Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Harveys Copper Ale

Harveys Ales of Sussex brew some excellent seasonal and special edition beers but it has to be said that they have just produced their very best.  For the full story behind the beer and the person who it has been named after then you must click here to read the excellent article from the editor of the regional CAMRA publication Sussex Drinker, the Quaffer (David Muggleton).   

Copper Ale v3

Last night the final stop on our local CAMRA branch social evening took us to the Harveys pub, the Swan, in Midhurst.  I had been in the day before and offered a sample of the Copper Ale and I was told it had been flying out.  At 5.7% ABV some of the locals had probably been flying out too if they had consumed a few pints of it.  Fortunately I was not driving last night and there was some left for all of us to try.  In fact, after the first, we had to try it again.  There was only a small group of us by the time we reached the Swan as the Chichester group had retired to a pub nearer home so they did not get to try this fabulous beer.  Oh dear what a treat they missed.  While we on our second helping I suggested that this is probably the best beer ever from Harveys.  Coming from me, someone who does not drink Harveys a great deal it has to be said, is probably no huge statement but there were nods of agreement all round including from our chairman who has probably consumed more Harveys beer than most.  

As you would expect from the name the beer is copper in colour and in the brew it has passed through the Harveys 'brewing copper' too within their own Georgian microbrewery.  The first taste is fairly sweet and malty and beautifully smooth with undercurrents of oranges.  Then the bitterness kicks in without being over the top and the finish is beautifully balanced with hints of dark fruits, toffee and marmalade.  It doesn't taste as strong as it is initially but it bites you at the end that's for sure.  This beer won't be around for long so get it while you can although it may be available in bottles too.  Yes this is the best I have had from Harveys.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Yorkshire Ales Part 9 - Little Valley Brewery

The next part of my journey around Yorkshire brings me to West Yorkshire.  The people at Little Valley Brewery have been brewing their beer since 2005 yet it is a brewery I have never come across before.  The brewery was formed by Dutch-born Wim van der Spek and Sue Cooper who met while undertaking separate adventurous cycling trips.  Wim was on his way to Tibet from his home in Holland and Sue was heading to England from Nepal.  I am not sure where their paths crossed though!  What is important now is that together they settled near the town of Hebden Bridge to brew 100% organic beer on a 10bbl plant.  Hebden Bridge of course was one of the locations for the BBC series Happy Valley.  This ridiculously named series, as everyone was far from happy, was full of greedy psychopathic killers and very stupid people and hopefully it bears no reality to what is a beautiful part of Yorkshire.  If you never watched Happy Valley then think of Fargo but set in Yorkshire.  If you've never watched Fargo either then just drink the beer and forget about it.

Hebden's Wheat (4.5% ABV)

I began my taste of Little Valley with a wheat beer.  I don't normally get on with wheat beers but this one proved to be an exception.  It is a very pale Belgian style wheat beer with the aroma I expect from the Belgian yeast of coriander and that slight sourness.  The taste is quite unexpected though with a zingy sparkling mouthfeel and notes of lemon coming through in what is quite a dry bitter taste which I found quite refreshing.  A little sourness comes through in the finish but the bitterness intensified throughout and it is more like a saison really.  My wife can't get on with these type of beers at all and thought it tasted like vomit which is to be expected but I really liked it and I score it a very good 8/10. 

Stoodley Stout (4.8% ABV)

I began with a wheat beer that had hints of a saison and now I am onto a stout that has hints of being a black IPA.  The aroma is very much a traditional stout with large helpings of roasted malt character that I love.  The taste initially matched this with a strong coffee bitterness.  The beer is described as having a rich and creamy feel with notes of orange and citrus which I was not getting though.  I persevered obviously as I was enjoying the beer no end and some citrus notes did filter through and by the end I was thinking it was tasting like a local black IPA I love.  If you like your stouts creamy with a little sweetness then it may not be for you, as my wife would testify to, but the addition of wheat in the mix has given this beer more complexity.  This one also picks up a score of 8/10.  

Python IPA (6.0% ABV)

The final beer is a nice looking golden IPA.  The aroma is decidedly fruity and floral.  There are notes of orange in this one that I was missing from the stout and there is a sweety fruitness very much to the fore here.  The finish is dry and spicy.  Overall it is a little too sweet for my personal taste when it comes to an IPA but it certainly has a richness and full flavour.  My wife was happy to have an IPA that wasn't 'American' and bursting with citrussy and tropical fruits as I am often inflicting on her.  Overall a score of 7/10 with this one.          

