Monday, 27 October 2014

Spooky Ales

I don't normally review too many beers that are freely available in supermarkets simply because I don't normally buy that many and those that I do buy often disappoint.  However, a recent walk around the delights of Morrisons highlighted to me the number of beers with names that are obviously aimed at the Halloween market so here is my recommendation for a spooky beer to celebrate this event if you so wish.  

Spooky Ale (4.7% ABV) - Shepherd Neame

This beer actually has the gall to describe itself as the official ghost brew for all hallows.  Shepherd Neame beers seem to have a very distinctive aroma and this one has that same spicy hoppy smell to it.  The flavour is much more malty which is quite biscuity with hints of caramel.  The finish is very short as the flavours quickly vanish and there is a little spicy bitterness in the aftertaste.  The blurb on the bottle says that the roasted malt flavours are balanced by a huge citrussy hoppy bitterness.  I must have missed that.  Then it goes on to say that the memory of this beer will haunt you forever.  Not wrong there.  It is not a rich beer, as is also mentioned, but it does have a spicy edge to it and there is some roasted malt character to it.  All in all a bit disappointing and I'll give it a 5/10.            

Black Wych (5.0% ABV) - Wychwood

Moving on from the 'official ghost brew' of Halloween to the company that produces the 'unofficial beer of Halloween'.  Wychwood came up with the idea that their dark ruby ale Hobgoblin should get this title and I guess it is more truthful than calling it the 'official' beer but I think Black Wych is more appropriate as it is a black beer and witches are much more apt for halloween than goblins will ever be.  This is actually a decent porter which I'd be happy to have again.  Not particularly smooth or rich but it does have good flavours and a nice bitter finish with coffee and dark chocolate notes.  Just about worth a score of 7/10.             

Dark Lord (4.7% ABV) - Batemans

The beer Dark Lord is actually named after 'Black Tom' who fought in the English Civil War at the Battle of Winceby in Lincolnshire rather than the evil dark lord from Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort he who must not be named. Whichever lord you want to think about while you drink it though it is a lovely beer for this time of year.  My first silent thoughts were liquorice allsorts and after my wife tried it her first word was liquorice so if you aren't into beers with liquorice notes I'd probably avoid it.  It is smooth and quite rich and sweet with a lovely spicy edge to it and a slightly nutty finish.  Definitely the best beer so far and a great one for Halloween.  This one scores 8/10.         

Pendle Witches Brew (5.1% ABV) - Moorhouses

The clear golden colour of this beer made it look very appealing especially to my wife who was convinced she would enjoy it.  I wasn't so sure as I had already struggled with the sweetness of the aroma.  She was ok with the flavour but she did say it disappeared quickly.  It is a very smooth beer with a soft mouth feel but flavour wise it is far too sweet for me with a struggle to find any bitterness to it at all.  This beer gets a 5/10 from me but it could have been a different story if I had found a bottle of their Black Cat mild which is a beer I particularly love. 

Ghost Ship (4.5% ABV) - Adnams

Of all the large regional brewers in the UK, Adnams is probably still my favourite.  Ghost Ship has a suitably spooky name for Halloween but it is actually a hoppy American pale ale.  It has a lovely golden colour with tropical fruit aromas.  The flavour has some sweet passion fruit notes along with a zingy burst of lemon and lime.  In the finish there is a dry citrussy bitterness which I love.  There is some rye in the malts used and the wonderful mix of fruity hoppy flavours comes from Citra and a blend of other american hops.  This is a superb beer and well worthy of a 9/10.         

In terms of the scores then Ghost Ship wins this particular hunt for a suitably spooky brew for Halloween but I think you do need a dark beer on this day although with the unseasonably warm weather we're getting today then perhaps not.  However, if I had to choose one for Halloween this year I would go for the Dark Lord.  A lovely rich dark beer with a spicy edge to it and my wife would probably agree with me too.  



Friday, 24 October 2014

Brewhouse & Kitchen

On our various travels to the US we have always enjoyed eating and drinking in the large number of brewpub/restaurants.  For that reason I was keen to check out the expanding Brewhouse & Kitchen theme over here as I had been told it was a similar concept.  The first one opened up in Portsmouth last year in the White Swan pub close to Portsmouth Guildhall.  My wife and I made a brief visit to this place for lunch earlier this month and we were both impressed and agreed it was similar to many of the US brewpub/restaurants we have experienced.  The beer I had that day (Island City Rye IPA) is not only brewed onsite but the 2.5bbl brewery is actually housed inside the pub rather than only being on view from behind a window as is often the case.  The food was excellent (me and my wife shared 3 starters for £10) and the beer is well priced.  First impressions were therefore highly favourable.    

