Monday, 30 September 2013

Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt - South West

I do not normally frequent supermarkets and when it comes to beer I try to drink in pubs or purchase my bottled beers from independent specialists.  However, I am always willing to try new beers and the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 offers a range that is not normally available in supermarkets so I was happy to pay my local a visit to see what I could find.  

Twenty beers have been short-listed by beer experts (?!?) from an initial entry in excess of 150 beers.  The twenty finalists are composed of five beers from four different regions so if I am sampling the best of the entries here then I expect some top quality beers to be in my glass.  I did not find all twenty beers but I did come across fifteen and I will get round to reviewing these over three separate blog posts.  

So here goes then on the Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Part One and I am beginning my journey in the South West of England.
1.  India Pale Ale - Harbour (5.2% ABV)

Bottle number one comes from Cornwall.  Harbour only began brewing only in 2011 and this deep golden IPA certainly has a strong citrussy aroma.  This is reflected in the initial taste which is very heavily grapefruit.  The finish was a little sweet and refreshing but all the time there was a strong underlying sharpness of grapefruit.  I loved it but perhaps it was a little one dimensional.  The citrussy grapefruit notes were totally dominant.  A good start though and I awarded it a score of 8/10.

2.  Porter No.6 - Harbour (6.8% ABV)

The second bottle again comes from Harbour.  I love porters so this was something I was really looking forward to.  The colour was black of course and there was only a subtle hint of roasted malts with those distinct chocolate and coffee notes.  The flavours that came through strongly for me were of plum and raisin with a hint of liquorish.  It was deliciously sweet in fact and very full-bodied.  The finish was sweet and incredibly smooth.  If there is a better beer than this in the competition I will be surprised and delighted and I awarded it a 9/10.  This beer was a big hit with my wife too.           

3.  Devon Dreamer - Hunter's Brewery (4.1% ABV)

Bottle number three took me into Devon with a golden beer from Hunter's who began brewing in 2008.  This was brewed using the classic English hop Goldings and added to the mix was a late addition of Citra.  This addition was obviously responsible for the absolutely amazing aroma but there was not much evidence of it in the taste surprisingly.  A peach fruitiness was evident initially with some nice spicy notes coming through but there was little aftertaste.  It just sort of fizzled out sadly and so I awarded it a score of 6/10.  

4.  Gower Gold - Gower Brewery (4.5% ABV)

For my fourth bottle I crossed the border into Wales but I was staying in the South West.  The Gower Brewery began operations in 2011 and the beer poured beautifully giving off a superb golden colour.  It is a classic balanced bitter with a slight citrus fruit aroma.  The taste was a little more more sweet than bitter and the finish was a little spicy.  It is a good example of this type of beer but I am not a huge fan of balanced golden ales.  I awarded it a score of 7/10.        

5. Querkus Smoked Oaked Porter - Ridgeway Brewery (5.8% ABV)

My final beer in this region took me into Oxfordshire.  I have tried some smoked beers that have been quite disgusting and only one, Celtic Smoked Porter from Okells (4.7% ABV) on the Isle of Man, has hit the spot with me.  Sadly, this entrant comes under the 'not-so-good' category.  The aroma was very smokey as you would expect but the beer had no body at all.  It tasted quite medicinal.  Some sweetness with notes of bonfire toffee came through but quickly disappeared to give quite a sour finish.  My wife hated it with a passion and couldn't work out why I gave it such a high score of 3/10.             

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Wilkes Head, Eastergate.

I have made two visits to the Wilkes Head in two days which has to be something of a record for me.  Yesterday evening I met a friend to have a good chat about micropubs whilst enjoying the most awesome pint of Long Man American Pale Ale (4.8% ABV).  This beer was so good I had to visit again this lunchtime and use my 'Free Pint' voucher that all CAMRA members are eligible for to celebrate Cask Ale Week.

Tomorrow the Wilkes Head will be presented with the CAMRA Sussex Pub of the Year award and the place is sure to be packed.  There are five CAMRA areas in Sussex and each region names their pub of the year and members from all the five regions will then visit the winners of each and vote for an overall winner.  I understand that The Wilkes Head was a clear winner this year.

The Wilkes Head is located close to Fontwell Racecourse and the A27 between Chichester and Arundel.  For those passing through to Bognor Regis down the A29 from the A27 at Fontwell you will pass through Eastergate but you will bypass the old village centre to a large extent.  At the old war memorial the main road goes off to the right through Westergate and Woodgate with no rural gap in between.  If you turn off the main road though and sort of continue straight on you will enter the old village with the Wilkes Head nestled in a corner next to the village school.  

