Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Beer and Dieting Week 8

I am now nearly halfway in my planned 17 week diet and I am pleased to say I am over halfway to my weight loss target of 30 pounds.  Another 2.5 pounds have been shed over the past two weeks which brings my total to 18.5 pounds.

Half-term did throw up a few difficulties as we went away for a weekend where we ate out twice and add to that a takeaway Indian meal and you see the problem (it tasted really good!).  Despite all of that though I managed to lose a solitary pound in week 7 and then I got back on track this week to lose a further 1.5 pounds.    

Let's talk beer now then.  The two weeks have been spent delivering the latest copy of the regional CAMRA publication Sussex Drinker to a few pubs and it would be rude to go into one and not drink.  Starting in the town of Midhurst I had a swift half of Harveys Old Ale (4.3% ABV) in The Swan.  This superb tied house is the only shining light in a town that is devoid of good beer.  Harveys Old Ale is a timeless winter classic that I simply adore.

Moving swiftly on I popped into the Royal Oak, an Enterprise-owned pub just south of Midhurst on the A286 Chichester Road.  Despite the tie, the owner is a doing a good job at trying to get in a decent beer selection and I had a half of the house beer (Snifter) that is brewed by Hogs Back.  This is probably HBB under a different name but only the brewery could answer that one.  It is certainly a pleasant pale bitter with a nice balance of malt and hops.  Another Locale was available from Upham as well as the dreaded Doom Bar.  This pub is set back off the road and the grounds are vast and it has probably one of the best beer gardens in Sussex.  Inside the high ceilings give a feeling of space with lots of modern comforts to enjoy a dish from the locally sourced menu.        

A short distance away from the Royal Oak on the opposite side of the A286 is The Greyhound.  This pub is much more rustic with a genuine country pub feel.  I first visited this pub way back in the 80s when it was a Gales pub and for many years my wife and I came here for Sunday lunch on a regular basis.  It hasn't changed much in all that time and the beer selection is still pretty decent with Locales usually available from King and/or Langhams alongside Hop Back Summer Lightning and that bloody awful Doom Bar.  On this occasion I had a half of King Horsham Best (3.8% ABV), a decent malty bitter.          

As you travel further along the A286 you pass through the picturesque Downland village of Singleton, which is now sadly lacking a decent pub, before coming to the hamlet of West Dean, home to The Dean.  Here you complete the hat-trick with yet another handpump flogging Doom Barrrrgghhhhhh.  Thankfully this excellent pub has one or two Locales to enjoy and on this occasion I enjoyed a lovely pint of Downlands Pale (4.1% ABV).  This pale hoppy refreshing pint was a joy.        

I completed my deliveries of Sussex Drinker closer to home with a fantastic pint of Gales HSB at the Royal Oak in Lagness which I described in a post last week so I will not mention it again.  Just click here to read it if you wish.

It's been a busy fortnight for CAMRA activities as we had our annual meeting to discuss and vote on the entries for the 2015 Good Beer Guide.  The meeting was held at The Bull in Chichester and the results are of course top secret until the GBG comes out in September.  This genuine free house had a full selection of Locales available and my favourite of the night was the Black Jack Porter (4.6% ABV) from Hampshire brewer Flack Manor.  This full-bodied dark porter with a ruby tinge to it was bursting with roasted malts, liquorice, chocolate and nutty flavours.  The other two beers I enjoyed came from East Sussex brewer 1648 Brewing.  Triple Champion (4.0% ABV) was a chestnut coloured traditional bitter and Gold Angel (5.0% ABV) was fruitier and hoppier with a clean refreshing taste.        

My local, The Inglenook in Pagham, has been excelling itself of late.  With the two awesome Dark Star beers, Revelation and American Pale, both available it was hard to look elsewhere but I must mention two beers here from further afield.  The 5.5% ABV Oregon from West Yorkshire brewer Summer Wine is a golden hoppy ale.  It doesn't go wildly over the top with hops but there is plenty of rich fleshy tropical fruits flavours without them overpowering the citrussy bitterness in the finish.  I reviewed some Summer Wine bottled ales recently and said I didn't like the labels.  I was right though.  Their design looks much better when it is on a pump clip.  So pleased to finally try their cask beer.  Lovely.  

The best beer of the past two weeks has to be the Madness IPA (7.0% ABV) from new Somerset brewer Wild Beer Company which I was delighted to see available when I popped into the Inglenook on Monday.  This beer is simply magnificent.  It is a perfect American Pale Ale swirling with rich sweet tropical fruits before encountering a lovely citrussy bitter finish.  So easy to drink.  Yet another brewery I need to check out more from.  The list is becoming endless.      
It's been a long ramble this time but it has been another successful couple of weeks with more weight lost and some lovely beers enjoyed including a gold medal ale at the end.  With just 11.5 pounds left to lose in 9 weeks I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.     


