Friday, 20 December 2013

Craft in Brighton

Well I finally made it.  It had become a bit of a standing joke in my CAMRA branch that I had never been to the Evening Star pub in Brighton.  Of course, when I told them I was finally going to go I was told 'you must also visit such and such' and 'you must also visit this and that' too.  Unfortunately all of these other suggestions headed off in all directions so I settled on just one 'such and such'.  The rest can all wait for another time.

I met my two mates just before in a very crowded Evening Star.  I have known both Ian and Dave for years.  Dave comes back from Australia once a year and we always try and meet up.  Ian visited Norwich City of Ale with me earlier this year and he popped down from London for this one.  Amazingly, I don't think any of us had been in this pub before.

I had been told the pub is small so I was expecting to have to stand up.  The three bar staff were busy but getting served wasn't much of a problem.  The difficulty was choosing what to drink from the superb beer board.  Four beers from Dark Star was no surprise as the pub is the original home of this renowned Sussex brewery and both Dave and Ian chose the classic session beer, Hophead.  There was one cask beer from a brewery I am yet to try so I chose the Winter King (4.0% ABV) from Derventio, a Derbyshire brewery.

With pints in hand I took in my surroundings.  A single bar pub with wooden floor and tables around the outer edges with plenty of standing room in the middle.  My kind of pub for sure.  The bar area is small but the bar staff were superb.  It seemed that the observant staff were ensuring everyone was served in order and, once served, I didn't feel I was being rushed.
Hophead was given a big thumbs-up from my mates whereas the Winter King was a little too spiced for my liking.  It was certainly drinkable but not one I would choose again.  For me, Winter beers are very much hit or miss.  Spices can be overpowering to serious levels of awfulness.  This beer was nowhere near that bad but there were still hints of cinnamon or similar for me to not want more of it.

After a quick pint we headed over to the other side of the valley which constitutes the route of the A23 into Brighton.  It may come as no surprise but The Southover is on Southover Street.  This is a road with numerous pubs and the Southover had to be on the very top of the hill of course.  Before its' rebirth it was known as The Pub With No Name.  It has emerged from the refurbishment with a new name and a reputation for selling a great range of both keg and cask craft beers in a relaxed and friendly environment.  Whilst I have visited a couple of pubs along Southover Street this was my first visit to this pub and I was suitably impressed.  It has very traditional decor and very much the feel of a street-corner local that is serving the community it is a part of.  Plenty of well-behaved children were in the pub which I have no objections to and the whole atmosphere of the place was relaxed and homely.      

The cask beer range included more from Dark Star as well as Hepworths Old Ale.  The keg range was more impressive with a couple from Brewdog among others.  I chose a Triple Chocoholic from West Yorkshire brewer Saltaire (4.8% ABV).  Served in a distinctive balloon shaped glass it looked absolutely gorgeous.  Whilst I supped my way through this amazing stout with some lovely bitter chocolate notes (it was far from being sweet and sickly) my two friends stuck to the Dark Star and both went for the Six Grain.  A quick taste of the Saltaire persuaded Dave to finish that quickly so he could enjoy a half of this tremendous stout too.  This was only my second keg beer of 2013.  I think I've been missing out.

This is where plans can sometimes go astray.   Upon leaving The Southover we headed back down the hill expecting to stop in The Basketmakers or the Battle of Trafalgar before ending up back at the Evening Star.  However, the heavens opened and Southover Street became a raging torrent and we were all drenched.  We came to Trafalgar Street and headed back towards the station thinking we would come to the Battle of Trafalgar along the way.  Once we reached the station we realised the Battle of Trafalgar was along a different road and without wanting to retrace our steps and get any wetter we headed straight for the Evening Star.

The pub was still busy but once we had our drinks we found a seat and there we stayed until our respective train times arrived.  Ian continued his Dark Star journey with a pint of their wonderful American Pale before finishing with the equally amazing Revelation.  Dave tried the Dark Star Winter Meltdown which he wasn't keen on.  After giving it a sup I hated it so he was stuck with it whilst I enjoyed a sublime pint of Beavertown Smog Rocket (5.4% ABV).  I had this beer in a bottle earlier this year and this was even better.  This smoked porter is only lightly smoked and is beautifully balanced and quite rich.  My second keg beer of the night and my third of the year.  I was on a roll now so I stayed in London and with the keg and finished with a Kernel Pale (6.2% ABV) brewed with Amarillo and Cascade hops.  This was yet another superb pint full of fruity hoppiness from a brewery whose beers I have enjoyed in bottled form quite a few times this year.  Meanwhile, poor Dave treated himself after his winter spiced nightmare with a half of Wild Beer Ninkasi (9.0% ABV).  He was much happier with that one.

That brought a superb evening to a close.  Two wonderful pubs.  A number of lovely beers enjoyed between us and a good old-fashioned British winter downpour to endure.  In 2014 I will visit Brighton more often and sample more keg beers too when I am able to choose from such an impressive range.  I could mention the steep prices of the keg beers but that would detract from the quality of the range I enjoyed tonight.  If anyone is interested they were all in excess of £5/pint.  It's Christmas though so drink and be merry.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Golden Pints 2013

The year is coming to a close and I thought it would be a good idea to post my very first Golden Pint Awards.  Each winner is accompanied by a little explanation as well as some close seconds where applicable.