Following on from this visit I was down in Dorchester earlier this week to visit my best friend, Martin, who lives just across the railway line from the redevelopment of the old Eldridge Pope brewery.  This redevelopment consists of the usual chain restaurants, Odeon cinema, Premier Inn, etc and on the fringe there was a pub called the Station Masters which Brewhouse & Kitchen acquired and have converted into their second brewpub to bring back brewing to this quiet Dorset town under the watchful gaze of the old brewery building.  It opened back in May of this year and this was my first opportunity to visit and fully assess the brand in terms of both the quality of their beer and food.  

The old pub has been expanded and there are plenty of different types of seating areas to suit everyone.  It is larger than the White Swan in Portsmouth but the decor is similar and by bringing the brewhouse into the building it does feel like you are sitting in a converted brewhouse.  Glass tables with compartments of hops and malts visible beneath are common and although food plays a large part in their offering you are not presented with tables formally laid out for dining and drinkers and diners are both welcomed equally.  Lots of other beery stuff is visible all around and I was particularly taken with the beermat chandelier.

The Brewhouse

The first thing you realise when you enter is how proud they are of their beers.  Knowledgeable bar staff is key and they were happy to tell me what beers were available along with the respective styles and strengths.  For me, after tweeting I was visiting, I was even given some recommendations before I arrived thanks to a response from their tweetperson.  Not one to turn down a recommendation I began with the Mayor of Casterbridge Porter (4.8% ABV).  This was a perfect porter with liquorice notes and plenty of roasted malt giving chocolate and milky coffee flavours.  

They had six or seven beers available including one from local brewer Gyle 59.  Between us I think we managed to try most of them.  Whilst I was enjoying the quite superb porter my friend had the Nurdle Ho, a 4.0% ABV nutty brown ale with strong toffee notes.  We finished off by trying a three third of a pint sampler priced at just £3.  We tried the Sexton, a 4.0% golden ale, Crumbleholme, a 4.3% ABV stout and the Durnovaria Dark, a 4.7% ABV black IPA.  The stout was the best.  Very smooth and quite rich with liquorice notes and a bittersweet finish.  The Durnovaria Dark was not as hoppy as I expected in terms of the aroma but it did have a nice dry bitter finish and I think a pint of this next time would be welcome.                  

In addition to the beers they brew themselves they also have one or two guest locales and an extensive range of international bottled beers including Brewdog, Anchor, Bellerose, Brooklyn, Fordham and Westmalle.  The only anomaly I spotted was the Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay in keg.  This beer is dreadful in bottles and a 3.9% keg beer at £4.50 per pint seems mental when you are surrounded by such a quality range of ales.  As I said though, something for everyone!   


The food menu at B&K has something for everyone too.  The brewhouse classics include steak and ale pie, bangers and mash, thai green curry and beer battered fish and chips.  The brewhouse special is a whole chicken roasted in beer with suitable accompaniments and is ideal for sharing and at £17.95 is very good value.  Steaks and burgers are also available and on Tuesday evening all burgers are £6 so we both chose the brewhouse classic burger.  This was excellent value and being a fan of real prime beef burgers this one is definitely one of the better ones.  The menu helps you too with your choice of beer by offering suggestions as to what to pair with your chosen dish from their vast range of beer types that they brew.                

There is no doubt that the Brewhouse & Kitchen concept is modelled on the brewpub/restaurants you see all over the US.  A third one has recently opened in Islington, North London and I am sure there will be more opening over time.  Good value quality ales and food combine with good service in a relaxing environment.  I am very much a fan.  The brand is further enhanced by offering customers the opportunity to try being a brewer for a day.  You can try their brewing experience and brew with them for just £75.  This price is excellent value as it includes 5 litres of the beer you brew which is available once the beer is ready the following week.  Beer can also be taken away in larger quantities (8 pt, 36 pt or 72 pts) which is perfect for parties and family gatherings.  With further gift ideas and hampers also available they are pushing the brand in many ways.  So if you are ever in Portsmouth, Dorchester or North London, then make your way to your local Brewhouse & Kitchen and go with an empty stomach and a raging thirst.  I'm sure you won't be disappointed.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival Autumn 2014