Tuesday, 25 February 2014


I love America and I have been fortunate to have travelled across vast swathes of the country as well as living in Texas for a couple of years.  In the past decade my visits have been few and far between and I do not get to drink American beers as often as I'd like to nowadays.  I do buy some occasionally when I get the chance and my last box from Beer Hawk supplied me with a couple so I thought it would be a good idea to match a couple of beers from the UK as comparison.  I have cheated a bit as the only strong stout I had available from the UK in my box was one I have reviewed before and awarded top marks to so I've given the UK a bit of an advantage.    

Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV) - Stone Brewing Co

Stone Brewing Co are a heavyweight US micro much loved in the UK so it is about time I tried this beer of theirs.  They have been brewing for nearly twenty years now and they have a massive reputation this side of the Atlantic.  This beer comes with a load of blurb on the label about how you probably won't like it and how you may need a sophisticated taste to enjoy it so warning you to stick to something more conventional and safer.  All crap of course but quite amusing I guess.  After pouring, the citrussy aroma instantly hit me and I knew I would probably adore this beer.  It is quite dark with a bit of a deep ruby tinge to it.  The level of carbonation is spot on and the first taste gave me a strong citrussy bitterness.  A tropical fruit sweetness kicked in after a short time before the bitterness won the final battle in the long finish.  My wife couldn't detect any oaked qualities in the taste but I did notice a little woody earthiness to it which tempered the strong tropical fruits a little and stopping them from running riot.  The sweetness was therefore never able to dominate leaving a nice bitterness in the mouth.  I do love this beer very much indeed and it would be interesting to try the non oaked version too as a comparison.  Score 10/10.     

Apparition IPA (5.9% ABV) - Celt Experience   

To compete against the Arrogant Bastard Ale I came up with this 5.9% ABV IPA from Welsh micro Celt Experience.  This special ale in their Shapeshifter Series was brewed in collaboration with top beer writer Melissa Cole.  I came across Celt Experience for the first time last year when I had a pint of their sumptuous dark ale Dark Age (4.0% ABV) in Bristol.  Hopefully this chosen beer will be more than a match for those 'arrogant bastards' across the water.  

Well I must say that it did come pretty damn close to receiving top marks.  It is much paler than the opposition above and obviously the strength is not as high.  The aroma is quite light and fruity and the initial taste has a bit of grassiness to it with some lemon notes too and there was initially quite an intense bitter finish.  The more I drank the more the richer tropical fruit flavours bounded in but they never took over.  It was like walking in a fog of grassy citrussy bitterness with patches of peach and mango hitting you at various intervals.  As soon as you think the bitterness had gone it would leap back at you again.  It is a lovely beer and judged on its own I may have given it top marks but I have to make a choice and my slight preference goes to the US.       

Black Chocolate Stout (10.0% ABV) - Brooklyn Brewery

Now we move on to the heavyweight section and the east coast.  Brooklyn Brewery is another long established US micro having began brewing operations in 1988.  As with Stone Brewing, I have not really tried their beer before so it is time I corrected this.  

This Black Chocolate Stout is an imperial stout brewed each winter and it is what it says it is.  Black and chocolatey.  It has quite a vinous quality to it initially but the chocolate notes are always there making it very smooth and rich.  It does have a small taste of pure alcohol though and you know you are drinking a very strong beer here which is perhaps my only criticism of it.  I would also have liked more roasted malt notes perhaps with some bitterness to it too but you can't have everything I guess.  This therefore gets an 8/10 from me.      

Temptation (10.0% ABV) - Durham Brewery

When it comes to bottled beers I have not tried anything better than those from the Durham Brewery.  This really should be an easy point for the UK.  This awesome stout is part of the case of Durham beers I received as a Christmas present along with the glass.  This bottle comes in a proper size of 500ml which I  much prefer.  I won't go on about it here except to say I can usually detect no real price difference between 330ml and 500ml bottles when it comes to shopping for bottled beers so I do often get the feeling of being ripped off when I buy the smaller bottles.  

When I opened this bottle of Temptation I was a little perturbed as the beer came gushing out and I had to act quickly to avoid a disaster.  Once it was safely in the glass it looked sensational.  Temptation was one of my twelve beer of xmas and it was awarded top marks then.  This one was a little too carbonated but the taste was still sensational.  There is an initial coffee bitterness to it before you get a rich sweet concoction of liquorice, coffee, chocolate and treacle.  It is beautifully smooth and the only stout I have tried to match this beer is the St Petersburg from Thornbridge so although on this occasion I will only award it 9/10 due to the excess of carbonation it is still enough to beat the US contender.         

