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Monthly Archives: March 2012

False Economy?

Well, we might be in the midst of a recession and looking at the silly old taxman taking an even bigger cut from our beer-money, but at least the weather is lovely. So lovely that I’ve been neglecting my blog in favour of enjoying the sunshine. The shame! So I thought I’d do a topical review for you tonight of a rather nice Pale Ale I picked up in Cheshire from the Spitting Feathers Ministry of Beer range. Spitting Feathers is about as traditional as a brewery could be. Their home, in the village of Waverton, is a farm so the grain used in the brewing process is used to feed the livestock, including the pigs who go on to become tasty sausages made using some of their tasty beer (ahh…the circle of life). They also keep bees and the honey goes into their seasonal ‘Honey Trap.’

The family have been farming in Waverton for five generations so they are probably in quite a good position to understand the importance of pubs in the community and the great brewing traditions here in the UK. They came up with the Ministry of Beer range as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction that ‘successive governments have failed to recognise the importance of these industries.’ I managed to track down their False Economy (ABV 3.8%) which, as an English pale ale, I would normally have dismissed. The label caught my eye though and the description promised ‘so much hop that it probably costs the ministry more than it recovers in revenue.’

False Economy, or just good beer?

It’s actually their winter edition, available from October to December but from the description I assumed it would be more suitable for a springtime sup. Once the beer was in the glass and I got a whiff of those hops and honey, I knew I was right. The color is a cloudy golden haze like runny hunny on a sunny window sill. There’s no bubbles but the flavor is still quite lively with lots of honey and some subtle spice. The bitter hops only come through towards the end before a final flash of honey taking you through to a long, dry hoppy finish with a hint of refreshing citrus. Summer in a glass…pretty much everything you would expect from a good quality pale ale and certainly not a false economy. I’d be pretty keen to try some of their other stuff, particularly their Heritage Ales brewed with brewing historian John Murray (if you got Beer magazine this quarter you would be excited about these too!)

Island Brewery Wight Gold

Beer, bikes, sunshine = perfection

While I’m in a summery mood, I really want to share with you another recent discovery – the Island Brewery of the Isle of Wight. Yes there’s a new kid on the Island – watch out Goddards! I found their very refreshing, hoppy Wight Gold on tap at the lovely Shoe Inn on a weekend bike ride on the South Downs. If you see it, try it. I’m looking forward to seeing more from these guys on my next trip to the Island. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Pale Ales

 

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Damned Albert…

It’s been a while since my last post so sorry about that! I haven’t abandoned my blog and I have actually had the first part of this post written for over a week but then I decided I needed to buy another bottle to finish the review (excuses). Also, I have spent a rather alcoholic weekend in the beautiful city of Chester for a friend’s hen do. If you love beer by the way, Chester is crammed with real ale pubs. Even the hotel I was in, The Mill, had a real ale pub with 10 rotating guests! So now I have sobered up, I’d like to tell you about two beers from the amazing Struise Brouwers.

Over a decade ago, two Flemish ostrich farmers had a crazy notion that they would start brewing beers for their guest house. Now I would never be one to turn down a juicy ostrich steak, but my goodness, I’m glad they branched out into beer! Since humble beginnings producing regional beers with the aid of a local wine maker back in 2001, De Struise Brouwers now have their own microbrewery and have received numerous accolades including the honor of 2008 ‘Best brewers in the world’ as voted for by readers on Rate Beer.

Amongst their line-up proudly stands Black Albert (13%ABV). Described as a “Belgian Royal Stout” and made with ingredients of only Belgian origin, this noble beast was named for the Belgian King Albert II.

Before I started my beer blog, two of the most memorable bottles the OH had brought back from one of his trips to Brussels were Struise Black Damnation I & II (Mocha Bomb). These stuck in my memory because I absolutely adore the Russian Imperial Stout style and these had some clout and a lot of character. Back then, I hadn’t appreciated that these were the first two of a dozen very special creations spawned from Black Albert.