There are two bars in both directions when you enter the front door and both have a lovely village local feel to them.  Further off to the right is a bit of a function room also used for dining and a large garden which has a covered area too.  On the few occasions I have been in this pub the staff have always been very friendly and welcoming and last night we were presented with a few sandwiches and a plate of chips to enjoy alongside our pints.  It really is a perfect local and judging by how busy it always seems to be lots of people have the same thought.       

Although the Wilkes Head is owned by Punch Taverns, the beer selection is always first class.  At a recent branch social I enjoyed a superb pint of Oakleaf Hole Hearted (4.7% ABV) there and last night there was again an Oakleaf beer (Nuptu'ale 4.2%ABV) alongside Bowman's Swift One (3.8% ABV) in addition to the amazing American Pale Ale from the fairly new East Sussex brewer Long Man.  I cannot remember what the fourth beer was but Adnams fine beers are often featured.  The guest ales are constantly changing though and judging by the beers due soon you will rarely be disappointed by what's on offer.

Unfortunately I cannot be at the presentation of the Sussex Pub of the Year at the Wilkes Head tomorrow but I will be making my way to this fine pub as often as I can and for anyone in the area I recommend you do the same.  It really is a splendid pub.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Beer and football

Beer and football go together like fish and chips.  Football without beer is unthinkable.  I find it impossible to go to a football match without having a couple of pints first.  I have tried it on a few occasions and it just isn't the same.  You may think that is because I follow Southampton FC and that they would look better after a couple of pints but even in the heady days of the early 1980s, when we were probably the most attractive side in the country to watch, the pre-match beer was all part of the match day experience for me.

Like most football clubs, Southampton do not make it attractive to drink at the ground.  It has always been a case of leaving the pub at and arriving at the ground as the teams are running out.  If you like your beer cold and tasteless and served in a plastic glass though feel free to try the bars at St Marys.  You won't be disappointed.       

In the old Dell days my chosen pub was The Alexandra, a 15 minute walk from the ground and handy for parking.  When Southampton moved to St Marys the new ground was a 15 minute walk from the Alexandra in the opposite direction.  That was damned convenient.  The Alex is a real pub but it has been a while since I was last in there.  It had a solid beer selection as Old Thumper, London Pride and Tim Taylors Landlord always featured.  I see from their website that the OT and LP have gone and have been replaced with Ringwood Best and the horrible Doom Bar so I guess the selection has taken a dive recently.  I'm sure the TT Landlord is still a nice pint though so all is not lost.

The Alexandra 

This brings me on to the Giddy Bridge which sort of took over from The Alex as the place we drank in although I can't really remember why we changed.  The Giddy Bridge is a Wetherspoons with a decent beer selection at a decent price and with CAMRA vouchers to spend it sort of became the number one choice after a period of alternating between the two.  Once our Wetherspoons vouchers had run out we would revert back to The Alex but nowadays I struggle to use all my vouchers so that never tends to happen.  The Giddy Bridge is a typical 'Spoons though.  Takes ages to get served and never a relaxing experience.        

This brings me on to last night when I decided to try The Rockstone.  Since I stopped working in Warwickshire I have missed Sadlers Ales more and more.  That was therefore my reason for seeking out The Rockstone as their lovely beers regularly appear there (so I am told).  In a previous incarnation the pub was called the Bevois Valley Inn and it was a bit of a scruffy Eldridge Pope house.  The Rockstone's website paints a picture of a top class pub with the feel of a village local.  High expectations indeed.

The Rockstone
Firstly, my sincere apologies for the crap photo.  The pub itself is a delight with a central bar area surrounded by seating areas to both sides.  The pub was not full of football fans but a young crowd of locals and I found it to be a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  There is also plenty of outside seating to the front.  This is a real pub for sure.

I immediately felt at home when I saw the superb beer selection.  A large selection of local beers came from Hop Back, Irving, Hammerpot, Hop Back and Itchen Valley although the range is constantly changing. There was also the house beer, Rolling Rockstone (3.8% ABV), brewed by my favourite brewery Sadlers Ales.  It is months since I last had a pint of Sadlers so I immediately ordered a pint.  This very pale beer (yes I guess it does resemble Rolling Rock until you discover it actually has some taste to it) is packed with Citra hops and I'm sure it is Sadlers JPA with a house label.  This is the beer I helped to brew when I visited Sadlers so it is always a special pint.  Absolutely gorgeous.