I will declare this contest a tie and next time I purchase some American ales I will attempt to set up a rematch.  If any of my American readers can recommend some beers I can include next time then feel free to make some suggestions (obviously they need to be ones I can buy over here).  Once I have my line-up of two or three beers I will pick some UK ones to match them with.  From this little lot above though I can highly recommend every single beer.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Fullers HSB

You may need to be of a certain age to relate to this post but it's something I need to write because a very surprising thing happened this week.  The latest issue of our local CAMRA publication, Sussex Drinker, came out last week and when it appears I have a number to deliver to various pubs so I spend a couple of weeks going to pubs I normally wouldn't go in and, when going in a pub, I always like to have a beer.  Makes sense to me.  There is a Fullers pub, the Royal Oak, not far from where I live.  It is always popular with locals of a certain age and I always feel very young when I go in there.  On this occasion the beer selection was limited to Fullers London Pride and (Gales) HSB.  No contest here really as far as I'm concerned so I chose a pint of HSB.
Now it must be said here that in recent years I have become a bit obsessed with hops and microbreweries to the extent where I have largely avoided brewers such as Fullers.  I also rarely read about people extolling the virtues of brown maltier beers such as HSB.  Anyway, after ordering my pint I began drinking it without giving it too much attention and it was only when half of it had been consumed that I sat up and noticed what a blooming excellent pint it was.  It has a lovely caramelised maltiness to it with darker fruitier notes such as raisins and dates.  There's not much bitterness to it except for a small amount in the finish but it was still bursting with lovely rich flavours.  It used to be a little darker and sweeter back in the 80s but it is not a million miles away from what it used to be like.       

You have to go back nearly 30 years to when I tried Gales HSB for the first time and for me it was such a superb beer.  I loved it to such an extent that I still have the pump clip from that time and in those days the OG appeared on them.  I can't remember what the ABV was at this time but I have a feeling it was around 4.5%.  Today it is 4.8% ABV and I must say Fullers have done a mighty fine job in their recreation of it because it has to be said that in the final years of Gales prior to the closure of the brewery the beer was a pale imitation of its' former self.

Drinking this lovely pint brought back memories of the Gales Ales Trail I did back in the mid 80s.  Despite living in London at the time and only going down to Hampshire for football I managed to visit all 90 Gales pubs in the allotted year with one day to spare and I still have the pot tankard I received for completing it.  Many of these pubs are no longer around sadly but those that are I still have a fondness for.  Some of those that remain are free houses now whilst a good number of them are owned by Fullers of course.  

The Royal Oak in Lagness (a small hamlet between Pagham and Chichester) was not a Gales pub back in the mid 80s but it was Gales-owned for quite some time before the takeover.  It is not GBG listed but every time I visit I am served a pint in excellent condition.  The staff are friendly and welcoming and the food is very popular.  There is absolutely nothing to dislike about the pub and I can now thank it for helping me to remember the joy of Gales HSB.  I may now be a hop monster but there are times when you need something brown!  If you are ever in the area why not pop in and enjoy a pint yourself.  You will even find a copy of the latest Sussex Drinker to read whilst you're there.


Monday, 17 February 2014

Oh Mr Porter

The weekend task I set myself was to compare and contrast a couple of porters in my beer box.  The first of these is from Yorkshire brewer Saltaire who I am becoming a big fan of.  The second is from one of the new wave of London micros, Sambrooks, from whom I am yet to sample any beers.

Hazelnut Coffee Porter from Saltaire (4.6% ABV)

The name of this beer doesn't lie at all.  It is exactly what it says although my wife did question where the hazelnut was hiding.  I think she needed to try a few more sips because it is definitely there.  The first thing you notice about this porter is the colour.  It isn't black.  Instead it has a muddy brown appearance although it does have plenty of life and a nice head to it.  Not since trying the Batemans Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie have I tried a beer that has the total taste description in the name.  The hazelnut is to the fore and the coffee is in the finish.  This finish is very dry and bitter and tastes quite harsh.  It is not totally to my taste as I am not a coffee drinker although coffee bitterness in beer has not been too much of a problem for me in the past.  This is probably the most extreme I have tried though.  Some people will know doubt love it but for me I can only give it a 6/10.  

Powerhouse Porter from Sambrooks (4.9% ABV)

If you are a chocaholic on a diet, as I am, you will adore this beer.  Who needs the solid stuff when you can drink this.  After pouring it looks fantastic although the small head did disappear fairly quickly.  There was still enough carbonation in there as too much would have spoiled the silky smoothness of this beer.  The aroma was not overpowering with hints of roasted malts.  The taste of this particular beer has everything I look for in a porter.  There's a subtle coffee bitterness and there's a sweet chocolatey richness.  The balance in this beer is spot on.  It just slides down the gullet with ease.  Put me in an armchair in front of a roaring fire and bring me a case of this beer and I won't move for hours.  Simply magnificent and I have to award this beer top marks.  10/10.          