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

I have now been lucky enough to find Black Damnation IV (13%ABV) right here in Southampton at the lovely Bitter Virtue. IV is the ‘Coffee Club’ edition. To me, ‘Coffee Club’ would make me think of some imaginary sophistocated Al Fresco cafe in Europe where ladies carry dogs in handbags and sip Espresso. This is completely the opposite. The label looks like it’s the kind of beer your mother might have warned you about. A skull grins out from a dark, intricate design which came straight out of the Temple of Doom. The text describes a beer ‘as black as hell, filthy rich in the nose and with a massive taste.’ It shares the first two Black Damnations’ dark, smooth good looks and tight froth cap. What makes this one different is that the Black Albert has been aged for six months in very old rum barrels. The aroma is an intriguingly sweet, malty, rich, dark coffee, like a posh coffee-cream enrobed in a luxurious velvety black chocolate. For a lover of quality espresso, this is pure indulgence. It’s like a thick, warming but naughty bitter-sweet shot of espresso with a little tot of your favorite rum to warm the very depths of the soul. There’s a slight smoke but it’s the rich smoke of very darkly roasted coffee beans, offset by the sweetness of the vanilla. I don’t care if I’m damned – I took a dance with this demon and liked it.

Simply Sumptuous

Simply sumptuous

So now that I had tried three of the Damnation dozen, I had to try the original, hence why this review was slightly held up! Since I had a long train journey to Chester and needed the company, I took Black Albert (13%ABV) along. A crowded train is always so much nicer with an interesting companion. Out of plastic and on a moving vehicle, the Black Albert poured the same rich, dirty black as the Black Damnation IV, but had a slightly effervescent quality with a dark tan head that disappeared in seconds. Maybe this effervecence enhanced the beautiful, addictive aroma of malt, dark cherries and candy-floss which paved the way for one of the most incredible Stouts I have ever experienced. The flavour was rich, gooey, sumptuous dark chocolate gateaux with some of that candy sweetness shining through, the mouthfeel thick like liquid velvet. Right at the end you get a soft malty fruit cake and you’re left a warming alcoholic satisfaction that feels a little naughty like you’ve been stealing the plump kirch cherries from the top of a black forest trifle. The OH had better leave room in his suitcase next time he goes to Brussels for the other 9 Black Damnations – I need to try them all!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Stouts

 

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Bearded Lady – black magic?

After the discovery that there are occasional examples of brewing magic in the New Forest at the Vibrant Forest Brewery, I have returned to the North for Sunday’s treat. Magic Rock are a Huddersfield brewery inspired by American craft brewing and possibly the dark arts. Having tried a few of their beers up north and been rather impressed, I was keen to get acquainted with their Bearded Lady (10.5%ABV) I had heard about. It’s an Imperial Brown Stout which pours a rich dark chocolate brown with a little bit of a frothy head which was short-lived in my glass, yet hung around a lot longer for the OH (a little weird!). As soon as you pour, you are hit with this big, complex aroma which is hoppy with dark berries and chocolate and a little bit naughty and decadant.

Bearded Lady

A case where blondes do not have more fun

I have very little experience of Brown Imperial Stouts. Perhaps, like bearded ladies, they are fairly unusual. However if this is what I have been missing out on, I’d like to see more of them please. Although there is a hoppy overtone throughout, there is also an indulgent black forest gateaux flavour going on which is bitter and sweet at the same time. The high alcohol content gives it a strong but warming kick, a little like a boozy kirch cherry pudding and the mouth feel is luxuriously thick and velvety. There’s a long, dry, hoppy finish with a little sweet spice but those sumptuously mouth-watering black cherries stay with you.

