Monday, 31 March 2014

Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival Spring 2014

Twice a year Wetherspoons put on a festival of 50 beers over the course of a couple of weeks with brewers from all over the world popping over to some of our regional brewers to brew one of their beers over here for us to pass judgement over.  This first festival of 2014 is no different with brewers from Australia, South Africa, Norway, USA, Canada, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand taking part this year alongside 40 beers from all over the UK.  I'm sure I won't get to sample each beer but I'll give it a good go and I will be updating this post after each visit to a local 'Spoons to pass my verdict on each beer.  

Update 6 - Wednesday 9th April

I have a sort of love / hate relationship with Wetherspoons.  Familiarity breeds contempt and I must confess I am now sick of them and I am sick of drinking half pints following too many recent visits.  Because of that this may well be my last update but if that is the case I at least went out on a high.  I have a long list of things I want to write about and pubs I want to visit so it is time to bring this particular 'spoons fest to a close and move on.      

Nogne O Brown Ale (4.5% ABV)

This is one beer I have been hoping to find and lo and behold here it is.  Edvard Hortemo of Nogne travelled to Batemans for this one.  I am a big fan of the bottled beers from this Norwegian brewer so have high hopes for this one especially as it has been recommended by my favourite beer blogger, BeersManchester, in his post which chronicled his visit to his local 'spoons last weekend.  Read this here.  The beer has a lovely deep chestnut hue to it and the malty caramel notes were quickly buried underneath an intense dry spicy bitterness which produced a lovely long finish.  The malty sweetness does return as you proceed down the glass with hints of bonfire toffee coming through but it is the dry spicy bitterness that makes this one a winner and gives it a score of 8/10.  A lovely beer.  

Growler Hell Hound (4.9% ABV)

I think this beer has been badly named.  There is nothing hellish about this one although it does have quite a bite to it after you get past the initial flavours which were quite floral and not without the odd hint of citrussy lemon.  Once the malty biscuity base kicks in, the hops begin to provide a peppery middle before I got a somewhat woody bitterness which led straight in to a traditionally English smooth bitter finish with hints of spice.  It is overall a lovely, quite complex bitter from a brewery I am rarely disappointed with.  This one also scores a 8/10 from me.  As a footnote to this I was disappointed to learn that the brewery is struggling currently and is up for sale.  Let's hope a buyer is found.         

Lancaster Raspberry Rose (4.2% ABV)

I've haven't tried too much from Lancaster brewery although I do remember having a nice pint of their blonde (4.1% ABV) last year.  I wasn't keen to try this beer though as I am not a fan of sweet fruit beers although one or two have been ok.  This one to me tasted like flat weak fizzy pop.  Raspberry soda watered down with very little beery qualities to it at all really.  Both the aroma and the taste was dominated by the inclusion of raspberries in the mix and this is one beer I would not wish to try again.  It didn't taste awful or anything but to me it did not taste like beer and that is that so a score of 4/10.  I'll never judge on a brewery on their fruit beers though so it certainly hasn't put me off Lancaster.         

Fuller's Brit Hop (4.1% ABV)

This one comes as a bit of a bonus because I was mistakenly told this beer was off when I arrived at the pub but the manager came over and offered me this free sample afterwards so I'll include it.  Some of my local CAMRA friends have a bit of a downer about Fullers but I think they produce a lot of good beers.  I was interested to read that this 'hop fest' is a collaboration with a favourite Cumbrian micro of mine, Hardknott Brewery. It is a blend of no less than eight English hops and these combine to provide a pale refreshing bitter with floral, earthy, citrussy and grassy notes.  The whole mix works surprisingly well and the finish is both refreshing and smooth.  I would definitely enjoy a full pint of this one if it ever reappears.  I scored it 8/10.           

Update 5 - Monday 7th April

Back in my usual seat at the Hatters for another tasting session so here we go.

Caledonian Port of Leith IPA (5.0% ABV)

Caledonian are a regular brewer in these festivals and this time they also played host to the brewers from South Africa who produced the African Pale Ale I sampled on day one of the festival.  This certainly beats that effort.  It has a nice copper colour to it and a fruity aroma.  The caramel from the malts and the fruity Styrian Golding and Super Styrian hops combine to give a bittersweet finish.  There were earthy notes mixed in with some apricot and peach sweetness.  Not a bad effort at all and I would give it a 6/10.        

Cigar City Siren's Song Session IPA (5.0% ABV)

This next beer is from another international brewer.  Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing travelled all the way from sunny Florida to Wychwood Brewery and the Oxfordshire brewer has probably never seen so many hops go into a beer.  Centennial, Citra, Colombus, Mosaic and Summit have all been chucked in to create a hoppy mix of grapefruit, pine and earthy notes.  The blurb mentions orange and tropical fruit notes but these are difficult to decipher over the more citrussy, resinous and earthier flavours.  I'd have liked a full pint of this one and I'm wavering between a 7 and an 8 here.  The dry and bitter finish was excellent so I'll give it an 8/10.            

Hildegard's Solange (6.0% ABV)

Finally today we have a strong saison-style beer brewed by Belgian brewster Hildegard Van Ostaden who visited Leciestershire brewer Everards.  If all saisons tasted like this I'd probably drink more of them.  It has a pleasing straw coloured appearance and an aroma that give hints of summer meadows.  It is floral and mellow with a soft and gentle bitterness.  The more bitter and grassier notes are to the fore before leading into a mellower dry refreshing finish.  There is just a hint of tartness that I normally associate with saisons but very little and it is just enough to give it a pleasant edge and for a 6.0% beer it does slip down relatively easily.  This one had me wavering on the scores too but I preferred the Cigar City so this one gets a score of a 7/10.          