No guessing which porter here I prefer.  The Hazelnut Coffee Porter was a good full-bodied beer that was simply not to my taste.  Saltaire produce excellent beers and I will continue to enjoy them but this is one I won't be going back to.  Sambrooks have produced a porter I simply adore and now I have to check out more from this Battersea-based micro.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Beer and Dieting Week 6

I cannot believe I have kept this diet going for 6 weeks now.  I have amazed myself by my discipline and total abstention from chocolate, cakes, crisps, biscuits, pizza and everything else I love.  Writing about it is the key I think.  Once you start telling everyone about what you are doing then you have no choice but to carry on.  That's certainly the way I feel so I know I have to see it through to the end now.  Sigh.

The weight has continued to come off at a steady rate and a further 4 pounds has been shed in the past couple of weeks bringing my total to 16 pounds.  This means of course that I am over halfway to my target of 30 pounds and passing this mark is definitely a psychological boost.  

As usual this post will go over some of the cask beers I have been enjoying over the past two weeks rather than thinking about the food I haven't been eating.  There have been no gold award beers recently but there has been nothing disappointing either.  What I have found has been plenty of good beer in excellent local pubs which began with a lunchtime trip to Sussex CAMRA pub of the year 2013, The Wilkes Head.  This gave me the chance to try a decent golden session bitter from Ambridge Brewery, Just Jane (3.9% ABV).  Just Jane turned out to be a refreshing, slightly pale, crisp dry bitter.      

I made a couple of visits to the local Wetherspoons, The Hatters Inn, which is specialising very much in LocAles now.  On the first visit I was able to enjoy the Langham Triple XXX (4.4% ABV), a nice malty chocolatey dark ale with a slight spicy edge to it.  The second visit saw me try my first beer from Turners, an East Sussex micro.  The Ruby Mild (4.6% ABV) is a highly enjoyable rich traditional dark mild with hints of berries and chocolate.    

The Western Sussex CAMRA social took us to my local brewpub The Gribble located in the village of Oving just outside Chichester.  Their usual beers don't excite me a great deal but I tried a new beer from them called Quad Hopper (4.0% ABV).  This was a decent pale hoppy beer with a dry citrussy bitterness in the finish and it got the thumbs up from all attendees.  From here we moved into Chichester to the Eastgate, a popular GBG-listed Fullers pub.  I tried the guest ale from Butcombe, a 3.8% ABV beer named Rare Breed.  This turned out to be the best pint of the night.  A lovely amber coloured beer with a rich bitterness.  Definitely a classic traditional English bitter.  We finished the evening round the corner from the Eastgate at The Bull Inn with a couple of decent pints from the home counties.  XT 2 (Gold) is a drinkable golden ale from Buckinghamshire brewed with American and Bohemian hops that gave the beer a somewhat bittersweet character and White Stork (3.9% ABV) is an interesting highly floral monthly special brewed with Hersbrucker hops courtesy of the Tring Brewery in Hertfordshire.                              

My local pub in Pagham, The Inglenook, has had the usual selection of high strength IPAs with Jaipur and Magic Rock High Wire NZ both available again.  However, I spied something new on the bar so I went for what turned out to be a particularly good 5.2% IPA from north of the border with the odd name of Ka Pai from the Stewart Brewing Company.  This pale IPA is packed with four New Zealand hops and the aroma and taste is full of fresh rich sweet fruits with mango and pineapple notes observed.  The finish is bittersweet with citrus notes coming through and it is highly recommended if you find this one on the bar.

A subsequent visit to The Inglenook provided me with the opportunity to try a beer brewed just down the road.  Goldmark are a new local brewery based just to the east of Arundel and Hercules IPA (5.6% ABV) is the first pint I've had from them.  It is a very fruity golden IPA with sweet fleshy fruit notes of peach and nectarine evident and the finish is more bittersweet with a nice spicy bitterness combining with the initial sweetness.  An impressive pint and I need to try more form this new micro.

Last night it was the AGM of my local CAMRA branch at The Maypole Inn, Yapton.  Although I was driving I was able to enjoy a couple of halves along with my diet coke and both of them were well worthy of a mention.  After my earlier visit in the day to the Arundel Brewery described here I was happy to find their Old Ale (4.6% ABV) available as I had been meaning to try it all winter.  It really is a classic old ale following in the finest tradition of other Sussex brewers Harveys and the now defunct King and Barnes.  Very smooth, very black and that enduring bittersweet finish that I love so much with this type of beer.  The other beer I was delighted to try last night was the collaboration between local brewer Dark Star and Yorkshire brewer Saltaire.  At 5.6% ABV, this Bock is a delightfully complex dark sweet beer and I would love to find it again to enjoy a full pint of it.  I've not been won over by past interpretations of this beer style but this is definitely worth finding.

