A Bristol Beer Crawl

Bristol is home to some fantastic pubs and breweries. I spent this weekend investigating a chunk of them. If I remember correctly (no mean feat with the number visited) there were 17 in all*, with a couple visited twice. Rather than bore you with a mammoth post about all the pubs I'll let the pictures do (most of) the talking. They do say a picture is worth 1000 words after all...

The Old Fish Market

Fantastic Red Brick Fuller's pub

New American-hopped seasonal Wild River

Georges Bristol Brewery
Bristol is full of Brewing Heritage, and the new breweries look
to reach the same heights of success

The Seven Stars

Fantastic back-street local's pub
Avoid the Hopping Mad!
The King's Head
Fantastic Historic Interior pub

Ancient beer selection (display!)

 The Cornubia
Real Ale Oasis the Cornubia is hidden up a back road

  The Three Tuns
Arbor Ales Bristol Tap

Just a few of Arbor's output

 The Grain Barge
A bar...on a boat!
And Bristol Beer Factory beers available, excellent!

  Bag O'Nails
Another free house on the way home

That'll be a Moor please!

The Robin Hood

Respite whilst climbing St Michael's Hill

The Highbury Vaults

Olde Young's Pub
Ancient Hand pumps in Front Bar

From one of the Oldest to the Newest
Beerd is Bath Ales' new craft beer & pizza bar
Eclectic interior and a good range of beer

Tiny Rebel Cwtch in Beerd

Aubergine, Goats cheese and Basil - nom!

Two Dawkins Pubs:

The Green Man

The Green Man
Arbor Single Hop in a cute 1/2 pint tankard

The Hillgrove Porter Stores

Hillgrove Porter Stores

Whilst okay on bottle its stupendous on cask.


These were all pubs I'd happily return to, unusual to get such a high success rate! There's a number of other pubs left to visit in Bristol, but they'll be for another time! 

I also love that I can get Butcombe Bitter, my benchmark on cask in the airport whilst waiting for my plane home. Rare Breed is now also available. Both of these plus others in the range are available in the Colston Yard, their flagship bar at the bottom of St Michael's Hill.

*I didn't quite manage to capture all of them, for the curious amongst you my journeys took me to the following:
Beerd, The Green Man, The Hillgrove Porter Stores, The Croft, The Old Fish Market, The Seven Stars, The King's Head, Cornubia, The Bridge Inn, The Three Tuns, The Grain Barge, The Bag O'Nails, The Hope and Anchor, Zero Degrees, The Colston Yard, The Robin Hood & The Highbury Vaults.


Drinking in Cardiff

Despite being fairly well travelled in the UK, I had not visited the capital of Wales. I was given the chance to rectify this recently when I was invited to take part in a Beer Academy tasting course hosted by Evan Evans* in their Cardiff pub, the Cricketers.

Simon Buckley serves up Gold
The pub is fairly well-turned out with up to 8 cask beers on at any one time. The course was interesting and well worth the trip. We tried Archers Gold (Archers is now an Evan Evans owned brewery) and Evan Evans Cwrw. Simon Buckley of Evan Evans certainly knows his stuff and I look forward to sampling their new offerings.

I was also fortunate enough to bump into Robert Gale, photographer behind the Beer Lens site, always good to put a face to a name, especially when they're so friendly.

Following the course I decided to go via a few other pubs to the Great Welsh beer and Cider festival, where I was keen to try Wales' newest brewery, Tiny Rebel.First stop was Cardiff CAMRA branch pub of the year, the City Arms. Hosting its only miniature beer festival I opted for a half of Doc Brown, Tiny Rebel's session bitter and found it met very much with my approval. We also had the fun spectacle of the naked bike ride passing outside.

From there I moved on to brew pub Zero Degrees, which completes my hat-trick having previously visited both the Bristol and Reading brew pubs. Here I tried the mango beer, the mango certainly noticeable but just not all that inspiring.

