Thursday, 31 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 12 - Baltic Trader

So here we are.  The last of my @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas.  I am back in the UK with a beer from a brewery I know very little about.  Green Jack are probably the most easterly brewery in the UK as they are based in Lowestoft where they have been brewing since 2009.  They are also the winner of one or two categories in the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain in the past few years too I think.  Their best bitter Trawlerboys certainly won the Best Bitter category in 2012.  

This particular beer, Baltic Trader, grabbed my attention when placing an order at Beers of Europe and it cost £8.49.  A 10.5% ABV Russian Imperial Stout in a 750ml bottle sounded just like what I was hoping for to complete my #12BeersOfXmas.  It's a gamble as I know nothing about this beer and I can only remember having one or two beers from Green Jack in a Wetherspoons quite a few years ago and neither stood out from what I can remember.  I even had my wife moaning about choosing another imperial stout as she normally hates them.  Oh well.  Here goes.


It poured a nice thick black with a small whitish head.  The aroma wasn't overwhelming but it did give off hints of what might be to come with a boozy, chocolatey whiff.  First surprise of the evening was my wife loving it.  She said there were good chocolatey notes with only a hint of smokiness in the finish.  She said I would love it and boy was she right.  This is a stupendous stout.  A nice bittersweet balance, plenty of chocolate and coffee notes with hints of vanilla too which I always love from a stout.  There is a great booziness to it too as you would expect from a beer of this strength.  

I was going to give my top three beers of my festive dozen at this point but it would be unfair to pick out just three as I would say so many of them hit the spot for me.  This one is certainly up there with the best of them.  

Happy New Year to everyone.  Don't forget though that in January brewers continue to brew and pubs are open so LET'S DRINK JANUARY DRY.  

Cheers.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 11 - St Bernardus Abt 12

As it's Christmas I will stay in Belgium for one more beer.  Brouwerij St Bernardus have been busy brewing abbey ales since 1946.  They use hops from their very own hopfield next to the brewery, located in the West Flanders village of Watou.  The story is the coming together of two trappist monasteries.  The first of these was a group of French trappist monks who moved just across the border into Belgium to establish a cheese factory,  The monks went back to France in 1934 but the cheese factory stayed under new ownership.  In 1946 the monks of trappist monastery St Sixtus in Westvleteren were looking for someone to brew their beer.  They gave a license to the cheese factory and Brouwerij St Bernardus was born.  Westvleteren supplied the brew master, the know-how and the St Sixtus yeast strain.  The license agreement concluded in 1992 and they continue to brew the same beers to the same recipes under the St Bernardus name.  This particular beer was purchased at Bitter Virtue in Southampton and is another large 750ml bottle and was priced at just under a tenner.  


This 10.0% ABV beer is a Belgian Quadrupel and I think it is the first one I have tried of this particular style.  I have had plenty of Dubbels and Tripels so it is about time I took the next step up the scale.  The aroma gives the promise of rich dark fruits.  My wife thought it was superb and has strong resemblances to barley wine.  Rich, warming and fruity with a smooth malty backbone.  Plenty of complex flavours appearing.  Vinous, raisin, plum and all the sort of things you expect from Christmas cake and pudding.  It is a really stunning beer and this won't be the last Quadrupel to pass my lips of that I am certain.  Time to get some more cheese to accompany this one.

Cheers.    

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 10 - La Chouffe Blonde

We're getting to the end now of the @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas for this year and this is the first of two successive Belgian beers and the third one overall.  Belgian beers are gorgeous to have at Christmas.  The story behind Brasserie d'Achouffe begins in the late 1970s under the control of two brothers-in-law, Pierre Gobron and Chris Bauweraerts.  The first La Chouffe was produced in 1982 and things went so well they decided to go full-time with the project.  In 2006 the brewery became part of the Duvel-Moortgat brewery but the brewery, set in the Belgian Ardennes region, has been retained and invested in.  This particular beer was picked up at the Hogs Back Brewery shop for £7.75.  It is 8.0% ABV and is another large 750ml bottle so plenty to get my teeth into.


The beer itself is slightly fruity with notes of lemon, gently spiced with hints of coriander and has a lovely bubbly mouthfeel.  It is unfiltered and refermented in both barrel and bottle.  It doesn't set the world alight in the way the Belgian tripels do for me but it is a fabulous beer nonetheless.  I even brought the whole snowman family into the picture for this one although they really should be gnomes as that seems to be the brewery symbol.  Now time to complement this beer with some cheese and biscuits I think.        

Cheers.

Monday, 28 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 9 - Weird Brodmance

This bottle was sold to me by the guys at Cotteridge Wines back in April I think so it has been earmarked for the @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas since then.  I can't remember how much I paid for it but I think it was about seven quid which probably isn't bad for a 660ml bottle at 10.0% ABV.  This is a collaboration brew between two London craft brewers - Weird Beard and Brodies - and the clue to that is in the name of the beer.  I didn't really need any persuading to buy this as I love nearly everything from Weird Beard and I have had some very good bottled stuff from Brodies too in the past.  The two head brewers have known each other since before they were brewers so a collaboration seemed a logical step.  Galena and Chinook hops were added to the malt before lactose and maple syrup went in.  



I do find stouts with lactose in to be too sweet so there does need to be a balance.  This beer obviously manages to do that.  My wife is not a fan of imperial stouts and described it as a cross between marmite and HP sauce.  Let's give some balance then.  It has a lovely dark head that has settled over the blackness of the beverage.  It is rich and thick and there is an initial sweetness but that is soon balanced by a lovely warming spiciness.  There is some roasted malt characteristics giving some bitter coffee notes.  I can certainly detect the maple syrup notes too along with coffee and vanilla.  Plenty of complexity and warmth with this one and I am going to savour every single drop of the 660ml within.  This could well have won my collaboration of the year if I had consumed it earlier but it will be a contender for next year for sure.

Cheers.      

Sunday, 27 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 8 - Thunderstruck IPA

There is no mention of AC/DC in the blurb I read about this beer but Greg Koch of the Stone Brewing Co must be a fan.  This 19th Anniversary Ale is brewed with four Australian hops (I'm sure they would have thrown in a Geordie hop too if there were any) along with Aussie malt so surely the name has come from the title of this classic track (my favourite one if I'm honest) from Australia's finest rock export.  Anyway, I will be trying hard not to hum the tune as I drink it as that could result in serious spillage.  This is another beer I picked up from Bitter Virtue in Southampton and at £12.50 for a 660ml bottle it had better be good.      


I could smell the hops as soon as I popped the top off.  The Aussie hops used are Topaz and Galaxy alongside two new varieties, Ella and Vic Secret.  This is so bitter (95 IBU) and that was too much for my wife but for me it is awesome.  Grapefruit dominates.  Perhaps a tad one dimensional but who cares.  I'm loving it and I wish I had a second one.  I'm just glad it's a big bottle.  And to think it was only £12.50.  Absolute bargain.  