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

Best UK Cask Beer

The Source - Tillingbourne Brewery (3.3% ABV)

This is the most difficult category for me.  I have probably consumed over 200 different pints during the year and a number of these achieved my Gold Medal award.  The Source is a wonderful hoppy beer full of delightfully crisp citrussy and floral flavours for such a low ABV.  For someone who finds it difficult to consume anything that is less than 5.0% ABV this certainly stood out for me.

There are some very close seconds in this category.  Some of these are (in no particular order) Magic Rock High Wire (5.5% ABV), Marble Dobber (5.9% ABV), Langham Arapaho (4.9% ABV), Buxton Gold (5.2% ABV) and Dark Star Revelation (5.7% ABV).  In addition to these, there are others that are mentioned below from Moor Beer and Bristol Beer Factory that came very close to scooping the top award.        

Best UK Keg Beer

Steam Lager - Redwell Brewing (5.0% ABV)

It could be argued that this beer won by default because it is the only UK keg beer I have consumed in 2013.  However, it really is a lovely beer and disproves the argument that lager is bland and tasteless and I promise to check out more keg beers in 2014.  

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

The Chief - Ilkley Brewery (7.0% ABV)
Redemption - Durham Brewery (10.0% ABV)

Joint winners for this one.  Redemption would have won this award last year and I enjoyed more of it at the start of 2013.  It is an absolutely stunning old ale with a lovely deep ruby colour to it.  Sadly it was only brewed the once and there is no more available.  Please please please brew another batch !!

The Chief from Ilkley Brewery is a beer I have enjoyed in the past week.  It is a beautifully rich triple hopped American IPA full of sweet mango flavours.  In the past I have enjoyed both the Lotus IPA and the Mary Jane IPA from Ilkley but this surpasses both of them.  Awesome.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

IPA - Peak Organic Brewing Company (7.2% ABV)

I enjoyed this beer on holiday in the White Mountain Hotel, New Hampshire.  This beer was bursting with grapefruit and lemon citrussy flavours.  I absolutely loved it.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Double Old Thumper - Shipyard Brewing (11.2% ABV)

Only those crazy Americans can put an 11.2% ABV beer in a 22fl oz bottle but if you're only going to drink one beer in an evening then this is the one to choose.  A truly superb barley wine full of rich complexity.  This was probably the one beer I was looking forward to the most in the US and I was not disappointed.

Best Collaboration Brew

Rypa - Moor Beer / Beavertown Brewery (4.0% ABV)

I enjoyed a pint of this in The Barley Mow, Bristol back in June.  It is one of only about ten or so collaborations I've had this year but this beer did receive top marks from me at the time.  It had a gorgeous hoppy aroma and the taste had a strong lemony citrus tang with plenty of lasting hoppy bitterness.  It was a really stunning beer.    

Best Overall Beer

Double Old Thumper - Shipyard Brewing (11.2% ABV)

This is in contrast to the reduced strength Ringwood Old Thumper which would probably be my most disappointing beer of the year.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

Ilkley Brewery

I like breweries to have a branding that has a common look and feel across their range and the Ilkley Brewery achieves that with labels with a classy look.  When you see them you instantly know it is Ilkley.

Best UK Brewery

This was a difficult choice.  Last year I was working in Stratford-upon-Avon and I was drinking lots of the lovely Sadlers Ales.  This year I have enjoyed being back at home and exploring my local breweries and two of the best are Langhams and Dark Star.  However, the winner is Bristol Beer Factory simply because they have received the most number of Gold Medals from me this year.  I have enjoyed all of their beers that I have tried and three of them received my top award - Acer (3.8% ABV), Bitter Californian (4.5% ABV) and Independence (4.6% ABV).  In addition, their bottled Ultimate Stout (7.7% ABV) was yet another stunning beer that came close to winning my best bottled beer award.

Best Overseas Brewery

I've always loved Shipyard Ales and I enjoyed a nice selection of their beers when I visited New England this year.  Their Double Old Thumper has already been mentioned but their Blue Fin Stout is an absolute gem as well as their Export Ale.  They brew many more I would love to try.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013

Another winner by default as their White Cross IPA (5.8% ABV) is the only beer I have tried from a brewery that has opened in 2013.  It is a superb hoppy IPA brewed with American, New Zealand and Australian hops and I am looking forward to drinking more from this new Cornish brewer.  

Pub/Bar of the Year

Barley Mow, Bristol 

The Barley Mow in Bristol is without doubt my pub of the year.  I was lucky to be sent to Bristol for a few weeks and I enjoyed numerous visits to this pub which is owned by the Bristol Beer Factory.  With 8 cask ales and 10 keg beers always available along with some first class food this pub is simply amazing.  You can read my review of it by clicking here.
A not too distant second is my local pub, the Inglenook Hotel.  It is on the shortlist for the 2015 Good Beer Guide and I will certainly be voting for it.  It has always been a decent pub but their guest beer range is now something to behold.  They love their strong IPAs (as do I) and in the past few months I have seen superb beers from Roosters, Marble, Ballards, Magic Rock, Buxton, Dark Star, The Hop Studio, Sadlers, Great Heck and Black Flag.  All these beers can be enjoyed in one of a number of cosy areas with real fires and chairs you can just sink into.  You can read my review of this pub here.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

The Craven Arms, Birmingham

This would have been a very close call if Doctors Orders in Nottingham had delayed their opening by a couple of weeks.  The Craven Arms is owned by Black Country Ales and I visited this superb traditional backstreet local a few times before completing my work assignment in Straford-on-Avon.  You can read my review of this pub here.