It is apparent that Little Valley are brewing some quality and interesting beers.  Their labels are colourful and stand out nicely from the crowd.  They have an excellent website which is easy to read, easy to use and informative.  They have the fact that they are 100% organic which is a big plus in their favour with some people.  They are also approved by the Soil Association and the Vegan Society which will be a draw for others too.  They are definitely a brewery I will look out for in the future and I will give them a final score of 8/10 for their overall look so a total of 31/40.

1.   Acorn Brewery - 34 points
2.   Hop Studio - 32 points 
3.   Mallinsons - 31 points
4=  Geeves - 31 points
4=  Little Valley - 31 points
6.   Brass Castle - 30 points
7.   Axholme - 28 points
8.   Revolutions - 28 points
9.   North Riding Brewpub - 27 points  

As explained previously where the points are equal the marks for the beer is the decider and Mallinsons scored higher than Geeves and Little Valley who scored equally.
Next time I will be exploring Here Be Monsters.




Thursday, 19 February 2015

Yorkshire Ales Part 8 - Acorn Brewery

The next stop in my journey around Yorkshire is Barnsley, the home of British heavy metal giants, Saxon.  Before I rock on with telling you about the Acorn Brewery though a quick insight into how I chose which breweries to review this time.  Firstly, there had to be three beers for sale from the brewery (obviously) and also I purposely only chose breweries selling their beer in 500ml bottles.  I do not like buying beer in 330ml bottles as I just get the impression I'm being ripped off.  To check whether this is a myth though I went through the entire stock of Yorkshire Ales and the average cost of a 330ml bottle was £2.70 and the average cost of a 500ml was £2.70.  However, this does not take into account the strength of the beer of course as many of the 330ml bottles are higher strength.  The average ABV of the 330ml bottle was 5.4% compared with 4.5% for the 500ml.  Personally I don't think 330ml of a 5.4% ABV beer should be sold at the same price as 500ml of a 4.5% ABV beer but let's remove the lower strength beers from the 500ml side.  The result of this is that the average price of a 500ml bottle is £2.81 with an average ABV of 5.6%.  So for an extra 11p we're getting 50% more beer which is why I don't like 330ml bottles!

Now we come to the Acorn Brewery on the outskirts of Barnsley who sell their lovely beer in half litre bottles of course.  They are certainly old hands at the brewing game as they have been going since 2003.  Dave Hughes had been head brewer at Barnsley Brewery for two years before going it alone and starting Acorn with his wife Judi using the same yeast strain as the original Barnsley Brewery which began brewing way back in the 1850s .  Since 2003 they have collected over 50 awards for their beer so hopefully I won't be disappointed with my selection especially as I chose some of my favourite beer styles.

Blonde (4.0% ABV)

The Acorn Blonde is a cracking beer.  The aroma is decidedly lemony and the initial taste was crisp, fresh and zingy.  Lots of lemony citrussy notes springing up all over the place.  In the middle there is a bit of a spicy tang and the finish is lemony, grassy and dry.  This would be a perfect summer beer but it tasted pretty damn good on a cold February evening too.  My wife gave it a hit and overall it's a score of 8/10.     

Old Moor Porter (4.4% ABV)

This beer is described as a victorian style porter.  If that is true then they certianly liked their roasted malt back in those days.  This has lots of it and for such a low strength it is surprisingly full bodied and quite rich.  There are hints of chocolate and liquorice and the finish is actually dry and smooth after the initial bitterness.  My wife wasn't a fan, probably too bitter, but as far as I'm concerned it was nearly perfect and it gets a 9/10.  

Gorlovka (6.0% ABV)

Gorlovka in the Ukraine is twinned with Barnsley and their connection goes back as far as 1956 when a delegation of miners from Yorkshire stayed in the town.  It is therefore a suitable name for this robust imperial stout.  There is lots of smoky roast malt character in both the aroma and the inital taste.  It has a sweet middle with hints of liquorice predominantly although I did get faint hints of vanilla and dark fruits too and it all led to a lovely bittersweet finish.  A hit from my wife with this one.  For me it does not quite compare with the incredible Thornbridge St Petersburg which is my yardstick for this style of beer but it is still lovely and gets an 8/10.    