I think this Bearded Lady and I could get along quite well. She’s dark, strong and complicated but also fruity, generous and fun – I don’t think this is the last time we’ll meet. Don’t worry if people stare, Bearded Lady – it’s because you are beautiful.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Stouts

 

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The Hunt for Black Oktober

In the part of the country I live in, I am quite sorry to say that I actually find a lot of the beer slightly boring. The South of England seems to me to be overly fond of light session bitters which to me don’t taste like much. Feel free to argue against this as I would love to discover some more satisfying local ales. I’m actually a bit of a hippy when it comes to groceries, preferring to shop at farmers markets and buying food from sources as local as I can find so I would love to buy more local beer too.

I was very pleasantly surprised, however, to discover at my local Bitter Virtue that there’s a new kid in town (actually just down the road from where I live)! In July last year, the Vibrant Forest microbrewery was opened for business in Totton, Hampshire. I was initially attracted to the crazy names (such as Ginga Ninga and Flying Saucer), colorful labels and bright yellow bottlecaps. In the range, there’s a good variety of styles but I decided to choose a porter (I’ll review that another time) and the Black Oktober Imperial Russian Stout (7.2%ABV).

Black Oktober

The hunt is over. I found my local Stout!

Well, I think finally we have an awesome brewery on our doorstep. I was impressed from the moment I opened the bottle. Since it’s from a small brewery and bottle-conditioned with live yeast, I was cautious open it. As you would see from my kitchen ceiling, there have been a few surprises from bottle-conditioned ales over the years. However it looks like Vibrant Forest know their stuff as it was opened with no drama and poured a beautiful luxurious deep black which is just how I like my stout to look. Although the bottle claims there should be a ‘coffee froth style head,’ I didn’t see one but that didn’t bother me too much. The aroma is so rich and complex with liquorice, vanilla, dark chocolate and malt. The taste is initially bitter dark chocolate but there is a bit of sweetness and some cereal maltiness at the end. The mouthfeel is thick, almost chewy and after each sip there’s a lovely warm feeling from the alcohol going right down to my stomach – perfect after a cold windy day like today. Such a satisfying stout! Vibrant Forest – you are my new favorite local brewery.

 

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Stouts

 

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A lost afternoon (London part 2)

For the beer enthusiast, London has a lot to offer. The Rake, The Craft Beer Co, The Porterhouse, The Southampton Arms just to name a few. We had started the day with grand plans to at least drop into The Rake but the amazing Brew Dog had us trapped for the best part of the day. We reluctantly managed to drag ourselves out eventually and back out into the big city. Some cake and a walk round St James’ Park were all we needed to prepare for part two of our beer adventure at The Cask.

Nestled into a block of flats in Pimlico, The Cask is an unusual-looking place from the outside. Nevertheless, it’s great if, like me, you have become fed up with being pushed and shoved around central London and just want to go somewhere a bit quieter. It’s spacious, modern and has plenty of seating. The staff are friendly and always ready to answer any questions. It’s just as well because they normally have a few taps dedicated to Mikkeller’s concoctions which I always have to ask about just because there’s different ones every time, normally with charmingly hand-written pump-clips that tell you very little. As well as Mikkeller, recently I have seen a lot of Magic Rock, Southern Tier, Dark Star and Thornebridge on the taps alongside other less well-known brewaries. I never fail to be impressed by their bottle selection which you can also buy to take home. Their selection includes beer from all over the world, most of which I have rarely seen sold anywhere else.

Sadly, as the hours in the day were running out and I had to get a train home at some point, I could only stay for a couple of drinks so I had to choose wisely. My first half was a Southern Tier Imperial Creme Brulee Stout (10%ABV). I always expect great things frorm Southern Tier; I truly believe their Pumpking is the very best Pumpkin ale on the planet and is one of my all-time favorites. The Creme Brulee surpassed expectations. Although it was a deep silky black in the glass, it tasted pretty much like somebody had whizzed up a Creme Brulee in a blender. If somebody had actually liquidised a Creme Brulee and asked me to compare it with this stout in a blind taste test I’m not confident that I would tell the difference. It’s brewed with real vanilla beans for a big vanilla and caramel hit. You even get a sense of the burnt caramel topping. It’s really a pudding dressed as a beer with absolutely no bitterness. I kinda wish I’d had this after my lovely Fish & Chip supper.