Beer Festival of the Year

Norwich City of Ale

2013 was not a good year for festival visits.  City of Ale is a city-wide beer festival with many of the very best pubs in Norwich taking part.  I may be getting old but this type of festival now appeals to me more than the traditional CAMRA beer festival.  To read my post about my visit to Norwich click here.    

Supermarket of the Year


This wins due to the excellent Great Sainsburys British Beer Hunt competition.  The opportunity to try twenty bottled ales from some excellent micros for just £1.50 a bottle was an opportunity not to be missed.        

Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines, Birmingham

I discovered Cotteridge Wines last year and used them for all my bottled beers whilst I was working in the area.  They have an awesome selection of bottled beers from all over the world.

Online Retailer of the Year

The Beer Hawk

Not having a decent beer shop near to where I live has given me the opportunity to buy beers online for the first time.  I posted a blog post about this experience and you can read it here.  I ended up placing orders with both Ales By Mail and The Beer Hawk.  I was very happy with both but The Beer Hawk wins because they offer free delivery on orders over £50.    

Best Beer Book or Magazine

'Man Walks Into A Pub' by Pete Brown

If you want to read a highly entertaining history of beer then this is the book for you.

Best Beer Blog or Website


My blog has links to all my favourite bloggers but BeersManchester wins simply because I enjoy the way he describes in detail everything he drinks and the places he drinks them in.

Best Beer App

This is the best app I have come across for keeping track of what I drink and places I drink them in.  Plenty of room for comments and everything is easily viewed chronologically and it also allows me to keep track of what my friends are drinking and recommending.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitter


There's only one Nathaniel Southwood.  I had the very great pleasure of meeting up with Nate in Norwich when he took me and my friends on a beer tour of his home town during the Norwich City of Ale event and I'm sure we'll be meeting up for a few beers in 2014 at some point.  

Best Brewery Website / Social Media

I have absolutely no idea who to award this to.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Chicken tikka jalfrezi / Slaughterhouse Pacific Pale Ale

When I finished working in Stratford-on-Avon I took some work colleagues out to my favourite local pub (The Wild Boar in Warwick) followed by a curry.  The Indian restaurant had no drinks license so it was a case of taking your own.  A carryout of the Slaughterhouse Pacific Pale Ale was a perfect match for the meal although to be fair any American Pale Ale or IPA would have gone down well.
That brings 2013 to a close.  An excellent beery year and hopefully 2014 will bring more of the same.

Happy Christmas and New Year to you all. 



Friday, 13 December 2013

Beers from the Dark Side Part Two

Six more beers from the dark side.  Four of these six are porters  but I started with an oatmeal stout and I've also thrown in a black IPA along the way.  I don't normally look at the cost of bottled beers too closely because when I am shopping around I just choose what I fancy at the time without too much thought as to the cost.  However, after analysing these six it is something I will now be including in my reviews.  I will particularly be mentioning where the cost of certain beers is ridiculously high as was the case with the first one.  

Hix's Darkside (7.0% ABV) - Ales By Mail (£3.94)

This first beer comes under the umbrella of Discworld Ales and the names of their beers all have an association with the extremely popular series of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.  Does this make this a novelty beer then cashing in on this popularity?  Well, the beers are apparently brewed at the Brentwood Brewery in Essex so this is my first beer from that neck of the woods.  John Hix is a character in the Discworld books I assume although I don't recognise the name from the few I have read from the series.  I do keep meaning to get back into them and perhaps this beer will inspire me to do just that.

Is this a beer Terry Pratchett would be proud of?  I must say I was not expecting too much and the aroma wasn't particularly strong.  After pouring, it did not have too much life to it but when it came to the taste I was pleasantly surprised by it.  It was quite rich with a little sweetness initially and there was a nice gentle coffee bitterness in the finish.  All in all it is a very nice stout indeed.  Yes I've had better but I've also had much worse.  On taste alone I would mark it higher than the 6/10 I'm awarding but the cost of this beer is ridiculous.  For Pratchett diehards who have more money than sense I think.  You can get better stouts at a fraction of the cost.                

Partizan Porter 6 Grain (7.4% ABV) - Ales By Mail (£2.80)

Partizan are a relatively new brewery based in South Bermondsey close to the Thames in SE London.  They are only producing bottled beers and they all come with brilliantly distinctive labelling which often make it a challenge to actually read the name of the beer.  I reviewed and enjoyed a trio of their beers earlier this year so I was expecting good things from this one.  

The aroma was quite smoky which is not a bad thing at all.  It appeared to be quite thick and full bodied as it poured and this carried through into the flavour which was wonderfully rich.  It had coffee, raisin and liquorice notes combining to produce a truly wonderful warming porter with a nice underlying bitterness.  It is rare for me to award a bottled dark beer top marks as I enjoy them more in cask but this achieves it.  For a 330ml bottle it is again slightly expensive but it does have a high strength.  This one gets 10/10.

Brewdog Libertine Black Ale (7.2% ABV) - Beer Hawk (£2.99)

Some people love Brewdog and others hate them for various reasons.  I am not a fan of their bars and I am a lover of cask beer so the only time I drink them is when drinking bottled beer at home.  This means I can control the serving temperature and enjoy the full flavour of their beers.  So far I have enjoyed the Punk IPA and been disappointed by the 5am Saint so how will this one fare?  