For my second pint I moved over to the Tin Fish (4.3% ABV) from the Irving Brewery of Portsmouth.  I may avoid all things Portsmouth when it comes to football but I show no bias when it comes to beer.  Irving's was established by former Gales brewer Malcolm Irving (Gales HSB was my first love when it comes to beer).  Tin Fish was a bit of a challenge after the extreme citrus taste of the Sadlers.  It is therefore appropriate that it is brewed with the Challenger hop as part of a series of single hop variety beers showcasing traditional English hops.  Once my tastebuds had adjusted to the different taste I found it to be a very nice beer with a gentle malty sweetness which gave way to a subtle dry bitter finish.  It is definitely worthy of a score of 8/10.

The Rockstone is definitely my pub of choice now before a Saints game.  The beer choice is excellent and judging by the platefuls of grub coming out I will have to try the food at some point too.  Of course there is also the draw of some Sadlers Ales.  All I can hope for is for some Mud City Stout on my next visit.

Happy drinking.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A Perfect Evening at The Bull Inn, Chichester

Having accidentally deleted this post my apologies if you are reading this again and you don't think it reads the same.  That's because it doesn't.  I'm having to rewrite the original due to problems with the Blogger App deleting things it isn't supposed to.  Anyway, last week I went to my local CAMRA monthly meeting at this excellent town centre pub (yes I know Chichester is a city but in terms of size it's a town) and it turned out to be a perfect evening of drinking.  

The Bull Inn has two entrances at the front and both lead into the single wraparound bar.  There is a covered outdoor area that connects to a meeting room at the back.  The walls of the large bar area are adorned with loads of pump clips of beers that have been served at some point.  The ceiling of the bar to the left as you enter has also been decorated with an enormous collection of potato mashers for some strange reason.  They would no doubt come in handy if you request the sausage and mash which come with the famous local O'Hagans sausages.  Try them some time.  They are amazing.   

The beer selection at The Bull Inn is usually impressive and constantly changing.  The evidence of this is all around you and tonight the selection looked particularly interesting with three breweries which I had never even heard of.  IPAs and pale ales were the order of the day ranging in strength from 3.5% ABV to 4.6% ABV so it was a case of working my way through them starting with the lowest strength.

My first pint was the Surfbum IPA (3.5% ABV) from the Rebel Brewery of Cornwall.  Rebel began brewing in 2011 and the Surfbum IPA is a blonde beer with a very strong citrussy aroma.  The taste was strong with very sharp grapefruit and lemon notes totally dominating the flavour.  The aftertaste was actually a little sweet and this was too much for some of my CAMRA colleagues but I liked it a lot and I gave it a score of 8/10.  

The second beer was being raved about by all.  The Liverpool Organic Brewery began brewing in 2009 and the beer on offer was their Liverpool Pale Ale (4.0% ABV).  This was a light golden colour so darker than the Surfbum.  The aroma was not particularly strong and the taste was a little earthy, a little citrussy and a little spicy giving a lovely dry bitterness overall.  The finish was incredibly smooth.  A tremendous beer worthy of a score of 9/10.     

Finally I had a pint of Sidewinder, an American Pale Ale (4.6% ABV) from the Ordnance City brewery based in Somerset.  Ordnance City only began brewing last year and on this evidence I will need to find more of their beers.  More golden than the previous two it had a lovely balance of citrussy and earthy hops with a powerful hoppy aroma.  It really is a stunning beer and it is my first 10/10 beer for quite some time.     

It is such a rare occurrence that I come across three superb beers from three relatively new breweries in the same pub on the same evening.  The Bull Inn certainly excelled themselves with their beer choices and all three beers were fantastic and in perfect condition.  It was indeed a perfect evening.

Monday, 23 September 2013

A Visit to Langham Brewery

Two beers achieved my top award on my recent pub trail around Surrey and Hampshire.  The first of these beers was the Langham Arapaho (4.9% ABV), a superb American Pale Ale full of hoppy goodness.  Following on from my praise for this fantastic beer, the lovely people at Langham Brewery told me to visit them some time.  How could I refuse such an offer? 