Now onto my final mark for the overall look of the brewery in terms of their marketing and beer labels.  I love the look of the labels and my wife thought they were great too.  The website is excellent and hard to fault really.  Nice graphics, all the information you need, easy navigation and pleasing on the eye.  A score of 9/10 is fully justified here so they are now the new leaders in my table of Yorkshire brewers.

1.  Acorn Brewery - 34 points
2.  Hop Studio - 32 points 
3.  Mallinsons - 31 points
4.  Geeves - 31 points
5.  Brass Castle - 30 points
6.  Axholme - 28 points
7.  Revolutions - 28 points
8.  North Riding Brewpub - 27 points                                  

For a brewery that has been around for over a decade I am surprised I have not had more of their beer before so I was not sure what to expect from Acorn to be honest.  However, the three beers were all excellent and in my updated league table they find themselves at the top so this is one brewery I will certainly look out for in the pubs and at festivals.  

Next time I will be sampling the beers of Little Valley Brewery.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Yorkshire Ales Part 7 - Brass Castle

Last year I placed an order with Yorkshire Ales to explore some of the many breweries in our largest county.  The general plan was to take three beers from each brewery which were judged and then a further score was awarded for the general look and feel of the labelling / website / beer naming etc or just the overall marketing whatever you want to call it.  After going through six breweries the leader, with 32 points out of a possible 40, was the excellent Hop Studio from Elvington in the north of the county.  Their review can be read by clicking here.  To see which breweries have been judged so far and catch up on the league table from this first look at Yorkshire beers you can click here.

A new year saw me placing a fresh order for 24 beers with the excellent people at Yorkshire Ales and so this time I have eight more breweries to challenge for the title of Yorkshire's best.  This week I begin this new batch with Brass Castle.  Brass Castle began life in 2011 in a garage but since late 2013 they have been based in the town centre of Malton, North Yorkshire behind The Gate pub where they can now produce up to 130 casks of beer per week.

I first came across Brass Castle last year via both my local micropub, the Brooksteed Alehouse, and a local pub holding a winter beer festival.  Both of these were selling Bad Kitty, a superbly named 5.5% ABV porter with chocolate and vanilla notes.  That wasn't one of the beers I chose from Yorkshire Ales though as the idea behind this is to go for beers I am unfamiliar with so without further ado let's get tasting.

Hazelnut Mild (4.2% ABV)

This beer looked very unappetising after pouring.  It looked totally flat with no body whatsoever.  However, looks can be deceptive.  It did have a very smooth and lightly carbonated mouthfeel and there was plenty of flavour too.  The aroma was malty and a little smoky.  The main flavours were caramel and hazelnut.  A nutty toffee with some sweetness and a little coffee in the finish.  My wife gave it a hit too which is enough to give it a score of 8/10 from me.      

Hearty Ale (4.4% ABV)

Now this one is actually a collaboration with Tyne Bank Brewery from Newcastle who I have not come across before.  Again there is little body to this particular beer as with the first.  The aroma was mainly caramel.  It is a traditional best bitter but there is a lovely spicy bitterness which really perks it up and it gives it quite a tasty long lasting finish that was really satisfying.  It's not my favourite style of beer but I enjoyed it anyway and my wife veered more on the hit side than a miss so it is well worth a score of 7/10.  Very hearty indeed.      

Sunshine (5.7% ABV)

I'm walking on sunshine.  This is fantastic.  The aroma has those citrussy notes that makes me want to just get on with drinking.  There is certainly plenty of body to this beer.  Light carbonation with a rich thick texture that fills the mouth with all those fabulous flavours.  Tropical fruits in abundance here initially and there is a deep grapefruit bitterness in the finish.  It made my wife groan 'not more of those citrus flavours' so it is a miss with her but that just means I don't have to share any of this one which makes me eternally grateful so a strong 9/10. 

That's the beer taken care of.  Now I must confess that I don't like the labels.  They look cheap, the fonts clash badly and they have no stand out features.  The website is better with enough beer information along with a short history and it is easily navigable.  They are also keen to emphasise that they are vegetarian and vegan friendly if you are that way inclined.  They are on Facebook and they follow me on Twitter so that is enough to give them an extra point too.  Taking everything into account I'll give a score of 6/10 which gives an overall mark of 30 which is just a couple of points behind the leaders from last year.  

A good start to my second look at the breweries of Yorkshire and next time I will be sampling the delights or otherwise of Acorn Brewery from the south of the county.