I hot-footed it along to the CIA Motorpoint Arena for the festival, where £10 got me a glass, program and a couple of pints. I headed straight for the Tiny Rebel brewery (Twtter) stand, unfortunately already much depleted with four beers sold out. I did get to try the Full Nelson a fantastic Nelson-Sauvin single hopped effort and Cwtch, an easy drinking American pale ale. I met one half of the brewing team, Brad, who was kind enough to let me try the end of Hadouken DIPA from the cask. I certainly hope to try all of these beers again! They'll be available in bottle soon.

I also got to try Brains brewery's new Barry Island IPA, brewed with the help of Real Ale Guide's Simon. An enjoyable East Coast USA style IPA, not pithy and brash like those west-coasters but a lovely beer. Look forward to trying other iterations brewed on the new craft plant, of which #3 was Mr Martyn Cornell. Also good to see Ffion fully recovered after her Japan/ #EBBC12 combo.

Cardiff is certainly well worth a visit and I look forward to returning to investigate some more pubs. There doesn't yet seem to be any "destination" beer bars, though perhaps that's not too bad as it prompts you to sample a variety of hostelries.

* As a member of the Evan Evans tasting club I got the course fee and all beers courtesy of the brewery, thank-you!


Brooklyn Local

Today its the turn of a few bottles bought a year ago and secreted in my old landlord's larder - that's one way to prevent premature drinking!

Brooklyn Brewery's "big bottles" are bottle conditioned 750ml and as such are designed to pair well with food. Today its the two Brooklyn Local beers up for review. Both are "big" in more ways than one, weighing in at 9%ABV each.

Local 1 is a strong golden Belgian ale (think Tripel) Golden coloured, with plenty of carbonation and cork popped. Fruity yeast esters on nose, banana, lively carbonation, sweet, strong malt and boozy finish with a touch of pepper. It works particularly well with St Vernier cheese from Waitrose, but any soft rinded cheese will do just as well.

Local 2 is a dark dubbel-style ale, again made with the Brooklyn Belgian yeast and refermented with champagne yeast. It makes use of wild-flower honey to give a richer texture and flavour. Another lively bottle, the cork shot across the room! The beer stayed put though. Opaque ruby with plum on the nose. Rich fruit, milk chocolate and robust malt body in this one.Works rather well with Keen's mature cheddar, but not quite so well with taleggio despite washed rind cheese being recommended as a match.

As with the Goose Island vintage range, these are decent beers, but you can get the Belgian classics for much cheaper in the UK. I'd not buy either again but happily drink them if offered.


South Coast's Finest

An old haunt of mine that I always have to return to when in Southampton, this beer Mecca is still a relatively well kept secret, but more people deserve to know about it! Tucked up a nondescript residential street is Bitter Virtue, my vote for best beer shop in the country. You'll have to make the trip there yourself as (somewhat unusually in this day and age) they don't offer a mail order service.

Walking into the shop you're greeted by either Ann or Chris behind the counter and a whole array of beers spread around and about. To your left is a display cabinet full of glassware and a shelf of ciders. The fridge to your right holds those beers that work well chilled and a smaller tall shelf contains a plethora of exciting strong beers from around the UK.
The next grouping of shelves stocks a range of UK brewers, from local favourites to some of the exciting up and coming UK brewers from further afield. Then there's a German beer section, followed by perhaps the piece de resistance, an extensive Belgian range including a good proportion of Belgian's sour beers. Chris and Ann frequently make the trip across the Channel to restock and often source some interesting gems. Chris is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge and can read Flemish; so consult him if you get stuck! At Christmas time the special beers fly out in no time.

Perhaps one of my favourite features of the shop is cask beer on gravity available to take away in a 4pint container. Priced very fairly and with a try before you buy policy its well worth partaking. I used to buy beer here then go to a BYOB gig venue around the corner and sup out of my tankard...those were the days!
Eyes left now and you're met by a goodly selection of US beers. There's also a table of the more recent and exotic additions to the range, including Italian craft breweries and the now ubiquitous Mikkeller's offerings.

