MMXIII:Golden Pints

2013 has been a great year for beer. I've found myself buying fewer beers from overseas in favour of the extensive, generally fresher, often more inventive UK brewers. There's been plenty worth talking about, especially in bottled form (how I've done most of my drinking this year) but can't put everything in!  I've certainly had plenty of decent bevvys, brought to me by a bevy of brewers; so without further ado (and alliteration) here are my golden pints for 2013.*

Best UK Cask Beer 
 I've had plenty of excellent one of cask beers this year (Kernel Glengarioch barrel aged imperial brown stout anyone?) but for drinkability and one I've returned to many times this year its Dark Star Hophead. Most unusual was certainly Fyne & Wilds Cool as a Cucumber.

Best UK Keg Beer
Again, lots of super one-off beers (Summer Wine's rum barrel aged calico jack was superlatively good) but again, a session beer steals the crown..Magic Rock Simpleton is packed full of flavour for its 2.6% and dserves the crown.
 Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
As in past years I've mostly been drinking bottled beers and the three that have wowed me most this year are Wild Beer's Ninkasi, Moor's Hoppiness and Marble's Decadence. Indeed, they're the only beers I've ever gone back for extra bottles of.
Best Overseas Draught Beer
Not really drunk many this year but Brooklyn's There Will be Black was a proper non-roasty bitter bruiser of a BIPA.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta was fantastic at the start of the year on my honeymoon and Green Flash St Feullien's friendship brew black saison really pleased me as its exactly what I was looking for in a dark saison.
Best Collaboration Brew
I have a feeling my favourite will be on many people's lists but its a superb beer: Wild/ Burning Skies/ Good George Schnoodlepip. Its just wacky sounding but worked really well.

Best Overall Beer
Of all of those beers above it has to be Wild's Ninkasi that takes the Crown. I urge you to try it if you haven't already.

From Ohbeautifulbeer
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label 
So many breweries have re-branded this year; so many new breweries have launched with fantastic logos and house styles that this category has become really difficult! My vote has to be for Partizan however for their similar but different individual labels.

Best UK Brewery
Buxton still take the crown for me here, with Colin continuing stronge-ly (sorry!) from where James left off. James' bretted and barrel aged Tsara's were superb and Buxton imperial black rocks still holds the crown as best BIPA for me. The new range of sours the team are brewing now are fab and I really look forward to visiting their new brewery tap some time soon.

Best Overseas Brewery
As mentioned I've not drunk as much overseas stuff this year, but Yeastie Boys really impressed this year when in NZ.
Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Again, plenty of contenders here. My top 3 in no particular order would have to be Partizan, Wild & Siren who have all produced fantastic beers and seem to have been around for a long time. 

Pub/Bar of the Year
The Hanging Bat in Edinburgh is a Fantastic showcase to British beers and well deserving of top spot. Staff that care, an easy to see beer list and a token system to al

Best Beer City
Bristol has really flourished in 2013 with 4 new beer bars and 2 refurbishments following hot on the heels of Brewdog in 2012. Bristol beer week was also a fantastic showcase for the local talent in established and up and coming breweries.

Supermarket of the Year
Whilst most supermarkets in Northern Ireland are dire for beer choice, M&S has really extended the range with their own label stuff and don't try to hide who brews it...which I applaud them for.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Beer Ritz are still excellent as is Bitter Virtue in Southampton but this year's nod goes to Drinkstore in Dublin who I also shop with online.

Online Retailer of the Year 
This is a dead heat between Ales By Mail (fantastic idea to do best of London Cases and have put up with me doing part-orders for merging all year) plus Alesela, a one stop shop for decent Scottish beer and random rarities from elsewhere. Drinkstore have been fantastic as usual helping me to get hold of plenty of Irish one-offs. Honourable mention to Brewdog for sorting out their online shop (alesbymail again! 20% discount helps too!).

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Another fantastic year for beer books but best magazine has to go to Hot Rum Cow. Not just beer but all kinds of drinks, its an unputdownable read from cover to cover. Best book definitely For The Love of Hops.

