer had a spicy nose of coffee, cacao and liquorice with a thick and creamy body with a rich and fruity coffee finish. There was alcohol in there too. Rich, coffee, chocolate and boozy, must be a dark and brooding imperial stout...imagine the surprise then when the blindfolds came off and we find ourselves holding a mid-blonde beer!

This was AB:08, a deconstructed blonde imperial stout with a whole host of added ingredients to fool our mouths into thinking it was the regular thing. Its released next week and I shall certainly be picking some up, in fact I enjoyed it so much I immediately had to order a third (and on an empty stomache too!)

Mr Drinkneat was there too
Back upstairs and the bar is heaving and head out in need of food. On my return its even busier if that was even physically possible! I ensconced myself on a corner of the bar, in full view of the guest draught list. and settled on a half of another Brewdog creation, Mr Miyagi's Wasabi Stout.  The unmistakable smell of horseraddish escaped from this but was not as strong in the body as I had feared. In fact it reminded me of of the horseraddish Bertie Botts Every Flavour Bean!

John & Charlie, new converts!
Harry Potter recollections over and I noticed a couple of fellow drinkers were looking for a beer to drink. The excellent bar staff (Johnny on this occasion) know their stuff and talked the guys through the Brewdog range and they settled on two halves of Punk after a number of tasters. I found out they were called John and Charlie and they were Brewdog virgins! feeling generous I bought them a 5AM saint and they also tried my next beer Port Brewing Wipeout IPA which they ended their night on. One of them even asked to apply for a job; they'd obviously enjoyed themselves! 

Johnny advises on beers.
I managed to catch up with James and thank him for the evening and we talked about the AB:08. Not quite done yet I finished on a third of the Brewdog/ Lost Abbey collaboration Lost Dog. According to my ratebeer notes at 11pm last night "Dark ruby with strong port nose. Really fruity with plenty of alcohol. Long sweet finish with caramel and Toffee. Sticky and boozy". Enjoyable enough then!

Gone 11pm and with a 6am start it was time to head to my hotel, plans to visit the Euston cider Tap and CASK pub and kitchen thrown out of the window! A great evening, superb bar and lovely company.

Thank you to Camilla for the invite and organisation of the night, James for a rousing beer tasting (despite clearly suffering from quickly departing voice!) and all of the staff at Brewdog Bar Camden for helping to make the night a memorable one. I'm already planning my next visit!


Transcoastal Beer Hustle

You may think that Northern Ireland would be a bit of a beer desert - and you'd be right! When its difficult to even find stockists for the local brewers its not surprising that beers from further afield are few and far between. Sainsbury's recent Great British Beer Hunt is a case in point. The beers weren't available here (not that Sainsbury's is anywhere near me in any case). One beer that caught my eye was Williams Brothers Profanity Stout and when the reviews started appearing on blogs, I knew this was one I had to try. Spotted asking the brewer if it was availble anywhere via Twitter, Fletch from Real Ale Reviews came to the rescue. He offered to send me some and the idea for the beer swap was born.

I sent some beers across from Northern Ireland and in return I got a mystery package from Fletch which arrived in my hands today. I knew something was amiss when I realised the package was soggy and it wasn't raining outside. Alas a bottle had broken, but thankfully I had been sent two of the Profanity Stout, phew! So alongside that I was given Saltaire Triple Chocaholic, one I enjoyed when I tried it for my chocolate beer post last month, and Acorn Old Moor Porter.

Acorn Old Moor Porter
Acorn is a brewery I'm aware of but I've only tried their Barnsley Bitter. I love dark beers and porters especially so was keen to try the porter; so cracked it open when I got home. Opaque brown-black with a thick and creamy mocha head as if poured through a sparkler. On the nose its licorice and dark chocolate. In the mouth its rich and roasted to begin with amazing mouth feel for its relatively low ABV (4.4%). Milk chocolate with a coffee bitterness in the long and dry finish. If its this good in bottle I'd love to try cask! Went perfectly with my smoky chilli nachos.

Williams Bros Profanity Stout
The profanity stout is much more boisterous in ABV, so how did that stack up? This beer's been such a  long time coming that I've forgotten what the reviews were like. I'm pleasantly surprised then to be treated to a pine and grapefruit melange on the nose, with some chocolate underneath. In the mouth its very pithy up front followed by a brief chocolate sweetness and bitter chocolate in the finish with a long citrus finish. Gently carbonation this beer belies its strength and just slips down. I hope the intention to put this beer into regular production is realised as I'd happily drink this again.

Cheers for the beers Fletch, hope you enjoy yours!


How does 12 year old beer taste?

A pyramid of tasty Vintage Ales
I've been collecting Fullers Vintage Ales since my house-mates bought me the 2006 edition. The one I have now isn't that original however as some bastards broke into my house and stole that (alongside other things). Interestingly they left the 2005 which is unboxed...perhaps a handy tip to those that live in dodgy areas...

Anyway, this Saturday (10/12/11) myself, Reuben (Tale of Ale) and Alan (no blog yet but I'm working on him) assembled in my Cookstown home to do a vertical tasting of Fuller's Vintage Ales from 1999-2011  
Unfortunately I haven't been able to source the 2001 and 2003 editions so if anyone has any spares... ;)

There are plenty of reviews already out there and I know there was recently a tasting at the brewery. Here are some other blog posts that may interest you: Des De Moor, Adrian Tierney-JonesSid Boggle and Mark Dredge.