Yummy! Fish & Chips

Yummy! Fish & Chips in a posh fryer basket!

Having said that, my final beer of the day was a pretty refreshing accompaniment for the food. To round off the day as I had started it, I went for a Mikkeller with one of those hand-written pump clips I mentioned known as The Big Hunt for Pine (6.5%ABV). Although it wasn’t really extraordinary, this dark, cloudy amber ale did remind me of the lovely pine sugar from the Heston Blumenthal mince pies I’d had over Christmas which made me feel slightly nostalgic. Light and sweet with a little light hops and malt, it was the perfect thing to round off a lovely day in the big city.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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Bierebelle in the Big City

Since last Saturday was a day of fixing bikes, grocery shopping, household chores and other angelic pursuits (ok maybe the cigar and pint of Dark Star Original not so angelic) Sunday was bound to become carnage. What do they say about all work and no play…? And where better to run amuck than foggy London town. Since the other half is a Geordie, it seemed only fair to start the festivities on the train so breakfast was a lovely Mikkeller Koppi Tomahawk x Guji Natural (6.9% ABV). When you think coffee beers, you would normally think of the darker varieties but, given that this is Mikkeller, it probably comes as no surprise that they actually came up with (possibly a world first) coffee IPA! Made in collaboration with the Sweedish coffee house, Koppi, organic Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans were used along with American Hops in this unique beer.

Coffee IPA - World First?

Nice breakfast coffee

First impressions from the aroma made me slightly anxious as the smell was predominently hops with a hint of banana and only a suggestion of coffee. Having been smashed in the tastebuds by the hops some of Mikkeller’s creations in the past, I approached with caution. However, I was rather pleasantly surprised by the overall candy-sweetness, followed by a little waft of coffee with a lingering dry, hoppy finish. Altogether a very well-rounded flavor with the coffee sneaking up as you get through the bottle. It’s rather too drinkable and made an excellent start to the day.

So with a Mikkeller already down the hatch, the day was off to a good start. To be fair, it made Camden that bit more bearable which was our first port of call. After battling through a few shops, we decided that we had earned a little rest. As Brew Dog shareholders under their Equity for Punks scheme, we were also duty-bound to finally pay their Camden pub a visit. It’s less than 5 minutes walk from the mayhem of Camden tube station but my goodness it’s a blessed little oasis of calm. Plus, the staff are friendly and know their beer. We found a lovely seat by the window and made a start on the taps. I had been very keen to try the Hitachino’s Nest at the event held by Brew Dog a couple of weeks earlier but sadly live too far away so I was excited to see that they had two on tap, as well as a wide range of bottles.

The first beer had to be Hitachino’s Nest Nipponia (6.5%ABV) which is their golden ale. What a beautiful beer to look at. A cloudy yellow gold with a little bit of a light head and teeny tiny bubbles.The aroma is sweet toffee with tropical banana and pineapple and a little hops. The flavour is so sweet and lovely like a banana split with a little delicate hoppiness at the end, followed by toffee. The end is long and dry with a tiny waft of smoke and this makes it quite more-ish. I could have gone for another one of these but Nipponia wasn’t the only one on the taps I was eager to try! Thankfully, I had brought my lovely boyfriend along as an accomplice which meant we could try twice as many beers.

Brew Dog Camden

Swatting up at Beer School over a Hitachino's Nest Nipponia

For his first drink, being a bit of a hop-head, he went for a Mikkeller 1000 IBU Light (4.9%). A cloudy sunset in a glass, the scent is exotic, hoppy and spicy with fruit and maybe even raisins. It’s such an incredible, complex scent but to taste it’s hops, hops, HOPS. Just an uncompromising assault of hops and take it from me as not-an-overhopped-beer-fan, it’s actually rather good! First, you get a hoppy smack round the face, then there’s a little sweet flourish where you can bask in the sunset colours in the glass, then the hops come back round and kick you in the ass for good measure so you’re left with a long, bitter end. My partner actually believes the bitterness of the light is actually harder-hitting than the full-strength 1000 IBU.