Yes it is that time of year again.  Ten brewers from all corners of the world come over to the UK and brew a beer for Wetherspoons at one of our regional brewers and we get to drink them along with 40 other beers from all over the country.  I'm sure it will be the usual mixed bag with some experimental beers not quite hitting the spot whilst others prove to be an instant hit.  As usual I will add to this post over the next couple of weeks although as of now I have no idea how often I will get to a 'spoons so the number of beers that get reviewed is unknown.  I will however endeavour to get through as many as possible before the festival ends on November 2nd.  After all, somebody has to do it!    

Friday October 31st (lunchtime)

Today I had to make a quick lunchtime trip in to Bognor Regis so I thought I would take a quick peek in The Hatters, a GBG-listed 'spoons.  It was good to be in here again as it is my favourite 'spoons in the area by some distance.  Good service, an excellent manager who knows about beer and beer that is always on top form.  If this is my last visit to the festival then I have gone out on a high.  There were only two beers available that I am yet to try so my beer choices were made for me.       

No.2 - Prophecy (3.9% ABV) from Bath Ales, Bristol 
I have always been a little disappointed by the beers from Bath Ales if I am honest.  However, this the best I have tried from them by some distance I think.  With Chinook and Colombus hops from the US the hoppy aroma was no surprise and very pleasant.  Very crisp, refreshing and quite flavoursome made for a lovely session strength pale ale.  All of this led in to a long dry bitter finish so it is well worth a score of 8/10.

No.35 - Great Gustav (4.8% ABV) from Oakham Brewery, Lincolnshire 
I was absolutely delighted to discover the availability of this beer today.  It looks a bit like their magnificent Citra although the aroma was not too strong with hints of fruity citrussy hops.  I was surprised to see the hop list of Herkules and Magnum here because there are some quite citrussy flavours with notes of zingy lemon and grapefruit along with some pine and this was all balanced by a little sweetness.  The beer was very smooth, highly drinkable with a refreshingly dry bitter finish that I thoroughly enjoyed.  This is one of my festival favourites and gets a score of 9/10 so perhaps I should probably end here.     

Thursday October 30th (lunchtime)

Well I thought yesterday was enough but I had to pop in to Littlehampton to visit the library so I decided to check in and see if there were any beers I had yet to try and there were a couple so I thought I would give them a go.  I need not have bothered really as I was served by the same surly barperson as yesterday and the beers were just as bad.   

No.3 - Whitstable Bay Pale Ale (3.9% ABV) from Shepherd Name, Kent 
Iinitially I had high hopes for this beer as it did have a pleasant citrussy aroma.  However, the flavour of the hops was very weak and were kept well hidden by a rather sweet malty base that grew in intensity so that by the time I finished the half I was left with a cloying sweetness that was not very pleasant.  To be fair I don't think it was on top form as it was a bit hazy but I don't think it would have made much difference in the great scheme of things.  This one gets a score of 4/10.       

No.8 - Botanical Beer (4.2% ABV) from Banks's Brewery, West Midlands 
I drink Banks's beers so rarely and I could not tell you a single beer that they brew regularly other than their Bitter and Mild but this one is obviously experimental as it goes back to the time when ale was brewed without hops.  This beer does have hops but it also contains something termed as gruit, a herb and spice blend.  This beer is actually not too bad to be honest.  It is quite spicy with citrus and floral notes too with the finish predominantly spicy and a little fruity.  Hallertau and Endeavour hops are used in addition to the gruit and overall this is a perfectly acceptable beer which gets a score of 6/10.

Wednesday October 29th (lunchtime)

It is days like today that make me wonder why I bother with these festivals and that make me decide that this might be my last day of beer sampling at this particular one.  It is yet another lunchtime excursion to The George in Littlehampton and both beers were extremely disappointing.  Added to that I had to contend with the surliest barperson I have witnessed for quite some time.   

No.9 - Edinburgh Pale Ale (4.2% ABV) from Innis & Gunn, Edinburgh 
The brewer behind the oak aged bottled beers bring you this particular pale ale and perhaps they should stick to what they are good at.  Initially I thought the beer was off but I came to the conclusion it was just not very nice flavours.  Quite fragrant initially with a harsh tang of satsuma which clashed with the sweet malty biscuity base.  There was very little finish and it all tasted quite watery and lacking any kind of body.  The scented floral flavours never went away and overall it was a beer I would not rush to try again.  This one gets a 4/10.   