'Sound of the drums
Beating in my heart
The thunder of guns
Tore me apart
You've been
Thunderstruck'

And so have I.  Cheers.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 7 - Straffe Hendriks Brugs Tripel

My first Belgian beer of my dozen was purchased from Bison Beer in Brighton.  I am assured I will not be disappointed,  It is a Belgian tripel, my favourite Belgian beer style so I have high hopes.  The De Haave Maan brewery is located in the beautiful city of Bruges.  The brewery dates back to at least the 16th century but the story of ownership by the Maes family begins in 1856 when Leon Maes (who became known as Henri the first) became the owner.  The Straffe Hendrik was developed in 1981 by Veronique Maes and her father Henri IV.  However the brand was acquired by another brewery in the late 1980s but in 2008 it was brought back home.  With recent investment it is now a state of the art brewery with a bottling plant and tavern.  The future is looking good.  


The beer is looking good too.  A lovely golden colour with a lovely white head with the trademark aromas of orange and coriander. Quite a spiciness in there too.  In the taste there are notes of ginger too among the fruity notes of orange and peach.  It has a spicy zing in the finish along with some nice bitterness.  As with all of the best Belgian tripels the strength surprises.  This one is 9.0% ABV but it is so easy drinking.  I am more than happy to have this 750ml bottle to sup all evening and at a cost of about £12 it is worth every penny.  With two more Belgian beers to come I must say this is beginning to look like my best #12BeersOfXmas yet with not a single duff beer among them.  I am over half way now so here's hoping.

Cheers. 

Friday, 25 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 6 - Durham 1994 Anniversary Ale

It's Christmas Day and that means we are at the halfway stage in the @BeerOClockShow #12BeeersOfXmas.  Christmas has finally arrived so it is time to bring out the heavyweights.  Big bottles, big strengths and, hopefully, big flavours.  It is tradition for me to drink a beer from Durham Brewery on Christmas Day.  I love their beers so much and their stronger brews have such great depth and complexity I find they are perfect to enjoy alongside all the festive food.  Imagine my delight then when I saw this particular bottle for the princely sum of £14.99.  I've never paid this much for a bottle of anything before.      


This beer was brewed for Durham's 20th anniversary, hence the name 1994, which means it has been aged for 18 months.  It is described as an imperial pale stout and at a strength of 10.2% ABV it should pack a punch.  It is a 750ml bottle so the punch should be long lasting too.  It has the addition of pink peppercorns and orange peel.  I've never come across a beer with peppercorns that I have been enamoured by so I knew this was a risk.  I don't want to drink anything from Durham that will leave a bad taste in the mouth.  

The bottle is stoppered and I did cool it in the fridge for a hour before opening.  Durham beers are notoriously lively and I find this helps.  It did give a nice pop and nothing exploded.  It poured a nice golden colour and the aroma was not strong.  There were hints of orange there though.  There are similarities in the taste to their magnificent white stout, a beer I love.  The extra strength is noticeable as it warms all the way down.  A complexity of fruits and spicy hops are to the fore and at the end there is quite a peppery kick in what is a nice dry bitter finish.  To be honest I would have enjoyed it more without the peppercorns perhaps but it does leave a nice tingling sensation on the palate.  The orange peel is not so apparent in the flavours which was also a slight disappointment but overall it is a damn good beer from a brewery that will always be a firm favourite of mine when it comes to bottled beers.  Not their best but still one to savour and I do have a lot of it to savour.  Should keep me quiet tonight.

Cheers.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 5 - Noel Vintage Christmas Ale

It's Christmas Eve and so I am in my home county of West Sussex today.  Andy Hepworth was Head Brewer at King & Barnes from a young age and when this excellent brewery was tragically shut following the takeover by those Dorset vandals Hall & Woodhouse in 2000, Hepworths was born and production began in 2001.  I was living in Horsham at the time of the closure and for me it was a very sad day.  I even got to go on the last ever brewery tour when we were charged with the task of drinking everything that was there.  King & Barnes Festive was my favourite tipple but they did a wonderful Old Ale and a superb xmas ale too.  Hepworths have carried on the tradition of the K&B Old Ale with their lovely Classic Old.  I am hoping this festive beer carries on the tradition of the K&B xmas ales.


The beer pours an inviting deep golden colour.  A little lively but I managed to retain all of it due to a speedy pouring job.  My wife thought it was a bit tasteless which doesn't bode well although she did say it was very warming which indeed it is.  There's a strong sweet malty base and a bit of a spicy tang in the finish.  I was wanting a richer, boozier smoothness with hints of rich fruits with a spicy hop character.  Not sure why I was expecting this but I guess I was thinking back to the old K&B Xmas Ale.  For a 7.5% ABV beer it is a little lacking in flavour really.  Too much malt character for me.  It does warm you up though and it is pleasant enough but doesn't hit the heights of my first four beers.       

As a footnote to all this Hepworths are moving to a larger, spanking new brewery to the south of Horsham in 2016.  This new brewery will have three times current capacity and it should be operational in April.  I will be sure to pay them a visit once they are up and running.

Cheers.

    

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 4 - A Over T

After my trip to New Zealand on day three I am coming back much closer to home for day four.  It is the only beer in my list that I have tried before although it was many years over.  Hogs Back Brewery are located in the village of Tongham, Surrey at the foot of the North Downs and are now well established having begun brewing back in 1992.  This bottle was bought on a recent visit to their excellent bottle shop located within the brewery complex.  As well as selling their own beers they have an excellent range of beers from all over the UK as well as a good selection of Belgian beers in particular.  It was thanks to this shop that I got introduced to the superb bottled beers from Durham Brewery many years ago so I have that to thank them for too.  Having said that they don't seem to stock them any more!!  Boo!!

A Over T is a 9.0% ABV barley wine and although it may send you Arse Over Tit if you drink too much it is actually an abbreviation of Aromas Over Tongham.  I am sure when they are brewing the lovely aromas come wafting through the air for all the villagers to enjoy.  Their play on acronyms knows no bounds as they also brew TEA (Traditional English Ale) and OTT (Old Tongham Tasty).


This beer had very little head after pouring but there was a nice gentle carbonation giving a good mouthfeel.  The aroma was gorgeous.  Very boozy with the promise of intoxication.  Barley wines are so rare nowadays and I love them.  I was unsure if this beer would meet my expectations from how I remember it but they were exceeded.  This beer is fantastic in every sense.  Plenty of intense rich fruits that have been soaked in some rich liqeur that you would find in your Christmas cake or pudding.  Flavours of orange notes come out so perhaps the soaking would be in cointreau.  Enough of all this - I'm off to savour the rest.  Next time I'll buy a case of it.

Cheers.   

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 3 - Super Conductor Double IPA

For day three of the @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas I make my first excursion to foreign parts and I could not go much further.  8 Wired Brewing Co are based in New Zealand and they began as a contract brewery in 2009.  I think the modern term is a gypsy brewer and in their first five years they brewed at four different breweries.  Despite this they have won many honours beginning with the highest award in New Zealand of champion brewer in 2011.  For the past four years they have been the only brewer from the southern hemisphere to appear on the ratebeer.com list of 'top 100 brewers'.  After a few years of roaming they now have their own brewery in Warkworth, north of Auckland.  I don't normally have too many hoppy beers over Christmas but this Double IPA caught my eye when I visited the excellent bottle shop in Southampton, Bitter Virtue.  It did cost £6.20 but it had a long way to come and I'm sure it is packed with plenty of expensive hops.


