Brewed at Home

This post marks one year of blogging!

Gone is the association of homebrew and dishwater, today's homebrewers are much more likely to produce something close to commercially available ales than say ten years ago. They too have taken inspiration from overseas in using more "exotic" hop varieties and yeast strains to produce and eclectic number of beers. In fact, due to the small batch size, home brewers can take more of a risk on experimenting with novel ingredients and recipes. 

A number of homebrewers have gone on to become full time brewers or had their beers picked up by a full brewery as the result of a competition.  I was fortunate enough to try a few bottles from two future head brewer candidates: Broadford Brewer (Dave Bishop) and Hardknott Alex (Routledge).

Up first, a black IPA from David. Nebulous pours a brown-tinged black with decent sized head. David was worried it'd be past its best and if that's the case It'd have been fantastic in its prime. As it was it was a very good beer, well balanced citrus hops and chocolate malt with a touch of bitterness in the finish. Certainly better than a number of commercial BIPAs I've tried.

Alex provided me with a bottle number two. No label to this one but I'm informed its Fitzroy IPA (7.2%). Hopped with Apollo, Cascade and Citra. Good dose of piney hops on the nose, very smooth in mouthfeel with little bitterness at all and plenty of tropical fruit flavours. Reminds me quite a bit of Roosters Baby Face Assassin. Hazy amber in colour and forms a good sized head.Alex is now brewing under the 1248 banner.

Final beer is another of David's; DamnNation, a Belgian Strong Ale. Its hazy golden with a typical Belgian yeast aroma of fruity esters and some spicy hops. Carbonation is spot on and its far too easy drinking for its ABV. Another fantastic label and now customised bottle caps too...the collectors will be pleased!

All in all I'm very impressed and would have been happy to have paid money for these if I'd seen them in the shops. If anything 330ml was too small a serving! Thank you Alex and David and best of luck in your future endeavours, I shall certainly be watching closely!


Pebble Spells

Here's a Clue...
The following brewery needs no introduction. I've already reviewed the beers and plenty of others will write about the place. I'm just going to write about a fantastic day, in the sun, with great beer, great friends and fantastic hosts. Oh and a barrel aged beer. If you're not interested then look away now...

Which is the magic one?
Conference over we all descend on Leeds Station platform a little worse for wear on a Sunday morning with a trip to Huddesrfield on the cards. We're ferried to the brewery and find tables constructed from casks, a BBQ on the go and an eager team of brewery staff ready to welcome us in.

6 fresh and tasty beers
A look round the brewery only reinforces how phenomenally they have grown in the twelve short months since inception, with four new fermenters added outside. A sherry cask inside the brewery gives tantalising pause for thought about future special releases but for now we have six beers on tap to choose from, including their pithy new golden summer ale Carnival and something else 6% boozier...Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady.

Drinking in the sun.
In appearance it's similar to the original, but some of the roasted notes in the nose have been smoothed over with caramel, vanilla and oak. A gentle hand has been used here as this is no booze bomb, with just a touch of bourbon highlighting the base beer expertly without obliterating the flavour. Its noticeably sweeter than the original but does not suffer for it and I'd happily drink it again in a flash (just maybe not so early in the pm!)

Bloggers enjoying burgers
The BBQ was tasty and company great. I also spotted the name of the next beer to be brewed, which Rich confirmed as an interpretation of a classic style. I don't want to be the one to break the news, just check their website over the coming weeks!

Andy Mogg Raises a toast

So thank you to Rich, Stu et al for hosting us, feeding us and answering our questions and I look forward to all the next releases!


Live Beer Blogging #EBBC12

We're being courted by ten brewers at the conference now, in a speed-drinking/talking/blogging session. I'm going to attempt to update live, but inevitably it will fall by the wayside as drinking progresses. Five minutes per brewer! I'll add some pictures at a later date!


Baby faced assassin. Golden promise pale malt, single hopped with citra. from cask with sparkler. Tropical fruit, pineapple, mango, low carbonation. Roosters strain of yeast. Deceptively drinkable for its ABV (6.1%!) I've had this before in bottle release and hope we get it again one day. Most of their stuff goes into cask.

Innis & Gunn

Ross from Innis & Gunn pours us some Scottish Pale Ale (7%). Available currently in Sweden. "Ode to an IPA". Super styrian, EKG and styrian goldings. Custard and hop spices on the nose. Creme brulee flavour but less sweetness. UK only 4th biggest market. Brewed at Tennents now instead of Belhaven as they have better brewing facilities.