Best Beer Blog or Website 
Its still Boak & Bailey I find myself most enjoying, especially with their longer reads and historical tidbits this year. The Beer Cast **has also really developed this year with plenty of interesting articles and exclusives, I think it won't be long until Rich makes the transition to print...

Best Beer App 
I already did a post on this, don't have a top app but I use ratebeer the most.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
I've had less time for twitter this year but the Craft Wankers are always entertaining and certainly deserving of the irreverence and joviality associated with this award. Rob @beerlens also deserves mention for his kind donation of early issues of Hot Rum Cow. Of course I concur that this should go to Simon in its first year.

Best Brewery Website/Social media 
Wiper & True's website is simply designed but packed full of information and easy to navigate. Top marks!  
Check Pencil & Spoon or Beer Reviews over the next few days for a summary post of everyone's nominations...who will be crowned brewery of the year?

*as usual I'm writing these at the start of December so as not to be swayed by other people's opinions...but I reserve the right to make changes in light of any decent discoveries in December!

Edit 6/12/13 **Turns out I'm not the only one who enjoys Rich's blog as he has just won a gold tankard for writing in online media...great job!


"Irish" ales

Despite the wave of decent new breweries in Ireland, some don't always get it right and today we have two breweries that reflect that well. I almost considered not bothering to write these up but people need to know what to avoid as well as what to seek out!

The labels of the first have already caused much controversy; so I won't dwell on it here though I'm not a fan of the "characters" and their associated paddiwhackery blarney. They're also curently brewed in England; so not even Irish! (BeerNut thoughts here)


First up Gravy Maevy's Pilsner...the controversially labelled one...also what kind of a name is Gravy anyway...just named that way so that it rhymes probably. As you can see it looks nothing like a pilsner, being closer in colour to a Vienna and tasting like neither. Sweet cereal grain nose. Sweet, 1 dimensional buttery biscuit base. This went down the sink after a few sips.
Granny Mary's Red Ale is another with style above substance. It all starts well pouring an attractive dark ruby with fluffy tan head collapsing to a lacing but goes downhill thereafter. Wet cereal grain and cardboard boxes, metallic mouldy berries. Medium body, sweet, caramalt and burnt toast, acrid finish...another drain pour.No one needs to brew red ales!

Next up a brewery who quite impressed with their lager but not so with the rest of their range. Again, strong branding but nout else.

The Liberties up first. Dusty caramel, sweet malt and butterscotch on the nose. Buttery biscuit, quite dry bitterness, touch of red berries. Another beer not given long enough for the yeast to mop up diacetyl...or just a poor choice of yeast.

Honor Bright is your typical Irish Red  - Slightly peppery cereal notes, malt led. More diacetyl and caramalt.Almost as bad as the McGargles and again straight down the sink.

Best of the bunch was Black Pitts Porter dark cola brown, roast barley and molasses on the nose. Medium carbonation, dry brown malt, some residual chocolate sweestness, very dry burnt toast, slightly astringent and red berries in finish. Its missing on the hop balance, being mostly malt led but at least it didn't end up being poured away.

5 Lamps


Tis the Saison

This post has sat in draft for too many months; so clearing it out to make way for more posts next year. One of my favourite beer "styles" are saisons, nothing better when you want a sessionable ale to spend some time over. I've curated an interesting range in this post; to show you the breadth of the style.

Up first is an offering from Partizan, very much in the traditional vein - Saison Grisette @ 4.8% Hazy pale blonde with lacing of white head. Typical dry Belgian yeast esters, well attenuated, medium body, slightly peppery coriander, long ester filled finish. I've since had all of Partizan's saisons* but this was still one of the best.

Another Partizan saison next (Big Red), similar but darker, not black however. Cloudy mid amber with coriander and yeast esters on the nose - probably the same yeast as used above but igven more malt to chomp on as this one hits 7.4%. Sweet and spicy, caramel and apple, warm and spiky, dry Belgian finish. Its got the best bits of a Belgian dubbel without the candy sugar off-taste I hate.