The brewery is based in an attractive converted barn close to the West Sussex village of Lodsworth just off the A272 between the towns of Petworth and Midhurst.  Owners James and Lesley were not around but I was well looked after by assistant brewer Saulo and Scott.  Saulo originates from Portugal and came to the world of brewing via semi-professional football and clearly loves his new career (who wouldn't?).  He came to England, where he has represented local non-league sides Farnborough and Bognor Regis,  after a spell in the Belgian second division.  
Langham Brewery
The brewery is a refurbished 10 barrel steam heated plant which was acquired from Wickwar Brewery in 2005. Saulo was happy to show me around and let me see where the brewing takes place while Scott brought me a few of their beers to sample.  Each brew is kicked off in Martha the mash tun (yes they have names for every vessel) and from here it is transferred to Cathy the copper where the hops will be added whilst the wort is boiled.  The wort is then cooled to 20 degrees as it is transferred into one of the four fermenters (Fanny, Fiona, Freda and Fatima).  A fifth fermenter will soon be added but no name has been decided for it yet!    

Martha the mash tun
Cathy the copper
Following 3-4 days of fermentation the beer is left to cool to about 12 degrees and it is then ready for racking into one of the many steel casks on view.  It is good to see the brewery using 36 pint casks alongside the more common 72 pint.  This must be very useful for pubs with a lower turnover which can probably occur in some of the local village pubs in what is essentially a sparsely populated area.     

Casks ready to be filled 
The first beer I was offered to try was Sundowner, a 4.2% ABV golden ale.  I had tried the bottled version of this beer last year and I must confess to finding it a little ordinary.  The cask version however is quite superb.  It has a much more fruity hoppy taste to it from what I remember and there is a lovely bitterness throughout.  The finish is smooth and beautifully refreshing.  

The second sample is their bestselling Hip Hop (4.0% ABV).  This is a classic blonde beer full of citrussy and floral hops and it was one I enjoyed on the pub trail.  It has won several CAMRA awards and it is much loved by myself.  Was it better than the Sundowner today though?  That's a hard one as I thought both of them were exceptional today so I will call it a tie.               

Halfway to Heaven (3.5% ABV) was the final beer I sampled.  This classic chestnut coloured session bitter uses traditional British hops.  There is a lovely biscuity maltiness to it before it gives way to a pleasing bitter finish.  There is nothing to dislike about this beer at all.  I prefer the more extreme hoppiness of the previous two beers perhaps but this is a tasty lower strength beer I would be happy to try again.

Their regular range is completed with the Best Bitter (4.5% ABV) and the LSD (5.2% ABV).  The magnificent Arapaho is a recent addition and I hope this becomes a regular.  In the fermenting vessel was the first batch of Black Swallow, a 6.0% ABV black IPA.  Saulo tells me this is primarily brewed in the winter and one whiff from the batch in the fermenter tells me it is a beer I must try.  It smells divine!  I will be hunting it down in a local pub during October and I will report back then!     

The regular beers
Langham Brewery is now well established.  There may now be in excess of forty breweries in Sussex but back in 2005 they were less than twenty and West Sussex particularly was still recovering from the loss of the large regional brewer King & Barnes.  If you haven't tried any of their beers yet then you really need to find them.  Next month (Sunday October 20th), they will be opening their doors to host the 6th annual Langham Brewing Conkers Championship which would be a perfect opportunity to sample the beers and meet the team there.

Finally a big thank you to Saulo and Scott.  They were more than happy to chat about their beers which they obviously love and I was sent away with a couple of bottles and a glass.  The Hip Hop is a beer I have previously reviewed of course but the LSD (Langham Special Draught) at 5.2% ABV was one I was particularly looking forward to trying.  It is a lovely copper coloured beer with sweetness from the malts being the dominant force.  There was a little richness to it making it quite warming as it went down with a spicy bite to it in the dry finish.  A lovely beer.  

Thursday, 12 September 2013

An American Adventure

I love America.  It is my number one holiday destination for many reasons.  Before our son was born we hopped over the Atlantic most years and for both of us, New England is our favourite area to visit.  For me, the proliferation of micro breweries has always been an attraction.  New England has many great micros and, wherever you go, you are never far from one.  The arrival of family changes many things and it has been 8 years since our last visit so we decided to throw caution to the wind and take our boy on his first American adventure (not strictly true as we did take him on our last visit when he was less than a year old). Archie has autism so lots of careful planning was required.  It was never going to be a beery adventure like trips of old but there were a few places I was hoping to visit.    