Update 4 - Friday 4th April

Today I was back in my favourite local 'Spoons, The Hatters, but they obviously charged me the wrong price for a half last time as they were now back up to a pound.  Nothing else to say about the pub today except that it was busy as always on a Friday lunchtime.  Without further ado let's get supping.

Brains White Out (4.0% ABV)

This was described as a naturally cloudy beer but it was actually pretty clear and very pale.  Supposedly brewed in the style of a Belgian wit beer, it certainly bore little resemblance to a Hoegaarden White.  It was much less aromatic although there were hints of coriander and sour oranges perhaps along with some subtle floral notes.  What it did have was a lovely dry spicy bitter finish which gave it quite a pleasant bite at the end.  This beer is certainly worthy of a score of 7/10.                       

Banks's Czech Mate (4.4% ABV)

I can't say I ever get excited about Banks's beers but this one was surprisingly smooth.  This beer has been brewed with two new Czech varieties along with an established classic (Saaz).  There are plenty of floral, lemony notes from the hops.  These give way to a few woody, earthy notes which try to force their way in before it all subsides into a smooth beer that has quite a low bitterness in the finish.  This is easily drinkable and not too bad at all so it gets a 6/10.        

Beer Studio Dark Odyssey (4.4% ABV)

So here we have another established family brewer creating a 'craft' range.  Hydes moved to new site in Salford in 2012 after brewing on their previous site for over 120 years.  The Beer Studio name is a range of beers using rare hops and malts and which are marketed separately.  This very dark beer is brewed using as yet unnamed hops and this was one beer I was looking forward to trying.  This beer was full of interesting flavours with liquorice to the fore and a spicy middle of caramel and chocolate.  In the finish there was bitterness with strong black treacle notes.  It wasn't particularly smooth or overly rich but there was lots of complexity in the flavour.  I think I'd have enjoyed a pint of this one and it scores a 7/10.             

Klosterbrauerei Scheyern Klosterbock (6.5% ABV)

I have not been a particular fan of bock beers in the past so I approached this one cautiously.  German brewer Tobias Huber travelled to Wadworth Brewery to create this one.  It has a lovely reddish-brown colour and the blurb describes it as a complex beer with hints of ripe fruit, coffee and fine tobacco.  I'm not sure what 'fine' tobacco would taste like but I could detect none of that really except for the ripe fruits.  It had a lovely malt character to it with plenty of caramel and spicy complexity.  I also had hints of bubble gum strangely but everything was finely balanced with nothing particularly dominating.  This beer is certainly worthy of a 8/10 as it just about topped the other three in this session.     

Update 3 - Tuesday 1st April

OK it is April Fools Day but surely the beers should not reflect the date.  A CAMRA social took us to three pubs last night and although quite a few of us detest the 'Spoons in Chichester we included it as there is a beer festival on.  It was fairly quiet and the younger crowd were easily getting served ahead of the older clientele at the bar although with just two bar staff running around it's a good job it wasn't really busy and I only had to wait five minutes to get served.  At least us older people did not have to show our ID to get in so we could bypass the queue of students.  

The Chichester premium was out in force again.  The festival pints are £2.35 compared  to £1.99 down the road in Bognor and the staff had no idea what to charge for a half so the two halves cost me £2.35 which is fair enough but a bit different to the price reduction I was getting in Bognor (see below).  With a couple of halves in hand I joined the other CAMRA guys and it was immediately apparent the beers were not going down too well and they were already planning on moving on to the final pub where Dark Star Seville and Burning Sky Plateau was available.  Here's my quick appraisal then of the two from last night.

Elgoods Plum Porter (4.5% ABV)

This beer was supposed to have an enticing fruit aroma according to the blurb but I wanted to run a mile from it.  Medicinal would  be more accurate.  I generally like Elgoods beers and I was expecting this one to be quite interesting but it did not work for me.  There was a coffee bitterness clashing with plum pudding in quite a harsh way and the finish was dry and confused.  I don't think I could have finished a whole pint of this one and I would mark it 4/10.    

Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA (6.5% ABV)

I had been forewarned about this one as none of my CAMRA friends had enjoyed it.  Added to the fact that I don't drink tea this one was not looking good and indeed it wasn't smelling too pleasant either.  It had quite a complex aroma in fact with a little hoppy sweetness, some citrus notes and I could smell the infusion of tea too.  The boys from New Zealand had travelled all the way to Adnams in Southwold to produce this one.  Adnams could well be described as my favourite brewer but next time someone suggests bringing tea leaves into the building perhaps they should politely decline.  Very floral to the extent of it being overpowering and the underlying sweetness was never allowed to come to the fore and the citrussy notes from the aroma never showed at all in the taste.  Another beer that did not work for me and I scored this one 5/10.

Update 2 - Monday 31st March

The beer festival pints are all just just £1.99 at the Hatters in Bognor Regis which is 30p per pint less than Chichester I think.  You do however get the view of the cathedral while you sup your beer in Chichester so it must be worth the premium surely!  The Hatters is such a better pub however so to get a cheaper pint is the icing on the cake.  To make it even better, the cost of a half pint is just 90p so go figure that one out.  Today I tried three halves and they were all pretty good to be honest.   

