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Category Archives: Porters

Caught in a Twit-Storm!

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone since I was in beautiful Vancouver but at least I can relive it by sharing it with you in my blog. One of the things I find most bizarre about Canada is that so many websites look like they were made about 10 years ago and a lot of them may have not even been updated since! Many retailers had websites that would make CAMRA websites over here look polished in comparison (for overseas readers, CAMRA UK websites tend to be shockingly bad). However, unlike in the UK, the beer industry and its aficionados seem to have really got the hang of this internet thing. The Most Awesome Website award (which would see the average What’s Brewing reader have the whole bar condemned for sorcery)  would probably go to St Augustine’s Brewpub. Imagine if you could see exactly what beers are on as well as what colour they are and how much is left at a glance before you leave the house. Imagine no more thanks to the Live Beer Menu. As well as on-line, it’s also shown on screens around the bar.

As an avid Tweeter, I didn’t need to be in Vancouver long to find the awesome YVR Beer Tweetup. They’re a

The menu at Smileys

group of craft beer lovers who organise and promote craft beer events such as the Hopscotch event held over two nights as part of the Craft Beer Month celebrations and as a warm-up for the Hopscotch festival. The Tweetup event featured 8 Highwood Distilleries Whisky based casks of amazing beers. On each table, along with the beer menu, there was also a list of hashtags and Twitter IDs to enable drinkers to tweet their opinions and shout-outs which were displayed on screens around the bar. There were also competitions where prizes were awarded to the first person to tweet an answer to a question, Pretty clever since as more people tweet, the event starts trending and this means free publicity – sweet!

The two nights were held at two different bars which are part of the Donnelly chain (like ‘Spoons but with good food and good beer), Smileys and The Bimini. Of all the beers, the best was easily the Lighthouse Imperial Whiskey Marmalade IPA. The bitter hops totally intensified the Seville orange marmalade to the max. This was closely followed by the Central City Spanish Oak Aged Vanilla Bean Whiskey Stout. Hopefully if they ever bottled it they’d have a think about the name, A superb stout with plenty of coffee bean, it picked up a fair bit of the woodiness from the oak which was offset by delicate vanilla. I also loved the Howe Sound Pumpkin Ale Spiced Whiskey. Their original pumpkin was one of my favourites but the warmth of the whiskey and the round woody flavour pushed it over into a new level.

 

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And the winner is…

Armed with tasting notes, I get stuck in!

It was just my luck that the third annual British Columbia Beer Awards & The CAMRA Harvest Cask Festival happened to fall on Saturday October 18th my first full day in Vancouver. We were quick enough to purchase a pair of the much sought-after tickets over the marvellous internet (what did we do before it!). Prior to this I had no idea that CAMRA had distant, younger, trendier cousins in such far-flung and exotic locations as British Columbia. Chapel Arts was the venue for this illustrious shindig which had the atmosphere of a lively but very friendly house party. Walking in, we were greeted with the usual beer list, commemorative glass and starter tokens (plus bonus tokens for our food donations for the harvest festival!). However, there wasn’t the usual line-up of pint or half. These glasses were teeny 4oz tasting glasses which were ideal for sampling all the beer one could hope to try without hitting the floor too early. I’ve always been fond of the ‘tiny glass = more beers’ approach to festivals and I was glad that throughout our stay we discovered this was a common feature in craft beer pubs across Vancouver.

The chill-out-and-eat-pulled-pork room

The crowd was a far cry from the stereotypical beer festival crowd one is probably all too familiar with. These were young, fashionable people all interested in beer, discussing home-brew and their favourite pubs in excited tones. It’s the very first beer festival I’ve been to which made me feel slightly old! Rather than the familiar setup of casks all racked together, the BC folk set up a table for each brewery and it was fun to meet some of the brewers who were happy to chat about their creations to anybody who came along. As a young woman who is often patronised at CAMRA festivals (GBBF being one of the worst sadly), it was nice to not have to negotiate with narrow-minded old men to try the beer I like and it was encouraging to see female brewers at some of the stands. In fact, the brewers were really the stars of the show and were recognised in the awards and their names appeared alongside their beers in the tasting notes. No attempt was made to separate cask and keg either – refreshingly both were listed and shown together.  CAMRA had the usual recruitment table and as a special treat for their members they had an exclusive ale for card-carrying members only. Thankfully, they were kind enough to accept my UK CAMRA card so I was allowed to sample a glass of Driftwood’s crisp and refreshing Sartori Harvest IPA and I also managed to blag a sticker and a pin badge for being such a dedicated CAMRA member.

The coveted awards

The awards ceremony was the highlight of the day. Beer-loving star of film and television, Jonathan Lloyd Walker who I believe is best known for his role in sci-fi show Continuum but has also appeared in the film Red and the Flash Gordon TV series amongst others, was a very charming and funny host. A beer awards bash is probably the best event to get in to at the start of a trip to an unfamiliar country. Although I recognised a few of the names from a previous trip to Vancouver, it was a great way to find out about the beers and breweries to watch out for. The judges came from a host of backgrounds, from qualified beer judges to sommeliers to ordinary bloggers and foodies and sat down to the gruelling task of tasting prior to the awards. The sleek tap handle trophies were awarded to the top three beers in 12 distinct categories in addition to the Homebrew award and ‘Best in Show’ which, to my surprise, went to a Pilsner from Steamworks. Of course Steamworks do make fabulous beers. You can see a full list of the winners here.