Marble Beers

Earl Grey IPA (6.8/%) perfumed, passion fruit, beer. Low bitterness from mittelfruh and goldings hops, citra late hopping. Very fruity and gentle carbonation. Slight tannin in the finish. 5 kilos of tea used. No pictures of the beer poured as I drank it too quickly!

Great Heck
Storming Norman (6.5%). Another golden ale, herbal nose from perle, lemon shortcake cascade and bitter finish, flavour really lingers. Started in 2008 in 2 BBL fermenter, converted a house to a brewery and now brew 45BBL a week. Pretty much 100% cask.

Leeds Brewing

Sam from Leeds brewing brought us some hellfire (5.2%) bitter. Aroma, centennial, wilamette and first gold. Pale blonde, not much aroma, earthy bitterness and sweet shortbread malt. Slightly metallic in the finish. Brew mostly for cask but this is sold in 330ml bottles. Some citrus fruit in the finish.

Ghost ship is the beer we're offered this time around. Clean malt nose, full mouth feel. Challenger, motueka, citra and dry hopped with citra. Lots of citrus fruit flavour. Now a permanent beer.

S.A. Brain and Co. Ltd

Brains Dark (4.1%) is the company's oldest beer and best seller to the eighties, won the most awards. World's best dark mild at WBA2011. Caramel and barley on the nose, chocolate, very smooth, slight earthy/blackberry hops in finish.

Camden Town
Need no introduction from me and have been featured on my blog twice already. Three core beers replete with new branding plus their USA hells, what we get to try now. Given an extra week conditioning and well conditioned in bottle it contains columbus for bittering plus cascade, centenial. Simcoe and citra late edition. Dry hopped with whole flower simcoe. Unfiltered. um bungo on the nose, pithy lemon peel. lively carbonation. Clean malt profile then tropical fruit in abundance.
Will be launching a new range in 660ml bottles.

Otley Brewing

Otley oxymoron is a beer i spent half of Belfast Beer Festival drinking. Its just as tasty this time around. Terry's chocolate orange in a sessionable format. Gentle carbonation. So good I had to have a pint.

Slater’s Ales
Top totty, the beer that caused the storm in a political teacup with them. We get to see how it tastes. WGV hops, clean nose, sweet malt, slight bitterness in finish. Very quaffable. Could see this as being a good beer to convert people off of lager.

Islay Overview

I've put together an image map so you can see where all of the Islay distilleries lie and find all of my Islay distillery posts more easily.

Image map of Islay ardbeg lagavulin laphroaig bruichladdich kilchoman bowmore caol ila bunnahabhain jura undefined
This map was produced using

Image sourced from:


Beery Times in Leeds

The beer bloggers conference is just about to start, with many of us nursing hangovers from an over-indulgent night on the town in Leeds last night.

Thursday night was the pre-conference pub crawl, leaving us non-Leodisians in the capable hands of Leigh Linley, blogger at Good Stuff. You can read a bit of background on some of the pubs we visited here.Having only been to one Twissup event in the past I was looking forward to meeting some of the nigh on 100 attendees of the conference outside of the more formal arena of the Metropole Hotel (our home for the next few days). It would be all too easy to drop a load of names of who I bumped in to; so I'll leave that to your imaginations. Chances are if you're reading this you're one of them anyway! I had intended to get pictures during the night, but the beer and conversations took over - probably how it should be.

Having heard of the food quality in Mr Foley's, we decided to partake in some pre-crawl stomach-lining and get first dibs on the beer selection. I chose a pint of Kirkstall Best Yorkshire Bitter and a cayenne bean burger, both excellent, followed by a bottle of Flying Dog in de Wildeman Mr Foleys Can be found on twitter here

I'd heard about the Tipopils being available in North Bar; so headed there next. It has a laid back atmosphere but the music was a little loud on this occasion. Bumped into some GBBF friends. The beer was okay, fresh tasting and crisp but I think i just prefer Czech pilsner in general. Can be found on twitter here

A stroll to the Midnight Bell came next, where I enjoyed a half of the eponymous mild and also the relatively new Leodis lager, one of the better efforts from a UK brewery I think. We then popped just up the road to the The Cross Keys for a few.

I finished my evening in The Grove an ancient, multi-roomed pub sandwiched between skyscrapers with a pint of something gingery I wasn't too keen on. Back to my hotel room before 11pm, a sensible precaution against what looks to be three very beery days indeed.

So now lets crack on with the conference, made possible by a number of sponsors*, not least Molson Coors UK, who through their generous bursary offer meant I was able to attend the conference for free (and probably could not have done so without this help). Many thanks to all of those who have been working behind the scene to make this conference come together, I look forward to it and will certainly be publishing more blogs over the weekend!