Wharfe Bank Black Geld (4.5% ABV)

The session began with this inviting black IPA from this excellent West Yorkshire brewer.  Not as strong as the black IPAs I've had before and it certainly wasn't as rich but there was a distinct fruity hoppy taste to it followed by a dry bitter finish with hints of toast.  The hops in this beer are Cascade, Chinook and Polaris and they certainly provide a good balance to the roasted malts.  This one scores 7/10 from me.     

Wadworth Crimson Dawn (4.5% ABV)

I always find Wadworth's beers to have a distinct malty taste to them and this beer is no exception.  This bock-style beer has a nice rich red colour to it and the sweet malty flavours are well balanced here by a very pleasant spicy hoppiness from the Saaz and Saphir varieties.  The spicy bitterness is very long and dry in the finish and extremely pleasant.  This is a very nice beer which picks up an 8/10 from me.   

Mateo & Bernabe Fermin Red Ale (5.8% ABV)

Spanish brewer Alberto Pacheco travelled to Shepherd Neame in Kent to recreate this one.  The blurb describes this beer as having an intense red colour.  Well to me it is light brown.  It has a sweetness in the aroma that comes through into the taste along with a rich spiciness that makes me think of mince pies and sherry.  It comes in at 5.8% ABV and it certainly does pack a punch.  There are some rich fruits here but it is not too sweet and it is a very pleasant beer that would go down well after a meal.  I award it a 7/10 but it came very close to my bronze award.      

Update 1 - Friday March 27th

The Dolphin and Anchor is a pretty dreadful pub but my wife was in Chichester so that's where we agreed to meet up so I could sample the first of my festival beers.

Driftwood Pale Ale (5.0% ABV)

Driftwood Brewing Company from Canada visited Thwaites Brewery to produce this beer and my half pint did look a bit cloudy.  It was the first day of the festival and perhaps they hadn't let it settle long enough.  Anyway, it tasted great and my wife thought so too.  This light golden beer was floral, fruity (both citrussy and tropical) and a little woody with pine and elderflower notes evident with a nice dry hoppy finish.  This one is definitely worth an 8/10.

Standeaven African Pale Ale (4.2% ABV)

The second beer enjoyed in this lunchtime session came from South African brewer Standeaven who visited Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh.  My wife didn't like this one but was unsure of what it tasted like except to say it was something not very nice.  It was OK but it had a bit of a spicy tang to it that dominated over some fruity hoppy notes and a malty base but I could not detect any grapefruit notes as described in the festival blurb. It looked more inviting than the Driftwood Pale as it was nice and clear with a rich copper colour to it but it failed in the taste for me and I give it a 5/10.  

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Beer and Dieting Week 12

I've decided that Wednesday is not a good day for my weekly weigh-in due to my Tuesday evening visit to the pub and this week it was a trip down to Dorchester to celebrate my mate's birthday.  I've therefore extended my diet by a day and week 12 has become an 8-day week.  Despite this extension, week 12 was my lowest weight-loss so far as I only lost a quarter pound.  Added to the 2.25lb from the previous week my total weight loss is now 23.75lbs.  With 5 weeks to go I still need to lose 1.25lb each week to reach my target.  Next week I hope to fall below the 14 stone mark for the first time in over a decade.  My diet hasn't really changed much at all during the past 12 weeks.  Cereal for breakfast (sultana bran) , a sandwich or similar at lunchtime and a healthy evening meal such as a stir-fry with a bit of fruit for snacks now and again.  And beer of course.  It really has been quite simple.

So what delightful cask beers have I found in the past couple of weeks?  After my first visit to The Belle Isle, Chichester, a couple of weeks ago I popped in again (and again) and I enjoyed a couple of refreshing citrussy pints from two breweries based in Cheshire.  The Offbeat Outlandish Pale at 3.6% ABV was very pale in colour and was cool, refreshing and lemony.  There wasn't a massive amount of bitterness to it but it was a very decent pint.  It was not as good as the lovely Redwillow Mirthless (3.9% ABV) though which was much more flavoursome and bursting with a grapefruit and lemon citrus tang with a beautiful dry bitter finish.

Someone must have been busy bringing Redwillow beers down south recently as I then popped into my local, The Inglenook Hotel, Nyetimber, a few days later and found their Sleepless on the bar.  This 5.4% ABV red ale appeared quite murky but it certainly passed the taste test.  There was plenty going on with this beer with some strong tropical fruit hoppiness alongside some spicy malty undertones and an earthy bitterness in the finish.  More Redwillow down here will be more than welcome.

Beer from the excellent Roosters Brewery from Yorkshire have also appeared on the bar in both the Inglenook and The Belle Isle in the past couple of weeks and I particularly enjoyed a pint of their Liberator (4.8% ABV).  There were plenty of fruity hoppy notes in this inviting golden ale coming from five different hop varieties and there was a gorgeous lasting bitter finish.  Very close to perfection.          

