Friday, 23 January 2015


For Christmas this year I received a Westmalle gift set.  This consisted of one of their beautiful glasses along with a bottle of their dubbel and one of their tripel.  I quickly consumed the tripel (9.5% ABV) but last weekend my brother visited with his family and he brought a bottle of the tripel for me so I was able to drink them both together one evening.  Not literally together of course, rather one after the other.

My brother is the man responsible for getting me into Belgian beer many years ago when he took me to Bruges on a day trip where we filled his car with all sorts of goodies.  I've never been back but my love of Belgian beer has never gone away.  The simple thing about Belgian beer is how timeless it seems to be.  The beers I fell in love with twenty plus years ago still appear the same to me as they did then.  Westmalle brewed a dubbel and a tripel and they still brew them today.  Why change something that is so damn good I guess?  Orval is the same (my brother also gave me a bottle of this last week too).  The ranges of Chimay, Kwak, Rochefort and Duvel are all the same as they once were too.  I am far from an expert on all beer matters Belgian of course but these are beers that I love and always look out for when I get the chance.  My brother insists that Westmalle Tripel is perfection when it comes to beer and it is probably my favourite of all the Belgian beers I have enjoyed over the years too.

To begin with though I opened the Dubbel (7.0% ABV).  The right glass is imperative of course and the Westmalle glass is perfect.  The raised ring of glass on the stem with the Westmalle name matches the same raised ring of glass on the bottle.  The wide mouth of the glass allows you to sip and savour it at a leisurely pace and this is a beer well worth taking your time over.    

The monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, better known as the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle, have been brewing beer since 1836.  They introduced the terms Dubbel and Tripel for their two beers and these terms are now widely used.  The terms are not indicative of strength but of colour.  The Dubbel is a brown ale and the Tripel is pale and more hoppy.  The current dubbel is derived from a recipe first brewed in 1926 and it has a lovely malty aroma.  The beer is instantly warming and a great beer for winter.  There is a light carbonation to it and the immediate thought is of rich spiced fruit cake.  It does not taste particularly boozy and the finish is dry with a strong malty chocolate notes.  It really is a tremendous beer.

That brings me on to the Tripel.  If the Dubbel is tremendous then the Tripel is an absolutely stunning beer.  At 9.5% ABV it is a beer to be enjoyed slowly of course but, as with the Dubbel, it does not taste particularly boozy and is lightly carbonated so it can be consumed at a dangerous pace.  The origins of the Tripel goes back to 1934 and the current recipe has largely been unchanged since the mid 1950s.  The beer is only brewed with Pilsner malt and the hops are Tettnanger, Saaz and Styrian Goldings.  It has an aromatic aroma and the immediate flavours are citrussy with lemon, lime and particularly orange all evident.  There is a slightly tangy middle with spicy hop notes and the finish is long with floral and aromatic notes creeping in although the citrussy orange flavours never go away.           

The timeless qualities of Belgian beer continue to bring pleasure to beer drinkers all over the world and in my family it seems Westmalle is the cream of the crop.  I think another invite to my brother to come over is not too far away.


Friday, 16 January 2015

Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico

I don't get to drink in London very often at all.  In fact the last time I went to a pub in London was more than a couple of years ago I should think.  Living on the South Coast you would think a trip up to London was fairly easy but the train times from home are about 90 minutes at best.  So that's my excuse.  Blame it on Southern Railways.  Anyway I have vowed that this year will be different and I have already kept true to my promise after meeting up with Dave, a friend over from Australia, along with Ian, a mate who lives in the London burbs.  Every year we get together for a drink when Dave is over and in the past we have met in Brighton, Croydon and Clapham Junction and always at a decent pub.  This year I suggested the Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico as it is within easy walking distance from Victoria Station.  It was also recommended to me as a fabulous pub.

Head out of Victoria station towards Westminster Abbey and after half a mile or so you turn right into Charlwood Street.  The pub is located on a street corner on the left hand side of the road.  It's a smart looking pub which you would expect as it has only been open five years or so.  You just don't find pubs like this outside of a big city.  The first thing that strikes me is that it is not a particularly big pub but there are plenty of tables with modern stylish comfortable seating.  They seem to be packed in tightly but moving between them with a few pints in hand is not a problem even though most of the tables are taken all evening with thirsty people no doubt relaxing after a day at work and no doubt throwing two fingers up at Dryanuary.  Ha!  For a Tuesday evening in January the place is really buzzing.

One sight I never tire of seeing is a long row of handpumps.  This pub has ten and they are all in use with beery delights from Buxton, Siren, Dark Star, Burning Sky, Northern Monk, Summer Wine and Marble.  Quite an impressive selection.  Dave had texted me to say he was there and asked me what I wanted so when I arrived a pint of Buxton Moor Top (3.6% ABV) was waiting for me.  The pub's website has their daily beers in a downloadable pdf format which is very useful!!  The Moor Top proved to be a great choice.  Beautifully light and citrussy with a generous helping of Chinook hops from the US.

The food menu from the kitchen is simple.  An amazing array of gourmet burgers and I chose a Heat Burger with lashings of genuine buffalo source for £11.70.  It was sensational and I washed it down with a Burning Sky Porter (4.8% ABV).  Probably not the best pairing but I had got through most of it before the food arrived.  This was my first dark beer from this excellent brewery and I was not disappointed.  Very smooth with a great balance between bitter and sweet.

