2012: Beery Roundup

Its golden pints time of year again and as I'm away on honeymoon at the end of the year; I'd better get this typed up now (10th December). As with last year I'll use my rate beer notes plus stuff on this blog to jog my memory, but its not scientific in any way, just things that have made an impression on me.

Best UK Cask Beer
Bristol Beer Factory/ Dark Star Southern Cospiracy

Best UK Keg Beer
Wild Beer Co Epic Saison

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Buxton Imperial Black

bristol beer factory mocha

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Nøgne Ø Imperial Brown Ale

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Stone Sublimey Self Righteous
New Glarus Raspberry Tart

Best Overall Beer
Buxton Imperial Black
Best Pumpclip or Label
Brewdog International Arms Race

Best UK Brewery

Best Overseas Brewery

Pub/Bar of the Year
York Tap (again!)

Beer Festival of the Year
dublin craft beer fest

Supermarket of the Year

Independent Retailer of the Year
House of Trembling Madness

Online Retailer of the Year

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Shakespeare's Local 

Best Beer Blog or Website
Boak & Bailey

Best Beer Twitterer
Phil Hardy @Filrd

Best Online Brewery Presence
  Magic Rock
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year 
 Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze and Ceviche
In 2012 I’d most like to...
Get back to Belgium

Cheese and beer Pairing of the Year
Marble Saison Special and Stinking Bishop


#12Stouts: Year number the second

Its December again; so that means its time for Bristol Beer Factory's 12 Stouts of Christmas. I really enjoyed last year's efforts; so had to pick them up again. There's 8 new ones this year, including a recipe change on the year-rounder Bristol Stout. I've reviewed the newbies below:

PhotobucketBristol Stout has been revamped this year and gained 1% ABV in the process. Dark brown with fine bubbles and light tan head. Fruity dark beer with smooth body and lightly smoky blackcurrant. Slight roast barley and coffee in finish. More caramel notes as it warms. Quaffable enough but much better in the modified forms.

PhotobucketPort Stout is a variant of Bristol Stout with an ABV of 5.5% Dark black with fluffy white tan head. Minimal nose on opening, touch of toffee perhaps. Medium carbonation, some warming sugars and higher alcohols. Touch of astringent plum skin and bitter coffee grounds in finish. 

PhotobucketAnother variation on the Bristol Stout is smoked chili chipotle Dark brown with pink tinged brown head with red flecks, could that be remaining chili? Rich chocolate enrobed black cherry, smoke, sweet tomato. Initial tongue tingling gives way to milk chocolate followed by a fruity chili hit which warms the tongue and throat on the swallow and a dry ashen roast barley finish with a fiery tingle. This could cope with a higher ABV and would be a great food beer. 

Blackcurrants and Licorice is also a Bristol Stout variation. Grey-brown with fluffy pale tan and subtle earthy spicy blackcurrants and dusty yeast. Medium carbonation, tart blackcurrant, a touch of spearmint perhaps. A spike of anise like licorice before the dry roast barley kicks in for the long finish. It’s subtle but flavourful.

PhotobucketCreme Brulee is an Imperial version of milk stout brewed in collaboration with Melissa Cole (she gets around a bit!) aged in rum casks for two months. Spicy rummy (think rum & rasin) nose on this ruby tinged dark mahogany beer. Lively crema head which soon collapses. Smooth body, gentle carbonation, sweet notes, big burny boozy up front becoming a burnt toast, molasses and tart red fruit melee. Long milky custard finish.

PhotobucketThe bourbon cask Imperial Stout (10.5%) is dark tar brown with fluffy tan head that soon collapses. Rich vanilla and coconut nose with an underlying hint of marmite. Gentle carbonation with cola first then tonnes of woody vanilla with some meaty yeast and soft cream cheese notes. Long sticky warming finish.That alcohol is pretty well hidden.

PhotobucketAnd finally Speyside whisky @10.5% has some peatsmoke and iodine plus plenty of whisky booze. Dark brown with cola head that soon disappears to nothing. That peaty malt is unexpected for a speyside whisky, perhaps an Ardmore. Fair amount if residual malt sweetness and long dry earthy finish. 