The shop is well worth a special trip to Southampton, though with a selection of decent boozers nearby, why not make a day of it?

What beer shop does everybody else rate? I'd like to see your posts on it, support the independent retailers!


And Another One

Love the fox and apple in the logo!
It seems that everywhere I look I find a new cider producer*. No bad thing because I like a good cider me, especially in these warmer summer months. I spotted this particular producer's wares in the Brewer's House and got in touch to find out a bit more.

MacIvor's cider is a new focus for Greg MacNeice. His ciders are made with 100% fruit (no concentrates here!), with apples sourced from Macneice Fruits. He is influenced by the traditional farmhouse ciders of the West Country and has spent some time visiting cider makers there. He is also influenced by the French cidres of Bretagne as that's where his wife hails from. These observations he brought back to Northern Ireland with him to make cider out of Armagh's famous Bramley apples (among others). I was offered two of the new season's production from MacIvor's and I'd have been a fool not to accept them. I'll review them now:
Medium Cider (4.5%) Pours pale gold with lively carbonation, apple skin and candy floss on the nose. Fairly sweet red apple character with a touch of sulphite and perhaps some pear in the finish.Its a touch on the sweet side for me, but I can see this being a popular beverage (potentially over ice (shudder), but anything that weans people off of the ubiquitous "cider" brands has to be a good thing right?!). An email from Greg confirmed that this cider is aimed at those people, but of course is a much more traditional production method. I've also just found out that there are 12 different varieties in here, which helps produce that more rounded flavour than a low number of varieties could offer.

Traditional Dry Cider (5.6%) Pours slightly darker gold and noticeably less carbonated than the medium. Notes of custard, hay and toffee apples on the nose. Dryish but not drying or tart, subtle apple flavour and long dry finish. I like the balance and subtleties in this one and would certainly drink it if I found it in the pub.

Here's hoping that we get the cider on draught at Belfast Beer Fest this year.

*Not quite, but there's a similar number to breweries here!


CABPOM June 2012: Theakston's Old Peculier and Blue Cheshire

Its come to my attention that far too many of my cheese and beer pairings use exotic bottles from specialist off-licences and these may not be available to everyone: so its back to basics this month, with a beer ubiquitous on supermarkets up and down the land - Theakstons Old Peculier
Now the bottle doesn't measure up to the beer on cask (not surprising as its filtered and pasteurised) but is still a decent drop. Its a dark ruby brown ale with light brown head and a lovely vinous, caramelised aroma. Medium body and mouthfeel, a fruity taste with a sweet malty middle and slightly bitter finish.

Blue Cheshire was the first cheese I tried. This is a good match. Almost like a coloured cheddar with a slight hint of the blue fruitiness, its sweet caramel flavours complement the malt and the blue veining picks out and accentuates the fruit. A complementary rather than contrasting pairing then.

 I also picked up some aged edam (from Asda). Fruity and nutty it complements the malt bill perfectly but the blue cheese just edges it as the better match.

I was still feeling thirsty so opened my last bottle of Magic Rock Bearded Lady. I love this beer, its probably my favourite UK Imperial Stout; so its time to try some cheese with it. As expected, the blue cheshire works really well, those umami flavours in both coming together to elevate the flavours. The edam works pretty well too, which I wasn't expecting. Those caramel flavours in the cheese pull out some increased fruity hop notes and malt layers that before were obscured. Very nice.

So a close call again this month, but the CABPOM for me is Old Peculier and Cheshire blue cheese. I expect blacksticks blue would do just as well.


Hop Mixology

I've already reviewed this year's IPA is dead series, but decided to try some beer mixing to add depth to the flavours, partially inspired by tasting Mikkeller's 19 hop IPA, made from a  mixture of his single hop series.
Ever the scientist I tried each with each in order to work out the best and used a shot measure to ensure 50ml of each beer were used. Here's my notes (names abbreviated M= motueka, H=HBC, G=Galaxy, C=Challenger):

M+H: perfumed aroma, slight vegetal taste, soft carbonation and apricot finish

C+G: peppery Turkish delight and a hint of diesel on the nose. Caramel flavour with chalky texture and a sharp finish.