Closer to home my local 'Spoons, The Hatters Inn, has begun a strong LocAle policy and for some reason I found myself in there a few times in the past couple of weeks.  The superb black IPA from one of my favourites local brewers, Langhams, was available.  On this particular occasion the Black Swallow (6.0% ABV) wasn't quite as hoppy as I remember it from last time with much more chocolate malty notes coming through in the finish making for a very smooth dark bitter with a spicy hoppy bite to it in the initial taste.  Also from Langham I got to try their LSD (5.2% ABV) for the first time on draught.  Langham Special Draught is quite a complex beer with rich malty notes balanced by slightly floral and fruity notes.

The other local brewer I got to experience a couple of beers from at the Hatters was Goldmark.  The Goldmark Classic Bitter (4.5% ABV) has a rich malty character with caramel notes to the fore and balanced by quite a dry sweet bitterness in the finish.  More to my taste is their pale Hop Idol (3.7% ABV) which is quite a hopfest with plenty of floral and zingy citrussy hop flavours swirling around.            

The CAMRA social took us out to deepest Sussex to visit a couple of country pubs just outside the small town of Midhurst.  I was the driver on this occasion so I could not grumble and groan about the choice of Youngs Bitter or Doom Bar at the Country Inn, Bepton.  This lovely village pub was packed to the rafters for a crib night but it had a disappointing beer selection and I have it on good authority that the Youngs Bitter was extremely poor and not as good as the diet coke I enjoyed.  The second pub, the Hamilton Arms at Stedham, is run by a Thai family and incorporates an excellent Thai restaurant.  This friendly pub had a good choice of LocAles featuring Arundel's Sussex Gold (4.2% ABV) and Dark Star's Hophead (3.9% ABV).  I had a half of each and both were extremely pleasant.  This was my first visit to both of these pubs and the latter is a pub that I will look to visit again.

I crossed the county border into Surrey for a change the week before last.  The Crown Inn, Chiddingfold, is a very old pub located in the centre of the village overlooking the green and across the road from the church.  They had a range of fairly standard national brands but I spied a Long Man Best Bitter (4.0% ABV) which was a lovely malty English bitter full of rich caramel along with some orange spicy bitter notes.  It was a spur of the moment visit which rewarded me with an excellent pint.

My trip down to Dorchester on Tuesday night was a little disappointing in terms of beer.  Dorchester is dominated by Marston's pubs with a proliferation of Ringwood beers which I wanted to avoid so we began the evening with food and a pint in the Royal Oak, the local 'Spoons.  The Conwy Infusion (3.9% ABV) was a delight and the best pint of the evening.  Quite a dry floral, fruity bitterness to this one making it a very smooth session ale and a perfect start to the evening.  One of our meals came with a free drink so we chose a can of the Sixpoint Bengali Tiger (6.4% ABV) to share.  This strong American pale ale is bursting with tropical fruits and I loved it immensely.  I'm glad I finally got to try one of these cans from this American craft brewer as everyone seems to love them.  Easy to see why.  

From the Royal Oak we headed for the GBG-listed Colliton Club, a members club which allows entry to CAMRA members.  The St Austell Dartmoor Best (3.5% ABV) was a bland and forgettable brown bitter.  My friend was not impressed with the Tribute (4.2% ABV) which surprised me so I gave it a taste and thought it was pretty good with a nice citrussy hoppiness evident.  Each to their own I guess.

The Blue Raddle was the next stop.  This superb friendly free house usually has a decent beer selection.  I tried a pint of Dartmoor IPA (4.0% ABV) which looked inviting but there was very little taste to it.  There was a slight fruity and floral bitterness evident but it was quite hard to detect.  It was nice to have the drink served in the appropriate glass though.

My mate chose the better beer this time with a Salisbury English Ale (4.1% ABV) which was quite a smooth malty beer with plenty of rich toffee notes.  When we moved to pub number 4, Goldies, the same beer was available here too so I went for it this time while my mate had the Town Mill Best (4.5% ABV).  However, the beer bore no relation to how it tasted at the Blue Raddle.  It didn't taste off but it didn't taste right either.  In the end I had to leave it as Tom Browns was calling me.  Tom Browns is the premier pub in Dorchester.  In addition to the full range of beers from Dorset Brewing Company there were two Dark Star beers available and I encouraged my mate to try a pint of their Original (5.0% ABV).  I chose a pint of Augustinian Ale (4.5% ABV) from the Growler brewery, a complex amber ale with plenty of malt character and an underlying spicy bitterness.  This was an excellent end to the evening for both of us.

The next two weeks will probably be dominated by the Wetherspoons Beer Festival for which I have the programme of beers sitting in front of me.  Plenty of interesting ales to look forward to.  


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Yorkshire Ales Part 1 - Revolutions Brewing Company

A few weeks ago I placed my first order with Yorkshire Ales.  Ordering was simple, prices were good and the delivery was prompt.  All I could wish for really.  Yorkshire Ales do what they say - they sell Yorkshire ales.  Yorkshire now has a vast number of micro breweries so the selection is vast and Yorkshire Ales do what they do very well indeed.

The problem with beer reviewing is how to make it interesting in some way so faced with 20+ beers I tried to come up with something different and being the competitive type I hit on the idea of reviewing a different brewery each week.  This was helped by the fact that I had ordered three beers from most of the breweries I wanted to try.  To make it a little different I would award a mark for each brewery based on their appeal with regards to their labelling and branding too so the final score would be a mark out of 40.      
I began my journey across Yorkshire in the famous rugby league town of Castleford.  I'm old enough to remember watching Floodlit Rugby League on BBC2 every Tuesday evening.  Never understood what the hell was going on but Eddie Waring always made it sound exciting.  Revolutions Brewing Company began brewing in 2010 and their beers pay homage to music from the 70s and 80s rather than rugby league however.  I have never tried any beer from this brewer before so here we go.