Stepping ever stronger is Nomada Untitldead at 9% which I discovered in the fridge at the Barley Mow one day. Dark chestnut amber, minimal head soon dissipated. Rich toffee sweetness plus slight tartness. Sweet, toffee, caramel, fruitcake, rich marmalade. Low carbonation. Long fruity finish but too rich for my tastes.

To finish off is my final bottle of the "Overseas Dictator" brewed for my birthday last year by my friend Paul. The carbonation has died down somewhat which means I can pour the glass without it frothing everywhere (redecorated Bitter Virtue with a fresh bottle...) This has really aged well with a good dry finish, just a touch of chocolate and some nice herbal hop notes complementing the saison and wheat spices. Apologies to Paul for leaving this so long to post!

*Post to come in the new year!


Paint It Black

Instead of a specific seasonal this year Eight degrees have launched a limited edition trilogy of dark beers - Back to Black. I've picked them up from Drinkstore and am unselfishly drinking them to let you know whether they're worth getting!

Going up in increasing ABV order then we first come to Aztec stout, 5.5%; so called because it has cocoa, cinammon, chipotle chili and vanilla.dark cola brown with lacing latte head. Roasted barley with a fruity chili note, touch of marmitey Autolysed yeast. More fruity notes on swirling. Medium bodied, low carbonation, fairly sweet fruitiness, touch of chili heat, dry dark chocolate malt. Missing the vanilla and cinnamon in taste but an enjoyable winter warmer.

Next up was Zeus Black IPA at 7%. Its fantastic, not just the best BIPA I've tried in Ireland but one of the best for these islands combined.Rich citrus and guava with slight chocolate undercurrent. Cola with a lacing of beige head. Full bodied, tingling carbonation, tangerine, pithy bitterness, long bitter finish. Spot on BIPA. Highly recommended a steal at 2.80!

Rounding of the trilogy we have Imperial Russian Stout at 9%.  Pouring resplendent with fluffy tan head in the glass and an inviting aroma of rich chocolate cake. There's also leather and a touch of citrus peel. Unctuous mouth feel, thick bodied, gentle carbonation, rich fruitcake malt, plummy, molasses, tobacco, boozy hit, dry. Will probably age well, a beer this big needs some more complexity...Brett would work well here.

Whilst we're on dark beers I may as well tell you about Porterhouse's new release: The Devil's Half Acre - a monster of a beer at 13.5%! Pours hazy dark cola coloured with a frothy tan head. Initial fresh citrus aroma followed by treacle toffee, rich boozy whisky, vanilla woody notes, marzipan. Full bodied, medium carbonation, sweet, powerfully bitter, big whisky kick, bourbon biscuits, dry roast barley notes. Long dry barley finish. Its a big bruiser of a beer but really well made, with the whisky deftly controlled. This should still be available in porterhouse bars for 4 this week and in a few off licences if you're lucky.

Tune in next week for some beers from the lighter side of the spectrum!


Proper Chrimbeers

Its December again which means we have the inevitable slew of Christmas themed ales upon us. Some breweries rebrand a regular, some release seasonal specials of common or garden bitters and blonde ales and some push the boat out with stronger, often spiced ales. I've lined up a selection thsis year, thoughts below. 

I received the same Box Steam "Big Big Train" press release that Pete did and I too ended up being sent their two Christmas beers. I'd had the Christmas blonde before and found it to be an enjoyable golden ale with thick white head.Fairly pithy aroma with grassy malt, a grapefruit tang and long sweet malt/bitter finish. Not at all Christmassy however. This recent bottle had lost all of the hop freshness and become quite dull because of it, can't really recommend it.

Where Box Steam usually excel are their dark ales; so was looking forward to a taste of Christmas Box Dark. This one isn't quite as enjoyable as some of their others but makes a better Christmas ale than the blonde. Spicey, dark berries aroma, lots of roast barley in this, becomes a bit astringent followed by rich blackcurrant, (bramling cross maybe). Its half stout/ half brown ale and worth a go if you find it.  