Super Conductor IPA (8.88% ABV) is packed full of New Zealand and Aussie hops and when I say packed I mean packed.  There is still a good sweet malty base to it which comes from a blend of four malts which tries to keep the hops under some sort of control but it is a losing battle at the end of the day.  There is a resinous quality to this beer that I love.  Very rich and satisfying but with a dry bitterness in the finish.  I could drink this down very quickly which at nearly 9.0% ABV could prove to be a mistake.  Probably a good job I only bought a single bottle of it then.

Cheers.   


Monday, 21 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 2 - Roman Imperial Stout

It's day 2 of the @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas and Christmas would not be complete without an imperial stout to savour and I have had some crackers in the past.  This one comes from the Downton Brewery based in Wiltshire.  The brewery name comes from the village in which they are located close to the northern edge of the New Forest with views of Salisbury Cathedral to the north.  I have enjoyed their bottled Chimera IPA (6.8% ABV) before but other than that I know very little about them.  This particular bottle was purchased from Beers of Europe for the princely sum of £3.19 so quite a bargain as long as it tastes good.



Let's get this bottle opened then.  No fizz at all when I flipped off the top and not much life when I poured it either but a few bubbles surfaced by the time I had it poured.  I was pleased to find it tasted fine with the right amount of carbonation.  My wife didn't like it but that's not unusual for this type of beer.  She thought it tasted like a very strong HP sauce.  I've never trie dthat before so I wouldn't know. I thought it had plenty of flavours which were well balanced.  Quite rich with notes of molasses, liqorice, some chocolate and some raisin.  There wasn't much in the way of smokiness or coffee.  There was a nice rich body to it with a bittersweet finish.  Not as good as other imperial stouts I have had but a long way from being the worst.  A very pleasant beer indeed and one I would go for again.

Cheers.     

Sunday, 20 December 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas Day 1 - Brew 900 Under The Arches

The @BeerOClockShow #12BeersOfXmas is off and running for the third year.  I love indulging in some special strong beers at Chridtmas and this year promises to be more of the same.  Beer number one comes from Marble Brewers of Manchester, who are one of my favourite breweries, and this special beer was brewed to commemorate their 900th brew.  They brew some cracking beers of which Dobber (5.9% ABV), Lagonda IPA (5.0% ABV) and Pint (3.9% ABV) all stand out and are all bursting with hops.  


This particular beer though is less about the hops and more about the yeast.  It is a 9.0% ABV Belgian tripel made with Belgian yeast so it should be something special.  This particular bottle was picked up at the fantastic Cotteridge Wines for £4.99 and it was money well spent.  My wife loved it and was surprised by the strength because it was quite drinkable.  I have to agree.  It certainly did not disgrace the glass I chose for this beer.  It has a honey sweetness, a little syrupy with great body and a strong flavour of oranges with a slight bitter sourness in the finish.  My favourite Belgian Tripel produced by a UK brewer is Durham's Bede's Chalice.  This is just about on a par with that which is high praise indeed.  A fabulous start.

Cheers.      



  

    

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

My Twelve Beers of Xmas 2015

It's that time of year again.  The Beer O'Clock Show 12 Beers of Xmas is an annual event now when the great and good of the beery Twitterverse choose a dozen beers for Christmas and drink one each day beginning on December 20th and thereby ending on New Years Eve.  It was even more popular last year and this year I'm sure it will be even bigger.  Lots of beery folk have spent countless hours deliberating which beers to select and there are many classic beers that have been chosen already this year.  If this is all new to you then it really is easy to take part.  Buy twelve beers and drink them is all there is to it really.  Add your comments on their website and/or follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #12BeersofXmas.  If you are a blogger then you can also write a review of each beer too so we can all imagine the finer points of the beers you are enjoying.  

My selections have been made and as usual I have come up with twelve beers that I have largely never had before.  I think I may have gone a bit OTT this year as it seems to have cost me a small fortune but it's Christmas so you have to indulge.  I am certainly looking forward to every single one of them.  So with no further ado here is my lineup for this year.





Sunday December 20th

Brew 900 Under The Arches - Marble (9.0% ABV)


Monday December 21st

Roman Imperial Stout - Downton Brewery (9.0% ABV)




Tuesday December 22nd

Super Conductor - 8 Wired Brewing Co (8.8% ABV)


Wednesday December 23rd

A Over T - Hogs Back Brewery (9.0% ABV)




Christmas Eve

Vintage Noel Christmas Ale - Hepworth & Co (7.5% ABV)


Chistmas Day

1994 Anniversary Ale - Durham Brewery (10.2% ABV)




Boxing Day

Straffe Hendriks Brugs Tripel - De Halve Moon (9.0% ABV)


Sunday December 27th

Thunderstruck IPA - Stone Brewing Co (8.7% ABV)




Monday December 28th

Weird Brodmance - Weird Beard / Brodies (10.0% ABV)


Tuesday December 29th

La Chouffe Blonde - Brasserie d'Achouffe (8.0% ABV)




Wednesday December 30th

St Bernardus Abt 12 - Brouwerij St Bernartdus (10.0% ABV)


New Year's Eve

Baltic Trader - Green Jack (10.5% ABV)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Golden Pints 2015


The year is nearly over which means it is Golden Pints time.  A year in which I discovered more great pubs selling great beer.  I am delighted to see that micropubs are popping up all over the place and more breweries with a hop fixation are starting up so the future is bright.  

As always, each winner is accompanied by a little explanation as well as some close seconds listed where applicable.  

If you want to check out the Golden Pint Awards made by others then click here.

Best UK Cask Beer

Yakima IPA - Great Heck (7.4% ABV)

This is always the most difficult category for me and yet again this proved to be the case.  This winning beer popped up at my local one lunchtime in January and it disappeared quickly.  It came on again twice in April and it was just as gorgeous on both occasions.

There were some very close seconds within this category as usual and these were, in no particular order, Pogo (Salopian), Dobber (Marble), Black Thirty Three (Brighton Bier) and Black Oktober (Vibrant Forest).


Best UK Keg Beer

Old Ford Export Stout - Redchurch (7.5% ABV)

A few more keg beers were consumed by me this year and this one stood out.  Last year their bottled Hoxton Stout won my bottled beer category so they obviously know how to do a good stout.  Rich, smooth and blooming strong.  A cracking stout.     


Best UK Bottled Beer

VIPA - Tatton (6.3% ABV)

Plenty of choice in this category as usual.  This particular beer was quite unusual.  Rich and robust with quite a distinctive flavour with toffee apple notes.  This beer was their 5th anniversary brew brewed with both UK and European malts, Cheshire honey and UK Bramling Cross and Cascade hops.  Another great IPA brewed with UK hops.         


Best UK Canned Beer


Bloody 'Ell - Beavertown (7.2% ABV)

Next year I am expecting to have many more canned beers.  This beer was one I had hoped to find and it actually exceeded my expectations.  A simply WOW beer with a sensational aroma and a taste to match.