Atomic Blonde (4.5% ABV)

'Tonight make it magnificent,
Tonight, Make me tonight'.

All of the beer strengths relate to music as it used to be played on cassette or record and this is the first of two 45rpm beers I picked up.  Blondie were huge in the 1970s and I loved them although Atomic was pretty dire.  The beer is a golden pale ale but they haven't quite made it magnificent.  There are plenty of citrussy lemon notes and a nice gentle dry bitter finish with some soft floral notes.  It is very crisp and refreshing but for me there is not enough bitterness in there.  A perfectly fine session ale for the spring or summer months though and it gets a 6/10 from me.  My wife described this one as 'bland'.

Clash London Porter (4.5% ABV)

'The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in,
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin,
Engines stop running, but I have no fear,
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river'

London Calling is still one of my favourite albums of all time and certainly the best album to come out of the punk revolution.  Like the album, the beer is moreish and complex.  My wife only gets one sip and it gets a 'not great' verdict here.  The aroma is more London smog than anything else but the taste is certainly a clash of the sweet and the bitter.  Blackcurrant notes mix with coffee and neither really dominate.  Sweet rich dark berry flavours keep cropping up too but the underlying bitterness keeps holding on.  It is quite moreish and the finish is quite smooth but there is not quite enough body in there to raise it any higher for me and I score it a 7/10.

Manifesto (6.0% ABV)

For those of you too young to remember, cassette tapes came in formats C30, C60 and C90.  There was also a C120 too I think but they always broke easily.  This strong stout is part of Revolutions 'C' Series and the strength obviously pays homage to the C60.  The aroma is very smoky but there is also some sweetness there too so I wasn't sure what to expect from the taste.  My wife tried it first as always and 'that's disgusting - smoky bacon crisps and stale ashtrays' was the comment.  Interesting.  It was certainly quite smoky and bitter to begin with but the sweetness did kick in and the flavours soon smoothed themselves out.  The bitterness was more coffee than tobacco though and it did disperse to leave quite a smooth stout with plum, rasin and vanilla notes joining the party.  The sweetness seeps slowly into the fray and by the end the bitter coffee start is nearly forgotten about.  It is interesting how that first sip can be so misleading.  This is a difficult one to mark and it is very close to my bronze award but not quite there so it also gets a 7/10.

My final mark is for the branding.  I love the retro theme with the musical references and being from that era probably helps with me.  The logo is cool and their slogan 'Love Music :  Love Beer' is simple and effective.  I'm not sure how restrictive it is having only certain beer strengths and from their website there is a distinct dominance of 4.5% ABV beers and I would like to see one or two 7.8% ABV beers in there.  It is great branding though and my overall mark in this category is 8/10.

My 'Come Drink With Me' Yorkshire Ales fest is off and running and Revolutions Brewing Company post a score of 28/40.  Coming up next week we have three from Axholme Brewing Company.     


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review of Durham Brewery beers

If you are of a certain age you might remember the joke 'Where does the Pink Panther come from?'  I guess that means Durham must be the Pink Panther's favourite brewery too (if you don't understand this joke ask someone who used to watch the TV show to hum the tune to you and they will be singing Dur-Rum to you over and over again).  When it comes to bottled beers they are in a league of their own as far as I'm concerned.  My mother-in-law bought me a mixed case of their bottles for Christmas this year and it included some old classics I have reviewed elsewhere (click here to read about my absolute faves) along with a number of their beers I was yet to try.  After slowly working my way through the old favourites I now bring you the final five which I have not reviewed before.  Enjoy. 

Magus (3.8% ABV)

All my Durham favourites are well in excess of 6.0% ABV so how do they do when it comes to something that doesn't attack your brain cells with quite such force?  This very pale ale is a delightfully crisp floral bitter with strong lemon notes before it gives way to a slightly earthy bitter finish.  The hops in this beer come from all over with some American, Czech, German, Slovenian and English varieties present.  There are also some lager malts in here and it all adds up to an interesting refreshing tasty bitter that slips down very easily.  A good start and a score of 8/10 is awarded to this one.        

Cloister (4.5% ABV)

This premium bitter is looking a bit blurred below for which I apologise.  The aroma has faint hints of grapefruit and orange.  Yet again we have a mix of Czech, American and English hops which has created a premium bitter that is far from ordinary.  I detected quite a sweetness in there of tangerine and peach yet the finish was dry with a spicy bitterness.  It has a lovely zingy mouthfeel to it and the complexity results in a beer full of character and taste.  This one gets a 9/10 from me.   

Evensong (5.0% ABV)

The recipe for this traditional Ruby Ale goes back to 1937 and it is described as a cross between a bitter and an old ale.  In the glass it looked a bit murky and uninviting I must confess.  Brewed with five malts and traditional English hops Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger it has a somewhat malty aroma bringing out visions of dark winter nights.  I actually detected very little bitterness in this one.  There were strong cherry notes to the front and quite a bit of treacle toffee in the middle which stayed into the finish.  When it comes to drinking this kind of beer I probably prefer it to be a bit richer and stronger.  However, it is a very nice beer that is once again full of character and complexity.  This one gets a 7/10.      