*I figure if I mention this now, I won't have to repeat myself later in the week!


The two that got away

As mentioned in my summary post, unfortunately the two northerly distilleries were closed for our visit.

Caol Ila from the Jura ferry
Caol Ila has been having a refit over the last year. With a capacity of 4.7 million litres a year it was already the bigegst player on the island, this refit will enable it to produce a whopping 6.2million litres. It should now be reopened, so pop along to check if you're on the island.

Most of their whisky is tankered off of the island for use in blends and is peated at about 40ppm like its sister distillery Lagavulin. They also produce a small amount of unpeated malt. Very little of their whisky is aged on the island, the space instead used by Lagavulin.

The unpeated variety is interesting, unlike other unpeated Islay drams Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain there's still some vegetal notes in there that can only come from the water as there's no peat used in the production of the malt. Its quite subtle in flavour and doesn't need any water adding in my opinion.
From the Bunnahabhain website

The 12 y/o Bunnahabhain on the other hand is a product of the sea. Still aged on the island it has briny and seaweed notes with the finish of old ropes. Its quite harsh as it comes and I preferred it with a splash of water to open up the sweeter flavours hidden within. 

They were closed on my visit for their Easter holidays! Well, we all need a break from work; so I don't blame them. Its the most remote of the distilleries; so is a trek down a bumpy track to reach it.

Both of these will be first on my "to visit" list for future Islay visits.

You'll be pleased to here that concludes my write-ups of distillery visits for the time being, but as they've been fairly well received I can't promise there won't  be further whisky related posts in the future. Consider yourself warned!



After an overnight stay in Islay's capital, Bowmore, we awoke feeling refreshed and wondered down to the Bowmore distillery, not five minutes away. One of the oldest on the island, it still traditionally floor malts its own barley. With a busy day ahead of us we only had time for  a brief stop in the shop, but I'd love to return to do the tour.
The shop staff were friendly and those who had returned from the previous tour seemed happy enough. We peeked in at the exhibition, a trophy cabinet full of awards then the next tour group were gathering so we departed. A tantalising first glimpse.
Not having tried Bowmore before I was keen to pick up some samples and a three-pack of miniatures was reasonably priced. I also loved the ceramic water jugs, but decided I'd probably break it on the journey home and left it for another day.
The 12 year old pours a dark honey amber. The nose transports you to a Viking feasting hall: dirt floors sodden with spilt mead and the previous nights' peat fire still smouldering in the hearth. Pick up some of those ashes, mix with mead and you have the Bowmore 12 year old. Honey and fire, brash and boisterous.

The 15 year old (darkest) has an enticing aroma of honeyed peaches. Sweet heather honey and sisal at first and exquisitely smooth it finishes with a brief flurry of peat activity then juicy peaches.
The 18 year old is a musty coat closet with tweed and leather. Fiery at first it soon sweetens. The peatiness has all but disappeared and leaves behind a rich, fruity spirit which is very warming in finish.

A good bunch, which I shall certainly purchase in larger format when my supplis need replenishing. My favourite? Probably the 15 y/o for the blend of peat, fire, fruit and honey.

Also in Bowmore is the fantastic Lochside hotel, with over 300 single malts, the majority from Islay with rare bottlings and even some old Port Ellen stuff. Very pricey however, definitely one for the wealthier tourists.



Ugly Betty
Although primarily a whisky distillery, its not the only trick the Bruichladdich team have up their sleeve. The beauty pictured to the left is a gin still, which to date has been used to produce a single batch. Its a great additional revenue stream to pay for the whisky in the stores which will typically take 12 years or more until maturity.

After installation the still was charged with a tonne of juniper berries and various other botanicals (see below). Aside from a half-hour of foreshots the still kicked out a good 15 hours of spirit, which has given the distillery a good cash injection for refurbishment and experimentation.

The spirit safe
The spirit run is controlled via a spirit safe in the same way as whisky. As you can  tell from its sheen, this one is brand spanking new, whereas "Ugly Betty" was rescued from Innerleven distillery, alreadya venerable 50 years old. The team love her, despite her slowness.

The botanicals "basket"
The bulge on the lyne arm is where the botanicals sit, infusing the refluxing spirit with those volatile flavour compounds. Most mass-market gins only contain 4-10 botanicals whereas "The Botanist" contains a fantastic 31, 22 of which have been gathered from the wild on Islay!