No.21 - Two Birds Golden Ale (4.4% ABV) from Two Birds Brewing/Banks's Brewery from Australia/West Midlands 
Two Australian brewsters travelled all the way to the delights of Banks's brewery in the West Midlands to produce this golden ale.  This beer though was particularly disappointing.  There was little aroma and initially I thought it was quite bland but a fruity tang came through which I found a little unpleasant.  It did improve in the finish with a decent spicy hoppiness but by then the damage had been done.  The malts used are ale, wheat and Vienna and the hops are Motueka and Summer.  A combination I won't rush to try again.  5/10.  

Tuesday October 28th (lunchtime)

Another lunchtime excursion to The George in Littlehampton and time for another couple of half pints along with some deliciously hot and spicy buffalo wings which render my taste buds useless so thankfully I tried the beers before the food arrived.  

No.11 - American Brown Ale (4.2% ABV) from Liberation Brewery, Jersey 
I enjoyed a beer from this brewery earlier this year at my local Spoons and this particular ale looked very inviting.  A clear chestnut coloured beer with a nice head and a subtle hoppy aroma.  Amber and brown malts are used and there is a blend of the American hop varieties of Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe and Summit.  My wife thought this beer was a bit tasteless and lacking body and although it did appear a little bland and weak tasting initially, there was a decent nutty malt character that eventually came through and this was well balanced by a spicy, citrussy hop bitterness that was particularly pleasing in the bitter finish.  This beer picks up a score of 6/10.    

No.17 - Union Gap (4.3% ABV) from Roosters Brewery, North Yorkshire 
My wife thought this one was a bit tasteless too but I thought it was an excellent pale ale.  Roosters are a particular favourite of mine and whilst this particular beer doesn't have the strength of some of the others I have enjoyed from them it is a refreshing pale ale with a good citrussy hoppiness from the American hop varieties of Amarillo, Simcoe and Sterling imparting subtle flavours of both orange and lemon.  The long dry bitter finish isn't overpowering.  It is simply a refreshing pale ale which is easily drinkable.  A very good beer that picks up a score of 8/10.    

Monday October 27th (lunchtime)

I seem to be sticking to The George in Littlehampton for this festival and here I am again for a quick lunchtime drink.  

No.23 - The Simcoe Kid (4.5% ABV) from Maxim, County Durham 
I don't know much about this brewer to be honest.  This particular beer contains the lovely Citra hop along with Simcoe (obviously) and Falconers Flight 7 Cs (a blend of all those wonderful American hop varieties that begin with the letter 'C').  This beer is not as hoppy as I was expecting from the pleasant aroma of citrus and tropical fruits.  The tropical notes don't really appear in the flavour.  Instead there are soft lemony notes which lead to a pleasing dry refreshing finish that is not overly bitter.  Not a bad beer and I would give it a 7/10.    

No.22 - Old Engine Oil (4.5% ABV) from Harviestoun, Clackmannanshire 
In bottles this beer is one of my favourite porters where it comes in at a strength of 6.0% ABV so I was wondering what this reduced strength version would be like.  I need not have worried really.  It is still quite rich with a perfect balance between sweet and bitter.  Plum, liquorice, raisin and cherry notes all combine and there are hints of coffee bitterness in the finish.  It is a really nice beer and one of the best of the festival and I will award it a score of 9/10.    

Friday October 24th (lunchtime)

Back at The George in Littlehampton today for a quick lunchtime drink.  Two more of the international brewers to try today as well as a strangely hopped beer from Titanic.

No.41 - Hop Abroad (5.0% ABV) from Titanic Brewery, Staffordshire 
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one.  Containing hop varieties from every corner of the globe it produces a beer that made me immediately think of sherbet lemons.  From England we have the Admiral hop.  From the US we have Columbus.  Other European hops include Aramis (France), Aurora (slovenia), Marynka (Poland) and Hersbrucker (Germany).  The result is a copper-coloured beer that has a decent hoppy aroma.  The taste is a bit weird.  Quite sharp and tangy initially with lemony notes but there was an underlying sweetness that wasn't quite so pleasant.  To be honest this did not really work for me overall and I give it a 5/10.    