St Cuthbert (6.5% ABV)

I now come to the final two heavyweights.  This golden beer is described as a special India Pale Ale and it really should be my kind of beer.  The aroma is quite light and floral and the first taste is quite rich and spicy with plenty of rich fleshy fruits such as peach mixing with a citrussy orange twang.  There is a dry subtle bitterness in there that takes over towards the end leaving a nice dry bitter aftertaste.  It is a lovely beer with plenty of complexity but I am not sure what hops are in this one as the website doesn't say and whilst I could make one or two guesses I won't embarrass myself.  The beer scores a strong 9/10 from me.        

Benedictus (8.4% ABV)

This is the one I've been looking forward to all weekend and it is the only beer from Durham Brewery in the excellent Roger Protz book '300 More Beers To Try Before You Die'.  I must begin though with a tragic story as the beer gushed out a little and flooded the worktop so my 500ml was reduced to about 400ml.  It's that lively Durham yeast again!  This beer is described as a barley wine.  Barley wines seem to be a thing of the past but this bears all the hallmarks of what I expect from this beer style.  It has a rich chestnut colour and it smells strong to begin with.  You know this is going to have to be consumed slowly.  The flavour is amazingly complex with orange, ginger, cinnamon along with plenty of caramel and richer fruitier notes such as peach.  There was even a bit of creamy butterscotch in the finish too along with a little spicy bitterness.  For such a strong beer it doesn't really taste strongly of alcohol which I like about it.  Yes it tastes strong but the flavours are allowed to shine through.  This is a classic barley wine and I really love this beer and it gets top marks from me.

This selection of five more Durham Brewery beers leaves them far out in front when it comes to my favourite brewer of bottled beers.  Each one is a beer of great character and complexity with rich and varied flavours coming through in each one.  Search high and low for them and try them for yourself.  


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Beer and Dieting Week 10

This latest update is the tale of two very different weeks.  Week 9 was good with a further two pounds shed but week 10 has been a struggle.  This wasn't helped by Shrove Tuesday and these little beauties below were hugely enjoyed.  This resulted in only three quarters of a pound falling off in week 10 which I think is the first week in which I haven't managed to lose at least a pound.  However, my total weight loss is now 21.25 pounds so with 7 weeks to go I have just 8.75 pounds left to lose.  

Last week also wasn't helped by my first visit to The Belle Isle bar in Chichester.  This cafe/bar/restaurant has been open for well over a year I think and I wrongly assumed that it was a typical restaurant bar.  How wrong could I have been.  The CAMRA guys in Chichester have been raving about the place for a few months now saying how great the beer selection there has been and it has been on my list of places to try for quite some time.  Last Wednesday I checked it out and I was hugely impressed.  The menu is tex mex (fajitas, burritos, nachos) meets English cafe (beans on toast, fish finger sandwich) meets American diner (jerk chicken, Alabama hotpot).  I ordered some honey soy chicken wings and they were superb.  It is not just somewhere to eat though as I discovered.  The vast floorspace means they are quite happy for customers to just go in and enjoy a drink with or without a snack.  The three handpumps are constantly offering different beers from some of the very best micros from across the country.  When I visited I enjoyed an Atom Pale Ale (4.0% ABV) and an Ilkley Olicana Pale (4.2% ABV), both from Yorkshire.  The Atom Pale Ale has quite a fruity hoppy taste with a dryish bitter finish whereas the Olicana Pale is quite floral with an underlying dry bitterness with some peppery spicy notes in the finish.  The third beer available was a house beer brewed by new Dorset micro Sunny Republic.  I simply must try this pacific pale ale when I next visit.  The bar sits across the road from the worst Wetherspoons in the UK so faced with these two choices there really is no contest.  The Belle Isle will be a regular destination for me from now on.

The beer highlight of the past fortnight was a visit to the excellent Sussex CAMRA Branches Beer & Cider Festival held in Hove.  Many wonderful beers were enjoyed and this event was reviewed in a separate post and can be read by clicking here.  This latest two week period began though with a drive out to the tiny hamlet of Heyshott where the Unicorn Inn sits at the foot of the South Downs.  A steep climb will take you to the South Downs Way and the Unicorn is a popular watering hole for walkers.  Here I enjoyed a quite magnificent pint of Triple fff Moondance (4.2% ABV).  This beer has always been a favourite but on this particular occasion it was just perfect.  It is a tangy citrussy beer with plenty of flavour before leading on to a lovely long dry bitter finish.

Another drive out took me to Farnham and a chance to visit my favourite pub from the Surrey/Hants Borders CAMRA branch LocAle Trail I completed last year.  Here I picked up a copy of the branch magazine which I was delighted to see contained the first extract from my blog.  The full blog post can be viewed by clicking here.  Very amusing to see myself described as a 'prolific beer writer'.  I think they have me mixed up with someone else!!  The Jolly Sailor is a cracking pub slightly out of the centre of town.  It is a Greene King pub that sells a great range of guest beers and most of these are from local micros.  I went further afield and tried a pint of the Elgoods CXXX (4.2% ABV).  This special ale had a deep rich chestnut colour to it and a lovely malty taste which made a nice change from all the hoppy beers I've been having recently.  It was very drinkable and one worth checking out.         