PhotobucketPick of the bunch for me though was the mocha. At only 4.5% (base beer milk stout) its gloriously drinkable and one of the best coffee beers I've had the pleasure of drinking and I've had a lot. Dark brown with fluffy tan head. The coffee is the star here singing out from the aroma as roast beans, red berries and rich barley notes. First flavours out are the sweet lactose milk notes followed by dark chocolate and a long roast coffee finish. With caramel, red berry and vanilla finish. A fantastic improvement on last year's latte.

So are they worth buying? In my opinion they are, I'd happily drink a case of the mocha alone. There may still be some available but I expect you'll struggle to get them delivered in time for christmas. Get them here!

Follow Bristol Beer Factory on Twitter @BrisBeerFactory and Head Brewer Chris Kay @BeerFactoryCK9.


Revelation Cat

PhotobucketIts very unusual that I get a message out of nowhere offering me beer for free. Its even less frequent (read: this is the first time) that the brewer hasn't specifically asked for publicity/ a review in return rather just my opinion shared with him in whatever manner I saw fit. I actually really enjoyed the beers (not a function of them being free); so have decided to let readers of this blog know about them so that they can get hold of them for themselves.
Revelation Cat started off as a gypsy brewer along the lines of Mikkeller, though primarily based in Italy. Brewer Alex is also the driving force behind Rome's Brasserie 4:20 one of the premier beer venues in that country. Recently they have been brewing batches of beer in Kent with Eddy Gadd, which has proved successful enough for Alex to invest in brew kit of his own next door. He's sharing the mash tun and kettle but everything post boil including fermentation is done on Revelation Cat's premises. In effect that means we have another new brewer in the UK!


I had a pleasant surprise when the beer arrived, not only were there 7 different beers to try I had received multiple bottles of each! I made my usual review notes on rate beer and from the scores that emerged decided that it was well worth telling you about the beers.

PhotobucketTake My AdWeisse is a US-hopped wheat ale with a gentle satsuma pith nose and part of the "session series". At 4.5% its at the higher end of the scale, but I could certainly happily sink a few pints of this. It becomes more resinous as it warms but retains the thick creamy mouth-feel and wheat spiciness throughout. I found myself craving some weisses banana and clove esters though and would perhaps still opt for a traditional weisse or hoppy pale ale over this. I can certainly see a lot of space in the market for this though.

I wasn't quite so taken with the dry hop Thriller. A hazy pale amber ale with apricot and lemon on the nose. The carbonation and mouthfeel are about right to make this sessionable, but the balance is skewed too much towards the hops leaving a bit too much pithy bitterness and a chalky finish to be truly enjoyable. 

PhotobucketGreen-hopped F.R.E.S.H is all about the aroma which is at once soporific and enlivening. Rich resinous hops with underlying ginger, toffee and bergamot. In the mouth its pretty sweet, sticky marmalade and carrot juice but its a pleasing beer, all the more so because its made using indigenous UK and European varieties. Proof that the flavour is already there if the hops are used in the right quantities.
HopAddendum is a proper pale West-Coast IPA in the vein of Stone and Brewdog. Certainly no caramalt here! Complex and intriguing nose of red apple, kiwi and strawberries. The apples arrive first to the tongue, followed by satsuma, resin, pith, bitter hops, long fruity finish. Despite its 6% ABV I'd certainly be happy to stick with this one beer all night and certainly prefer it to Punk IPA (previously a firm favourite).

PhotobucketFollowing right in behind is California Moonset, a double IPA at 7% ABV. This one pours hazy dark amber with fluffy white head. Pithy citrus with smoother grape flavours beneath. Centennial and Nelson Sauvin perhaps? The bitterness is up front followed by jammy blackcurrant and tangerine. Long dry moreish finish. No tacky crystal here either, another sessionable big hitter. Zak would probably describe it as ruinously drinkable.