The aroma was certainly exciting.  It was bursting with hoppiness and smelled divine.  Black IPAs (if that is the correct label for this one) always seem wrong to me.  They generally look like stouts but the smell is nothing like that and the taste is often a complex mix.  Having said that the ones I have tried have all been fantastic with the Langham Black Swallow (cask) and the Buxton Imperial Black (bottled) particularly awesome.  This beer is up there with those two.  It is certainly complex.  Both myself and my wife detected apple notes in there but there was liquorice coming through too.  My wife insisted it was actually green apple rather than red but to me apple is apple.  The finish was definitely one of bitter roasted coffee notes.  I loved this beer and my wife was impressed too so a score of 9/10 for this one.  As with most Brewdog products though you do seem to pay a premium for the name as this is yet another steep price for a mere 330ml.              

Williams Brothers Midnight Sun (5.6% ABV) - Beer Hawk (£2.19)

I first came across beers from the Scottish brewer Williams Brothers earlier this year in the Great Sainsburys Beer Hunt.  Their two entries I tried were both excellent and were reviewed here.  They began brewing the famous Heather Ale in 1993 and their current massive range of beers come in all forms (cask, keg and bottle).  This is my first dark from the brewery.

Midnight Sun is described as a porter and it is certainly dark, rich and malty.  The label indicates it has some ginger thrown into the mix but this wasn't really obvious (none at all says the wife) but there was a little spiciness to it I felt which was definitely not unpleasant.  However, it has hints of raisin and liquorice to the fore and it has a very warming feel to it.  Overall a very pleasant winter warmer at a very reasonable price for 500ml.  8/10.      

Old Growler (5.0% ABV) - Beer Hawk (£2.49)

Nethergate Brewery, based in Suffolk, originally began brewing way back in 1986.  In 2005 they moved to Essex and they were rebranded as the Growler Brewery in 2012.  Old Growler, described as a porter, has always been their classic winter ale as long as I can remember.  It has twice won the Overall Champion award at CAMRA's Winter Beer Festival and has picked up international awards too.  This makes the rebranding of the brewery name quite a wise move.  Anyway, it has actually been a few years since I last sampled this beer and it is the first time I have tried the bottled version.        

The aroma is a little smoky which is something I always found with it.  The taste though is quite sweet and richer than I remember with strong hints of molasses along with some blackcurrant notes.  It is quite a complex beer with other fruit flavours bursting in along with some roasted malts.  There is also hints of caramel and raisin too.  For my wife this was her favourite winter beer so far and she would award it top marks I'm sure.  For me it doesn't have quite enough bitterness in the finish that I like but it is still a lovely beer and it gets an 8/10 from me.    

Otley O6 Porter (6.6% ABV) - Beer Hawk (£2.89)

For my final beer I head across to Wales.  Otley Brewing was established in 2005 and are based in Pontypridd.  This is the second bottled beer I have tried from them and they all seem to feature a large O on their labels.

O6 is described as an old style porter.  It isn't as black as it looks in the picture.  More like a very dark brown and it was lacking aroma.  It is certainly very sweet and malty with strong hints of caramel and chocolate.  My wife said 'the taste disappears'.  There may be little in the way of a finish perhaps but it does pick up to provide a very warming experience with a deep richness.  For me it is a little too sweet though and it has no hints of bitterness at all.  It you like your winter warmers strong and sweet though then you will love this.  For me it gets a score of 7/10.  

Another batch of six bottled dark beers enjoyed here.  I really need to find some more cask winter warmers but these bottles have all been enjoyed to varying degrees.  The Partizan Porter came out on top for me and the Old Growler was my wife's favourite.  I may be sounding like an old growler myself here but my only grumble is the number of breweries, especially the newer ones, that are selling their beers in 330ml sized bottles.  This wouldn't be so bad if the price was a third less but that is certainly not the case here.  It is something I will be aware of when purchasing beers in future.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Beer O'Clock Show

The Beer O'Clock Show is a weekly podcast that is now in its third series.  The basic sypnopsis of the show is that Mark and Steve will chat each week for about 30 minutes whilst cracking open a beer and discussing the relative merits of it or otherwise.  Whilst that may seem deadly dull to some of you I do find it entertaining and it is all down to the two guys themselves.  Mark is the presenter and his mate Steve, the man with the Essex accent, is the beer expert taking Mark on a voyage of beer discovery.  

The show has progressed since the early days and they have broadened out to invite guests onto the show and I was offered the guest slot many months ago after some interactions on Twitter.  Due to events conspiring against me this had to be rescheduled a couple of times.  Fast forward to last week and episode no. 51 and I finally made my appearance.  Needless to say I found the whole experience was so errrr 'different' and I could probably have done with a few beers before the recording took place but having got it over with I am already looking forward to a guest slot in series 4 when I will be much more prepared and I will know what to expect.

Anyway, take a listen if you wish.  The beer we tried was Rogue Mocha Porter which is brewed in Oregon, USA.  This is a delightful dark ale perfect for the cold winter months.  Hopefully, like myself you will enjoy the show and come back each week and listen to each new episode when it is loaded up to their website at the hour of beer o'clock every Friday (  
Happy listening.   

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Twelve Beers of Xmas

Day 12 - Adnams Tally Ho 2012 (7.2% ABV)

It's 2014 and for my first beer of the year I am going back to 2012.  Adnam's Tally Ho (7.2% ABV) has always been one of my favourite Winter ales since way back when I was lucky to find a pint of it on a visit to Southwold.  You may now have to search long and hard to find a bottle of the 2012 vintage but I'm sure the 2013 vintage will be equally satisfying.          