So what did Bierebelle spend her precious beer tokens on?

Big Ridge Brewing – Tariq’s ESB (5.9%ABV) by Tariq Kahn

Lovely clear amber red with more of an IPA than ESB character. Pink grapefruit citrus thirst-quencher with lots of carbonation. Part of the MJG family of brew pubs along with Flying Beaver, Whistler Brewhouse and Yaletown. Normally only brew for consumption on-premises so nice to see them at a festival!

Dead Frog Brewing – Hop Forward IPA (7%ABV) by Timmy Brown

Big bitter hop assault. The lemon sharpness takes a hold on the taste buds and doesn’t let go through the warmingly alcoholic bitter finish.

Driftwood Brewing – Sartori Harvest IPA (7%ABV) by Jason Meyers

CAMRA Exclusive! Very overtly hopped with a lot of citrus in the aroma. Refreshing, crisp and clean lemony liveliness.

Howe Sound Brewing – Imperial Pumpkin Stout (6.5%ABV) by Franco Corno

Heavy burnt treacle on the nose with almost a hint of tobacco. Really thick mouthfeel with pumpkin pie spices, burnt sugar and rounded out with earthy cacao nibs.

Lighthouse Brewing Company – Belgian Quice IPA (8%ABV) by Dean Mcleod

All I knew about quinces before is that posh TV chefs like to put them in jelly but it turns out over in British Columbia they have an even more totally righteous use for them! This easily won the People’s Choice award of the festival. A sharp candy aroma intensified by a fistful of hops, this pale and cloudy wonder had a remarkable combination of cranberry and rhubarb yumminess with a long bitter finish.

Parallel 49 – Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (6.5%ABV) by Graham With

Interestingly slightly sharp dark malt aroma. Very dark opaque brown with quite a bit of carbonation. Really bitter dark chocolate and a little touch of the vegetable,.

R&B Brewing – Cucumber Mint IPA (6.5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Imagine Thornbridge Wye, but add a trace of subtle mint and a more sturdy, robust citrus hoppiness. It’s a very cloudy yellow amber which is almost like a saison in appearance. The initial feeling is a big juicy bite of beery cucumber with a tingly mintiness at the end, exaggerated if you stick your tongue out (which was pretty fun). This was probably second only to the Quince IPA in my view.

R&B Brewing – Seasonal Squash Ale (5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Another cloudy one but a beautiful dark tan colour. I found this one rather zingy for a squash ale and not much spice was evident but there was still a lovely earthiness imparted by the squash. Interestingly it also shared characteristics with a cream ale.

Steamworks – Espresso Stout (9%ABV) by Tak Guenette

Mmmm… a real espresso stout with bitter coffee and a lactose sweetness at the end, although interestingly the OH was not too fond of the high acidity in the flavour. I thought it reminded me a lot of Titanic or Dark Star.

Storm Brewing – Imperial Sour Cherry Stout (11%ABV) by James Walton

I loved Storm and especially this one – they excel at pushing sour beyond the brink. James is pretty much the rock star of the BC brewing scene with crazy bleached spikes and awesome punky style. The aroma on this one was almost eye-wateringly sour cherry and citrus and the flavour was unbelievably sharp with a candy aftertaste that leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been eating sour laces.

Townsite Brewing – Porter (5.5%ABV) by Cedric Dauchot

Wow this took me back to Ireland! Very carbonated with a massive head and properly bitter.

Tree Brewing – Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale (6.4%ABV) – Stephan Buhl

This very dark golden amber ale was initially slightly disappointing with not much aroma but it was definitely a grower. More heavily hopped than others of this style, initially there was not much spice but this developed further down the glass and complimented the delicate pumpkin flavours.

The beautiful beer-loving crowd

Somebody had to…

Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks

Every beer festival needs pulled pork sandwiches

 

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Rebel Belle

Taking over the taps!

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go for a day trip to Bristol for the Tiny Rebel tap takeover at the Bag O’ Nails. Having tried only one of their beers previously, the magnificently hoppy Fubar, I had been desperate to try more but sadly none have made it as far as the South Coast. Having never been to the Bag O’Nails before, it was a good excuse to discover another pub in Bristol. I’d heard excellent things about the place so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay them a visit. I was also keen to meet Malcolm, the handsome chap who runs the pub (he’s actually a cat so he has a human called Luke managing the place). I hadn’t expected such a lovely, bustling little pub as the one I walked into. Luckily, we found ourselves a table, although we had to be on our best behaviour as the boss was enjoying a well-earned siesta there.

I started with a lovely Koochie (6%ABV) pale ale which had that lovely fresh and exotic new-world hop flavour. It didn’t take long to feel quite at home. I really appreciate going to a pub where the landlord is as passionate about good beer as I am, although Luke and I do not seem to share the same opinions on Irish craft. One of his other passions seemed to be his music collection; instead of CDs, there was a turntable with a collection of well-chosen classic albums on vinyl from classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and The Doors.

Malcolm wasn’t really interested in the Chocoholic. More for me then.The Doors, Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash.

As I got stuck into my second beer, a delicious Cwtch (4.6%ABV) English Bitter which had that classic biscuity taste with a hint of fruit, I got talking to the guys at the table next to us. I was amazed that they had come all the way from Newport, Wales, where Tiny Rebel is based, to support their local brewery. The OH did have to remind me that it’s not that far from Bristol by train, but still I’m impressed they love the beer so much.