No.40 - OG IPA (5.0% ABV) from 10 Barrel / Wadworths, Oregon / Devizes 
After the complexity of the last one this was a much more straightforward beer.  Tonya Cornett from 10 Barrel Brewing Co in Oreogn travelled to Devizes in Wiltshire to produce this one.  A couple of American hops (Nugget and Horizon) combine with the Australian Galaxy to produce a fine beer with a sharp, citrussy flavour and a pleasing dry finish.  The aroma is floral and citrussy and this comes through nicely in the flavour.  There are also some tropical fruit notes in there too.  Certainly one of the better beers so far and it gets an 8/10.    

No.1 - Village Elder (3.8% ABV) from Ian Ramsay / Everards, New Zealand / Leicester 
It's a long way from New Zealand but I was pleasantly surprised by this session bitter that resulted from the journey that Ian Ramsay made half-way around the world to Leicester.  This is a real collaboration as it contains the UK Challenger hop and the New Zealand Pacifico.  There is little aroma to be fair and initially the beer was slightly on the sweet with only a slight bitterness but as I got into it there was a nice spicy hoppiness kicking in over the caramel and biscuity malty base.  This beer therefore picks up a 6/10. 

Tuesday October 21st (lunchtime)

This is hopefully the first of two visits today.  The lunchtime session was just a couple of halves in what is now my nearest Spoons following my house move in July.  The George in Littlehampton is ok I guess.  The bit around the bar is fairly typical but there is a large room adjoining it that has high ceilings and totally lacks any atmosphere or character.  The ceilings themselves are quite ornate but that is where the character begins and ends.  Thankfully no stupid chunky glasses in this Spoons.                                                                                                                                                                             
No.6 - Reaper (4.1% ABV) from Black Sheep Brewery, Masham 
The first beer today is from the Black Sheep brewery in Masham.  Reaper is a triple hopped beer with rye malt and it had an appealing rich copper colour to it.  I don't see Black Sheep beers down here often and I am rarely disappointed when I do.  This beer certainly had a hoppy aroma coming from the trio of American hops (Amarillo, Chinook and Summit).  The initial flavours combined notes of cinder toffee and roasted malts and these gave way to a quite intense dry bitter finish with orange citrussy notes coming from the Amarillo.  This was a very satisfying beer and I would give it a score of 8/10.   

No.14 - Colonel's Whiskers (4.3% ABV) from Batemans Brewery, Lincolnshire 

Batemans from Lincolnshire are another family brewer that rarely disappoint.  They always produce something a little bit different for the Wetherspoons festivals and the Colonel's Whiskers carries on this tradition.  Some of their past festival efforts have been a bit like marmite.  Some raved about them whilst others were far from impressed.  This one is definitely a hit with me.  Described as a variation on their traditional mild, which I love, this beer has an underlying bitterness along with sweeter notes of raisin and berry.  The bitterness comes from the traditional English hops of Challenger and Goldings along with the Slovenian hop Styrian.  Overall it is a lovely smooth beer with a good body and I will give it a score of 8/10.    

Tuesday October 21st (evening)

The second destination of the day was the Royal Oak in Dorchester.  At lunchtime in Littlehampton I was paying £2.15 for a festival pint and here it was £2.70 so even more expensive than Chichester and you don't even get a cathedral view.  Me and my mate had come from a very busy Brewhouse & Kitchen to discover that this Spoons was quite deserted.  I have never been in such an empty Spoons.  Perhaps it's the higher prices.  We were only paying slightly more in the aforementioned B&K and the drinking environment there was much more pleasant.  Having said that this particular Spoons is quite good with plenty of nooks and crannies on various levels.  With five festival beers available to me that I was yet to try it was time to get cracking.                                                                                                                                                                             
No. 34 - Ligera (4.8% ABV) from Birrificio Lambrate / Marstons, Italy / Burton upon Trent 

This American Pale Ale was brewed at Marstons by Italian pair Fabio Brocca and Mattia Bonardi and as you can see I was in a hurry to taste this one.  It looked a bit insipid to be honest with a washed out dull gold colour.  The aroma was nice and hoppy though and there were some nice sweet orange notes to it before leading in to a nice dry bitter finish.  Five hop varieties went into this one - Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook and Willamette from the US and German variety Herkules.  Not a bad beer and worthy of a score of 7/10.        