They include: Elderflower, apple mint, wood sage, bog myrtle, sweet cicely, creeping thistle, peppermint leaf, heather flowers, meadowsweet, water mint, tansy, hawthorn flower, lemon balm, mugwort, thyme, gorse, white clover, red clover, birch leaf, sweet chamomile and lady's bedstraw. To maintain a tenuous link to beer, many of these were used in the past as gruit to flavour unhopped ales; so to revive their use in gin is to reconnect to the past of the island.


But enough about how its made, the big question is how it tastes, no? Its all very well using all of these fantastic flavourings but does it make any difference? In a word - yes! I'd always been averse to gin suggesting it ruined the taste of tonic water. It would appear I'm averse to crap gin, and this is far from crap! A small measure in the distillery shop led me to purchase a whole bottle. I decided to go for that classic of cocktails - the martini a.k.a the botini, which i've attempted to write about below (you can tell the world of gin is new to me!)

It pours clear with no discernible colour and has an enticing freshly squeezed oranges and lemons aroma with a touch of coconut and juniper in the background. In goes the vermouth and a touch of lime zest and that coconut jumps out stronger alongside mint and other herbal smells, a veritable apothecary! The gin climbs the sides of the glass and eddies around the lime. Its extraordinarily smooth drinking, sweet and buttery up front, with a good citrus burst, warming the throat on the swallow with a pithy but sweet finish. A lovely drop.

I'm also tempted by the "skelped boti" which includes chambord and fresh ginger juice, but will save that to try another day. Here's what the Bruichladdich team think of the gin.

So thank you to the Bruichladdich team for opening my eyes to a whole new spirit! Look out for it in the shops and on the bars as i recommend trying it.


Classic Vintage

Last month I reviewed the larger Goose Island vintage bottles and this month I'm back again with the four smaller brethren to the sistren*. These are a more disparate group of beers with a dark and light saison, a Belgian Abbey style and a pale ale.
Goose Island's Vintage Collection

Goose Island thinks they pair well with cheese; so I'll take them up on the challenge. Everyone knows I'm a cheese fiend so don't need an excuse really!  I headed to M&S and picked up a couple of Irish cheeses and a French brie.

Sofie is a Belgian-style saison that works well with brie. Brewed with orange peel and aged in white wine barrels with wild yeast its supposed to be a substitute for champagne. It pours hazy pale blonde with a fluffy white foam. On the nose its quite lactic with acidic pineapple and a touch of Brett. Its a light touch in the mouth, reminding me of the hibiscus flavours from Goose Island Fleur with a touch of white pepper in the finish. Sparkling carbonation as fine as champagne.
The brie is pungent, with mushroomy rind, uniform, slightly squishy paste but the right side of ammoniac-al. The flavour is delicate and not so pungent as an unpasteurised brie but works well enough. When sampled together the two cancel each other out somewhat, but the earthy mushroom rind is enhanced by the spicy note and of course that carbonation does its thing in cleansing the palate. An alright but not outstanding match.

Matilda is a Belgian style pale ale, suggested to go with washed rind cheeses and Camembert. It pours mid-amber with sweet peach and perfumed violet nose. Sweet candy sugar with a slight burnt caramel in the finish. Little in the way of carbonation.
I chose aardharan for this, a grainy, salty rind with soft and tacky paste, very buttery with strong rind. This time the beer acquires some fruity and peppery spice notes with the cheese.

Pere Jacques is a Belgian abbey-style dubbel which pairs to aged Gouda or Stilton. It pours mid-ruby brown with a strong nose of apple orchards, so much so that with your eyes closed it could be a cider. Its quite sweet with plenty of higher alcohols and a burnt sugar/ solvent finish. I'm not too keen.
Chose to pair it with cashel blue, another Irish cheese. Its salty and funky with a rich creamy finish. The cheese is perhaps a little strong for the beer, the beer losing what little character it did have and leaving a residual sweetness. The full flavour of the cheese is still apparent

Last but not least is Pepe Nero, the black saison. No cheese suggestion here, but I'd go for a crumbly Lancashire or Cheshire. Pours dark brown with fizzy tan head that doesn't hang around. On the nose its black pepper spice and toffee malt. Sweet up front with chocolate malt and a hint of vegetal horseradish. A long sweet and spicy finish.

With the exception of Sofie I'm not sure that these beers better any of the Belgian greats and the cheese pairing suggestions aren't particularly good, with the exception of washed rind & Matilda. So CABPOM for may would be Ardharan and Goose Island Matilda, another win for the washed rind cheeses. I'd suggest they're all still worth trying, but probably not at the expense of the Belgian brewed classics.

*yes I'm aware that's not a word in much use these days but its real - look it up!