It was an absolute delight to meet the two guys behind Tiny Rebel, Gazz & Brad. We spent a lot of time chatting to Gazz who was such a massively likeable beer geek. He told us about how they started out as home-brewers and we chatted about what we had been brewing at home. It’s always handy to get tips from professional brewers, especially as he still brews small batches to test new ideas. He was particularly proud of the Chocoholic (6.8%ABV) which was a beautifully bitter, smooth, rich chocolate stout. The extreme dark bitterness, I was told, was down to the raw cacao nibs used in the settling tanks.

Before the mad dash for the train, there was just enough time to remind myself of the beer that had made me want to go to Bristol that day in the first place. Fubar (4.4%ABV), with its lovely refreshing hops and really big after taste of bitterness, was just as good as I remembered. Oh and I even managed to grab a growler of Koochie for the train home, although since cats evidently rule the roost at the Bag O’Nails, Luke insisted on a swift ‘customisation,’ covering the Brewdog logo with a Tiny Rebel one. I kinda like it. Although that was also when Brewdog Jonny walked in. It’s a shame we had to catch a train relatively early but you can tell what a fun day out we had by the fact that I didn’t really get round to writing many proper words about the actual beers which is even more reason that I demand that you track some down for yourself!

Bespoke customised Tiny Rebel growler!

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in IPA, Memoirs of a Bierebelle, Pale Ales, Porters

 

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Exploring the beers of the Emerald Isle

Although my birthday was at the start of August, I had to wait a whole month to enjoy my super-awesome big birthday treat but as they say, good things come to those who wait. My lovely kind boyfriend had booked tickets for us to spend four days in Dublin! Bleary-eyed, we set out on a 7am Saturday morning flight to embark on our Irish adventure. Why so early? That day we were seeing the Emerald Isle Classic, a massive American college football game between long-standing rivals Notre Dame and Navy. Although technically it was a Navy home game, the Notre Dame, also known as Fighting Irish supporters, vastly outnumbered those there for the ‘Midshipmen.’ With 35,000 Americans over for the spectacle (and a couple of bewildered American tourists who couldn’t work out why there were no Irish people in Dublin), it was pretty lively out on Temple Bar even as early as 9am when we arrived! With the bars and pubs filling up with yanks on a morning pre-game bender, we installed ourselves in The Temple Bar to soak up the atmosphere and hopefully find some Irish beer. I had set myself up for disappointment on the Irish beer scene, having heard about the dominance of the mighty Guinness having crushed any hope of a craft scene. How wrong I was!

The first Irish beer of the trip had to be a Trouble Brewing Dark Arts, their 4.4%ABV porter which I noticed

Trouble’s Brewing!

as soon as we reached the bar due to it’s super-cute label. Established in 2009 by home brewers keen to take things to the next level, Trouble Brewing only has two beers in its line-up (the other is Ór Golden Ale) but also do the odd seasonal brew now and then. I’ve just found out their next one will be a pumpkin ale which they really should consider exporting to Southampton, UK (pretty please, hint hint?). There may be a little Irish black magic in this deliciously full but refreshing stout. There was a tiny hint of hops compared to a lot of the ales I’ve enjoyed recently, but the bitterness of the coffee made up for it. The rich port flavor at the back was intriguing, almost as if it had enjoyed a brief stint in port cask. The rich, black smoothly balanced beauty at only 4.4% was surely the product of pretty skilled brewers. Even the artwork’s adorable. The OH tried a Dungarvan Black Rock Irish Stout (4.3%ABV) which had the more traditional bitterness of a stout with delicious dark roasted espresso flavors. We also managed to try the sturdy Knockmealdown porter from Eight Degrees which was set up by a kiwi and an Aussie who came to Ireland and wondered where all the craft beer was. As they say in their tasting notes, it’s ‘like tackling the Knockmealdowns in a blizzard, this beer is not for wimps.’ A full bodied porter with a slight carbonation to open up the bitter dark espresso and berries, ending with a warming charred woodiness. Along with some delicious Bloody Mary oyster shots and posh goats cheese on toast, we were all set to make our way to the stadium. After such a good start on some pretty impressive local beers and food, the Guinness at the game was a little lackluster.

Oyster Stout & Oysters = The ultimate treat!

It’s a good job that, despite the dominance of the black stuff, Dublin seems to have a pretty thriving craft beer scene and it’s easy to find a good pint. Porterhouse, with all its dark nooks and crannies where you can take a relaxing time out, has been a long-standing favorite in London and not just because it’s the site of the first date with the OH. Opened back in ’96, their Temple Bar premises was the first ever brew pub in Ireland, serving a fine selection of beers from around the world alongside its own range. It has all the character of Covent Garden but benefits from live Irish music every night played from a stage which looks precariously suspended above the ground floor bar in a kind of crazy arrangement where you can see the band whichever floor you are on. They also proudly display an impressive collection of old bottles in glass-fronted cabinets covering the walls. It was interesting to see some of their earlier take-offs of the big brands which made me think when they started they may have been quite the enfant terribles, courting controversy like Brewdog do today. These days, their line-up of exceptional beers speaks for itself. Their Oyster Stout (5.2%), with its uniquely indulgent creamy head and masses of rich chocolate flavour, is made even more special served with three oysters on the side and remains my favorite beer in that style. At Porterhouse, I also had my first try of their Wrasslers 4X Extra Stout (5.7%ABV) which left me wondering what took me so long – again a thick and deep black beast with more of a roasty roundness than the Oyster.