Best Overseas Draught Beer

Robust Porter - Smuttynose (6.6% ABV)

This year a family trip to New Hampshire and Vermont threw up a great selection of beers worthy of winning this category.  It was a fantastic hopfest over there but a pint of this beautifully smooth smoky porter wins it for me.


Best Overseas Bottled Beer

Battle Axe IPA - Kelsen Brewing (7.2% ABV)

The highlight of my holiday in terms of bottled beers.  This strong IPA had lovely orange citrus notes and a full hop aroma.  Fabulous.


Best Overseas Canned Beer

Heady Topper - Alchemist (8.0% ABV)

I thought I would search in vain for this beer but amazingly I found it.  A tremendous double IPA that lives up to the hype and is so easy to drink.  


Best Collaboration Brew

Kofra Stout - Redwell (5.9% ABV)

Can't think of too many successful collaborations beerwise so how about this collaboration between Redwell and a local coffee shop.  My wife thought this beer was simply stunning and I thought it was pretty decent too.


Best Overall Beer

Yakima by Great Heck

Hard to choose between all of the above because they are so very different.  However, the cask choice wins it for me because cask is best!!


Best Branding

Beavertown

They win simply for the artwork on their cans. 


Best Pumpclip

Downlands

Always a joy to see a Downlands beer with the distinctive signpost.  I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt.


Best Label

Durham Brewery

Not so much for the design as such, although they are great, but because I know that what is inside the bottle is going to be an absolute joy.  I haven't consumed nearly enough of their bottled beers this year but I do have a special one lined up for my '12 Beers of Xmas'.


Best UK Brewery

      
I'm going fairly local for this award.  Vibrant Forest began brewing back in 2011 and are based in Lymington, Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest.  This year they won the beer of the festival at my local Yapton Beerex and their beers are now becoming much easier to find all across West Sussex.  My favourite beer from them was an amazing pint of their Imperial Russian stout, Black Oktober (9.0% ABV).  


Best Overseas Brewery

Rock Art

A visit to their superb brewery tap in Morrisville, Vermont gave me the opportunity to sample a couple of their magnificently hoppy beers.  Every beer I tried from them was first class and they were so close to winning the Best US Draught and Best US Bottled Beer categories with their Citra IPA and Belvidere Big IPA respectively. 


Best New Brewery Opening 2015

Back in July I had a couple of pints from this brewery at Cask Pub & Kitchen.  Pride & Joy (5.3% ABV) was a beautifully hoppy American Pale Ale and Divide & Conqueror was a magnificent black IPA (6.5% ABV).  I'm hoping for more from this brewery in 2016 - and they do cans too!!


Pub/Bar of the Year
Joint winners here.  My favourite micropub, the Brooksteed Alehouse, won my best New Pub/Bar Opening last year and this year it progresses to take the main award.  My weekly visit is something I always enjoy.  I just wished I lived closer to it.  The Hole In The Wall, tucked away in the back streets of Southsea, knocked me out on my first visit earlier this year and a second visit followed shortly after.  Oh if only every pub was like this one.  Friendly, compact, wholesome food and an ever changing selection of cask ales.  There is a pretty good keg selection too.  


Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015

The Watchmakers Arms, Hove

The latest micropub to open up in West Sussex and it is another superb place to drink.  Conveniently, just a short walk from Hove train station.

Beer Festival of the Year

Great British Beer Festival 2015

My winner last year was the Sussex CAMRA Branches Beer & Cider Festival 2014.  This year they changed venue and it was very disappointing.  Nowhere near as enjoyable.  I did get to work at my first beer festival in 2015, my local Yapton Beerex which was great as always, but the GBBF was hugely enjoyable once again.    


Supermarket of the Year

Marks & Spencer

Difficult choice because I like a few of them for different reasons but M&S win it because you can now buy branded bottles too along with their own-brand ones including a couple from the excellent Siren Craft.     


Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines, Birmingham

Winner for the third year running and after a visit in April they just keep getting better as you can read about here.  There isn't a retailer locally that comes close to them although I am glad to have Bison Beer in Brighton and Bitter Virtue in Southampton which are both well worth a visit when I am in their area.


Online Retailer of the Year

Beers of Europe

Once again this year I have used Beer Hawk, Ales By Mail, Beer Merchants, Beers Of Europe and Yorkshire Ales.  The service from all of them has been first class without exception.  However, you don't always know how good a company is until you get a problem.  One of my deliveries from Beers of Europe had a problem which they dealt with superbly.  They do also have a fantastic range which includes bottled beer from UK breweries that you cannot find elsewhere.  


Best Beer Book or Magazine

'Brew Britannia' by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey

I got a few beer books for Christmas last year and this one was by far the best.  A great read which was so good I decided to review it.  You can read that here.      


Best Beer Blog or Website

BeersManchester

My blog has links to all of my favourite bloggers and there have been a few additions this year but BeersManchester wins again.  Jim has been a bit quiet recently due to other commitments but his last two posts have come at the right time because they have reminded me why I like what he writes.


Best Beer App


Winner for a third successive year.  Keeps track of everything I drink and a valuable resource for things like the Golden Pints when I need to look back at what I have consumed over the year.  I like collecting badges too of course !!


Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitter

@BeerOClockShow

The Twitter mouthpiece for the wonderful Beer O'Clock Show podcast.  They represent all that is wonderful about the friendly world of beer on Twitter.  It was a pleasure to meet up with Steve and Mark once again this year on the Beer O'Clock Show Brighton Pub Crawl in June.        

Best Brewery Website / Social Media

Redwell Brewing

This brewery got close to winning the best UK Canned Beer award with their awesome West Coast Pale so they deserve to win this award again for sending it to me.  Their website is still first class, their Facebook posts and tweets are always great and, most importantly, they are really nice people too.           


That brings 2015 to a close.  An excellent year although I still haven't explored London in any detail so that is something I must do next year.  My main trip next year though will be to the Norwich City of Ale in May.  

Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.

Monday, 7 December 2015

More Worthing Beer Destinations

Worthing is definitely becoming one of my favourite local beer destinations.  Recently two more pubs have opened that are well worth a visit and you can add them to my list of top Worthing pubs that I wrote about earlier this year (see here).  Both pubs have risen from the ashes of pubs that have been closed for a while and are housed in lovely historical buildings of great architectural value.  In short, two very welcome additions to the Worthing pub scene. 

First up we have The Egremont.  If you head east along the sea front from the Wandering Goose (about to be renamed the Goose Craft House with ten more taps) and then head inland along Warwick Road you will find this imposing pub on the corner with Brighton Road.      


The Egremont reopened earlier this year after a substantial refurbishment.  Not being a local to Worthing it is not a pub I had been in before this makeover but it is a pub with great historical interest and much of the character of the building has been retained.  The pub was built in 1835 when it sat next door to the Tower Brewery.  This became Chapmans Brewery in 1930 and later the Egremont Brewery.  The pub was once a hotel and signage on the outside still shows Dolphin Ales & Kemptown Brewery.  When you visit it is worth strolling outside along both sides of the pub to take in all the historic signage that has been retained.  Inside it is modern with shiny wooden flooring throughout, a mix of low and high traditional tables and a selection of stools, chairs and bench seating on which to park yourself.