By now, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would probably be here a while – it’s not every day you’re presented with such an amazing range of ales to try (especially since there’s about two decent pubs where I live)! It’s also incredibly rare to find not one but two Hitachino Nest beers on tap. However, I have a little confession to make involving a tiny mix-up. Being impressed by the Nipponia and obsessed by owls, I had intended to go for a half of the Amber (5.5%ABV) and the OH wanted to the try Southern Tier Phin & Matts (5.4% ABV) since we are also big STBC fans. In the interests of keeping my reviews as honest as possible, I try not to find out much about the ales before I try them. This kind of backfired when we were presented with one deep, dark, minstrel chocolate brown beer and one glass of light, golden sunshine (some might say Amber?). So we decided that the dark was the Phin & Matts and the one we had labelled ‘Amber’ was the Amber. It was only when I read an online review of the Phin & Matts that I realised our mistake. Big fail, big lesson learned at the Brew Dog Beer School!

Like a nerdy little CAMRA beer-ticker, I took my little note-book to London with me so I could use my notes to bring you this blog so I’m just gonna switch the notes on the Phin & Matts and the Amber like nothing ever happened. In fact, it wasn’t such a bad mistake since both were lovely in their own ways. The Hitachino’s Nest Amber had the aroma of black treacle and a rich chocolatey burnt toffee flavour with hops at the end. More burnt toffee snuck in for well-rounded finish.

The Phin & Matts on the other hand was pretty much the opposite. Wafting out of the sunshiney glass comes the sweet smell of hops, vanilla, bananas and peaches. Now generally, I prefer dark wintery styles but if more summer beers were like this I might be a little more tempted. The taste is liquid sunshine – sweet, refreshing citrus, white chocolate and vanilla with a finish of sticky-toffee-pudding.

The mighty Milwaukee

Bratwurst, pickles, saurkraut, onions...what's not to love!

All this drinking was making me hungry so to accompany our beers (and soak up the booze to prepare us to be released back into society) we decided to sample the delights from the Brew Dog kitchen. The small menu is mainly pizza & burgers. Since they had run out of pizzas the decision was made a little easier so I went for the hot-dog inspired Milwaukee and the boy had a anglo-Indian Whitechapel. Then we decided they were both so good we switched and had half of each.

After our little food-stop, we decided that as share-holders, we owed it to ouselves to make our next half-pints Brew Dog so I ordered the Rip-Tide Imperial Stout (8%ABV) and the OH had the Hops Kill Nazis (7.8%ABV). I always expect great things from Brew Dog. I love their no-compromise attitude and the sense of fun they bring to their brewing. The Stout was everything I had hoped for; deep, dark liquorice black in colour with a thick, foamy head and a caramel, malt and dark chocolate aroma. The taste was an unsurprisingly sturdy, well-rounded and strong Imperial Stout. In each beer, Brew Dog cram in about 15 times more hops than most brewers so the trademark bitterness was still there but this gave way to a long finish of burnt toffee and black coffee with a waft of smoke.

I’m sure Hops Kill Nazis has way more than ’15 x the hops of other brewers.’ Seriously – how on earth is this stuff so deliciously drinkable? It’s such a pretty dark treacly amber and the hops aroma is so true to the flavour which is citrusy and floral but with not a lot of the dryness you might expect from this style. The finish is just delightful and thirst-quenching leaving you with an impression of lemon sherbert.

So as you can see we made ourselves very much at home at the Camden Brew Dog for a large part of the day but there was still some shopping to do and we had plans to visit The Cask too! Our plans to visit any of our other London haunts had pretty much vanished as soon as we saw the burger menu. That’s probably enough for one blog post though – watch out for London part two!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Memoirs of a Bierebelle

 

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