Once I had sourced this bottle I knew it would be the last beer of my 12 beers of Xmas.  It has always been a classic barley wine and I'm sure I will not be disappointed.  It is also a firm favourite with my wife so if I have to fight her for it I will regret not getting a second bottle.

This beer is almost black but it has a lovely deep ruby tinge around the edges.  The aroma is rich and sweet with many hints of seasonal fruits.  The flavours coming from it are full of sweet rich fruits with fig, raisin and blackcurrant dominating.  It is not overly sweet like some barley wines can be though.  It really is beautifully balanced enabling all the flavours to come through without being overpowered by the others.  My wife felt it was the best of the 12 and I cannot argue with that.  It is a truly stunning beer and it easily achieves top marks.  Happy New Year indeed !!

Day 11 - Imperial Extra Double Stout - Harveys (9.0% ABV)

When I bought this beer I was really looking forward to it.  Then I read the following tweet from the distinguished beer writer Melissa Cole.

'This'll be contentious but Harvey's Imperial Stout: unadulterated horse manure, baby puke and shitty nappy'
Well that's one way of looking at it.  On the other hand, it is included in Roger Protz's '300 Beers To Try Before You Die' where it is described as a 'brilliant re-creation of a 19th-century beer'.  Could be one to try out on the wife first I think.  I have had two brilliant stouts already in my 12 Beers of Xmas so I have those to compare against.      

When pouring, it seems to have a viscosity akin to engine oil.  Very thick.  The aroma is not too pleasant.  A stale ash tray perhaps?  It certainly reminds me of how some pubs used to smell prior to the smoking ban.  Time to pass it on so my wife can have first taste.  She hated it.  It's not looking good.  My first taste was one of incomprehension.  There is a rich fruity note in there but it is somewhat buried by a harsh bitterness that does remind me of stale tobacco.  This smoky bitterness dominates the finish although the balance improves with each sip.  It is drinkable but not one I'd go back to.  The bitterness is too harsh and smoky for my taste and it is somewhat cloying in the mouth too and I'll give it a score of 5/10.  When it comes to Harveys I will happily stick with their amazing Old Ale from now on.  I've had many lovely stouts this year and I have another one lined up for later which is even stronger than this one (Hopshackle) but this is probably the first stout I've had this year that has scored this low.       

Day 10 - Nogne Imperial Stout (9.0% ABV)

For beer no.10 I'm heading to Norway.  I discovered this brewery when I worked in Denmark and the supermarket carried bottles of their excellent beers.  I then managed to source some of their beers from Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham and I was a happy man once again.  The brewery was formed as recently as 2003 and the name can be translated as 'Naked Island'.  They use the British term 'real ale' to describe their beers as they are all bottle-conditioned.      

This imperial stout weighs in at an impressive 9.0% ABV.  It is jet black with an aroma that gives off masses of coffee bitterness along with a distinct smokiness.  It certainly smells fantastic.  The taste is as great as the aroma.  It is full-bodied with a lovely richness to it with plenty of black treacle notes alongside the strong bitterness.  The bitter coffee taste gets softened throughout and the finish is pleasantly bittersweet.  It is probably not quite as smooth as the Thornbridge St Petersburg I had last week but this is still a very impressive stout that I absolutely love and I award it a score of 9/10.  

Day 9 - Rochefort 8 (9.2% ABV)

Day nine takes me back to Belgium and one of my favourite Trappist beers.  All Trappist breweries are very spartan in the beers they produce. Rochefort produce three simply named 6, 8 and 10.  The higher number has a greater strength and I chose the 8 which comes in at 9.2% ABV.  There seems to be no experimentation with new brews.  It's as if they are saying we have brewed the perfect beer and we bring it to you in three different strengths to fit your mood.  Choose one and whichever it is you won't be disappointed.       

The beer has a lovely appearance.  It is not as dark as it appears above.  In truth it has a lovely deep copper colour to it with a nice small head after pouring.  The aroma is rich, malty and with hints of dark fruits.  The taste is simply full of these rich dark fruits with raisin particularly dominant.  It warms you through from first sip to last.  It is obviously brewed year round but I consider it to be a perfect Winter beer.  One to be savoured slowly in front of a roaring fire.  Liquid Christmas cake and a perfect accompaniment to this festive treat.  There is nothing too complex about it.  There are no flavours bursting through at different stages.  It is simply a superb sweet, malty beer.  I would give this beer top marks.

Day 8 - Unser Aventinus - Schneider (8.2% ABV)

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to German beer but I do know something now.  I will never drink this beer again.  This is in fact my first German beer of 2013.  I can see it is highly rated on Untappd but I could only manage half of it before pouring the rest away.  

Perhaps I got something wrong here.  Did I use the wrong kind of glass?  When I opened it I lost some of it because it bubbled up out of the bottle flooding the worktop.  That was a blessing in disguise.  After pouring it looked like brown sludge and it had a nasty medicinal aroma.  My wife hated it and quickly handed it back to me.  There was a sweet malty taste initially but the aftertaste was full of nightmare spices.  Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, coriander.  It really is quite horrible.  I know some people love these spices and some people even love root beer (which is what it reminded my wife of) but it isn't for me.  I have tasted some beers where the spices are even more overpowering so I guess this does get one above my lowest rating so I give it a 2/10.  I'm now going to break into my stash of Durham Brewery beers to wash this taste away.