They have only been open a few months but they have already made themselves popular with the local real ale drinker.  I was quite fortunate in that my visit followed on from a weekend beer festival and all beers that were left over on the stillage were priced at £2 per pint.  I therefore enjoyed a Little Valley Hebden's Wheat (4.8% ABV) rather than going for their single guest ale, Harveys Old, that I was very tempted by.  Harveys Sussex is regularly available alongside Dark Star American Pale, Hop Back Summer Lightning and two house beers (brewed by local micro Goldmark).  

Turning left out of the Egremont you head towards the centre of town.  Before reaching the bright lights and turning right you are on the main road out of town northwards.  Passing Waitrose on the right you come to the Corner House shortly afterwards on the same side of the road.  This pub has only been open a few weeks and it is the sister pub to the Beach House, a cafe/bar on Worthing seafront a few doors down from the Wandering Goose (Goose Craft House).  The Corner House is a lovely building dating from 1895 having been built over an existing structure that was built nearly a century earlier.  Previously the pub has been known as the Anchor, Jack Horner and The Stage.   


It's a grand looking building and inside it is bright and welcoming with wooden flooring throughout, comfortable seating and a nice warming log burner.  It is a lovely pub for the long winter months whereas the Beach House suits summer drinking although you will find there is a garden here to enjoy when the weather turns warmer.  The central bar offers some local ales (Bedlam, Langham and Arundel beers when I visited) alongside the bland Whitstable Bay Pale from Sheps.  I very much enjoyed a pint of the Bedlam Golden Ale (4.2% ABV) served in a branded glass.  Keg taps were offering Brewdog Punk IPA, Whitstable Stout from Sheps and a lager from Bedlam.  Certainly something for everyone.              


These two pubs are both well worth including on a crawl around Worthing.  I wouldn't remove any of my previous favourites so I guess you'll need to drink a bit more or drink halves to fit them all in.

Cheers.    

Friday, 4 December 2015

Redwell West Coast Pale

I'm hoping beers are like buses.  Once one pops through the letterbox two more turn up.  A couple of weeks or so after Redwell Brewery sent me their lovely Kofra Stout (read the review here), another Redwell can arrives much to my delight.  So hopefully a third one will turn up!!  
  
This time it is the West Coast Pale (5.6% ABV) that I hoped to enjoy.  The can has the same quality design as their others but this one is a lovely bright orange colour.  This one will certainly stand out in the dark.


The term 'West Coast' refers to the West Coast of the US of course and these beers tend to be very much dominated by those lovely US hop varieties which grow in the hop fields of the Pacific Northwest.  The 'East Coast' pales tend to be more balanced by a bigger malt presence and the inclusion of a spicier European hop character.  I love both types but my preference is for the 'West Coast' so this beer should be perfect for me.

The beer pours nicely and has a lovely golden colour with the right level of carbonation which resulted in a bit of a white head.  The aroma was exactly what I expected.  Somewhat estery with the promise of lush tropical and citrusy fruit flavours to come.  Once again my wife got to try it first and it is always a sign of approval when a second sip is taken.  Handing it back she said the taste disappeared but that opinion was quickly revised as it hit back.  'You'll love it' she said.  I can see what she means.  The aftertaste was gentle at first but the big tropical fruit flavours, particularly mango, came bursting through and lasted throughout.  The citrusy flavours were less grapefruit and more orange I thought which isn't a bad thing either.  The malt base is stronger than in some West Coast pales I have had previously and has a nice biscuity quality.  Indeed I do love this beer.  No surprise there really but it is great to finally sample a beer you have longed to try and that it meets all your expectations.       

This beer is another winner from Redwell.  When will that third bus arrive?

Cheers.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Supermarket Sweep

Supermarkets are beginning to see 'craft beer' as a possible growth area in what is otherwise a difficult marketplace due to the onslaught from discounters Aldi and Lidl.  However, even these discounters are now trying to compete in the beer market.  I don't have an Aldi near me but I've been trying some of the new beer range from Lidl to see how they compare to the offerings from other supermarkets.  I am not going to cover Tesco and Sainsburys a great deal in this post other than to say I think their beer ranges have stagnated in the past 12 months, particularly the latter.  I rarely spot anything worth trying in either of these stores.  Waitrose is pretty much the same too.  They have some decent locales but they come at a price and rarely discounted.

I will begin with Morrisons.  They were always quite boring when it came to beer and, as with Tesco and Sainsburys, tried bringing in their own range of beers brewed by national brewers in the main such as Marstons.  Last month they revamped their selection at my local store by introducing a 'craft beer' shelf.  Priced at £1.65 each or 4 for £6 this selection also included cans (Thwaites 13 Guns and Adnams Crystal Rye).  They are sticking to mainly known and popular brands such as Sierra Nevada, Goose Island and Lagunitas from the US, Pistonhead from Sweden as well as a few from the UK such as Brewdog and Hardknott.  At these prices these are excellent value for what is quite decent beer and my favourite of all by far is the Azimuth IPA (5.8% ABV) from Hardknott.


This beer is full of both tropical and citrusy fruit flavours with a great bitter finish.  This is a beer I will pick up again at the bargain price of £1.65 and also from Hardknott, at  the same price, they have Infra Red (6.2% ABV), an American Red.  I will be trying this soon too as it is now in my cupboard.

So top marks to Morrisons for giving quality at a very decent price.  Let's see how this compares with my local discount store, Lidl.  In the past they have sold beer from the Marstons family (including Wychwood, Ringwood and Jennings) and Shepherd Neame at bargain basement prices ranging from 99p - £1.29.  Having tried most of them I would say they are all overpriced.  Beer to avoid for fear of damaging your palate.  Now they have brought in a bottled beer range from micro brewers all over the UK.  The prices have increased slightly (£1.29 - £1.49) but has the quality gone up?  Here's a quick appraisal of the ones I have tried so far.  


This one from the Kite Brewery, a 4.1% ABV pale ale, was described as light, crisp and hoppy.  I could not really use any of these words to decribe what I was drinking here.  It had a sickly malty sweetness dominating over any hop character that may have been present.  Surely things can't get worse than this one?   
   

I've enjoyed something from the Leeds Brewery before so I had higher hopes for this one.  Having said that I am not a fan of golden ales and that is the case once more.  It was drinkable so an improvement from the Welsh Pale Ale but that is all I can say about it really.  Still too much sweet malt character with little in the way of hop notes.    


The third one comes from another Yorkshire brewer, the York Brewery.  I have had plenty of decent beer from them in the past and I have enjoyed the cask version of this beer, Guzzler (4.0% ABV), previously where I described it as a nice golden hoppy bitter.  So what happened to this bottle then as I actually found it to be quite malty with toffee notes and only a slight bitterness could be detected and far from the promised grapefruit notes.  Very disappointing.    


I love Sadlers beers so surely I can't go wrong with this one?  Worcester Sorcerer (4.3% ABV) is not my favourite from Sadlers but it is what it says it is.  A very well balanced golden bitter brewed with local hops and this was by far the best of the bunch so far.  At £1.29 this is one I will happily pick up again.  A very decent beer.  