After this I stayed on the darks with a Northern Monk Festive Star (5.9% ABV) which is described as a festive porter.  Northern Monk started out as a bit of a gypsy brewer but last year they opened up their own brewery in Leeds.  Northern Star is their Mocha Porter, a collaboration with North Star Micro Coffee Roasters who are also based in Leeds.  I am assuming this festive version is the same beer with a few spices thrown in.  I shared it round and between us we detected nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon in that order.  I'm not a fan of cloves but this was ok as the spices did not dominate at all over and above the coffee.  I wasn't expecting to totally love it but I did like it which probably means I would absolutely love the unspiced version.

Whilst I was going through the darks, Ian was experiencing the amazing delights of Siren Undercurrent (4.5% ABV) and Dark Star Vic Secret Hophead (3.8% ABV) whilst Dave ventured on to the extensive keg list.  Ten guest kegs were available along with five house kegs and with my friend being a bit of a nutter he chose a half of Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail (13.0% ABV).  Evil Twin are gypsy brewers from Denmark and there were four of their beers available on tap.  This triple IPA was £6.50 for a half pint and in fact the cheapest guest keg beer was £2.75 for a half of a 4.2% ABV beer.  Blimey I could never afford to veer away from cask, the prices of which were all under £5 with the Moor Top being just £3.75 which for London seems pretty decent.  Anyway, I got to enjoy a sip of this ultra strong beer and I was surprised at how gorgeous it was.  The sip probably cost 50p but it was pretty damn good and my mate didn't take long to polish off the rest of the half.

We finished off the evening with a pint of Buxton Axe Edge (6.8% ABV).  I love this beer in bottles so I was delighted to find it in cask, especially as their website says it is only available in keg or in bottle.  It is a full flavoured IPA hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin so for me this beer can do no wrong.  It is pale and fruity with pineapple, mandarin and passion flavours particularly dominant over the citrus.  A very tasty end to a superb evening and I cannot recommend this pub highly enough.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

It's Tryanuary - Happy New Beer

January is here once again.  Or should we call it Dryanuary?  Or Tryanuary?  It's a pretty grim month whatever you call it so I certainly won't be making it any grimmer by giving up alcohol.  I did have the idea of just giving up drinking at home for the month but that soon went out of the window even though I am trying to get to the pub more than usual.

You can click here to read my post on Dryanuary from last year and my views haven't changed at all really and with the month nearly half gone I am hating January as much as ever.  It is hard to find the enthusiasm for anything really and I include drinking in that too.  This post has even taken me over a week to compose.  Pubs are noticeably quieter and the days are short, dark and damp.  Once the days begin to be visibly lighter my mood will lift though which usually happens towards the end of the month.    

One bright spark this year to lift the mood is the Tryanuary campaign.  This year many independent retailers, brewers and pubs have given their support to this campaign to encourage an alternative to Dryanuary.  The list of backers behind this excellent campaign can be seen here.  The idea is to encourage drinkers to try something new this month such as a new beer from a local brewer, or visiting a new bar or bottle shop and sharing this discovery online via the #tryanuary Twitter hashtag or via Facebook.  Social media is awash with self-righteous people telling everyone how wonderful they are by inflicting misery upon themselves by not drinking for a month.  This campaign is redressing the balance and my Twitter feed has seen many #tryanuary tweets which makes it easier to ignore the puritans.

Being an active CAMRA member, January is not a good month to abstain from alcohol anyway.  I have pubs to survey prior to the Good Beer Guide 2016 selection that takes place in February.  Or Pubruary as I think it should be called.  This means that I have not yet tried any new pubs for Tryanuary but I am off to London tonight (The Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico) which is my first visit to this establishment.  I will be sure to tweet about this using the #tryanuary hashtag.
Last week I had to pop to the Dean Ale and Cider House at West Dean, a hamlet on the road between Chichester and Midhurst.  This pub is superb and the beer selection has taken a leap recently following the appointment of a new manager who has joined from my former local, The Inglenook Hotel at Pagham.  When I was there I tried a pint of Tiny Rebel Hank (4.0% ABV).  This light pale ale is full of zesty citrus notes and it was well worth trying.  At the Inglenook the guest beer strengths rarely fell below 5.0% ABV and often exceeded 6.0% ABV.  He is having to modify the ale selection here and he is sticking to between 4-5% ABV.  However, he is using the same first class breweries via the same distributor and for those wanting something a bit stronger they also stock Dark Star Revelation on keg.        

So what else have I been trying in this very trying month?  When it comes to cask ale not much really.  The CAMRA social gave me some Dark Star American Pale (4.7% ABV) which is always worth drinking but there was nothing new for me to try.  My local had something new for me in the form of Mr Grundys No Mans Land (4.5% ABV) which was a malty bitter with a lightly spiced hoppiness to it.  The Brooksteed Alehouse gave me my first taste of the Listers Special Bitter (4.6% ABV) which is another malty ale with strong caramel flavours.  Nick then kindly put on some Alechemy Daylight Strobbery (6.3% ABV) for me which is a strong milk stout with strawberry notes which I wasn't sure about from the description.  It was actually rather pleasant and there was a tartness from the strawberries rather than it being too sweet.  Not bad at all.

Tonight I am looking forward to trying a few new beers in London so #tryanuary is now kicking off for me.  I hope it is for you too.