Day 7 - Robinsons Old Tom (8.5% ABV)

Robinsons Old Tom has long been a Winter favourite of mine.  Back in the 1980s I would go to the annual Strong Beers and Winter Ales Festival held at the White Horse Parsons Green in SW London.  The festival is held each November and is still going strong.  I would fill my boots with lots of lovely dark strong Winter beers and Robinsons Old Tom would always be available alongside many others.  The beer is now available all year round in local supermarkets alongside newer versions Chocolate Tom and Ginger Tom.  I've never tried these two as I'm sure the original cannot be beaten.  The label says it is the World's Best Ale as this is one of the many awards it has picked up over the many years it has been brewed.

It is now many years since I have had the cask version of Old Tom but I do ensure I always pick up a bottle or two each Christmas so this was near the top of my list for the 12 beers of Christmas.  It has a lovely very deep red, almost black, colour to it and the aroma is full of malt and rich dark fruit.  There are plenty of flavours coming through.  My wife said it tastes very strongly of black treacle which is certainly in there.  It has chocolate, plenty of rich dark fruits like blackcurrant and raisin.  There is also a spicy bitterness that comes through too.  It is a challenging drink to be enjoyed slowly in front of a roaring fire with a slice of Christmas cake.  I still absolutely love it and I will award the beer a score of 9/10.  

Day 6 - Chimay Rouge (7.0% ABV)

I don't drink Belgian beer as often as I should.  I usually reserve them for Christmas and this year I have bought a few as usual.  Chimay is the largest of the Trappist breweries and probably one of the most popular.  Chimay Rouge is the lowest strength of their tricolour output at 7.0% ABV.  The Blanche comes at 8.0% ABV and the Bleue is a further percentage point higher at 9.0% ABV.  All three come in identical bottles with the label colour the easy way of determining which is which.   

It's quite a while since I've tried the Rouge so I'm looking forward to it.  It certainly has an attractive copper colour to it.  The aroma is quite malty and slightly sour.  There is perhaps a little tartness initially but a caramel sweetness comes through once this initial tang wears off.  The sweetness continues and there is very little bitterness coming though at all.  The beer is actually not as complex as I remember it though and, although it is perfectly drinkable, it hasn't got the appeal it once had sadly and I will award it a score of 7/10.   

Day 5 - Temptation - Durham Brewery (10.0% ABV)

It's Christmas Day and a box of Durham Brewery beer has arrived courtesy of Santa (well my mother-in-law actually) along with a lovely looking glass.  That box is being left to settle and here is one I bought earlier.  I have reviewed this beer previously this year so perhaps I'll be lazy and put in my link here so you can read it without me having to write anything further.  

So there you go.  A magnificent 10/10 beer, from my favourite brewer when it comes to bottled beers, that I am going to spend time enjoying rather than writing about.  

Merry Christmas.

Day 4 - Christmas Ale - St Peters Brewery (7.0% ABV)

It's a long time since I've tried any beer from St Peters.  This Suffolk brewer is famous for the distinctive green bottles their range comes in and it is amazing to think that the brewery has now been operational for nearly 18 years as I clearly remember visiting the brewery in their formative years.  It is housed in the agricultural buildings adjacent to the impressive St Peters Hall which dates from 1280.  This semi-moated medieval hall houses an impressive bar and restaurant and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The beers of St Peters have always been easily drinkable.  I have rarely found them available in cask so my main experience of them has come from their bottled beers.  Christmas Eve is a time when it is traditional for my son to leave a mince pie and a bottle of beer for Santa (not forgetting the carrot for the reindeer of course) and I always choose a festive bottle.  This beer fits the bill perfectly.  Let's hope Santa appreciates it!

Yo ho ho then here we go.  The aroma is not bad.  Promises of a warming rich fruit intoxication to come.  Deep ruby colour with a thin head with enough carbonation to make it enticing.  It has a deep rich malty base for sure.  Reminds me of Youngs Winter Warmer but with a smoother fuller body to it.  Santa would surely approve as this beer would be a perfect accompaniment to a mince pie.  It has all the same rich fruity flavours and there is also a slight biscuity inclusion to it to match the pastry.  The wife wonders where the Christmassy taste is with it because I am delighted to say it is a rich warming Winter beer without the hideous seasonal herbs and spices.  Yes it's a lovely Winter warmer and Christmas is in Winter so where's the problem?  My mum always drank sherry at Christmas and this has hints of that too so this is perfect to warm Santa up on his busy night.  The beer gets an 8/10 from me.

Merry Christmas.        

Day 3 - Empire Pale Ale - Burton Bridge (7.5% ABV)

I remember Burton Bridge from my early drinking days growing up in the East Midlands.  Their Porter was (and probably still is) a truly magnificent beer.  However, for years I have rarely found their beers available anywhere apart from an occasional visit back to the Midlands when I have struck lucky.  They have had a chequered history but have survived now for over thirty years doing what they do.  As an outside observer they do seem to be stuck in a time warp and even their website seems like it was created years ago.

This Empire Pale Ale is a recreation of a traditional India Pale Ale.  The label is a throwback to colonial days too and you get the distinct impression that you are consuming history with this beer.  It has a hoppy aroma for sure but these are traditional British hops unlike the modern generation of IPAs that are dominating the market.  This traditional beer though has won numerous CAMRA bottled beer awards so it is about time I gave this beer a try.