Another favorite haunt in Dublin turned out to be the F.X.Buckley Bull & Castlewhich is a cozy gastro-pub

Where to start?

serving traditional pub-grub made from local produce to an extraordinary standard at street level, but upstairs you will find a wonderfully spacious Beer Hall, complete with sociable long tables and sport on TV. Although their international bottle selection was pretty well thought-out, I was most impressed by their dedication to Irish beer. They always have 8 on the taps and even more to choose from in the fridges. To allow drinkers to find out more about the craft scene on the Emerald Isle, they have even produced a small guide book available to buy for a few euros. Conscious that I had been getting carried away with all the delicious stouts and porters available around Dublin, the 8 third-pint tasting tray was an ideal opportunity to see what else the Emerald Isle has to offer. Amongst the line-up was the famous Galway Hooker (4.4%ABV) made by a couple of guys who just wanted something other than the traditional stout, red and lager. They ended up producing a multi award-winning dry, floral, refreshingly fun pale ale which I rather enjoyed. I should mention here as well that if you do eat at the Bull & Castle, I order you to try the ribs – the sauce is actually made from Galway Hooker and my goodness can you taste it (if you are reading chefs, if you send me the recipe I promise I won’t tell anyone). Going back to beer, the Irish brewery that really wowed me the most for pales was Metalman. I had already tried their summer seasonal, Windjammer (4.8%ABV) which features the current favourite Nelson Sauvin hop but somehow stands out with its delicate spice, dried strawberry, biscuits and vanilla. On the tasting tray, I had a sample of the Metalman Pale Ale (4.3%ABV) which was a very American zingy, zesty, limey, mouth-wateringly dry hit of refreshment. Of the stouts on the tray, my firm favourite was still without a doubt the Dark Arts from Trouble Brewing, although Carlow’s O’Hara’s Irish Stout (4.3%ABV) was a pretty smooth operator with a luxurious lasting tan-coloured head and big roast malt and chocolate flavours with an edge of bitter hops.

A selection of the bottles at the Bull & Castle

I could go on and on about all the wonderful beer we had and bars we visited. I was so at home with Irish craft and really don’t understand why so little of it appears over here. Not only do you find a vast array of stouts and porters to choose from all year-round, but brewers are also trying more American and European influenced styles and the standard is pretty high. My only concern was that, in general, beer was served a little bit gassier than I am used to. Maybe it’s just me? Another observation was that there still isn’t a lot a lot of terribly hopped beer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and this is just based on the bars I went to in Dublin. There are exceptions such as Porterhouse’s superb hops-all-up-in-your-face Hophead (4.8%ABV). I was pleased to see no noticeable cask/keg divide. Bars serving good beer just served good beer and didn’t really tell you how it was made or served.

To learn more about the Irish Craft Beer Revolution, take a look at Beoir, the ‘independent group of consumers with a primary goal of supporting and raising awareness of Ireland’s native independent microbreweries.’ Their website has an excellent directory of breweries, as well as the bars and restaurants where you can try their beers.

Come on – Guinness is better than nothing at a sports game!

 

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Amber, IPA, Memoirs of a Bierebelle, Porters, Stouts

 

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A lesson in beer at the Volunteer Tavern

After our train beers, there was just enough time to perk ourselves up with a non-beery coffee before checking into our residence for the next few days, the Future Inn. Lucky for us, we spied an intriguing chalk-board propped up outside our hotel. Beer Festival at the Volunteer Tavern you say? 24 beers? But where!? Thirsty from our travels we were puzzled by the lack of directions on the sign but these are the times GPS was invented for. Unfortunately, Google Maps navigation literally took me through the middle of a ghetto in a sweeping circle to get to the Volunteer Arms. It was 2pm and the po-po were already out making rounds of arrests! After my OH nervously told me to get my phone away and hold my handbag close, we finally stumbled upon the lovely little village-pub oasis of beer we had been seeking. We cut through the pub, noting the admirable selection on the handpumps (which includes a dark all-year round!) to the festival in the beer garden. What a lovely beer-garden too, with plenty of mis-matched furniture to go around and high walls.Since it was East Midlands themed, I was delighted to see a selection from breweries not normally seen in our neck of the woods. I was particularly amused at the inclusion of Blue Bee from Sheffield since, being from North Yorkshire, I do regularly mock a Sheffield friend for not being a proper Northerner. Childish, but he is fiercly proud of his Northern roots!

I started with a Mr Grundy’s 1914 (5%). Being a nerd I appreciate a brewery with a historical theme and gave myself a pat on the back for immediately picking up the WW1 theme. Other beers include Passchendaele & Lord Kitchener. 1914 was a rather deliciously dark stout with a chocolate and blackcurrant aroma. Drinkable, smooth and unchallenging, the hint of hedgerow blackberries and short bitter finish made it just right to savour in the rare warmth of the day. Entertainment, as is sadly often the case, came from two old-school CAMRA relics. I tried not to choke on my beer with laughter as I heard them tutting and moaning about the imminent arrival of Brewdog‘s new Bristol pub. ‘Well I’ve been to the one in Edinburgh’ one proudly bellowed to the other, ‘and all they sell is keg. I ended up leaving.’ It’s apparently all the fault of this silly American ‘craft beer’ fad. All they want to do is make easy-to-store and easy-to-serve beer with no character. It takes no skill to do this silly ‘craft’ beer. So that’s me told then! Real beer, they went on to decide, is Real Ale from a cask. Apart from the Europeans. They’re allowed to do what they want. Thank goodness for that. So Mikkeller, Evil Twin, you’re cool. Brewdog, Magic Rock, go back to school you talentless upstarts!