Also arriving on my doorstep recently was Shepherd Neame's Christmas ale. This 7% beer actually makes the best of Shep.'s house character to produce a rich and warming attractively copper hued beer. Flavours of sticky malt and jammy plums are hampered somewhat by a oxidised papery note on the nose which makes me wonder if my bottle suffered on the journey as other writers seem to have enjoyed it, but I really didn't.

What was much more enjoyable was Brewdog's hoppy Christmas, a single hop Simcoe IPA. Better than their recent batch of IPA is dead single hoppers this beer is packed full of fresh resinous and tangerine peel Simcoe aromas. Pithy hops, bitter yet balanced with deft malting for balance makes this a beer I'll certainly;y be returning to. 

Also new from Brewdog is Santa Paws, described as a Christmas Scotch Ale. Now I'm sure you're all aware I'm not a fan of malt led beers, but the heather honey added to this one adds an extra layer of complexity and puts it into mild/ brown ale territory. Certainly preferable to the rehash of dogma anyway.

So a bit of a mixed bag really, I'd like to see brewers put more thought into their Christmas specials, rather than rehashing regular beers to cash in on a Christmas market. I think some of these beers have achieved that whilst others haven't, make up your own mind.


Castor City

Beavertown quietly slid on to the London brewing scene some when last year and those in the know tried to keep the secret to themselves. Such a big secret is hard to keep however and the brewery are now so big they've had to vacate their original brew pub home (apparently still well worth a visit) and in to purpose built premises. Their beers are now available up and down the country and from all the "usual suspects" beer retailers.

My first encounter with Logan's wares was via smog rocket, a sublime smoked stout and an experimental "alpha series" brew - Gamma Ray which was so successful it made the transition to core beer. Its a typical American pale ale, but done well with plenty of sticky malt and resinous hops, slipping down far too easily for something at 5.4%. A recent bottle via Ales By Mail Best of London case confirmed its still in fine fettle.

Other core range beers include 8 ball, which includes all the best rye spiciness without the meaty/ feety notes you can sometimes get with these beers and Black Betty is quite simply one of the best black IPAs in the UK (if not the world if you ask RateBeer). 

But where Beavertown often excels is in their experimental beers. Bloody 'Ell Blood Orange IPA on keg in Edinburgh this summer was fantastic, an exposition of an orange, with peel, juice and pith all the way through. A bottle I kept back has aged well, and despite aging is still balanced but most of that fresh orange immediacy has dissipated. Fngers crossed they'll brew a fresh batch next year.

I say "often" excels because I had a couple of disappointing beers this weekend. Uncle Joe's Russian Kvass, which had already received mixed reviews was unfortunately battery acid and paper thin - managed just a few sips.
Stingy jack a pumpkin beer that many say has altered their perceptions of the much maligned style also seemed to have acquired an acidic edge and was still too vegetal for my tastes. The spicing was pitched at the right level however and had less of the overt sweetness some in the style can have.

Better though was Hara Kiri, their dark saison.Plenty of lime sherbet, grapefruit and dark coffee, I missed the Belgian Esters here finding it closer to a well-hopped stout but enjoyable nevertheless. Dark Matter, a Brewdog Collaboration was an interesting soured stout with umami soy and roast barley notes alongside a refreshing tartness which makes me wonder if that's how old ales would have originally tasted.

Saving the biggest beer for last I'm reassured that Beavertown have still got it as Heavy Water hammers the palate with all of its 9%.  Rich meaty malt, sweet molasses and chocolate, vanilla and leather assault the nostrils. To taste there's milky coffee, rich and smooth, roast barley, leather, tobacco, ersatz coffee, low carbonation. This one comes highly recommended, though I'd perhaps have liked more bitterness to balance the sweetness.


(Real)Irish cider!

I recently picked up some Irish ciders from Drinkstore and drink my way through them at the weekend. All are quite different; so thought it might be informative to compare and contrast.