The AGM itself saw me sworn in as the new Pubs Officer of my local CAMRA branch so you will now find me promoting the pubs of West Sussex even more than I currently do.  Watch this space.        
The past couple of weeks has therefore seen the perfect combination.  More weight lost and some lovely beers enjoyed.  With just 14 pounds left to lose in 11 weeks I can almost taste those wonderful Manchester beers I will be rewarding myself with at the end of May.   


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Arundel Brewery

Visiting a brewery is always special.  Visiting a brewery so close to home that is also undergoing some kind of transformation is even more special.  In that regard, my visit to Arundel Brewery was perfectly timed.  The brewery was founded way back in 1992 so they are probably one of the most established breweries in West Sussex.  What may not be so widely known is that there was a change of ownership nearly twelve months ago and it was new owner, Neil Walker, and sales guy Bob Clark, who welcomed me and showed me round when I visited yesterday.      

The brewery is not easy to find unless you know where it is.  Heading south out of the village of Yapton on the B2233 you turn left on the edge of the village before you get to the old Ford Airfield (signposted to Ford Airfield Industrial Estate).  If you are lucky there will be an A board on the side of the road pointing you in the right direction.    

The brewery has expanded over the years and it occupies two units now and it is unit 10 that houses the 20-barrel plant which is where I was shown into first of all.  They were busy brewing the Heritage IPA when I visited and the usual delightful smells filled the air.  When chatting with Bob on Twitter prior to my arrival he promised me something special.  It wasn't long before I discovered just how special.
Before working in sales for Arundel Bob worked at the superb craft beer pub, The Southover, in Brighton.  He has been keen to get the brewery to brew a beer that would satisfy the growing mass market appeal of American pale ales.  To reach out to this market they have swapped recipes with US craft brewer Wild Heaven from Georgia.  Black Stallion Mild went across the pond to Georgia and a stunning pale ale came back in return.  The very first batch was just ready to leave the fermenters and I got to sample it.  Lucky lucky me!!  Packed with Citra, Summit, Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin hops I was in hoppy heaven.  This 5.2% ABV beer will be very popular and I can't wait to try more of it.  They have named it after the US brewer that supplied the recipe, Wild Heaven, and it will be available at the Hove Beer Festival next month.  Get there early before I drink it all.

I am fairly familiar with the Arundel core range and Neil was keen to tell me about the rebranding that has taken place.  Arundel wish to establish their bottled beer range, which currently consists of Sussex Gold (a 4.2% ABV golden refreshing bitter), Arundel ASB (a malty premium bitter with a bittersweet finish) and Old Knucker (a sweetish malty dark ale), as a national brand.  The range can already be found in Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose and it is hoped that with the forthcoming rebranding they can get a more widespread national distribution with these supermarket chains as well as others.  The current labels for these beers are somewhat outdated and the rebranding is now complete and Neil unveiled the new look bottles to me which are ready to be shipped out for the first time.  All three now have a classic consistent look and a renaming has occurred to match this new look.  Sussex Gold remains the same, the ASB has become Sussex IPA and the Old Knucker has become Sussex Dark.  They look great and Neil and Bob are quite rightly delighted with the results.  The pump clips look equally impressive too.  I do have some reservation about the renaming of a classic beer like Old Knucker and it will be interesting to see how the new name is received by the masses.   

After passing out of the main unit we moved into the fermenting room.  From here it was a short hop into the sampling room.  It was here where Neil explained about their other latest venture.  They have never kegged their beers before but it is something they are trialing and which they intend to use with the recently produced cask lager along with one or two other beers for, particularly, the Brighton craft scene.  If successful they will be looking to the export market too.       

By now the Wild Heaven was gone and I was offered further refreshment with a generous sample of Old Knucker (Sussex Dark).  I have enjoyed this award winning winter classic in bottles for many years but I have amazingly never had it in cask.  The name may have changed but the taste is still amazing.  The flavour is full of blackberry with sweet toffee and chocolate notes.  At 5.5% ABV it is rich and robust and this was as good as it gets.  Absolutely superb.

Arundel Brewery have made great strides in the past twelve months under new ownership and the hard work is now being seen with their rebranding and their launch of Wild Heaven.  With a planned house move to Yapton I will hopefully be within a stone's throw of the brewery shortly and I have a feeling that Wild Heaven will become a regular favourite of mine.  Many thanks to Neil and Bob for showing me round and sharing their plans and I wish them continued success.