Taking a break from my lesson in beer, I headed back to the bar to grab me some of that Oyster Stout (4.6%) from local brewer Arbor Ales. I now love Arbor and you will be hearing a lot more about them from me. Wow – if somebody asked me to close my eyes and imagine an Oyster Stout, this would be it. It was the classic little-black-dress of an Oyster Stout – smooth and opaque with a thick, foamy white head and a sweet mocha aroma. A full chocolate malt flavour giving way to silky smooth black coffee and a bitter finish makes this feel so indulgent.Unlike Marston’s, Arbor throw some real Oysters into the boil near the end which I guess almost makes this a meal in a glass?

The richness of the Arbor Oyster set my beery expectations high which was unfortunate for the next one. I’d heard a few people talking about Muirhouse Jurgens Jungle Juice (4%) already but in hindsight maybe it”s just because of the fun name because the actual beer was slightly…forgettable? A golden sessiony bitter with a little biscuit and yawn……. In my boredom I was jealously eyeing up the OH’s selection, Tiny Rebel Fubar (4.4%) which has got me rather excited about this new kid on the Newport Brewing scene. They might be tiny (there’s only two bottles in the range at the moment) but I expect massive things from this brewery. At only 4.4%ABV, Fubar packs more of a punch than other stronger beers in its class. It’s a pale ale with buckets of tangy lemon and honey hoppiness and distinctly bitter and just damned gorgeous. The astounding citrus hop aroma was reminiscent of sherbert lemons at the moment you break the hard candy and it starts to fizz on your tongue. I absolutely cannot wait to see more from the Tiny Rebel. Oh and their marketing’s cute too.

After I’d guzzled the last of the poor boy’s tasty Fubar and he finished the dregs of Jungle Juice, we left through the back gate of the beer garden and realised that we were literally two minutes from the door of our hotel and civilisation. Thanks Google Maps.

 

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A rogue coffee for the train…

YEAH at last and about time! The meatilicious weekend I’ve been waiting for! Grillstock, celebration of all things barbeque in the sweet-smoked baby-back Bristol-town. I’ll take any excuse for a long weekend in a lovely hotel in one of my favorite towns in the South of England. After a long four day week at work I nestled into my seat in the ever-crowded cattle-class on the Great South Western and breathed a sigh of relief. A booked seat was especially important since there was a breakfast beer waiting and I wasn’t prepared to swig from the bottle in the aisle like an animal!

To accompany my pulled-pork breakfast burrito, there was a Rogue Ales Mocha Porter I was anxious to get open (around 5%ABV – I lost interest trying to convert from 13 Plato). I appreciate that in keeping with the meaty yankie theme of the weekend, their Bacon Maple ale would have been more fitting but I still haven’t found one and coffee beer is now a train-journey tradition. Prizing off the lid, the aroma of bready, yeasty, overripe banana aromas was unleashed on the unsuspecting passengers but rather than looks of jealousy there were just the usual confused, disappointed faces glancing suspiciously. It’s mine anyway – I’ll share with the OH and that’s it. Oh and that friendly-looking chap on the bottle? He looks like somebody you might share a beer with too. Poured out into my no-expense-spared Poundland picnic goblets, it was a muddy, deep, dark cloudy brown with a foamy crema any barista would admire. The light carbonation opened up the flavour to a woody, roasted, malty, bitter-sweet smoothness. Subtle hops play in the background as the coffee is gradually dialled up to a warming after-taste with a slight sharpness.

What a lovely little wake-up drink to send me on my way for a jolly fun weekend. Train journeys are always made delightful with a tasty beer and besides, the OH is a Geordie so train-drinking is part of his culture. So we arrive in Bristol refreshed and ready for a weekend of food, drink, good friends and good times… See what we got up to later this week!

 
 

Too many cooks…..?

I am counting down the days until the weekend. This weekend is the beery-ribsy-pulled-porky weekend I have been waiting for. Yes Grillstock is here at last! Apart from the barbeque extravaganza, I have a couple of days either side in one of the best cities in the South, Bristol, home to a great many awesome breweries. In the area, there’s Bristol Beer Factory, Arbor Ales, Zero Degrees, RCH, GWB and Bath and they’re such a friendly bunch. So friendly they got together this year to produce the Bristol United Brewers Collaboration Smoked Porter.