PhotobucketThe penultimate beer is into silly territory at 13%. I don't know where all that alcohol was hiding though tasting closer to 9%. Hop Animal is a "double double IPA" (think Brewdog Anarchist/ Alchemist for comparison). It reminds me of an US-style barley wine like Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. The malt is fairly robust but the heavy hitting hops are lurking in behind ready to assault your palate. Dark ruby with white lacing with fruity malt loaf and brandy nose with supporting Seville marmalade. Concentrated citrus fruit, tongue tingling mouth watering pithiness with robust toffee underscore. Long citrus refrain. Masterful.

PhotobucketAnd now for something completely different. Black Knight is very sparse in details from the label, but I can tell from the 14% ABV its going to be a monster. Turns out its an imperial stout, and not barrel aged which means all of that alcohol got there by fermentation. Its pretty heavy going and warming, 500ml is perhaps too big a bottle but I had people to share it with. Dark chocolate, booze soaked raisins, tobacco and molasses on the nose. Pours viscous black with sizeable cola head that becomes a lacing. Starts off sweet and finishes very dry with some woody tannins, coal smoke, a touch of caramel. A complex and evolving beast.It could perhaps afford to be a few percentage points lower in the alcohol stakes, and this would put it on an equal footing with such UK masters as Magic Rock Bearded Lady and Kernel Imperial Brown Stout.

From this showcase I'm certainly excited to find out what else Alex has up his sleeves (UK Brasserie 4:20 anyone?!) and certainly hope to come across some of these in the pub. According to Alex they've had to expand capacity already; so they should certainly be appearing in UK outlets any time now!
Twitter: @RevelationCat


Drinking in Winchester

A place I always enjoyed visiting whilst at University was Winchester, so I jumped at the chance to go and check up on the state of the pubs recently. My partner-in-crime on this occasion was my landlord from my final year , Mark.

As is becoming customary breakfast was partaken in at the Old Gaolhouse. One of the better JD wetherspoon branches in Hampshire I was very happy to find Adnams-brewed Feral IPA still available after the recent beer festival. Breakfast was good despite the wait (IT failure apparently...)

We then proceded to drink our way around the Good Beer Guide hostelries plus a few extras.
The Old Vine was a very food-oriented pub but I enjoyed a half of Bowman Swift One. Onwards to the Eclipse, which looks great with its Tudor frontage but always a little unadventurous with the beer choice. A half of Andwells King John had to suffice.

PhotobucketThe Wykeham Arms is a fantastic ex-Gales (now Fullers) pub replete with school desks, open fires (roaring) and a Thomas Crapper original installed in the conveniences. Here I enjoyed a roasty porter from the nearby Cheriton. Slight molasses and burnt toast nose, quite a light body with licorice and coffee. Criminally its not been included in the GBG this year but its packed as always.
After that it was time to replenish the food reserves; so we opted for a hog roast bap from the nearby continental market. This gave us enough energy to complete the stroll along the river to the Black Boy. Its a characterful pub with all manner of taxidermy, bric-a-brac and breweriana including a working AGA. On this occasion the beer was a littler lacklustre and the refusal to tell us who brews "black boy pilsener" left a sour taste in the mouth.
Another favourite next, the Hyde Tavern. Beer on hand pump and on gravity. It always seems overly quiet when I visit, which explains the price premium. Well worth a trip and good to dry out by the roaring fire. 

The Albion is on the up again, offering Dark Star Revelation on cask and an excellent selection of bottled beers from around the world (including Old Chimney Good King Henry and some of the pricier Mikkellers). We decided to press on to the final two GBG entries however.

PhotobucketThe Fulflood Arms is a green-tile exterior back street local, formerly owned by the Winchester Brewery.
PhotobucketIts come full circle and now has a brewery on the premises. The house bitter wasn't anything to write home about nor was it horrible, just okay. Another pub suffering tired beer syndrome.

We finished off in the St James Tavern, a Wadworths house at the top of a steep hill, where I settled for a half of Horizon.
Again a bit foody but any pub that has Neil Gaiman comics as artwork in the toilet is fine by me.