My wife tried it first and said it 'tasted disgusting'.  Oops.  There is a little sourness to it for sure which I wasn't expecting.  The aftertaste has quite a harsh bitterness to it too.  There are initial notes of oranges but this fruitiness disappears before giving off a very dry bitter finish which was more bitter lemon than orange.  It is certainly drinkable and challenging (must be the Challenger hops !!) but I much prefer the modern citrussy IPAs brewed with American or New Zealand hops to this.  All in all a little disappointing and I give it a score of 6/10.                

Day 2 - Saint Petersburg - Thornbridge (7.4% ABV)

I need to drink more Thornbridge beers.  Jaipur is in my top three all-time favourite beers.  I have tried the lovely Chiron in bottles a few times.  This imperial Russian stout is my third beer from this Derbyshire brewer and I am really looking forward to it.

Despite pouring gently it produced a lively looking head.  The aroma is quite gentle with a hint of roasted coffee.  Now I'm sure you all know what stouts are and how they generally taste but until you have sampled this particular beer you have not tried the perfect stout.  This is bloody fantastic!!  It does remind me of the superb Sadlers Mud City Stout but it does have a little more bitterness.  It has a lovely blend of initial sweetness with hints of raisin, liquorice, plum and chocolate.  There then comes tiny little hits of coffee bitterness that continues to be perfectly balanced by the sweeter notes.  It is rich, full-bodied and it clings to your mouth throughout and thereby refusing to release you from the fabulous taste.

Beer two is a no-brainer 10/10 beer.  I will be buying more of this beer before the winter is out and more from the full range of Thornbridge in 2014.  They are fast becoming a favourite brewery and this is close to being my favourite stout ever.  Thank you Thornbridge.

Day 1 - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - Anchor (5.5% ABV)

Anchor Porter was the first American beer I fell in love with.  I was going to make that my first beer of Christmas but when I spotted their Christmas / New Year ale for 2013 I decided to give this a try instead.  It is more seasonmal after all.  This is their 39th winter special and the recipe changes every year.  At just 5.5% ABV it is the lowest strength beer of my twelve making it a nice gentle start.          

This black ale poured beautifully with a nice amount of bubbles clinging to the side of the glass.  This beer is full of the smells of Christmas.  Lots of rich fruit and spices come through and I can't wait to give it a taste.

Heavily spiced beers are not for me and this is not overbearing.  There is plenty of sweetness initially reminiscent of blackberries and redcurrants.  Then the taste of raisin and plum kicks in and finally a hint of seasonal spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger) to give a lovely warming finish.  There are even some subtle hints of orange marmalade to add a little sourness.  The whole thing is a real mix of Christmas pudding and rich fruit cake.  Every possible flavour is imparted from it.  An excellent start to my '12 Beers' and I give the beer a score of 8/10.
Happy Christmas drinking !!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Chichester Walls Pub Crawl

December is a great time of year to organise a pub crawl.  Xmas pub crawls are a long tradition with me and I have always followed a few basic rules when it comes to deciding which pubs to go in.  

1.  A good pub crawl needs five or six pubs.  Four is probably enough for me nowadays but at least if you come up with six then you can decide to miss one or two if you can't keep up with the pace.

2.  You need to start and end at a convenient place for public transport links.  Driving on a pub crawl is a definite no-no.  Take a bus or a train and enjoy yourself.   

3.  A good variety of beers should be available.  I have done pub crawls in the past where every pub has been allied to the same brewery but that was when I was doing them as part of an ale trail.  Normally, you do not want a list of pubs where you will be drinking the same thing in each. 

4.  Having a theme can be a good idea.  In a city where you have a good choice of pubs to go in and you have to narrow it down to your six then choosing them to a theme works well.

The city of Chichester in West Sussex has plenty of historical interest.  Decent pubs are actually in short supply here but I think I have come up with a crawl that satisfies all four points above without the need to go into the worst Wetherspoons in the UK.

The theme for this pub crawl is the Chichester Walls Walk.  Chichester is of course a Roman town and the walls, which date from the third century AD, are quite well preserved.  The distance around the walls is about one and a half miles so with plenty of refreshment stops en route you won't find it too strenuous.  

The first pub is The Fountain.  This pub is a short walk north of both the bus station and the train station so is the ideal starting point as it is also aligned very closely to the walls walk.  This Hall & Woodhouse pub had four handpumps serving the usual Hall & Woodhouse beers.  When I last visited these were Badger First Gold, Tanglefoot and Sussex as well as the seasonal Hopeful Hop.  Tanglefoot would be my choice here but you may decide to start with a lower strength beer.             

Entering through the door at the front you come into a modern interior with a mix of high tables and benches alongside sofas and leather upholstered chairs.  It is a modern town centre pub that offers a good food menu with a dining room to the back.  The front bar has a nice spacious feel to it and offers a couple of real fires to warm you up.  

To the side of the pub there is a large outdoor drinking area which has patioi heaters enabling it to be used all-year round.  The entrance here takes you into a smaller bar area which has the dining area off to the left.  This central bar has an impressive bar billiards table which may delay your departure to the second pub if you decide to enjoy a game or two.     

When leaving the Fountain head out of the side door and turn immediately right which takes you into a small car park.  Head left and where there is a ramp that leads to a pedestrian footbridge you need to head right alongside a playing field and the River Lavant (a stream at best under normal conditions).  You are now on the Walls Walk and you will spot a noticeboard at the car park entrance giving information about it.  Following the edge of the playing field you will spot the walls to your right with the magnificent cathedral beyond.  When you come to the road after a few hundred yards head right to the roundabout.  Turning right at the roundabout you will immediately spot pub number two, the GBG 2014-listed Chichester Inn.  