Well I’ve never had a beer made by so many different brewers and honestly, I was ever so slightly concerned that this would involve too much compromise. How does that even work? Does everyone just chuck a little something in and hope for the best? Clearly not – my partner and I have just bought a load of kit with the intention to start home-brewing and it looks like I’m about to open Frankenstein’s lab there’s so much science involved! This must have been quite an interesting operation but is it any good? First impressions say oooh yes indeed. Wow that aroma! So roast toasty with fruit and nuts and a touch of cola. Not a lot of smoke but I don’t miss it. There’s not much smoke in the taste either until a tiny waft right at the back but who needs it with a beer this deliciously rich. The mouthfeel is velvety and thick and it’s brimming with coffee and hazelnuts, cut through with the tangy orange of the hops.There’s a little candy sweetness through the soft center. and a slightly herbal hoppy bitterness through the end which makes the mouth water. Not a very well-smoked porter but still very beautiful.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Porters

 

Castles, Ravens and…Piddle in Dorset

So as you know, my adventures up North, where all the best beer is, have come to an end. Until I get up to Leeds and Bradford at the end of August, I’m stuck in the South so I figured I might as well make more of an effort with what we have down here. There must be some pubs and beers worth getting out for. Following on from my recent trip to Salisbury where I made the lovely discovery of The Village pub, I plan to actively seek out the best of what the South Coast has to offer. OK, I haven’t encountered a town quite like York, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester or Newcastle yet in terms of the sheer concentration of pubs serving good quality, varied beer but there must be some good stuff?

This week we have had the in-laws to entertain so we took a little trip with them to the beautiful Dorset village of Corfe, home to the famous Corfe Castle. Although the pubs seemed to have a rather uninspiring selection on the pumps, we settled on a rather delicious lunch at the Greyhound which boasts the honor of the ‘most photographed pub in Britain’ with good reason. It’s situated slap bang in front of the castle itself. The food was served in generous portions and cooked to perfection; I went for a fresh, locally caught mackerel with perfectly cooked garlic potatoes, but the ale was a choice between Doombar, some other dullness (can’t quite remember!) and Mallard IPA (4%ABV) from Cottage Brewing (Somerset) One poor chap at the bar was so confused he ended up with a half of Guinness and a half of Doombar. In the same glass. I was later advised by Twitter that this is an actual ‘done’ thing known as ‘Black & Tan.’ I am now intrigued. However, since I had never tried the Mallard before and have a soft-spot for train geekery, I ended up with a pint of that. Although it was a lot more mellow than the IPAs I’ve been enjoying recently, it made for a decent lunch time pint with very played-down, mellowed out fruity floral hops.

No pretty little English village is complete without a lovely little village shop and luckily this little shop was well-stocked with Dorset Ales. Surprising that none of these local breweries seem to have made it into the local pubs I saw in Corfe. At least I can get bottles to try at home! First was Corfe Raven (3.9% ABV), a traditional English Porter named for the ravens who have always been resident at the castle. The word ‘Corfe’ is actually derived from the ancient French for raven and it has been said that their presence at the ruins is a good omen. After a little drama with some liveliness opening the bottle, the porter poured out as black as a raven with a light and frothy head, oozing with aromas of chocolate, hazelnut and liquorice. Despite its relatively low ABV, it’s packed with delicious flavours of milk chocolate with some of the creamy characteristics of a milk stout. There’s a little bitter coffee at the back balanced by a touch of sharp raspberries. Pretty impressive!

Next up was the Ise of Purbeck amber ale, Studland Bay Wrecked (4.5% ABV) which actually comes from a micro-brewery at the Bankes Arms Inn, Studland Bay. First impressions were good – the colour was a lovely cloudy burnt amber with autumn aromas of burnt toffee and spices. However, I found the flavour a little thin on the ground and somewhat hollow. Flavours of apples, toffee and spices were finished with a small zing and a touch of bitterness, but it was all too short-lived and straight-forward.

The Dorset week finished with a pair from Piddle, a relatively new but well-loved brewery with a rather childish sense of humour. The first bottle we cracked open was Little Willie, named in honor of the world’s first tank which now resides at top Dorset attraction, the Tank Museum. As we have come to expect from bottle-conditioned beers, this one was just bursting to escape and had an impressively huge, thick head when poured out, although my pouring skills could have also played a part. The deep ruby-hued ale was bursting with bready, fruity aromas with black and red currants. The sweet and sour taste of raspberries and blackberries had the softening touch of toffee and vanilla rounding all the flavours off in a soft little fruity bunde. I found it slightly gasssy but this didn’t spoil it. This was a good example of how I want an English ruby ale to be.

The final drop from Dorset was Piddle’s take on ginger beer. Since the fabulous Grandma’s Weapons Grade Ginger Beer seems to have disappeared, I am again on the search for a new favorite ginger beer. Sadly, Piddle Leg Warmer (4.3%ABV) doesn’t quite live up to the tag line of ‘Proper hot and ginger,’ but it’s still fairly pleasant none the less. It was a very pleasant clear golden colour with no bubbles and it felt quite thin which gave it  a summery beer-garden-guzzler feel. The aroma was full of pure delightful candied ginger which carried into the flavour. It was a very sweet interpretation of ginger with a slight bitterness lurking in the background. The slight bitter dryness left in the mouth reminded me of the feeling after eating under-ripe bananas. Despite the sweetness, there was a little belly-warmth at the end. So the search for Grandma’s special sauce will continue, but if I’m hankering for ginger this one fills the gap nicely.