Monday, 10 February 2014

Summer Wine vs Bristol Beer Factory

This weeks bottled beer selection compares beers from a brewery I was yet to experience against my favourite brewery from last year.  The Summer Wine brewery is based in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, a bustling mill town in the Holme Valley just a few miles north of the Peak District National Park and a few miles south of Huddersfield.  Holmfirth is of course famous for the longest running BBC TV comedy series, Last of the Summer Wine.  I loved this series for its mix of gentle humour along with the gorgeous scenery in and around Holmfirth.  The earlier series were best when they centred around the comic ramblings and exploits of Compo (Bill Owen) , Clegg (Peter Sallis) and Blamire (Michael Bates).  The trio may have spent much of their leisure time in Sid's Cafe but they also often found themselves inside or outside a lovely looking rural inn with magnificent views of the beautiful Peak District where they would enjoy a pint served in one of those big chunky jugs you never see any more.  Following the untimely death of Michael Bates, Compo and Clegg were joined by Foggy Dewhurst (Brian Wilde) and the format remained pretty much the same before losing some of its original charm as it increased the number of oddball characters taking away the focus from the central trio.  Fond memories indeed.   

The Summer Wine brewery began brewing in 2006 with a tiny 10-gallon kit which quickly expanded to a commercial 6-barrel size in 2008.  I've been meaning to try their beers for some time but it wasn't until I visited Cobbett's Real Ales in Dorking recently that I've been able to find any.  In addition to a pale ale and an IPA I picked up a milk stout and along with these I picked up a strong IPA from the Bristol Beer Factory along with their  milk stout.  I voted the Bristol Beer Factory my brewery of the year for 2013 after awarding three of their cask ales top marks.  Stiff competition indeed for the beers from Summer Wine.  
Pacer Pale Ale by Summer Wine (4.1% ABV)

As an introduction to Summer Wine I started with this session strength pale ale.  I'm not too keen on the label designs with the garish colours but from their website I can see the logo and colours suit pump clips much more than the bottle.  Their beers are described as being 'unfiltered, unpasteurised, unadulterated, uncompromising'.  Being 'unfiltered' I was expecting it to lack some clarity but this was hardly noticeable although the picture probably shows it as not being totally clear.  The combination of the rich golden colour and the aroma of ripe fleshy fruits was very inviting but the first mouthful came as a bit of a surprise.  It had a very pleasant fresh crisp bitterness with plenty of pine and bitter lemon notes which gave way to a delightfully dry spicy bitter finish.  This ideal session bitter is full of taste, totally refreshing and bursting with zingy hops.  This was a good start for the Summer Wine trio and I marked it a score of 8/10.        

Diablo by Summer Wine (6.0% ABV)

OK that has got my intro to Summer Wine out of the way so we can now move on to the actual competition.  For Summer Wine I chose this 6.0% ABV IPA.  This beer is packed with American hops with the Citra hop being dominant so I was expecting quite a citrussy taste.  The aroma was one of lemon and pineapple and not too strong.  The taste however was full of tropical fruit flavours with mango and passion fruit in evidence along with more pineapple notes.  It had a very rich and slightly syrupy mouthfeel to it which made these tropical flavours attach themselves to the taste buds with no hope of letting go.  Pine and lemon came in afterwards to give a superb bittersweet finish that was lasting and quite dry.  This was a lovely beer and I awarded it score of 9/10.    

Southville Hop by Bristol Beer Factory (6.5% ABV)

In the Bristol Beer Factory corner we have the award winning Southville Hop (SIBA National Champion Bottled Beers 2012) coming in at an impressive 6.5% ABV.  As with the Diablo this is an unfiltered and unpasteurised American-inspired IPA but this one comes with Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops.  It looks more like the Summer Wine Pacer and it has a matching fruity aroma.  The taste is very different though and matches certain characteristics of Diablo.  It is quite complex however with some interesting and contrasting flavours.  There are certainly some tropical fruit notes but I also detected orange and peach too along with a little earthiness.  Citrussy notes came in at the finish as with the Diablo to give a fine bittersweet flourish at the end.  Another fine beer and a matching score of 9/10.

All square then moving on to the milk stouts.  Can these separate them?

Mokko Milk Stout by Summer Wine (6.0% ABV)

My wife is a fan of the darker beers so, whilst I enjoyed the IPAs on my own, the milk stouts were shared.  This Mokko quickly came back at me though with the comment 'tastes like an ashtray'.  I had to agree there was a horrible smoky tobacco taste to it which took hold and never let go despite the sweet finish trying to inject some balance into it.  I am a big fan of rich robust stouts but this was not for me at all I'm sorry to say and I could only award it a 4/10.    