It was then home to Southampton for some real beer in the Guide Dog.


Red in the face

PhotobucketBreweries both north and south of the border here seem to have a core range which consists of three styles, a blonde (read: lager), a (dry) stout and that ubiquitous Irish style: a red ale. I've never really been that taken by them, often being a little too caramel malty and not much else, all very samey.

I decided to put that to the test by doing a comparative tasting of some of the better Irish brewers

Four Shades of Red

Carlow O'Hara's Irish Red (4.3%)
dark auburn with watermelon and green apple.
Acetaldehyde, medium bodied, solvent, caramalt and green apple.
Not nice - tipped it away.

light chestnut with slight white head formation.
Sweet caramel and herbal nose.
Astringent, sweet, thin, medium carbonation, papery.

Medium bodied, chocolate, caramel, touch of astringency,
cocoa and toffee in finish.
8 Degrees Sunburnt Irish Red (5%)
Spicey cardamom and caramel. Garnet red with minimal lacing.
Very low carbonation, sweet, caramalt.
Promising start but dull finish.

Clanconnel McGraths Irish Red (4.3%)
Alcoholic musty, dried fruits on the nose. Fairly dry with light carbonation, candy sugar, shortcake, custard with astringent yet sweet finish.

As you can see from my tasting notes, they're all pretty dull with some being downright nasty. Why do they persist with something so dull. To all Irish brewers please stop using so much caramalt and be more inventive with your hopping instead. Thanks!


Book Review: The London Cheese & Wine Guide

I saw a review of this book elsewhere on the internet and thought it would fit this blog well and requested a review copy.(yes I know this is primarily a beer blog, but as its my blog I choose what goes).   I was kindly obliged and it arrived today. If I didn't like it then I would say so! As I mentioned to the writers, I probably would have ended up buying one anyway, but this way its more timely given that its just been released in time for the Christmas market I have no doubt.

Its a stylish looking volume, paperback with glossy card cover and full colour throughout. Handily arranged into sections by business type, with cheese given the respect it deserves and coming first*. We're taken through the top specialist shops, delicatessens and even more impressively the cheese stalls at borough market. There's a top 5 given for each section to aid you in your cheesy quest should the choice become overwhelming. I particularly like the full market guide, showing all the London markets and which cheese vendors attend each and when, very useful! This would come in handy for an out of town tourist like myself in deciding which particular market would be best to visit.

I also learnt that I'm a turophile. No that doesn't mean I have an affinity with a certain Cornish town but it means I'm a lover of cheese. Stay tuned for a post on the symptomns of turophilia...

On the wine side of things we're given a selection of wine merchants and wine bars. There's also a selection on retailers which provide both cheese and wine (for all your one-stop cheese and wine party organising needs) and restaurants that have particularly impressive wine lists and cheese boards. Stuffed full of information alongside the essentials such as nearest tube station and contact details we get the owners names and typical pricing, by glass of wine or type of cheese (with brie de meaux, cheddar, parmigano-reggiano and stilton taken as benchmarks).

As is always the case I find there's a pile of cheeses I've not even heard of, let alone tasted but now I know where to find them and roughly what I'll be paying for the privilege too! I found myself adding venues to visit to Google maps as I was flicking through, a sure sign the guide is doing its job. I think a handy addition would have been a basic map of London showing the approximate location of each venue; so those short of time or staying in a particular area can see what's nearby. 

Some useful symbols to find the information you need.
Although the bulk of the book is taken up by the aforementioned listings there are also guides on buying, storing and tasting cheeses and wines and a handy wine styles aroma chart (which if you're a complete wine newbie like myself comes in handy for working out what I might like). There are also a few recipes from featured establishments (with the Deli Downstairs' Pork, Thyme and Tallegio pizza sounding particularly tasty)  and a cheese and wine pairings table with some suggested matches. I'm a little disappointed to find that beer and cider have only been suggested as matches for manchego and cheddar, especially given their favourite pairings include London Porter with Gruyère and cider with a blue cheese! I suppose I should be grateful they even get a mention in what is essentially a monobooze book.