Double LL up first in a nice 750ml bottle for sharing with Daisy (I had an oversized pint glass and she got the rest!) It Pours cloudy orange tinged yellow with gentle carbonation - certainly looks to be the real stuff. Dusty apple lofts on the nose. Quite tannic and dry in the mouth with residual sweetness to prevent tartness. Slight wild barnyard character & rich braeburn-like eating apples come later. A nice lengthy finish too, just what I look for in a cider. It certainly sounds like some thought has been put in to designing the blend of juices

Stonewell's effort is a blend of 5 apple varieties (Dabinett, Michelin, Jonagold, Elstar & Falstaff) though I'm not sure what each brings to the party.*All are good juicing varieties and bring a blend of sweetness and tannins to make a decent cider. It pours an attractive deep burnished gold with apple pie and custard on the nose. Quite light in body, sweet at first but a dry tannic finish with later vanilla and caramel as it warms. The carbonation is quite light, which suggests bottle conditioning perhaps but the finish is very brief - perhaps some more cider apples in the mix would up the complexity.. The medium behaves in a similar vein but the sweetness actually helps the apple flavours to last longer in the mouth.
Something quite different is a "low-alcohol cider", Tobairin at 1.5%. Pours extremely pale blonde with greenish tinge and slight bubbly head. Steady stream of bubbles with unmistakable sweet jonagold juicy flesh on the nose. Fairly sweet but with a pleasant tartness in the finish which ups the body and prevents it from becoming cloying. I actually quite enjoyed it and is certainly a good stepping stone for the Koppaberg crowd to try the real stuff.
I must mention at this point the Republic's ridiculous tax laws on cider, meaning even this 1.5% cider ends up being sold at 4.20 a bottle, well north of beers even 4 times the strength. It shows that UK cider makers get a pretty decent deal actually. Extend the tax relief to Ireland's craft brewers!

So how does longueville house stack up? Its much darker than all the others Bright amber with white lacing dusty apple lofts and toffee apples. Tart granny smith and rotting hay, touch of wild yeast perhaps and very dry, slightly tannic finish building like a decent scrumpy but with slightly unusual turps note in the middle.  Very much a scrumpy style but something I can't quite put my finger on which doesn't quite sit right. It appears to use just dabinett and michelin apples, which would certainly lead to a more tannic character! Certainly intrigued how their cider brandy will taste though!

So a great range of ciders, all of which are enjoyable and I look forward to trying other releases.Stay tuned next week for some reviews of ciders from North of the border! 

Drinkstore kindly offers a 10% discount on Irish Craft Ciders and beers to Beoir members. So aside from supporting local businesses there are now also tangible benefits of being a member (spend 100euro in a year and make your membership fee back), why not join up![/recruitment drive]

*Jonagold is an eater-  cross of golden delicious and jonathan. Michelin is a 140 year-old Midlands cider variety, Dabinett a slightly younger Somerset cider apple, Elstar, Falstaff & Jonagold are all eaters, Golden delicious crossed with jonathan, james grieve and Ingrid Marie respectively.


Beer for Storage

Its the time of year when festive and special releases do the rounds and a number of people were offered bottles of the following beer, one of whom was Nate Southwood who blogs at Booze, Beats and Bites. I suggested we guest post on each other's blogs, so over to Nate!

Truman’s London Keeper Review

Truman’s Brewery was originally established in 1666, but closed in 1989 – the year of my birth. After lots of hard work they finally started brewing again in August 2013.

I’ve been excited about their beers for ages as Ben Ott is an incredibly talented brewer, and the history behind the brewery is awesome.

Luckily I was offered the chance to get a bottle of this sent to me so I can do a little writing.

This was the first ever beer Truman’s brewed in their new brewery, and the recipe dates back to 1880! That’s some old school beering! There are only 2000 bottles too!

Brewery: Truman’s
Beer: London Keeper
Location: London (England)
Style: Double Stout
ABV: 8%

It pours black as night with a thick off white head and bubbles rising in the glass, but oh so silky.

Aroma: Bittersweet chocolate & coffee attack your nostrils and begs you to drink it!

Taste: My god. Starts off with bitter chocolate, moving on into sweetened coffee and finishes with a very red wine like character. Stunning.

Mouthfeel: Feels very carbonated in the mouth and it’s thick yet still so smooth and silky.