Finally I picked up this one from Kent brewer Hopdaemon.  The beers I've had from this brewer before have been decent.  This beer has a nice spicy hop character but there are notes of tobacco and something else that wasn't pleasant either in the finish.  Not the worst but, once again, a beer I won't want to try again.  My wife gave each of these beers a try too and was much less complimentary than me.  I think she is becoming more of an expert on quality beer than she realises.  There are certain styles she doesn't like at all but generally appreciates quality and she could detect none of that here.    

Overall my haul from Lidl was very disappointing.  Top marks for trying to expand their range but the quality just isn't there.  I'd much rather pay two or three times the price of some of these beers for something drinkable. 

Finally let's look at Marks & Spencer.  I have favourably reviewed some of their M&S range previously but they are not resting on their laurels.  Firstly, they are now selling branded beer with bottles from Siren (Soundwave and Undercurrent), cans from Fourpure (Pils and Session IPA) and this gem from Sierra Nevada.  Morrisons had the Sierra Nevade Pale Ale in their range but I'd much rather pay the extra for the Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2% ABV).  This one at M&S was still less than a couple of quid though so I didn't have to pay a lot more for it.      


They have also introduced a 'craft' range.  Own branded 330ml bottles from a number of decent brewers.  To be honest the ones I've had in this range have been largely disappointing.  Not disappointing as in the Lidl sense.  Most of those were unpalatable.  These were just not up to the quality I was expecting but they weren't unpleasant.  The Island Hopper Pale Ale brewed by Windsor & Eton had no body whatsoever and was largely flat and lifeless.  Flavourwise it was ok.  Some orangey marmalade notes sat alongside some burnt caramel.  


The Double Hopped Citra IPA (5.9% ABV) from Oakham was one I was really looking forward to but this was again a bit lifeless too.  It had nice citrusy notes of lime alongside a tropical fruit sweetness.  Whilst it is a decent beer it does not compare favourably with the 4.9% ABV Citra IPA in their 500ml bottled range, also brewed by Oakham, which is quite magnificent.      


An improvement is the Battersea Rye (5.6% ABV) from London brewer Sambrooks.  This beer was warming with rich fruits, treacle toffee and a slightly smoky edge to it.  Likewise, the Maritime Salted Caramel Porter (5.5% ABV) from Meantime which I had last night was interesting and not as bad as I was expecting it to be.  Salty and spicy with notes of toffee and chocolate.  This one also had a good level of carbonation too.        


Another one in this range that had no life to it after opening though was the Ash Brook Red Lager (4.7% ABV) from Freedom Brewery.  Perhaps they've been asking for low levels of carbonation because it has been common with most of them to some extent.  The beer itself was interesting with a strong malty character, a little nutty and plenty of toffee notes.  The texture wasn't quite right though which spoiled it for me.  
   

There has been two stand-out beers for me that I have tried from M&S recently.  The first of these is from Warwickshire brewer Purity.  The Black IPA (6.5% ABV) is lovely and smooth with a great malty backbone to it.  The aroma was hoppy but these flavours were a bit more subtle in the taste but balanced well with the roasted malt.  I liked it a lot as did my wife.
  


The Greenwich Black IPA (5.7% ABV) from Meantime in the 500ml bottle range had many similarities to the Purity Black.  Again their was plenty of roast malt character and this beer was particularly dry in the finish which I had no objection to.    



I have it on good authority that the M&S range is far greater at their larger stores which I hope to check out in the near future.  For me they are giving the best deal when it comes to beer.  A varied and interesting selection.  Their own branded ranges, both small and larger bottles, are brewed by some of my favourite brewers and the quality is certainly there.  You have to pay a bit extra but it is still largely good value.  Morrisons have certainly done well with the prices they are selling known brands at.  You cannot go wrong with any of them at the prices they are selling for so if you like the beers they are stocking it's a winner.  Lidl are trying but for now they are not winning.  That to me is patently obvious.   

I will conclude by saying that not one supermarket can compare with a specialist beer shop.  If I lived close to one I would rarely buy beer from anywhere else.  Thankfully I have a December visit planned to Bitter Virtue in Southampton.  It is time to finalise my Beer O'Clock Show '12 Beers of Xmas'.

Cheers.    

Monday, 9 November 2015

Redwell Kofra Stout

I'm still not finding much enthusiasm for writing but when Redwell Brewery asked me if I wanted to review their new canned stout I could not refuse.  It arrived in time to help me celebrate International Stout Day too which was convenient.  I already had a bottle of stout for this particular day but I'm not averse to increasing my stout consumption.
  
I first came across Redwell when visiting their brewery during the Norwich City of Ale week back in 2013.  It was very early stages then in their story and since then they have gone from strength to strength.  Like all good craft brewers their beers are now available in cans and I enjoyed their Steam Lager when I found it in my favourite beer shop, Cotteridge Wines, earlier this year.  

Kofra Stout (5.9% ABV) comes in a smart green can.  The name comes from the fact that this is a collaboration with a local Norwich coffee shop, Kofra.  The beer is brewed using a blend of coffee that is roasted especially for them.  The can informed me that the beans came from Guatemala and Coasta Rica in a 2:1 ratio.  I'm not a coffee drinker.  I have not tried it since childhood and coffee chocolates are always discarded.  Here's the strange thing though.  I love the smell of coffee and I love dark beers with coffee notes.  Perhaps I need to give it a try again!!      


The can had probably been well shook up by the postman but it didn't explode when I opened it thankfully.  In fact it was only lightly sparkling with a head that quickly dissipated.  I made a mistake in giving the glass to my wife to try first.  My wife is a coffee drinker and she did not want to give it back to me.  I'd already enjoyed the aroma of coffee emanating from the glass and I was wanting to get my hands on it.  


I finally got my glass back with most of the beer still there and the first sip gave me an instant hit of coffee notes as I expected.  It had a nice soft mouthfeel making it very easy to drink and the strength of 5.9% ABV was not obvious as it slipped down so easily.  The more I drank the sweeter the stout became and the coffee bitterness fell away into the background.  It wasn't overly sweet though as the coffeeness was always there to keep it in check.  That's the other great anomaly with my love of beers from the dark side.  I do not like milk stouts but I do drink milk.  In fact the only milk stout I have enjoyed this year was one which had the addition of coffee.

Overall this is a very good stout.  My wife gave it a definite 10/10.  For me I tend to reserve that score for imperial Russian stouts with mental strengths but this stout has much of what I love about this style of beer.  From me it therefore gets an 8/10.   

Finally, how did it compare to the bottled stout I had lined up?  Black Brite (4.5% ABV) is brewed by Wentworths for the Barnsley Beer Company.  Fruity with a horrible aftertaste.  Thin and lifeless.  Not very good.  My wife thought it was undrinkable.    

       
So there you have it.  I am planning on visiting Norwich City of Ale again next year and hopefully I will get to visit Redwell Brewery again.  Great progress has been made it seems.  My wife will insist I bring a few cans of Kofra Stout back with me too.  

Cheers.
  