Overall I can happily recommend the book for those looking to seek out some cheesy and wine delights in London's capital, there's certainly enough of them!

The London Cheese & Wine Guide  by Lucy Gregory and Jeffrey Young is available direct from the publishers, Allegra for £11.95+P&P, or as usual on Amazon for a little less. The website also has some good supporting information and offers a subscription service of £5 pa to access the book listings, additional updates and recipes. Follow them on twitter @LCandWG.

Big thanks to Hana Gajdosova for the review copy and the Allegra team for writing such a useful guide.

*I suspect this has more to do with the order in the title, but I'll pretend to please myself.


History Repeated

As I have oft mentioned before, Fullers Brewery is one which I have a soft spot for. They have a great number of beers in their portfolio, the majority of which are bang on the money in my opinion. Better still are their one-off special releases such as historical recreations "Past Masters" and annual vintage ales.
So I was excited to hear that John Keeling had opened the history books again to brew the recreation of a Burton Ale. This is one of the great styles that has fallen by the wayside in recent years or absorbed into the ubiquitous "barley wine" category that anything that is above 7% and  isn't obviously an IPA or stout tends to be sucked in to. Martyn Cornell speaks much more eloquently on beer styles and history and in a lot more detail than I could hope to achieve; so I'll defer to him on this occasion. Boak & Bailey also did good work identifying extant-examples of Burtons in the UK. I'm here to comment on the actual beer.

I had the forethought to keep a bottle of each of the preceding Past Masters releases to do a side-by-side comparison. Not that there should be anything in similar other than the Fuller's yeast strain but I find a single bottle tasting to be more than a bit dull. I had Reuben @taleofale, Daisy and my CAMRA friend Julie to provide further thoughts and drinking comradeship.

Old Burton Extra 7.3%  10/9/1931
It pours a deep chestnut brown with with slight cream head with dark fruit, burnt sugar and a medium body. Its very easy drinking but could perhaps become cloying after more than half a bottle (hence the  sharing). I actually prefer the Fullers 1845 (First brewed 1995!)  though, its got more lighter fruit marmalade notes to lift up the heavier malt sugars and at about half the price for a bottle and bottle conditioned to boot its a better bet.

XX Strong Ale 7.5%  2/9/1891
Pouring chestnut-orange its reminiscent of some West Coast IPAs with esters and higher alcohols on the nose of a strong Belgian effort. Its sweet with pineapples and honey. Medium carbonation and more than a bit of alcohol burn. There's something to it that minds me of what I'm not keen on in a dubbel and for that reason I struggled to finish my 1/3 bottle. Others rhapsodised over it.

Double Stout 7.4%  4/8/1893
Darkest brown with fluffy cola head. Tobacco, dates and sultanas on the nose. Thick, rich, toffee, redcurrant, toast, chocolate, gentle carbonation, long roast coffee finish. This one is fantastic and vindicates the whole endeavour. I'd love to see this in regular production and reminds me a lot of some of The Kernel's recreations.

I'm pleased to have been able to try these beers of yesteryear and hope that John finds many more recipes lurking in the archives. He's by no means the only brewer doing it but as the quantities involved are much bigger its certainly the most accessible. Whether or not I enjoyed them is somewhat irrelevant!


German beer is best?

I'm a few months late with this post, but I've only just drunk the beers; so consider it useful information for next year. Oktoberfest beers are becoming more and more prevalent outside of Germany, both exported and domestically brewed varieties. Thornbridge have recently released one which I'm yet to try.

One I have been able to try however is Ireland's 8-Degrees Ochtoberfest. Brewed on August 8th (8/8) at 8 degrees West of Greenwich.
For comparative purposes I picked up some German festbiers, namely Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Erdinger Festweiße, Weißenoher Altfränkisch Klosterbier and Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Marzen. The first thing to note is that there is a wide range of colours, although the ABV of all of the beers is similar. The Erdinger isin keeping with the rest of that brewery's output and a weisse bier.