Milk Stout by Bristol Beer Factory (4.5% ABV)

It looked like it would be game,set and match to the Bristol Beer Factory then, especially as I had tried the cask version of this Milk Stout last year, and whilst it did not set my world alight it was at least pleasantly drinkable.  It certainly had a bit more life to it in the pour which resulted in a small frothy head and my wife definitely found it more agreeable.  There was a less harsh smokiness to it and the sweet finish kicked in and took over.  However, I still find the sweetness and the smokiness of it too much of a clash to be totally enjoyable and the finish was too sweet.  Perhaps my taste buds had not fully recovered from the Summer Wine but I could only award it a score of 5/10 this time (two lower than the cask version).  To be honest I was glad when this taste test was over.  I won't be returning to these beers and perhaps milk stouts are just not for me.          

Bristol Beer Factory came out on top in this particular taste test but I have been very impressed with the superb hoppy beers from Summer Wine.  The Diablo and the Southville Hop were certainly on a par.  The Pacer was highly drinkable and I would love to find this available in cask.  I am always hoping to find Bristol Beer Factory on the bar and I will continue to search for Summer Wine too but when I see a milk stout from any brewery I will probably avoid.  


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Weird Beard - Holy Hoppin' Heaven

Weird Beard is a great name for a brewery.  It certainly stands out from the crowd and I love their bottle labels and overall theme.  The guys from Weird Beard only began brewing last year and I have heard many favourable comments already.  They are one of the many micros currently springing up around London.  My first taste came in December when I purchased a bottle of Holy Hoppin' Hell.  This double IPA comes in at a mighty 8.5% ABV and I confess I was attracted by the name when I bought it.  I like my IPAs to be strong and packed with hops so surely this beer would not let me down.  Sadly I was a little disappointed.  OK whatever you do, DO NOT stop reading this.  Four Weird Beards are being reviewed here and this hoppy hell will soon be transformed into hoppy heaven.  So what was wrong with this beer?  I think it goes back to my last post when I compared Brewdog Punk IPA (5.6% ABV) to the Hardcore IPA (9.2% ABV).  The Hardcore was just too strong.  Holy Hoppin' Hell is also probably trying just a little bit too hard.  It was full-bodied but for me it had too many clashing flavours with a cloying sweetness competing against an earthy bitterness which quickly disappeared to leave very little aftertaste.  I am reliably informed that the hops going into this beer varies from batch to batch and the one I tried is the first batch so I will try it again at some point to check how more recent batches differ.  On this occasion I gave the beer a 6/10 so let's leave it at that and move on.

It was a trip to the excellent beer shop in Dorking, Cobbett's Real Ales, a couple of weeks ago that enabled me to pick up a further selection of Weird Beard beers and the first of these that I tried was the Decadence Stout (5.4% ABV).  Wow.  This was a sensational stout.  It looks great with a lovely bubbly head and it has a wonderful rich creamy feel to it which makes it slip down so easily.  There is a little chocolate in the initial taste but this all gives way to a roasted coffee bitterness that is long and lasting.  This stout is hard to beat and I would have to give it 10/10 as I wouldn't want to change it one little bit.  Brilliant.         

Next up is the Camden BearD.  OK what's in a name?  Well, Camden Town Brewery took objection to the name of this beer that was brewed in collaboration with the people at the Brewdog Bar in Camden.  For some reason the Camden Town Brewery seem to think they own the word Camden or perhaps they thought people would buy it thinking it was brewed by themselves rather than the good people at Weird Beard.  They should be so lucky.  I can assure the good people at Camden Town brewery that I bought this beer knowing it was brewed by Weird Beard and NOT by them.  I also take offence at any large company bullying smaller competitors.  Sadly, Weird Beard are a new brewery and could not afford the cost of fighting this in court and the name has since been changed to Kentish Town BearD.  As a consumer I will vote with my pocket and continue to enjoy Weird Beard beers and avoid the bully boys of Camden Town.  As a footnote to this I find it amusing that some Camden Town beers are not brewed in Camden as mentioned in a recent post from renowned beer writers Boak and Bailey.  Read here for details.  So who is misleading the customer?  

Enough of all this childishness.  What about the beer I hear you ask.  It is described as an American wheat beer which gives it a deep golden cloudy appearance.  It had a nice frothy head and a superb fruity aroma.  There was a slight wince as I took the first sip as I detected some sourness to the taste which I tend to find with wheat beers but this quickly disappeared to leave a lovely dry bitterness with strong grapefruit and orange notes.  The beer is hopped with the American hop varieties Willamette, Centennial and Cascade and it is dry hopped with more of the same.  The bitterness increases down the glass with some spicy notes springing up too such as coriander.  This is an excellent beer for which I awarded a score of 8/10.  If you like intensely bitter beers with a bit of an interesting twist then this is definitely for you.            