On our first day in Boston I immediately saw how things had changed when we visited a supermarket.  The beer section was truly impressive and I had to restrain myself from buying a ridiculous amount that I could not possibly consume in the time we were there.  In the past I would sneak a few bottles back in my carry-on but with liquids no longer allowed through security it was a case of what I bought I had to drink.

In the past most American breweries would sell beers in 330ml bottles in packs of six.  The supermarket aisles would be stocked with these boxes from floor to ceiling.  Mix and matching was not always possible so trying a variety of different beers and breweries was always a challenge.  Not any more.  We now have bigger bottles (22 fl oz) sold individually.  The picture above taken in Hannafords is more typical of days of old with many six-packs on offer.  The 'warm beer' section had a number of 22 fl oz selections.  Shaws supermarket was the better of the two with many more interesting beers to select from.

My first selections were a couple of beers from Slumbrew.  This is the brand of the Somerville Brewing Company although currently the beers are brewed at Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich Massachusetts. I also picked up a Tripel Threat (a Belgian tripel) from the Cambridge Brewing Company.  

The Slumbrew Porter Square Porter (6.5% ABV) was absolutely delicious.  I love American stouts and porters and this was one of the better ones.  Jet black in colour it was very smoky with lots of strong roasted malt and coffee, chocolate and nutty notes.  Coming in at quite a high strength it was nevertheless extremely drinkable.  A full-bodied, robust porter.                    

The Flagraiser IPA from Slumbrew (7.5% ABV) was equally impressive.  It was a lovely golden colour and it had a lovely citrussy hoppy aroma.  However, the immediate flavour was somewhat earthy.  I do like my IPAs to be citrussy and refreshing but I am also a fan of the intensely earthy flavours too that come from certain hop varieties.  This beer is lovely and it has four hop varieties (Galaxy, Mt Hood, Crystal and Colombus) which combine beautifully to create a superbly complex American IPA.                

My final beer from my trip to Shaws supermarket in Boston was the Triple Threat.  Coming in at a mighty 10.5% ABV I was really looking forward to this.  I love most Belgian tripels but this was highly disappointing.  It was golden in colour but it was distinctly flat and lifeless in the glass.  It had a sourness to it along with an underlying sweet sickly taste.  I could not actually manage to finish it.  I have had some very nice beers from CBC prior to this so either there was a problem with it or it is just a beer not for me.        

After a couple of days in Boston we headed out to New Hampshire and the White Mountain Hotel.  Hotels (and restaurants) in England and many other parts of the world are way behind when it comes to the range of beers they offer.  This is not the case in much of New England.  In Boston I had a superb Harpoon IPA (5.9% ABV) in what was a family restaurant the equivalent of which in England would stock UK brewed lagers with continental names.  In America these establishments always seem to stock an excellent range of local craft beers.  Harpoon is actually quite an established brand in New England now having begun brewing back in 1986 but it is a brewery I have always enjoyed on my trips to this part of America.  Their IPA is a delightful citrussy hoppy beer with a little earthiness and spiciness thrown in for good measure.  The finish is long, dry and bitter.      

The White Mountain Hotel did not disappoint either with a fine range of locally produced craft beers.  On our first night I enjoyed a Peak Organic IPA (7.2% ABV) that turned out to be my favourite beer of the entire holiday.  I could smell the citrussy aroma instantly without having to get too close to it and the intense grapefruit and lemony notes were an absolute joy.  It had all the characteristics of what I love about American IPAs.  It was a stunning beer.  Peak Organic Brewing are based in Portland, Maine and they were not around when I last visited New England so this was a great find.
Later in the week I got to enjoy a Woodstock Brown Ale.  This deep copper coloured beer had an instant maltiness to the taste but it became a little spicy and smoky towards the end with a rich sweet finish.  Another local brew I tried at the hotel was a Tuckermans Pale Ale.  This was possibly the blandest beer I tried all week.  It had a gentle hoppiness to it but everything was too restrained.  It needed a few more buckets of hops in the mix to give it some taste.

Many of the micro breweries in the US are attached to restaurants and in the past I have found that many of them stick to a proven formula.  They all tend to have a similar beer range.  This will include a pilsner, a stout, a brown and an IPA.  They will all offer light to dark colour graded samplers.  They will generally be good quality beers brewed to a proven recipe but there will be little in the way of experimentation.

The Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company in North Conway, New Hampshire is typical in many ways.  The food menu is typically American with lots of chips, burgers and big portions.  More than any normal human can consume and when you have a selection of beers to get through too it all becomes a bit hideous.  Not that I was complaining.  It's a perfect holiday eatery with great beer thrown in for good measure.        

The beer menu featured all of the house beers along with two local guests and one mass produced lager for the uninitiated.  I actually had a tour around the Coors brewery in Denver many years ago.  Never have I seen such an enormous structure.  It could have housed a football pitch inside but they had chosen to fill it with rows and rows of massive stainless steel tanks all full of the same tasteless fizz.  After showing off these monstrosities they proudly offer samples of what they produce.    

My sampler arrived and of course it contained a pilsner, a pale ale, a brown and a stout and they were arranged from light to dark.  No surprises then.  The first beer was a little different though.  Violet B's Blueberry was essentially the pilsner with a hint of blueberry and it was very pleasant.  I'm not a fan of fruit flavoured beers but this one was quite drinkable.  The other beers were all of the same high quality but offered nothing unusual. My favourite was the Square Tail Stout but it was similar to many stouts I have had elsewhere in the US.  This is not a criticism at all.  I do not remember trying a bad stout in America.  It is a style they do extremely well and this was no exception.  

Where the Moat Mountain Brewing Company did surprise was the availability of their beers in big cans.  It must be years since I had canned beer.  I tried both the Bone Shaker Brown and Iron Mike's Pale Ale from a can and I was mightily impressed with both of them.  I would go as far to say that the can of Iron Mike's Pale Ale tasted better than the sampler I had from the glass.        

High marks all round then for the range of beers from Moat Mountain without offering me anything a little bit different.  What they do they do well.  

After our week in New Hampshire we made our way to Kennebunkport in Maine.  For reasons I need not go into the hotel there was total unsuitable and after some deliberation with the holiday company it was back to the White Mountain Inn.  This was a little disappointing as I was looking forward to trying some of my old favourites from Maine.  However, I was able to stop in at the Shipyard Ales shop where I purchased three bottles that I could enjoy at my leisure over the next few days.

The first of these was the Double Old Thumper.  Shipyard Ales have brewed Old Thumper under license from the Ringwood Brewery back in England since they began brewing in 1992 as far as I know.  Alan Pugsley, the Shipyard brewer, learned his trade at Ringwood before heading over the pond.  Double Old Thumper is exactly what it says.  It comes in at a massive 11.2% ABV which is exactly double the strength of the original Old Thumper.  I have always liked the rich malty taste of the original so I was a little concerned as to whether this double strength brew would disappoint.  I need not have worried though.  It is a classic barley wine that comes with all the delicious characteristics of the original.  I loved it.  Selling an 11.2% ABV beer in a 22fl oz bottle is somewhat insane but I am not complaining.  It slipped down rather easily.

My next Shipyard Ales beer was the XXXX IPA (9.25% ABV).  I was expecting this beer to be equally impressive but I was a little disappointed.  It had a light copper colour and it was a lot more malty than I was expecting from an IPA.  It was a complex mixture of grapefruit and orange citrus notes from the hops along with a rich malty base.  This all gave way to a dry bitter aftertaste which was quite pleasant.  It was enjoyable but not quite the beer I was expecting it to be perhaps.             

My trio from Shipyard was completed by the Blue Fin Stout (4.7% ABV).  This was one of the first Shipyard beers I fell in love with.  It has lots of roasted malts giving it plenty of intense coffee and chocolate notes.  It is a classic American stout and is a marker for all other stouts I come across.        

The drive back to the airport was to include a stop in Portsmouth.  Portsmouth New Hampshire bears no resemblance to Portsmouth Old Hampshire I am delighted to say.  It is located on the coast but that is where the similarity ends.  The New Hampshire coastline stretches for a very short distance indeed stuffed between the immensely long coastlines of Maine and Massachusetts.  It has a delightful town centre with many old buildings and the building I was looking for was the one housing Portsmouth Book & Bar.    

I read about Portsmouth Book & Bar a few months ago and penciled it in as the one place I really wanted to visit.  Part bar, part bookshop and part coffee shop is the best way to describe it I guess.  The books are second-hand but there is a superb selection to browse.  I was very lucky to immediately find a 2012 edition of Beer Lover's New England by Norman Miller for less than $10.  It is a comprehensive guide of all breweries, brewpubs and beer bars in New England and essential for anyone planning a beer trip to this part of the world.  