No. 49 - Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (6.5% ABV) from Elysian / Wychwood, Washington State / Witney 

This copper coloured ale is spiced with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  None of these ingredients should ever go into beer in my opinion.  On top of all that there's pumpkin to.  Hells bells.  Definitely not for me but I had to try it.  It wasn't overly spiced to be fair and it was quite smooth and I did manage to drink half of it and if I didn't have a few more to try I may have managed it all.  A score of 4/10 is all I can award it though.  For my mate one sip was enough.  

No.4 - Antipodean Ale (4.0% ABV) from Brew Moon / Hook Norton, New Zealand / Oxfordshire

This beer was brewed by Belinda Gould who travelled all the way from New Zealand to the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Hook Norton.  There is the addition of wheat malt to this one which gives a sweet biscuity base but the New Zealand hops of Motueka and Wakatu give this beer a light and refreshing lemony citrussy flavour.  It all combines quite well to give a beer that had a reasonable bitterness and I will give it a score of 7/10.  

No.37 - Tiger Triple Gold (5.0% ABV) from Everards, Leicestershire 

Whilst trying this beer someone came over and raved about this one to us.  'It doesn't have any of that horrible citra stuff in it' was his comment.  Each to their own.  To be fair I have never really enjoyed an Everards beer and I found this one to be lacking body for a beer of this strength.  There was a bit of spiciness in there but generally it was a fruity and overly sweet beer with very little bitterness from the traditional English hops of Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings.  My mate wasn't a fan and it wasn't a beer for me either and it collects a 5/10.   

No.31 - Chinook Gold (4.7% ABV) from Hook Norton Brewery, Oxfordshire 

We both finished off with a half of this one.  Hook Norton brew some pretty good malty beers so how do they get on with hops?  This beer is not a single hop variety though.  It has traditional English hop varieties Challenger, Fuggles, and Golding with what must be a light sprinkling of the American hop Chinook.  It has a sweet malty biscuity base and although there is a hoppy aroma it doesn't quite come through in the taste with very little bitterness evident.  Citrus and pine notes are present but not enough for me although it is quite refreshing.  A score of 6/10 for this one from both of us.  

Friday October 17th

The festival began today and a lunchtime beer in Chichester made the Dolphin & Anchor my first port of call.  Not my favourite 'spoons to be honest with a 30p premium on the price of a pint (£2.55 here) over the other 'spoons in the area but you do get a view of the elegant Chichester cathedral if you sit by a front window.  However, the quality of their beers and their service has been on the up this year and I was impressed to see a row of 6 beers available from the off.  I asked for three halves and they were served in old style tankards which I hate but other than that it was a pretty good start.   

No.28 - India Session Ale (4.6% ABV) from Brouwerij'T IJ / Caledonian, Holland / Edinburgh

Roel Wagemans from the Brouwerij't IJ in Amsterdam travelled over to the Caledonian brewery in Edinburgh to brew this beer.  It is an interesting golden ale with a dominant spicy hop character which was no doubt coming from the Waimea hop.  The other hop used is Citra which was not so obvious although the addition of lime did give a light citrussy finish.  So in summary it is spicy with a sweet middle and a bit of citrus in the finish.  Not a bad beer and a 7/10 score here.  My wife found it interesting and thought the lime stood out too in this one. 

No.47 - Phoenix IPA (5.5% ABV) from Woodfordes Brewery, Norfolk

This one turned out to be my wife's favourite but I found it to be a little too sweet.  This golden ale did have quite a sweet malty base to it from the local Maris Otter malt which tended to dominate throughout.  The hops are Challenger and Goldings with the late addition of Amarillo.  I did not detect much from this American hop though and there was not enough bitterness for my liking.  However, I was tasting this one after I had enjoyed the lovely dry bitterness of the next one reviewed here so that may be why I thought it was lacking.  A score of 7/10 here is probably justified with a 6 from me and an 8 from the wife.                