Friday, 16 October 2015

Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival Autumn 2015

Yes it is that time of year again.  In the past I have spent two weeks going to my local Spoons drinking mediocre beer and writing about it.  Well sod that.  I've decided that life really is too short to waste time on the crappy things in life.  In the past six months I have really enjoyed going to some fabulous pubs along the south coast and drinking some top class beers.  For that reason alone I will not be trying to pack in as many of the 50 beers Spoons are offering this time around.  This lunchtime I did go to the Dolphin & Anchor in Chichester and picked up the beer list.  For a start they only had three festival beers for sale.  One was by Greene King and one was by Wadworths so I opted for a pint of the Exmoor Gold Export (5.5% ABV).  After buying the pint (which  took a ridiculous amount of time) I tried to find a table as my wife was due to join me.  The tables that were not taken were full of debris from departed diners.  It really was a squalid environment in which to sit down for a pint.  I moved some plates onto another table that was equally plate-laden and sat down.  The pint was pretty dreadful.  By the time my wife had arrived I had sunk half of it and I told her I was ready to leave.  Exmoor Gold is a decent pint but this was malty, sweet and sickly.  Looking through the festival list you get the usual international brewers visiting some of the worst breweries in the UK where they try in vain to recreate their beers.  You also get the usual UK brewers creating one-offs exclusively for Spoons.  This presumably means a beer they can produce cheaply enough for Spoons to flog at their low price.  There are one or two beers I wouldn't mind trying as is often the case but the chance of finding them on without popping in every day is slim.

In the past I have been pretty neutral about Spoons.  They can be useful in towns that have a poor selection of pubs.  However, when I got to thinking about it, the only Spoons I regularly go in is the Hatters in Bognor Regis.  Is it any better or worse than any other Spoons?  Probably not.  But it is the only pub in Bognor where you can get a decent pint.  Go along the coast to Worthing, Brighton or Portsmouth and they serve no purpose at all because these places are awash with excellent pubs where you can sit and enjoy a pint in pleasant surroundings.  In fact I have never been in any of the Spoons in these places and that's my point really.  It is interesting that Tim Martin constantly rants about the tax advantages that supermarkets have because sitting in a Spoons is about as pleasant as a trip to Lidl so perhaps they should be treated the same.  The difference though is that you go to a supermarket for the sole purpose of buying what you want to enjoy at home and so buying things at the cheapest possible price makes sense.  If Spoons want to compete with that they really should make their pubs more inviting but I would rather drink at home than sit in one of their pubs.

This has become a bit of a rant against Spoons and that wasn't really the intention.  They are what they are and some people like them and that's fine.  I don't and I can't change that.  We're all different and we all like different things.  What I really wanted to say was how my outlook on life has changed in the past year.  There are some things I no longer want to put up with and Spoons is one of these things.  Believe it or not there are still plenty of excellent pubs around.  Warm inviting places where the landlord will serve you a pint that has been looked after rather than having to wait in line to be served by someone who knows nothing about what they are selling.  Where you don't have to clear away dirty dishes to sit down at a table that is still filthy once you have removed the unwanted items yourself.  Where they don't advertise the world's biggest real ale festival which in reality consists of three different beers on launch day.              

That's it then for my review of this particular beer festival.  Go and enjoy these fifty beers if you wish but I will go to other pubs and find better beer,  It won't be difficult.

Cheers.
     

Friday, 9 October 2015

America Part Two - Vermont

How did Vermont compare to the excellent beer I found in New Hampshire?  We only had four days in Vermont but we were staying at a hotel with a brewery, the Trapp Family Lodge.  That was a good start.  However, good things happened before we even got to the hotel.  As we drove through Morrisville we just had to stop at the Rock Art Brewery.
    

Located in a modern building on the main road through Morrisville the inside bar area had plenty of their beers on tap and the shop had lots of goodies to take away.  Rock Art was founded in 1997 so have been around for quite awhile so it is surprising I had never tried their beers before on previous visits to the Stowe area.  


There was time for a couple of small samples.  Both were tremendous hoppy affairs.  The Citra IPA (6.0% ABV) was part of their single hop series and just about edged it as my favourite beer of the entire holiday.  Their Limited Access double IPA (8.0% ABV) wasn't far behind.  In addition, I took a bottle of Belvedere Big IPA, another double IPA at 8.0% ABV, away with me.  At 80 IBU this beer is insanely hopped and I absolutely loved it of course.     


We were staying at the Trapp Family Lodge, a sort of 'Sound of Music' theme park with pictures of the von Trapps everywhere in an imitation of an Austrian lodge set beautifully within the Green Mountains with stunning views.  There is even a lonely goat-herd up on the hillside.  Johannes von Trapp is the youngest of Georg and Maria von Trapp's children and he had a vision of a brewery dedicated to brewing Austrian style lagers.  The von Trapp Brewery began brewing in 2010 and earlier this year they opened a new 40,000 sq ft brewery capable of producing 50,000 barrels pa.

During our stay I sampled all four beers that were available.  They are not the styles I go crazy for except for the Dunkel.  The Bohemian Pilsner (5.4% ABV) was pretty decent but the Vienna Style Lager (5.2% ABV) was more flavoursome.  The Oktoberfest (5.6% ABV) was better than the Sam Adams version but still not to my taste.  Best of the crop by far was the Dunkel (5.7% ABV), pictured below.  It's a beer style I particularly enjoy and this beer was full bodied and malty without being heavy and sweet.  Very smooth with quite a crisp bitterness in the finish balancing out the smooth chocolatey character from the malt.



Let's take a closer look at Vermont because in brewing terms it is quite amazing.  From the late 1800s there were no breweries in Vermont.  Vermont passed their own prohibition laws way before the rest of the USA beginning in the mid 1800s.  Brewing did continue for a while but the beer was sold out of state.  Vermont was also a big hop growing area too at this time with production peaking in 1860 but following on from prohibition and the decline in the number of breweries production fell to virtually nothing by 1910.  Much of this is documented in a rather excellent book I picked up out there called Vermont Beer - History of a Brewing Revolution by Kurt Staudter & Adam Krakowski which I read once I got home.   

The guy who can probably be credited with the resurgence in brewing within Vermont was Greg Noonan.  In 1988, after three years of lobbying the Vermont legislature, he opened the first brewpub in Burlington, Vermont, called simply the Vermont Pub & Brewery (although the first brewery to appear in the state was Catamount in 1987).  This is a place I have visited a few times previously so I did not go in there this time.  Greg has also been cited with brewing the first black IPA (in 1994) so we have a lot to thank him for.

 
By 2010 Vermont had 26 breweries and since then I think Vermont can boast the most number of breweries per head of population within the United States.  With a population of just over 600,000 it can now boast 41 breweries making it one brewery for approximately every 15,000 people.  Compare that to the UK with one brewery for approximately every 45,000 people and you can see why beer lovers flock to Vermont.  

The Trapp Family Lodge is quite close to Waterbury.  Famous for being the home to Ben & Jerrys they are now proclaiming the town to be the craft beer capital of the world.  Quite a boast.  How can they make such a claim you may well ask.  