So, although the style is a little bit lighter than what I go for, Dorset seem to be doing pretty well for beer. On the way back from Corfe, we made a little stop at Swanage to have a look around which seemed to be doing a lot better in terms of serving local beer in the pubs at first glance. This will, of course, warrant further investigation so the Dorset report will continue in the near future…

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Amber, IPA, Memoirs of a Bierebelle, Porters

 

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Back to York (again)

Well I’ve finally finished typing up my previous visit to York and now I’ve only gone back for more! As well as another beautiful wedding, there was also a fabulous birthday party but I did get time to try a beer or two in between running around seeing people. Yet again, events up North prevented me from managing to get to a major beer festival in Southampton (this time the main CAMRA festival) but the beauty of being in York is that you can make every day a beer festival. Around the taps and bottle shops, I would not even like to hazard a guess at how many there are to chose from on a given day, although if you are a York resident I would encourage you to get involved with the census which will give us a better idea of the variety available! On arrival, after spending an afternoon with my mum we didn’t have a lot of time before needing to be out again so we paid a visit to our favorite bottle shop on Stonegate. Although we couldn’t really pop upstairs to visit Trembling Madness, we managed to pick up a few treats to enjoy whilst we got ready for our night out back at the hotel.

I was a little bit ambivalent about the first one we chose to open, Struise Rosse (6%ABV), an amber ale,  Perhaps I had expected more from Struise since I always get really excited about their beers and have never had a bad one. Not to say this was bad, just a bit ordinary. It’s a pretty syrupy amber color out of the bottle with a little bit of a bubbly head but the aroma wasn’t particulatly outstanding; a little honey cereal going on so perfectly fine. It did taste a lot better than it smelled. It was fairly dry with notes of cereal, pine and a zingy, short and slightly citrusy finish. Absolutely nothing wrong here, just not nearly at the level of the others I’ve had from these guys.

Moving on from the familiar Struise Brouwers to the distinctly unfamiliar Sweedish Nils Oscar Rökporter. I’d seen the God Lager in Waitrose but never been interested enough to try it; maybe I’ll give it a go now though. As a fan of smoked porters with absolutely no knowledge of the Sweedish language, I

This stuff Roks!

made an uneducated guess at the style of this beer based on the name and I surprisingly got it right. Rökporter was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise, dark and opaque and a little carbonated with a malty bitter chocolate aroma and a delicate smoke. The taste of dark chocolate and malt was clean, crisp, refreshingly well-rounded and had a hint of smokiness that built with each sip and lasted through to leave behind a lovely smokey aftertaste.

After another night on G&Ts (the party venue was all about the John Smiths and Fosters), wandering the shops in York I had beer on my mind again and, window-shopping on Fossgate I was quickly drawn to the lovely little deli, The Hairy Fig. Since I don’t cook in York, I’d never paid much attention to the food shops so I had totally overlooked this place multiple times, but it turns out that they actually stock a small selection of local ales from small brewers, none of which I had actually seen before! I ended up selecting just one bottle since we already stocked up the day before but it turned out to be a pretty wise choice. Brown Cow is a small brewery run by a husband and wife team from Selby which has many awards on it’s trophy shelf so I’m pretty sad I missed it when I lived up north. Deciding which beer to buy was a tough choice as Captain Oats sounds yummy (I’ll definetly try it next time) but I went for Mrs Simpson’s Thriller

Sweet and delicious

in Vanilla (5.1%ABV), their porter flavoured with fresh vanilla pods. The dark chocolatey coloured beer gave off gorgeous dark chocolate malt and vanilla aromas as I poured and reminded me a lot of Titanic‘s Chocolate and Vanilla Stout. Although the mouthfeel was fairly thin and effervescent, it carried a lot of rich and complex flavour of vanilla and milk chocolate and was still incredibly satisfyingly rounded.

Being a responsible aunt, I arranged to meet my sister with her partner and my young neices at the York Tap. Obviously because it’s spacious enough for the pushchairs. Nothing to do with the selection of beers. But since we were there, it would be rude not to and it was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to try a beer by Hardknott straight from the tap! Hardknott are one of my very recent discoveries but they have quickly become one of the breweries I seek out – the first bottle I had was particularly memorable as I only bought it because the stout, Aether Black 28 Year 2010, had been matured on oak from a whisky dating back to the year I was born. I loved it so much I have another bottle set aside for my birthday this year. At the Tap, I was lucky enough to try their Black IPA, Code Black (5.6%) which surprisingly smelled like a stout, looked like a stout but tasted like an exceptional Black IPA. The hoppy aroma was almost clove-spiced. very bitter sweet tang with hint of roasted malt to round it off with style. The bitter, citrus flavour had a little chocolate tone and a long bitter finish and pleasant alcoholic warmth.

As a Brewdog fan, I was also pleased to see Growler (4.5%ABV), the blonde lager they made especially for the Tap/Pivni family, on the bar. This turned out to be a pretty special summery tipple with a tropical fruity aroma of tinned peach with a delightful blossom garnish. Quite sweet and light in flavour but also smooth with a hint of vanilla custard towards the end. Yummy golden effervescent summer pudding. More a happy purr stretched out in the sun than a growler. Super for a sunny session. In true Bierebelle style though, it wasn’t long before I was back on the dark stuff. This time it was two from Thornebridge. My OH had the Black Harry (3.9%ABV) and I went for the Beadeca’s Well (5.3%ABV), but who had chosen the best?

Battle of the Thornebridge darks – Beadeca’s Well (front) v. Black Harry

Black Harry was what I would expect if I asked for a dark, drinkable ale for sessions. At 3.9%, you could neck a couple of pints of these without worrying a great deal. The flavour was a perfectly pleasant dark roasted malt with notes of dark fruit and carried some of the burnt toffee from the aroma. The mouthfeel was pretty thin and in all made for an ale that was not really that challenging, but perhaps fine for a little guzzler. I’m pretty sure I came out the winner of this round with the exceptional Beadeca’s Well. The second smoked porter of the weekend, it had a much more luxuriously opaque dark colour and foamy head than the Harry.The rich flavour had a delicate spice about it with semi-sweet chocolate and sightly dialled-back smokiness (it put me more in the mind of a smoked cheese than sausage). The fullness came to quite a dry end with a waft more of smoke. A truely elegant porter.