No.46 - Bklyn Bitter (5.5% ABV) from Sixpoint / Adnams, New York / Southwold

Heather McReynolds of Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewing travelled to Adnams of Southwold to create this strong, hoppy American bitter.  Deep golden in colour it is packed with American hops with varieties Amarillo, Cascade, Citra and Colombus.  It has a good spice character with a orange citrussy middle before it gives way to a lovely dry bitter finish that I wanted more of.  A pint or two of this would have gone down very well indeed.  Too bitter for my wife but it gets a 9/10 from me.  A cracking start to the beer festival. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

A week of quality cask beer

I will always maintain that cask is best when it comes to beer despite the many wonderful craft keg beers now available.  Where I live it is not as if I have much choice because craft keg is not widely available in the pubs of West Sussex.  I go to pubs as often as possible because pubs are the best places in which to enjoy beer.  Yes I do have a local pub but not in the sense that it is the pub I frequent regularly.  I probably go there once or twice a week at most.  It's walking distance, it is Good Beer Guide listed and the beer selection can be very hit and miss.  I don't particularly mind that because that is what happens when you always choose a beer you are unfamiliar with if one is available.  Some pubs are more of a struggle for me because they simply do not deliver in terms of beer choice.  I am constantly amazed at how many free houses are so ignorant when it comes to beer.  This is evident around here with the amount of Doom Bar on sale.  There is nothing at all that depresses me more than when I walk into a free house and I see that on the bar.  That was not a problem for me last week though as I only came across it once.

The CAMRA social last week took us to Chichester which is about 10 miles from my home.  It wasn't my turn to drive but these pubs would also be accessible to me by bus or train so it is a good destination in terms of accessibility.  The first pub, The Bell Inn, is GBG-listed and despite being an Enterprise Inn it has a good beer selection.  It is located just outside the ring road and very close to the Festival Theatre.  A very cosy local and a proper pub.  My choice was the Autumn-Ale (4.4% ABV) from local micro Langham.  To say this beer tasted fresh and full of flavour would be an understatement.  Brewed with local Sussex hops it is a rich chestnut coloured beer with a fruity spicy hop character and quite a bittersweet refreshing finish.  Delicious.  

The next two pubs are not in the latest Good Beer Guide but are probably contenders for next year.  The George & Dragon is a Punch tavern and again not far from the Festival Theatre.  This pub is more trendy with modern decor and four handpumps containing Tim Taylor's Landlord and Sharp's Doom Bar (yes there it is again) and Atlantic (the acceptable face of Sharps) and locale Arundel Gold.  It is a long time since I have had a pint of Landlord so I opted for that.  It was perfectly acceptable without setting my taste buds alight.

Finally we made our way to The Belle Isle.  This modern cafe, bar, restaurant opened up a couple of years ago and I always dismissed it as it appeared to be more of a restaurant than anything else but it certainly caters for the beer lover now and it is fast becoming my favourite place to drink in Chichester.  They always have three beers available on handpump which seem to change with every visit along with a first class range of bottled beers.  Tonight I had my first taste of Dark Star's Art Of Darkness (3.5% ABV).  This black ale has an abundance of roast malt character but with a lovely hoppy aroma too.  It reminded me of a black IPA but without the strength of those beers.  This beer is pure genius.  It is full of rich fruit and spicy notes along with coffee and chocolate notes from the malt to give a complex, full flavoured black beer made all the more drinkable by the low ABV.  
I should have ended the night with the Art of Darkness but I didn't want to miss out on it so it took my taste buds a little time to adjust to Tiny Rebel's Fubar (4.4% ABV) which I tried next.  This american pale ale was more floral than some of the stronger APAs I enjoy but it had a lovely dry bitter finish  and it was another superb beer to round off what was an excellent evening of cask beers at their very best.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the week really.  Ten miles in the other direction from me is Worthing and the Brooksteed Alehouse, the new micropub.  This is already my favourite pub in West Sussex but it epitomises for me what the new micropub revolution is all about.  A constantly changing list of beers all served in perfect condition from a temperature controlled stillage area in an environment perfect for relaxing and enjoying the beer among like-minded souls.  A lunchtime visit gave me the chance to try Harviestoun Schiehallion (4.8% ABV).  It is rare you will find a lager for sale in a micropub but it is also rare that you will find a real lager that appeals to the beer drinker.  I've enjoyed this beer in bottles before and in cask it was superb.  

Last Friday I offered to take my wife out for a meal to a Thai restaurant in Worthing which just happens to be next door to the Brooksteed Alehouse.  A cunning plan.  After consuming what was a fabulous meal there was obviously time to round off the evening with some beer.  I began with a locale from the new Goldstone Brewery near Brighton.  Their Amarillo is a 4.5% ABV golden ale that has everything I love about this hop.  Citrussy with a very dry strong bitter finish.  Moving swiftly on I tried the Graffiti IPA (5.0% ABV) from an even newer micro, the Cornwall based Firebrand Brewing Company.  This beer was not as bitter as the Goldstone Amarillo but it also contained the Amarillo hop along with Summit and Centennial.  There was a sweeter malty base to it and the citrussy hop flavours provided a bitter middle before leading to a refreshing fruity bittersweet finish.  My wife was struggling with the amazing Oakham Citra so I unfortunately had to finish that off too before heading for home.  