The final Kildalton distillery is Ardbeg. Again, no tour for us on this visit but instead a tasty lunch in the old kiln cafe. As with most Islay distilleries they've stopped producing their own malt and instead get hold of it from Port Ellen maltings.

There's a selection of fresh cooked home-made dishes and a well-stocked shop. The tour ends in the tasting room, which has a large variety on offer. Certainly somewhere I'll have to return to!
They've created a few experimental malts, not least alligator (see right), named for the charring technique used on the casks which causes them to resemble alligator hide. As you might expect its very smoky, charcoal, ash alongside a touch of peat from the base spirit, not for everyone but I enjoyed my dram. The Blasda (left) is a different kettle of fish altogether. Distilled with a lower ppm specification on the peat in the malt its much more gentle with a sweet honey note in the mouth.

I was pleased to capture this reflection shot outside of the distillery. As you can see Ardbeg uses different types of cask to achieve different finishes on the spirit.


Wood Aging

I started writing this post ages ago, and since then there have been a number of posts on wood-aging.

A trend that has been noticed recently is barrel ageing of beers. Usually stouts though any beer which has high enough alcohol content for ageing has probably been stuck in a barrel at some point. 

Some beers are aged in "virgin" casks; i.e., they've not been used previously whereas others may come from the whisk(e)y/rum/brandy/(insert spirit here) industries.

I seem to have built up a sizeable stash of these so thought I'd put my thoughts down here. Unlike some people I enjoy barrel aged beers. It can be overdone resulting in an alcoholic mess or oaky soup, but when done well it can enhance and complement the base beer's characteristics.

There are probably two well-known barrel agers in the UK and both based in Scotland. Their methodology couldn't be more different. Whilst Innis and Gunn was originally a waste product from the beer conditioning of new oak casks it gained a small following and the company was formed around it. Since then they've also released spirits barrel aged editions including the Irish Whisky stout reviewed below.
Brewdog on the other hand, have a large stash of whisky barrels from all over Scotland and showcased how their different characteristics come through in a standard (though by no means mundane) base stout. This is their Paradox range. They've also barrel aged a large number of their limited release products*. I have three of these coming up next month.

So on to the reviews. First up is a biggy: Great Divide's 17th anniversary Wood Aged DIPA. Pours dark amber, with fluffy beige head and aroma redolent of marmalade on toast with underlying vanilla pod sweetness. Well balanced wood, malt and hop notes flavour wise, alcohol hidden expertly. This is an example of how to wood age well and flys in the face of the assumption that it has to be a stout to be barrel aged.

The aforementioned Innis and Gunn pours dark ruby with vanilla and toffee apple on the nose. Quite highly carbonated with more toffee apple, sweet caramel, chocolate. Lingering sweet finish. Pretty well done.

Goose Island Bourbon County pours black as night with a lacing of beige and a continual eruption of small bubbles that burst on surfacing. Vanilla custard and caramel liqueur on the nose. Thick and rich and warming with chocolate, robust barley, through coffee, chicory and a long warming vanilla finish. Coffee comes in afterwards and rumbles on alongside oaky influences and a final whisky kiss. This is a fantastic beer.

Its becoming a more widespread practice within the UK too, with brewers such as Hardknott (with their Æther Blæc in four iterations this year), Summer Wine, Black Isle, Harviestoun^ and St Peters experimenting. Even the Mighty Fullers is involved with their Brewer's Reserve beers now approaching its fourth year.

*I recently reviewed Brewdog Bitch Please, another barrel aged beer
^With their excellent Ola Dubh range



Another Kildalton distillery, Laphroaig this time, long revered as being a particularly phenolic dram. I didn't have enough time to go on the tour but had a good look around the exhibition and strolled around outside. Its a great look back at the people that have made Laphroaig over the years alongside some of the awards that they have received.
I peeked into the warehouse below the distillery offices and was met with the enticing sight of casks and old coppering tools. I'd love to spend some time just wondering around soaking up the fumes.
You can even sign up to become a friend of the distillery and mark your plot on the field. The field is marked with flags of various nations and some people have even brought their own custom flags. I picked up a miniature whilst I was there which I've reviewed below.
An amber-honey tone which forms long alcohol streaks on  the side of the glass. Laphroaig cask strength has a nose with immediate iodine and wood-smoke nose. Underneath this is a hint of golden syrup and damp soil. Its fairly sweet at first and then those phenolic notes Laphroaig is so famous for creep in along with some charcoal and ash. The heat comes in the swallow, leaving a long medicinal finish.

My palate has certainly become more tolerant as previously I couldn't even stand a single sip of the stuff! Who else out there finds Islay malts hard work?