M+G: Turkish delight and satsuma on the nose, highly carbonated with pithy orange and finishing highly bitter.

M+C: Caramel and toffe plus lemon and plum on the nose. Opal fruits in the mouth with a fairly dry finish. 
This was the best combination of the six.

C+H:  Pine resin on the nose with peppery bitterness and orange marmalade in the finish.
Another great combination

H+G: Mango, bright carbonation, zingy palate with passion fruit in the finish.
I then went for three-way mixes
H+G+C: Less aroma on the nose with satsuma and a clean English bitterness in the finish.
H+G+M: Turkish delight with a bitter orange pith finish.
M+C+G: Satsuma, pear and grape on the nose, well carbonated with a messy finish. Shows that hopping has to be thought about in order to get something enjoyable, rather than just chucking in anything you feel like.
M+C+H:  Toffee on the nose with marmalade body and bitter mango rind and brief drying finish inviting the next sip. Unsurprising that the best of the pairs produced an even better trio. Would much rather have a pint of this than any of the single beers.
All 4: Hoppy nose with mango skin, resin and mango rind in the finish. The bitterness is just too dominant over the malt profile. 

Overall an interesting experiment. The blends are often better than the individual beers, and even in the dual-hopped beers the hops that I wasn't as keen on (HBC I'm looking at you) come into their own. I'm also now convinced that galaxy is not a good bittering hop, giving strange effects in most of the mixes it was used in.


FABPOW: Mushroom stroganoff and cider

FABPOW=Food& Beer Pairing. I guess that this is really a FACPOW!

Not all food and drink pairings have to be planned out meticulously in advance. Nor do they have to be haute cuisine or use an uber rare/ expensive drink for pairing. Some of the best can be spur of the moment things.

I had a load of mushrooms I'd bought reduced last weekend that needed using; so decided to make stroganoff. This needs something sweet and fruity to help bring out the flavours, which is often wine but I plumped for cider. The cider section in Asda is in sorry shape, not even sporting the likes of Weston's, so ubiquitous on the main land but rarely seen outside of Wetherspoon over here. What I did pick up was a 750ml bottle from McCann's, a Northern Ireland producer, which I must have previously overlooked due to its proximity to Magners and Stella Cidre on the shelf. I used about 250ml in the dish, leaving the best part of a pint as a chef's perk.

It pours a slightly hazy light gold, almost perry coloured with a steady stream of fine bubbles. The nose is sweet mushy golden delicious apples, with richer bramley's underneath and a touch of old straw. 
Fairly sweet in the mouth, certainly a high proportion of eating apples in the mix, but with just enough tannin at the back of the palate to be medium rather than sweet in category. Gentle carbonation and a dry finish leaves you going for more. Not bad for just over £2! 

The stroganoff is fairly simple to make. Fry an onion and clove of garlic in butter until translucent, then reduce heat and sweat down ~400g mushrooms for 10mins. I used a mix of chestnut, portobello and baby button plus dried oyster, shiitake  and porcini to give a good depth of flavour and mix of textures. Remove the lid from the pan and allow the mushroom juices to evaporate, then add 250ml cider or wine, simmering for two minutes. Add a tub of crème fraiche and 1/2 tbs of cornflour made up in 2tbs water*,  stirring well until thickened. Serve with rice and sprinkle with parsley/ chives if you so desire. Simple!

It pairs perfectly with the stroganoff. You'd expect it to make a decent fist of it,what with it being used in the dish but I think it brings more to it than that (certainly a better pairing than wine and stroganoff). The earthy, umami in the mushrooms provides a contrast to the sweet, fresh apples, riffing off each other. The carbonation and alcohol content cut through the crème fraiche, refreshing the palate and the rich sauce is perfectly complemented by the dry, slightly tannic finish to the cider. Such a simple pairing but a classic. 

*I used the liquid from rehydrating my dried mushrooms for extra richness.