The Chichester Inn has a large back bar with a stage area as it holds regular live music events.  The lounge is spacious and comfortable with a distinct smell of woodsmoke.  Sofas and low tables mix with traditional wooden tables and chapel chairs.  The beer selection is normally very good and when I last visited there were a couple of Dark Star beers available which I would highly recommend.  At weekends you may also find a guest beer or two from a local micro.        

Leaving the Chichester Inn, cross the road and the Walls Walk sign takes you behind some houses and from here you walk the North-West quadrant.  In this section you are walking on the walls which overlook a row of cottages to your left and County Hall is on your right.  This section brings you out into North Street and when you come to the road and look across to your right you will see pub number three, the George & Dragon.

The G&D is a superb town centre pub which also offers accommodation if you are wanting a place to stay.  The single L-shaped bar offers a relaxing and stylish environment in which to enjoy a pint.  It has an excellent beer selection so it won't be difficult to find a beer that you won't see in one of the other five pubs.  The regular beers are Sharps Doom Bar and Timothy Taylor Landlord so you may want to try one of the two regularly changing guest ales.  In the past I have enjoyed beers from Pin-Up, Triple fff and Adnams here and one of the guest ales is usually fairly local.            

To get to pub number four, The Park Tavern, you need to temporarily head away from the Walls Walk and turn left when leaving the G & D.  You then take the left turn when you reach the pedestrianised section and head towards Priory Park.  The Park Tavern is appropriately named as it sits on the corner overlooking the park.  This former Gales pub converted to Fullers when the Chiswick brewer closed down Gales and it has become a very tidy pub.  The door to your left takes you into a small bar area full of eclectic charm.  The door to your right takes you into the larger lounge and dining area which has a quite resplendent mirror.  I remember this pub back in the 1980s when it was a bit of a dive but now it is very popular with both drinkers and diners.  There are usually three or four Fullers beers available (including Gales HSB) along with a guest beer which was from Manchester brewer Holts when I last visited.              

The final two pubs are both listed in the latest Good Beer Guide.  Leaving The Park Tavern you can take the picturesque route and turn left to follow the walls around Priory Park or head right and take a short cut which joins the Walls Walk on the far side of the park.  Either way the Walls Walk will lead you into East Street which completes the full set having previously been in the imaginatively named South Street, West Street and North Street.  These roads head off in their relative directions from the old Market Cross in the centre of town.  At East Street turn left and after crossing the main road at a busy pedestrian crossing you will come into The Hornet where you will find The Eastgate on your right.     

The Eastgate is another former Gales pub now run by Fullers.  When I last visited there were two beers under the Fullers name and two under the Gales name in addition to a guest ale from Arkells.  The front room is fairly small but feels spacious with a large red-walled pillar separating the front with the back.  Tucked away in a corner there is a dartboard.  Beyond this wooden-floored bar is a carpeted lounge with woodburner and sofa making a relaxing centrepiece although there is no wall dividing the two areas.  It is a classic town centre pub and a perfect pub crawl stop.              

Leaving The Eastgate retrace your steps to the pedestrian crossing and turn left into Market Street.  On your right you will see The Bull Inn.  The Bull Inn is a superb free house that I have reviewed previously (click here).  You should find a selection of six beers mostly from local micros so choose something that you have not yet had to round off your evening.  If you have time and further capacity then enjoy another one too!!       

From the Bull Inn turn right and you will eventually come back to your start point with the city walls visible in patches on your right-hand side.  Where the road bears round to the left as part of a one-way section you need to head straight on through a narrow lane to get back to The Fountain.  Alternatively, following the one-way system to your left takes you back to the bus station and, a little further round, to the train station.

This brings your trail around the Chichester Walls to an end.  Six of the best pubs that Chichester has to offer conveniently located close to different sections of this interesting walk around this fine Roman city.  What's more, you don't even have to go within sight of the local Wetherspoons.  Enjoy!    

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Youngs Winter Warmer

Earlier this year I was bemoaning the blandness of Young's beers in a post.  I also mentioned the general awfulness of their pub, The Waverley, in Bognor Regis.  Perhaps it is time to redress the balance.  Now December has arrived I decided to pop into The Waverley to see if the Winter Warmer was available and I was delighted to see that it was.  

My first impression of The Waverley was favourable this time.  It seemed to have been smartened up and there was plenty of comfortable seating with sea views beyond the outside decked area.  Winter seems to be the time to visit this pub when the holidaymakers have left town.  The Christmas menu sounded appetizing so perhaps it will be time to give the food a try again too.  Today though I just wanted to put the Winter Warmer to the test.  The first impression wasn't good as the strength had been reduced to 5.0% ABV.  I forgot the strength of this beer when I first drank it in the 1980s but it was somewhere approaching 6.0% ABV and it seems to have had a gradual reduction ever since.  The colour is not quite as dark too although it has always had a deep reddish tinge to it.                 

The aroma was pleasing and quite mild.  It had a nice head to it and it appeared to be in excellent condition.  The first taste was encouraging and it was actually not too dissimilar from how I remember it.  There are hints of blackberries, caramel and a little spiciness to it.  The taste of winter fruits was dominant throughout which gave it a nice warming feel.  This was a 10/10 beer for me in the past and, while I would not score it that highly now, I would award it an 8/10 on this occasion.  It is still a very nice winter beer and one which I would gladly have again.