Back closer to home, my local pub The Inglenook has been serving some superb high strength hoppy beers as usual.  I had a lovely pint of Wreckless (4.8% ABV) from the Macclesfield micro Redwillow.  This was my first taste from this brewery and I was very impressed.  It has both Citra and Amarillo hops but these are kept in check by a dry biscuity malty base before you get a nice crisp bitter finish with tropical fruits.  Equally impressive was the Pale Ale No.5 (6.0% ABV) from Cornwall's Harbour Brewing Co.  This distinctive pale ale had an initial earthy bitterness followed by a refreshing citrussy middle with some melon notes before giving way to a pleasant dry bitter finish.            

My best beer of the week came on Monday when I spied on the bar the Lotus IPA (5.6% ABV) from the Ilkley Brewery.  This was my third Ilkley beer of the week and I was in heaven.  I have had this before in a bottle and I instantly fell in love with it so to find this on cask was fantastic.  This golden IPA is packed with hops giving lots of citrussy and tropical fruit flavours that swirl around your mouth exciting every single tastebud.  The finish is dry and long and this is without doubt a 10/10 beer for me.  I love it.

Ten weeks of dieting has not seen any reduction in my drinking pleasure.  The past two weeks has seen me attend an excellent beer festival as well as enjoying more superb beers in some tremendous pubs.  Long may it continue.


Monday, 10 March 2014

Confused Beer Colours

Beer colours are simple really aren't they?  IPAs are pale (the clue is in the name), stouts and porters are black and the rest are somewhere in between.  Now of course life ain't so simple.  IPAs are becoming black and I've now tried my first pale stout.  Time to give these confused beers a bit of a review I think.    

Kernel - Black IPA (6.5% ABV)

It was only last year that I tried by first black IPA.  We all know what the 'P' stands for in IPA so it does of course make the term something of a misnomer so perhaps they should be renamed IBAs.  That begs the question as to whether the beers exported to India were ever black so why use the term at all?  HBBs may be better.  Hoppy Black Beers.  Whatever you call them, black IPAs are becoming quite popular as many of the new micros can't brew anything without chucking in tons of hops (hallelujah to that).

I seem to love everything from the Kernel Brewery.  I love the simplicity of the brown wrapping paper labels and I particularly love their hoppy IPAs and the fact that they are continually experimenting with different hop combinations.  This black IPA comes with Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook and Zeus hop varieties so very much an American Pale Ale and you can certainly smell the sweetness of these hops.  However, the taste is much more complex and there are stout-like notes in there initially such as liquorice and caramel.  The whole thing is very rich and full-bodied and very smooth.  The fruity hops kick in later to give a somewhat bittersweet finish.  These fruit flavours increase to such an extent you could think you are drinking a fruit juice in the last gulp as the bitterness has all but disappeared.  All in all I would describe it as a confused and complex APA.  My wife liked it which is unusual as she normally wouldn't enjoy a hoppy American Pale Ale but she does enjoy the darker beers.  Once my brain had adjusted to the confusion between what it was seeing and what is was tasting I enjoyed it and I give it a score of 8/10.                 


Durham Brewery - White Stout (7.2% ABV)

This bottle informs me that two hundred years ago a stout beer was a strong beer and not necessarily black.  The name was then hijacked by the porter brewers to mean strong porter.  This beer is certainly strong and it has a nice pale golden colour with a 'stout' head.  Oops there's that word again.  This beer is simply sensational.  It is very rich and full-bodied and I think it actually tastes stronger than it is with some of the qualities of a Belgian beer.  There are sweet notes of mandarin and mango along with plenty of floral aromatic flavours and I also detected some banana in there too floating around.  The finish is more bitter with a little spiciness that is simply stunning.  I find it hard to say this is my favourite beer from the Durham Brewery because I've awarded so many of their beers 10/10 but it is another beer that gets top marks from me.  Buy it!  Try it!  Love it!             

Both of these beers are well worth seeking out.  They are both complex and both should be slowly savoured rather than gulped down.  There are certain breweries that never disappoint me and these two fall into that category.  As for the names, I am not a fan of the term black IPA although it does give you some idea of what you are drinking.  White stout on the other hand is taking a historical use of the word and is probably more misleading due to the way the word is now used today.  Whatever you call them though these beers are delicious.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Sussex CAMRA Branches Beer & Cider Festival 2014

Beer festivals are rare events for me nowadays.  My visit to the Sussex CAMRA Branches Beer & Cider Festival last night was my first attendance at a CAMRA beer festival since the Great British Beer Festival of 2012.  I used to find regional CAMRA beer festivals to be too crowded with little or no seating and a challenge to get to the bar for the drinks.  With that in mind I was a little worried when I saw the queue outside Hove Town Hall at opening time.  

Once inside I saw signs downstairs to the Sussex Bar and upstairs to the main bar but no indication as to where I could obtain the necessary glass, tokens and festival programme (I may have missed it of course).  Once I found the programme alongside the glasses and tokens (more queuing needed here too) the map inside the programme showed me where the glasses and tokens could be found of course!!  The programme had an excellent beer listing with colour indicator and comprehensive tasting notes.  The usual cider and perry listings were there too along with the bottled beers.  This is a massive improvement on the programmes I remember from past regional festivals where you often had to make do with a sheet of paper folded over for the beer listings with nothing in the way of tasting notes.                 