The building itself was very grand with high ceilings and plenty of light streaming through the windows giving a feeling of great space.  There was free wi-fi and plenty of tables seemed to be occupied with customers who appeared to have been there for some considerable time and looked as if they were using the place as an office.  To the front there was an outside patio area which was also proving popular.  The main seating area was central and adjacent to the bar area.  The bookshelves were scattered around the edges and in various nooks and crannies.  A very clever use of space to maximise room for customers as well as giving room to browse the rows and rows of books.    

The bar menu was excellent.  There were 8 draft beers on tap with a similar amount of ciders and bottles available.  A selection of coffees and food completed the options available.  The beers were from a selection of New England micros and included a Belgian white, a saison, a wheat , a white, an IPA and a porter. Something for everyone.  

I was driving so I chose the weakest beer on the menu, Ishmael from the Rising Tide Brewing Co of Maine at 5.1% ABV.  Rising Tide began brewing in 2010 and are described as a nano-brewery due to their 'tiny' 15 barrel capacity.  This would make them a micro in the UK but scale is all relative.  Their beers are unfiltered and unpasteurised.  Ishmael is a delightful copper coloured ale and is an American interpretation of the altbiers of Dusseldorf.  The Munich malt is combined with American hops to produce a very satisfying beer.  The malts certainly shone through ahead of the hops but there was a nice gentle bitter finish to it.

Before I sign off on what has been a very troublesome post to compose I must mention three very different IPAs I got to try from three very new micro breweries located in or near to the Lakes region of New Hampshire.  They were all purchased from a supermarket in the Lakes region of New Hampshire and they all came in the larger 22fl oz bottles.  

The first of these is a 9th State Red IPA (ABV unknown) from the 603 Brewery.  This micro based in Campton, New Hampshire only started brewing last year.  Sadlers Ales in the UK brew an awesome Red IPA and this one compares well.  It has a lovely deep red colour but the aroma is one of hops.  I found it to have quite a strong malty base and the hops gave it a sweet rich fruity taste before giving way to a clean bitter finish.  I loved it               

Next on the list is a Squam Brewing Golden IPA (8.5% ABV).  Squam Brewing began brewing in 2010 and they are located near to the beautiful Squam Lake and not far from the 603 Brewery.  This very strong IPA is truly complex.  It has a lovely golden colour to it as expected and the strong hoppy aroma was no surprise either.  It is very earthy and there is an interesting bittersweet finish to it.  A very challenging IPA with plenty to enjoy.  Should be handled with care I think.    

Finally I tried the Hop Slinger IPA (6.5% ABV) from the Henniker Brewing Company which bears the name of the New Hampshire town they begain brewing in a couple of years ago.  This was a more traditional American IPA.  It had a very pleasant golden colour and it was giving off plenty of citrussy aromas.  In the taste test there was a perfectly balanced commbination of citrussy and earthy hop flavours before giving way to a delightful dry bitter finish.      

America is a beer lovers paradise and within this vast country there are certain areas that stand out above the others when it comes to the choice of beers on offer.  Portland in Oregon has a great reputation but Portland, Maine and the surrounding New England states are not far behind.  With Boston being the shortest flight from the UK to the US mainland it makes for a relatively easy trip.  I have always recommended the area to my friends and colleagues and every time I go back the beer scene has improved further.  New England is a three season holiday destination popular with the Autumn leaf-peepers, the Winter skiers and the Summer hikers.  Decide which season suits you best and head out there.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Redemption Brewery Presentation

My local branch of CAMRA (Western Sussex) holds a beer festival in Yapton every May. It's a lovely festival with about 60 different beers available and all beers can only be bought by the half pint ensuring the punters try as many different beers as possible.  On a sunny day the drinkers can sit out on the village playing field and soak up the sun making it even more pleasant.

Each year the festival goers are asked to vote for their top beer and when all votes are counted the brewery is contacted with news of their success and a trip is arranged to present the award.  This of course means a brewery trip for all branch members who wish to go and I am not the sort of person who could turn this down.

This year the winning beer was Trinity (3.0% ABV) brewed by the Redemption Brewing Company based in NW London.  I have never tried this beer (or anything else from Redemption) but I am told it is a very hoppy tasty beer for such a low alcohol content.   Sounds perfect.  