Overall: This is a brilliant beer. It has everything I want in a stout of this strength. I really need to buy more.  It’s simply stunning. Each mouthful delivers.

I’d recommend buying some of this before it’s all gone as there are only 2000 bottles.

You can buy it from their website here: http://www.trumansbeer.co.uk/product/trumans-london-keeper/



Wiping those Blues away

Perhaps one of the beers I've heard  the most about but not had the chance to try is Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale. So when a range of Oskar Blues wares (in canned form no less) appeared on the Brewdog store I filled up my basket and here are the results:

 Mama's little yella pils is your typical pilsener at 5.3% Hazy pale golden blonde. White lacing Minimal dusty grain nose, fairly sweet, medium carbonation, dry grain and a touch of herbal hops. Ok but probably better on draught.

The buzz around Deviant Dales (at 6.5% a bit high ABV wise for a pale ale) is certainly justifiable in my mind. Hazy burnished gold with fluffy off white head and rich piney nose. Sweet malts balanced by fresh floral hops and a fairly bitter finish. Medium body and gentle carbonation. Really fresh and immediate hop impact.

Deviant Dales (the 8% IPA amped up version of the aforementioned) is equally good.Amber with cream tinted head with dank herbal nettle aroma. Medium carbonation, full bodied, sweet at first followed by pithy citrus bitterness, juicy orange and lime peel with dry finish.

Collaboration with Sun King The Deuce is a 7% brown Ale. Murky chestnut with beige head. Piney hops with some simcoe orange. Medium carbonation and body, fairly sweet, orange sherbet, pithy hops, dry slightly chalky finish.

Gubna Imperial IPA wasn't quite as enjoyable however. Clear burnished gold with lacing of white head. Digestive malts light tangerine and a suggestion of tcp on the nose. Full bodied with light carbonation. Sweet, higher alcohols, slightly acrid, highly pithy. Not as hoppy as expected but 6 months old so may have dulled somewhat.

G'Knight is an Imperial Red IPA at a whopping 8.7%.
Attractive ruby brown with tan lacing. Rich pine needles, forest floor and sweet toffee. Medium carbonation, dry rasping bitterness well balanced by sticky toffee malt and a slightly astringent warming finish. It was enjoyable enough but perhaps overcarbonated.

Ten Fidy is the Imperial Stout weighing in at 10.5% with 98 IBUS.
dark brown with muddy tan frothy head which collapses to a lacing. Rich savoury dark malts, slight Marmite and coffee. Full bodied, rich savoury malt, slight tobacco, sweet caramel, dry ashen finish. Slight alcohol as more drunk, dry slightly meaty barley, long malt led finish.
Old Chub 8%
Dark ruby chestnut with tan lacing rich sweet malt, caramel, ripe fruit,sweet, rich malt,touch of milky coffee, prunes,cola, soft carbonation. Fairly rich. As usual, I'm not a fan of the malt led beers; so I don't like this "Scotch ale"

I also tried obliterator doppelbock 10.5% on keg at brewdog Bristol. It again confirms my suspicion that doppelbocks are not for me; with the majority of my third going to a member of staff. Dark brown, very sweet, minimal aroma, malt led. Caramel and milk chocolate. 

Oskar Blues also came over and collaborated with Brewdog to produce Shipwrecker circus, a 10.5% barley wine. Dark ruby chestnut with fluffy beige head. Hop driven resinous aroma with Orange pith. Full bodied, pithy citrus assault, sweet caramel, some higher alcohol notes then a long orange bitter finish. Moderate carbonation Like someone tipped a bottle of orange bitters into caramel sauce. I quite enjoyed it but is very heavy going and perhaps one for sharing. £5.99 is quite reasonable for  a strong beer too, though does equate to over £10.31 a pint if you like to get bang for your buck, this is not it.

So were they worth the dosh? Certainly the deviant dales and dales pale ale were brilliantly fresh, no doubt helped by being canned and the ten fiddy is a decent enough imperial stout, but we now have enough good beers in the UK that we don't have to look abroad for something decent to drink. With my shareholder discount these weren't too extortionate but cost effective, I'm not sure...