Up first, the Klosterbier. It looks appealing with a traffic-light amber with fluffy snow-white head. Its  flinty, dry, fruity and toffee on the nose, so far so good. Unfortunately its too highly carbonated and harsh in the mouth, dry, bland and astringent with no finish. I had to ditch it after a few gulps. Not a very promising start.

The Erdinger didn't really raise the standard. Normally I'm fairly impressed by Erdinger beers despite being mass-produced they still have a fair amount of flavour. Not on this occasion though,i n fact the mouth feel was about the only thing going for it, with none of the traditional weizen esters in attendance I may as well have been drinking barley water.

Spaten was a bit of a surprise, pouring the palest of golds, not so much marzen as kolsch-style. There are some pleasant lemon and banana notes but again a harshly astringent finish with a touch of aspartame-like sweetness. Perhaps the use of hop syrup had something to do with it?!

Hacker-Pschorr is a beer I enjoyed on draught at National Winter Ales Fest this year. I say enjoyed, I meant I tolerated it. I say tolerated I meant I fobbed it off onto Daisy. In bottle it seems to have held up a little better. It has some of that alleged doughiness that I've hitherto failed to find and a pleasing mouth feel. The first beer I didn't feel needed chucking.

Finally; the Ochtoberfest from Eight Degrees reprised its debut at the Dublin beerfest in bottle form. Immediately the contrast was stark. There's an aroma this times-light cloves on nose with orange & licorice. Medium carbonation, doughy, marmalade, a bit thin bodied, booze, sweet, noble hop finish. Its the best of the bunch, but would I go out of my way to try it again? Probably not. As to whether it successfully mimics a German Oktoberfest beer I can't really say, but going by the evidence of the preceding beers maybe not.

On this evidence I'm beginning to think that the style is perhaps not for me and it joins the ranks of bocks, dubbels and Irish Ales as "ones to avoid" in my book.


Beer Nut

The Beer Nut was kind enough to take a couple of the International Arms Race beers off of my hands and leave me some of his homebrew in return. I must confess to liking his 'brand-name'-"Dodgio" and its great to see all of the ingredients on the label, even down to the yeast used, something I wish other brewers would do.

Informative labelling, my favourite!
Pours hazy burnished gold with Nelson Sauvin grapey kiwi aromas distinguishable at ten paces (didn't even need the comprehensive ingredients list to know this one!). Moving closer there's tangerines and a light sourness. There's gentle carbonation and the flavour is all about the tangerine at first with a gentle bitterness and balanced malt. Those tropical flavours and low bitterness remind me a lot of |Roosters Baby Faced Assassin. This beer drinks like a session beer, I'd love another!

A Dark brown with coca-cola head. Chocolate, acorn coffee, touch of roast barley and sleepy yeast on the nose. At first there's chocolate and orange fruit followed by a long nipping, warming chilli that gets the tip of your tongue and back of your throat. Chocolate makes a final flourish before the chilli leaves a lingering glow. Quite light bodied and fairly low in carbonation, the head took some coaxing to form then disappeared.

Again two fantastic homebrews that would any number of "commercial" brewers a run for their money!

Apologies to John for being so tardy with posting this!


Red Hand Brewery: An update

I took my fiance and in-laws along for lunch in the Brewer's House yesterday. Owner Ciaran walked through the door and offered to show me the newly arrived brewkit. Its a 100 litre setup and so new its yet to be wired in. It'll be located in a (yet to be) converted stables and there will be a weekly brew to supply both pubs. 

Initially trial batches will be brewed and given away to get feedback from regular pub customers. In the long run the 100litre kit could serve as a trial plant fora bigger setup or allow for limited edition releases to be brewed.
Conditioning tank

The pub itself is going from strength to strength, and was featured on national news last week, the phone hasn't stopped ringing ever since. People from all over the island of Ireland are coming to eat and drink here and its certainly putting the tiny village of Donaghmore on the map.

According to Ciaran, of 18 people on his brewing course, 6 have bought the same kit; so we could see a spate of similar start-ups in the coming months. I for one am certainly keeping my fingers crossed.