Being an active CAMRA member life is not always about visiting your favourite pubs.  However, last Friday I decided to visit my old local for lunch.  I had not visited The Inglenook near Pagham since moving house in July and they had gone a bit quiet on Facebook so after making the decision to go and make sure they were still selling great beer they put out a new Facebook post which confirmed that they indeed were.  Of course I still had to go to make sure it was being served in top condition.  Faced with a choice of Dark Star NHA Pale (5.5% ABV) or Magic Rock High Wire (5.5% ABV) I chose the former simply because it was something I am yet to try.  This beer was designed by National Homebrewing Awards finalist James Morton and loaded with Amarillo and Citra hops this beer was never going to disappoint.  It is very drinkable and refreshing with plenty of light citrus flavours swirling around.

Some weeks you can fail to find a single beer that matches up to those I had last week.  On my scoring scale the Landlord was the only beer that would not have scored a 9/10 at the very least.  The two from Dark Star though get top marks.  So to all those free houses in West Sussex please can you now follow suit and ditch the decidedly average and check out some quality beers, most of which are brewed close to home.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Is This Guinness Good For You?

Working in Dublin for 18 months got me used to drinking Guinness.  Initially I loved it over there but as time moved on I began to prefer Murphys and once I discovered the Porterhouse pub I drank less of either.  The last pint of Guinness I had in the UK I ended up leaving.  It was sweet and syrupy and not at all pleasant.  Nothing like the smooth creamy stuff in Dublin.  

During a trip to Morrisons last week my eye was caught by a Guinness promotion with two different types of porter for just £1.50 a bottle so I thought it would be worth giving them a go.  These are apparently recreations of recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries.  There have been a few blog posts out there reviewing these bottles already and once I have tasted and reviewed I will read them.  I don't like to have any preconceptions.

When it comes to marketing, Guinness have always been pretty successful.  They have had many memorable campaigns over the years and a trip to the Guinness museum in Dublin is well worth a visit if you are ever in that great city.  All of the advertisements and slogans you will remember well from your youth (if you are as old as me) will come flooding back.  The labels on these particular bottles are both particularly attractive with a good retro look to them.  However, what really matters is the taste of course.

Dublin Porter (3.8% ABV)

I am a big fan of stouts and porters but I don't think I have ever had one that is less that 4.0% ABV in strength.  This is supposedly an interpretation from Guinness' earliest porter recipes.  Was it ever this low in strength though?  This beer is far too thin and it tastes like it has been watered down.  The taste is not bad at all to be fair.  It has a good roasted malt character with plenty of bitterness in there too.  However, it is far from smooth and far too carbonated.  There just isn't enough of the taste to be satisfied with.  Overall quite disappointing and a 5/10 for this one.           

West Indies Porter (6.0% ABV)

Well the strength is certainly a big improvement with this one which is based on a recipe going back to 1801.  My wife wasn't too enamoured with the first but this one she enjoyed.  It was certainly smoother and I was immediately taken with the sweetness of it with hints of vanilla initially before milk chocolate and liquorice notes came through.  Overall it is sweeter, much richer and much closer to what I like from a stout porter than the Dublin one although I do like a bit of bitterness in the finish which the Dublin one had and was missing here.  Carbonation was still too high and I would give it a score of 7/10.  

The success of any promotion is always down to the question of whether it results in repeat purchases.  For me the Dublin Porter is priced too high already for what you get.  It needs more body and I would not buy it again.  The West Indies Porter is well worth the money but if this is an introductory price then the 'regular' price would probably mean it won't be.  For someone like me who loves to take regular trips to the dark side I would say there are much better stout porters out there.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Sober October

First we had Dryanuary and now the puritanical wankers want us to go sober in October.  I am normally a mild mannered person but these people can just fuck off and take a running jump.  Next year they'll tell us to go dry in July and I'm sure they will eventually come up with some stupid slogan for every month of the year and social media will be awash with these tossers all year round.