Going with conventional wisdom I decided we should drink them in reverse chronological order; so read on for our take on the beers! (The notes in italics are Fullers own tasting notes gleaned from a card in the 2011 box).

2011: "The malt grist includes a proportion produced by Warminster maltings, from  organic barley grown by Sir James Fuller on the Neston Park Estate. This will be married with choicest Goldings, Organic First Gold and award winning Sovereign hops, to produce a beer with a firm malt base, marmalade notes and a satisfying bitter finish."

Steve: Honey nose with subtle malts and sweet peach

Reuben: I can see that this beer would age pretty well

2010: "125,000 bottles were produced of this year's Vintage Ale, once again brewed using Tipple malt and boasting fruity hop character, first from a blend of Goldings and Fuggles hops in the boil, then from dry-hopped Goldings and Target varieties."

Steve: Quite rich fruit nose with good level of condition, fairly boozy with a malted milk biscuit finish.

We had tasty baked camembert with walnut loaf to accompany the first few bottles.

2009: "The 2009 Vintage featuring Kent Grown Golding hops and East Anglian tipple malted barley has an initial aroma of rich muscavado sugar followed by a brandied caramelised orange palate and finishes with a creamy vanilla warmth"
Steve: Darker amber with caramel and a briefer, marzipan finish than previous 2.

Alan: Similar to 2010 but better with dessert wine and grape skin character.

2008: "Our 12th Vintage features two of our favourite English hop varieties Northdown and Challenger. These, combined with floor malted Maris Otter malt, produce a rich fruit aroma laced with dark orange hop notes. A full luxurious mouth feel is finished off with a satisfying alcohol warmth."
We think there was something wrong with this beer, though rate beer doesn't seem to have noted any similar problems.
Reuben: Overwhelming pear juice, this doesn't smell right.

Steve: Pear skin and prickly carbonation and sharp with solvent notes.

Reuben: Its like a poor quality pear cider.

2007: "To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Vintage Ale, this classic edition was produced with the finest Fuggles, Target, Super Styrian hops for rich, spicy hop notes leading to a full sweet palate."

Steve: Lighter amber with a fluffy white head. Sherry aromas with slight cherry and a chalky peppermint, dry finish

Reuben: This is the best so far

Alan: More grapeskins but more subtle than 2009.

At this point it seems I got a little more sporadic with my photo taking...

2006: "100,000 bottles of Vintage Ale were produced thus year marking the 10th in the series. Super Styrian hops and floor malted barley were used to give this beer a rich, fruity character and long mellow after-taste."

Reuben: I'm getting prune juice from this one.

Steve: Dark ruby red with dry fruit nose. Bitter finish with orange pith and a hint of acridity and toffee.

Alan: Its not as balanced as the others.

2005: "The combination of floor malted Optic malt along with Fuggles hops makes this Vintage a wonderfully well-balanced beer, full of biscuity malt flavours that soften the spicy, citrus notes."

Steve: Sultanas, fairly dry bodied and well balanced but consequently seems one-dimensioanl.

Alan: Agreed, this one needs a few more years.

Feeling peckish but not wanting to ruin our palates with the burritos which were to come later we had some mature cheddar and rustic oatcakes. These worked perfectly with the beer.

2004: "This Vintage was brewed to a traditional recipe using Goldings hops and Maris Otter Malt. The result is a distinctive beer with cherry notes and a warming finish that mellows with age"
Steve: Cherry red with sherry nose and a hint of pineapple esters. Balanced and warming alcohol with a hint of cocoa in the finish. My favourite so far.

2002: "As year of the Queens Golden Jubilee, the golden theme was applied to this special commemorative vintage Ale. Goldings hops and Golden Promise malt were used to produce this copper coloured ale with a  fruity, orange peel aroma and a spicy taste."

Steve. Sherry and muscavado sugar nose though over-boozy and some melon-rind.

Alan: Its a bit herbal too.

2000:"85,000 bottles of vintage Ale were produced with an organic theme, using champion optic malt and Organic Target hops. A fresh hop aroma, with notes of honey and toffee, leads to a slightly sweeter taste and burnt, bitter after-taste."

Steve: Very dark with plenty of carbonation and rich dried fruits...i think this is how 2011 could end up

Reuben: Its held up surprisingly well in 11 years

Alan: The beers have been different to how I anticipated

Sensing the final furlong we moved onto the final one...

1999: "The Champion theme was used once again for this classic Vintage Ale with Champion Fuggles and Champion optic malt. Slightly redder in appearance, this ale is full of body with a sherry-like flavour."

Steve: Slightly murky with yeast esters, vanilla and plenty of carbonation again and really thick bodied.

Reuben: Its between this and the 2007 for me.

Bonus Review!

Would have liked a whole bottle!
With the night still young we decided to also try the Fullers Brewers Reserve #3. I missed out on a chance to try this at GBBF this year as I didn't have my glass with me when I wandered past the Fullers bar. 

It was unexpectedly the star of the show due to some brett character presumably picked up in the barrel. Ginger and dusty cobwebs on the nose. The flavours are a complex interplay of brett and whisky with a long boozy finish. Should have kept this all for myself!
After the Fuller's onslaught we decided to move onto some sour beers, but that's for another day!

The Aftermath!