The brewery is located in an industrial unit a short bus ride and walk from Seven Sisters tube station.  We were met  by brewer Andy Moffat who welcomed us with instructions to help ourselves to some beer.  This kind of welcome always works well.  Three polypins had been set up for us.  Sadly none of these contained the award-winning Trinity.  This was in one of the conditioning tanks and Andy did pour some into a jug for us but it had a few days to go before it would have been ready really.  I had a small sample but the combination of my heavy cold and the condition of the beer meant it would be pointless for me to pass judgment on it.   

The first beer I tried was Rock The Kazbek (4.0% ABV).  This had a light golden colour to it and it had a very bitter hoppy taste.  I must add my disclaimer here.  This was my first alcohol for 5 days and my taste buds were probably playing tricks on me and I could not really smell anything.  However, I loved this beer. It had a sharp spiciness to it with plenty of citrussy notes coming through.  The bitterness was heavy throughout.

For my next beer I chose the Pale Ale (3.8% ABV).  In comparison to the Rock The Kazbek I found this beer to be a little tame.  I think I should have tried them in reverse order really.  It had a pleasant floral hoppiness along with a pleasing mellow bitter finish to it.  Certainly a decent session bitter but I much preferred the stronger bitterness of Rock The Kazbek.            

My final beer to try was the Urban Dusk (4.6% ABV).  This beer had a lovely clear chestnut colour to it and was totally different to the two previous hoppy beers.  Plenty of maltiness with this one with toffee and caramel notes.  Brewed with the Bramling Cross hop there was some earthiness to it in the finish too. Nothing at all to dislike here.     

Conditioning tanks full of beer

With my third pint in hand, Andy took us around his small brewery.  Redemption began  brewing in 2010 which makes it quite old relative to many of the new London craft breweries that are now springing up.  The twelve barrel plant was purchased from Slaters Brewery of Staffordshire and all production is sent out in casks.  The process may be traditional but the strong use of hops and the sourcing of only the finest ingredients ensures the production of cask-conditioned beers for the drinker of today.  Judging by their growing number of awards it is a philosophy that is working well.  

The mashing process is normally done at 65-67 degrees from what I remember except for Trinity which is done at a considerably higher temperature of 72-73 degrees to get maximum flavour into this low alcohol beer.  In the fermenting room there was a one-off beer being brewed for Geronimo Inns, a London gastropub chain.  It will be a single hopped beer (Bramling Cross) at an ABV of 3.8%.  Judging by our small pre-conditioned sampler this could be an interesting beer although it is highly unlikely I will get to sample the finished product.                

Andy at the mash tun.

Andy was the perfect host.  He is obviously passionate about what he is doing and I will look forward to trying more of their beers whenever I get the chance.  After the tour it was left to our branch chairman, Phil, to present Andy with his award along with a round of thanks for his hospitality.  

Our  branch chairman, Phil Wildsmith, presents our award

Following our visit to Redemption we made our way to Stoke Newington.  Our branch secretary had the itinerary of pubs to visit and we began at the Jolly Butchers.  Under normal circumstances a pub crawl around North London would have been a very welcome way to complete the day out.  With my cold still requiring at least a couple of days to clear though I made this my only stop before heading home.  However, if you can only visit one pub in this area you could wish for nothing better than the Jolly Butchers.  It has the appearance of a traditional street corner London boozer.  Architecturally it has obviously retained many of the amazing features it possesses but it has been transformed into a modern bar for the lover of good beer (keg and cask) and cider.  The choice of beer is immense and it was good to see that the selection was dominated by many of the new London craft breweries that I keep hearing about.   I must make a special to visit to this pub at some time because it has everything a beer lover desires.  After only one year in business it is easy to see why it is already CAMRA nominated and that is also features in The Guardian's Top 10 pubs in Britain.      

I chose a pint of Shamblemoose #4 American Brown (5.3% ABV) to round off my drinking day.  This very new brewer is unknown to me but it seems they are sharing the facilities of Late Knight Brewery in Penge, SE London.  They are attempting to brew traditional American style craft beers and having just been over to New England I can confirm their American Brown would not have been out of place over there.  It had plenty of caramel flavour from the malt but there was a hoppy hit to it too.  I will have to check out this brewery some more for sure.  

The conclusion I made from today was I must visit London more often.  It is full of exciting new breweries and the only concern is whether there are enough pubs like the Jolly Butchers in which to buy these beers. London has the breweries but judging from the Tottenham area it now needs more pubs. 

Happy drinking.