Finally we have Hit The Lights.  Holy Hoppin' Heaven this is without doubt the best beer I have tasted this year and, if you include all the beers I tasted last year, it would still probably come out on top.  It is described on the label as a mixed up IPA and it comes in at a robust 6.3% ABV.  It is brewed with the English Target hop and the Slovenian Aurora hop.  This beer is fruity and spicy with lots of peach and pineapple notes up front and in the aroma.  The flavours progress to pine with a spicy bitterness in the finish.  As you drink more you get grapefruit coming through too with more and more bitterness mixing with the smooth fruity hoppy feel which has clung to your taste buds from the first sip.  I adore this beer.  I must buy more of it.  There is no need to tell you that this beer gets top marks from me.           

That brings my Weird Beard taste test to an end.  I love their beers, I love their brand and I will seek out more from them without doubt.  I urge you to check them out for yourself.  You won't be disappointed.   


Monday, 3 February 2014

Four beers from Scotland

I have always found Scottish beers to be a bit of a mixed bag.  That is changing thanks to some exciting new breweries opening up North of the border and I now actively seek out Scottish beers to try.  This post was going to be a review of dark Scottish beers but I've decided to pop in an extra one as a bonus as it leads in to my next post in a very tenuous way.

March of the Penguins - Williams Brothers 4.9% ABV (Beer Hawk £1.99)

Firstly, let me say I do actually think this is a crap name for a beer.  It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue but at least the label looks good.  I became aware of Williams Brothers last year via their excellent entries in the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt.  This beer is described as a smooth creamy stout and that is spot on.  The tan frothy head contrasts beautifully with the jet black colour making it look instantly appealing.  I've started liking my stouts on the strong side but this one is just under the 5.0% ABV mark and for that it is still very full-bodied and full of flavour.  What I particularly like about this stout is the very dry coffee bitter finish.  The aroma is the usual roasted malts and the initial taste is so smooth and malty with dark chocolate and liquorice notes to the fore before the dry bitterness kicks in at the finish.  A truly lovely stout that I award 9/10.    

Black Cuillin - Isle of Skye 4.5% ABV (Beer Hawk £2.49)

This is a much better name for a beer.  The Cuillin is the range of rocky mountains on the Isle of Skye and there is both a Black Cuillin and a Red Cuillin.  There is a beer for each and both are lovely.  This particular beer looks like a traditional stout but the head is slightly whiter reminiscent of snowy peaks on top of the black rocky outcrops.  This beer is also smooth and rich but there the similarity to March of the Penguins ends.  There isn't a strong aroma with this beer and the initial taste is malty and biscuity.  There is Scottish oatmeal in here and a bit of honey thrown in which is probably why the finish is smooth and sweet.  There is some spiciness in the finish also which I like a lot.  To me this beer epitomises what has always been good about Scottish beers.  A nice complex dark ale full of a malty and biscuity character.  This beer gets a score of 8/10 from me.    

Old Engine Oil - Harviestoun 6.0% ABV (Beer Hawk £2.19)

I find it hard to believe but I do not remember ever having tried this beer.  I may be wrong but the question is how could I forget such a fantastic beer.  As I am talking about beer names (good and bad) today I must say the name of this beer is perfect.  It does have a certain rich viscosity to it and once poured it has a nice modest head.  It has an aroma of rich vinous fruits with a subtle smokiness.  There is a noticeable smoky character in the initial taste too but this quickly disappears to give way to a rich sweetness of blackberries, chocolate and red grape.  The finish is bittersweet with the sweetness being balanced by a bitter chocolate character.  My only disappointment is that it comes in a 330ml bottle as I wanted more of it because this beer gets better and better as you drink it.  This is the best of the three dark beers reviewed here and it gets top marks from me.  10/10.               

Hardcore IPA - Brewdog 9.2% ABV (Beer Hawk £3.49)

This has been sitting in my box of beers for quite some time and after having a Punk IPA one lunchtime I decided to crack it open and compare it to that.  It is darker in colour to the Punk but the fruity hoppy aroma is similar.  However, I struggled to enjoy this beer.  There are some complex flavours in here with pine, caramel, passion fruit, mango and pineapple to name just a few but there is too much alcohol in here which overpowers everything.  This harsh alcoholic undercurrent to it along with a cloying sweetness makes it a beer I won't be returning to.  The Punk IPA is a lovely bottled beer and I will stick to that one from now.  This one is just a little too 'hardcore' for me and it gets a 5/10.      

It was Burns Night that got me started on this Scottish quartet and the three dark beers reviewed here would all make a decent pairing to haggis.  The oaty, biscuity notes from the Black Cuillin would get my vote for the perfect accompaniment though.  Give it a try next year.