Let's begin with the Craft Beer Cellar.  This was one amazing shop with cans and bottles from all over the world in addition to beer on tap to take away in growlers of 32 or 64 oz.  The prices would make anyone in the UK drool too.  I had to drink whatever I bought in the last two days of my holiday so I was ultra conservative but the beer I bought only cost me the equivalent of £8.  In the UK this would have been double.  Perhaps this explains why it was two guys from Vermont who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.  They certainly would not be recommending you visit Waterbury.  I could actually have spent hundreds of dollars in this place.     



Across the road from the Beer Cellar was the Prohibition Pig brewpub.  Round the corner there is the Blackback Pub & Flyshop.  This crazy place has 25 world-class beers on tap and you can also buy your fly-fishing equipment here too.  Then there is the Reservoir Restaurant & Tap Room with 38 beers on tap.  I spotted another one across the road from the Blackback pub advertising 20 beers on tap.  It's all here.  Added to the fact that Waterbury is an idyllic sleepy town located in such amazing countryside within a state that is larger than Wales but with fewer people than Leeds you can see why I love Waterbury more than any other place on earth.  


And I still haven't mentioned the jewel in Waterbury's crown.  Heady Topper.  The Alchemist Pub & Brewery was one of the best brewpubs in the state so I am told.  In August 2011 Hurricane Irene hit Vermont.  It destroyed the Alchemist among many other homes, businesses, roads and bridges.  However, John & Jennifer Kimmich had already begun building the Alchemist Cannery, a 15 barrel brewery and canning line and this opened shortly after the closure of the brewpub.  They only produce the one beer (Heady Topper).  Demand is such that they brew twelve 15 barrel batches a week and in most places it sells out within hours of arrival.  The Beer Cellar was certainly devoid of it when I visited but I was determined to find it.  I looked at the list of places supposedly stocking it and a restaurant we really wanted to try was listed.  Success.  This beer has become legendary it seems.  It is a double IPA (8.0% ABV) packed with hops as you would expect.  On Untappd it has been rated over 80,000 times and the average rating comes out at 4.67/5.  Blimey I'd better not say anything bad about it then.  I can't.  It was everything I expected.    



As a footnote to the Alchemist story their old brewpub has been restored and is now home to the aforementioned and pictured Prohibition Pig (opposite the Beer Cellar).  Everything is so close together in Waterbury you could literally stumble just a few hundred yards and find over 100 magnificent beers on tap along the way.  If you want a beer trip then go to Waterbury.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a family holiday and not a beer trip but I did keep picking up great little beers wherever I could and the Heady Topper was a major find.

There is no need to restrict yourself to Waterbury of course.  About twenty minutes away along the interstate is Burlington, a vibrant university town (and largest town in Vermont), where you can start at the legendary Vermont Pub & Brewery.  Also within Burlington you can visit the Magic Hat Brewing Company, Switchback Brewing Company, Simple Roots Brewing Company, Infinity Brewing, Zero Gravity Craft Brewery as well as numerous bars as you would expect in a university town.  I did get to visit a bizarre but wonderful place called the Growler Garage.


Growler Garage is a beer geeks paradise.  This is a genuine beer filling station.  There is a tasting bar and once you find the beer for you they can fill a growler (64oz) or howler (32oz) with it for you to take home.  Bizarrely they also had a table tennis table in the centre of the bar area alongside numerous other amusements.  As well as the 21 beers on tap there is also an abundance of bottles to try too.  I could have spent all day in here but then I would had to have been carried out.
     



OK I think I have established that when it comes to beer Vermont is simply heaven.  I have certainly never been anywhere that compares to it.  What about the quality though.  I have already mentioned Heady Topper and the beers of Rock Art which I found impossible to beat.  What else did I find to enjoy in my short time here?  My first selection of cans I found included beers from some of my favourite Vermont brewers from previous trips.

Magic Hat #9 is not your usual hopfest.  It is a fruity pale ale with notes of peach and orange making it quite sweet and with a low bitterness.  I had a cask version of this at the original brewery many years ago.

The Take 5 Session IPA (4.3% ABV) from Harpoon was a perfectly acceptable session beer that had a more bitter hop character.  A perfectly acceptable session strength beer.  Harpoon are a large brewer with breweries in both Boston and in Windsor, Vermont.  They took advantage of the struggles at Catamount.  In the mid 1990s Catamount invested in a new brewery but sales flattened off and they ended up going bust in 1999.  Harpoon, based in Boston, were looking to expand and with a state-of-the-art brewery with a skilled local workforce sitting idle in Vermont they bought the brewery and the rights to the Catamount brand at a fire sale price ($1 million).  This was a fraction of the cost it would have been to have expanded their Boston site.  
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The Long Trail India Pale Ale (6.0% ABV) was hoppier still and at just under $2 this can was exceptional value for what was a very decent IPA.  Long Trail have been around since 1989 and I visited Long Trail's rather excellent brewery taproom at Bridgewater Corners about ten years ago so it was reassuring to see their beers are still excellent.   

Finally, a much more modern American IPA was the Conehead (5.8% ABV) from Zero Gravity Brewing.  Zero Gravity is a brewpub in Burlington that also makes awesome pizzas I am told.  This beer was stunningly good too.  A real hopfest.  I must visit and try their pizzas next time.     
 


My purchases from the Beer Cellar in Waterbury went down just as well.  The Shed IPA (6.0% ABV) was very citrusy with plenty of grapefruit notes giving it a very deep dry bitterness which I also enjoy.  The Shed brewpub was located near to Stowe when I visited it years ago but has since relocated to Middlebury which has been home to Otter Creek Brewing for many years.  Otter Creek began brewing in 1991 and in 2002 were purchased by Wolaver's, also of Middlebury.  The brewing names are kept separate and the two Otter Creek beers I enjoyed here were Backseat Berner, a 7.0% ABV American IPA and Overgrown, a 5.5% ABV American Pale Ale.  The Backseat Berner was the hoppier of the two but the Overgrown has the more citrusy hop flavours.  Both of these beers were fantastic.    

It wasn't all about hops and Vermont though.  I did buy one out-of-state beer, the Hipster Ale (5.5% ABV) from Evil Twin.  I didn't actually enjoy this beer though.  It didn't seem to have a great deal of flavour.  Perhaps my taste buds had been overloaded with hops too much but this one did not compare with any of the great Vermont beers I was enjoying.  

Finally, a big break from the hops came with the Maple Breakfast Stout (6.8% ABV) from 14th Star Brewing Company (named as Vermont were the 14th state to join the union in 1791).  Steve Gagner was serving in Afghanistan in 2010 when he dreamed of quitting the army and opening a brewery back home.  That dream has been realised and he is already moving to bigger premises.  This beer was smoky initially.  Coffee notes in the middle and a sweet maple finish.  It was a perfect contrast to the hopfest I was enjoying. 



The final beer I enjoyed was something quite different from the massively hopped beers I'd been drinking in abundance.  The Switchback Extra Pale Ale (5.0% ABV) is a more balanced ale with plenty of malt character to complement the fruity and aromatic hops.  Switchback began brewing in 2002 and all of their beers are unfiltered.       



So there you have  it.  Vermont is a unique state when it comes to beer.  If anyone wants a trip to sample some world class beers in an environment that is relaxing, peaceful and stunningly beautiful then look no further.  Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time though because you will need it as there is a lot to discover.

Cheers.