Since I have been writing about beer I have met enough people in both the real world and the virtual world to be confident of bumping into someone I know at a beer festival so I was sure I wouldn't be standing around on my own for too long.  That was indeed true.  I soon bumped into Neal, Bob and all the other guys from Arundel Brewery who were using the festival to showcase their new American Pale Ale, Wild Heaven (5.2% ABV).  This was the beer I was able to get a preview of when I visited the brewery a few weeks ago.  With pint glass in hand (always a good idea as you usually get generous halves) I began with this beer in the Sussex bar.  I was not disappointed.  A beautiful hoppy concoction with a strong bitter finish.  This got a 9/10 rating from me giving me room for maneuver if I found anything better.      

Whilst chatting with the Arundel guys I met Alistair for the first time, a connection from the virtual world of Twitter, who manages the excellent Southover pub in Brighton.  Proof once again that once you enter the online beer world you are never short of genuinely nice people to chat to over a pint.  However, it was time to make my way upstairs to the main bar as festivals for me are all about trying beers from further afield.  Beer number two was Hopspur (4.5% ABV) from the Redemption brewery in Tottenham, North London.  Redemption won the beer of the festival last year at my local Yapton Beerex and when we visited the brewery last August the Hopspur was one beer that was not available for sampling.  It is a very citrussy easy to drink beer with grapefruit dominant and a gentle bittersweet finish.  This picked up an 8/10 from me and it was already apparent that this festival would see me consuming quite a few hoppy ales.  These type of beers were not really around in the quantities they are now when I last went to a regional beer festival.  In those days you could move from one brown beer to the next without noticing any great difference between any of them.  Exciting times indeed. 

Beer number three was Amish Mash (4.7% ABV) from Great Heck Brewery based in North Yorkshire.  The beer was described as a genuine German style Weizen with Apollo, Bravo and Galena hops.  The beer was therefore naturally hazy and there was more hoppy heaven for me.  This beer was fantastic and extremely refreshing and drinkable with citrussy notes evident once again.  Top marks for this one.  
Beer number four, the Nooksack APA (5.0% ABV), was recommended to me by Alistair whilst I was passing on my recommendation of the Amish Mash to him.  This fruity American Pale Ale was being launched here and it was a collaboration between Twickenham and local brewer Kissingate.  This APA was more fruity and less bitter than the Arundel Wild Heaven but it was another lovely beer and I gave it a score of 8/10.    

Seating is always an issue at beer festivals.  The amount available can often vary between none at all and never enough but I must say this festival had an abundance.  I found Nick Little and his wife Paula and was able to sit with them  for the remainder of the evening with Neal, the Arundel Brewery owner, sitting across from us too.  Nick and Paula are close to opening their own micropub in Worthing and they were sporting their Brooksteed Alehouse embroidered polo shirts which were impressive so I will give them a plug with the picture below.  After working in the 'extremely exciting world of IT' for 25 years I have absolutely no idea why Nick would want to give up this great career to run a micropub!!  Sorry I could not keep a straight face whilst typing that bit.                                                

The other thing I always used to find with beer festivals is the dubious beer quality and I would include the Great British Beer Festival here too.  Cooling can be an issue of course and the beer can often seem a bit lifeless compared to getting a pub pint that is served in excellent condition.  The first four beers of the evening proved to me that quality was no cause for concern here.  I could recommend every beer so far and the same could be said for the next one.  Scottish brewers are discovering hops too and the 4.0% ABV HipHopopotamus (try saying that late in the evening!) from Ayr Brewing Company was another citrussy gem that was very refreshing and zingy.  This was recommended by Nick and boy was it good and it was my second 9/10 beer of the evening.

I was all hopped out now so I changed tack with beer number six and went for the Gadd's Oatmeal Stout courtesy of the Ramsgate Brewery.  This new oatmeal stout is a big winner with me and yet another 9/10 beer.  Full of roasted coffee and bitter chocolate notes giving a lovely intense bitter finish over the underlying oaty biscuity base.  Fabulous.  Equally impressive was beer number seven, Joshua Jane (3.7% ABV),  from the Ilkley Brewery.  This is the second Ilkley beer I've enjoyed this week and this was very different again.  It is a nutty brown ale in more ways than one because the caramel base is infused with a delightful hoppiness.  Pure genius this one and although I awarded it a 9/10 I can't quite remember why it didn't get a ten because it is a memorable beer.  
The final two beers did not hit the same heights as the earlier ones but that might be due to my confused tastebuds having worked overtime all evening.  The Pacific Ghost IPA (5.9% ABV) from the Raw Brewing Company did not give me the expected citrussy hoppy hit.  I detected more fragrant notes with some grassy lemon notes in evidence too.  Finally, Glaslyn (4.2% ABV) from Welsh brewer Purple Moose was a well-balanced bitter that lacked a bit of character for me.  Pleasant enough but it had come across stiff competition from the earlier beers.  Both of these final two beers picked up a respectable 7/10 from me.
The good news is that the 24th Sussex CAMRA Branches Beer & Cider Festival is superb and if you have a ticket for today or tomorrow you should find some lovely beers to enjoy and a comfortable seat in which to relax.  The bad news is that the venue is being pulled down at the end of this year so the festival needs a new home for its silver anniversary.  Let's hope a suitable venue can be found and that this festival can continue because this was quite possibly the most enjoyable regional beer festival I have ever attended.