After the third (and final) wedding this year, we only had half a day left in York. Having heard about the very limited (only 346 bottles and one barrel made!) Maltings/Brass Castle collaboration for the York 800 years celebration, I was keen to get to the Maltings to try it before it disappeared! At 8%, this Russian Imperial Stout had six different malts and grains in the boil as well as a touch of vanilla. I was impressed by the beautiful dark colour and vanilla espresso aroma. It wasn’t as thick as some stouts I’ve had recently but this had no impact on the masses of complex flavours. At first taste, it was slightly sharp (according to the OH almost geuze-like) but the taste developed into a delicious, but still slightly acidic, well-rounded espresso with dark roasted malts and a

The guy on the bottle looks awfully familiar…

tiny citrus tang cutting through. Gorgeously complex and refreshing, and another stout which was actually incredible served cool! If you live in York, you need to be quick as The Maltings is the only place to find it and it is very limited. I’ve read online that the landlord, Shaun plans to crack open the only barrel in July so if you want to go along it might be a good idea to follow their Twitter. Also, in July the brand new extention and outdoor terrace should be complete so there will be even more room to enjoy their brilliant selection of beers. I was lucky enough to have a guided tour by Shaun when I was there and, although it’s still a work in progress, it’s going to be pretty cool when it’s finished. Let me know how it turns out if you go – I sadly won’t be back in York until Christmas.

Now that the wedding season has drawn to a close, Bierebelle is mainly staying in the South, apart from a little trip to Leeds and Bradford at the end of August. This means I will be making an effort for once to hunt down the great pubs and breweries of Southampton and the South Coast! If any of you readers can tell me about anywhere round this way I should check out, get in touch on the comments or via Twitter. Also, if you are a beer geek and haven’t made the discovery yet, you can also follow my little ‘mini-reviews’ at Untapped. Until next time…

 
 

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Return to York and dreams of chocolate…

Wow it feels like years ago that I started writing about my trip up to York & Sheffield so maybe I should bring it to a close! The problem (if you can call it that) is there is just far too much good beer up there. There was a debate on Twitter not long ago about whether you could get away with only drinking beer from a 100 mile radius of your home town. Now I live in Southampton, I am certain I wouldn’t last long but if I was still in York, just think of the choice! York Brewery, Rudgate, Thornebridge, Manchester Marble, Sam Smiths, Revolutions, Ilkley, Durham, Mordue, Kirkstall, Saltaire, Magic Rock, Bradfield, Titanic….I could sit here for hours! However, even in a land as rich in good beer as the beautiful North of England, I would still hanker for the odd foreign beer here and there and in York that need is more than catered for.

All hotel minibars should look like this

Although we were in a Travelodge above a fairly decent Weatherspoons, our first stop was The Bottle, which conveniently has Trembling Madness tucked away in the loft like a crazy uncle. Amongst the stellar selection of bottles from both home and away, it’s always difficult, especially since we were only there for three days with limited luggage space but we made our choices well and came back to the room with smiles on our faces and a ching-ching in our bags. Taking a pitstop at the hotel, it was hard to resist a beer so first up was Flying Dog‘s Kujo Imperial Chocolate Stout (8.9%ABV). I always look forward to Flying Dog beers, not only because they’re darned tasty but also because they take label illustrations to the next level with the help of Ralph Steadman who also worked with Hunter.S.Thompson. Kujo is part of the Wild Dog series and this dog is a bit of a crazy bitch. I’m not sure if it was the hotel plastic cup but out of the bottle it was pretty lively compared to others in this style. The malty black treacle and strong espresso aromas jump up and lick you in the face and the silky opaque espresso black liquid foams at the mouth as you pour. The coffee bites, giving you a flavour jolt and leaving an alcoholic afterburn not dissimilar to Cafe Patron. Lost weekend planned? This is the breakfast for you, but there was a city out there so we weren’t staying in the hotel all day!

Fortified with our dose of coffee, we headed straight to the York Tap’s older sister pub, Pivni. Although it’s tiny and can sometimes look off-puttingly busy, those people are there because like you, they know where to find great beer. Fight your way to the bar and you can always climb the higgledy staircase and fit in somewhere in their gorgeous upstairs lounge. We were lucky enough to find the rather fancy Thornebridge Hall Bracia (10%) on tap which is a beer I’ve been longing to try for a while but never got round to shelling out for (the fancy Thornebridge carries a fancy pricetag)! The one-third pint I ordered was dripping with luxurious sophistocation; opaque black treacle coating the sides of the glass with sticky legs and topped with a cloud of crema. The aromatic waft of honey, malt and burnt toffee carries through to the rich dark-roasted malt flavor. Lip-smackingly sweet but well-balanced and drinkable, this glass has class. Who knows, maybe I’ll stretch to the whole bottle next time.

Moving on from Pivni to Trembling Madness, my luck was in again! On the taps was another I had been wanting to try for some time. Ever since that magical Christmas morning finding a Temptation in my Christmas stocking, Durham Brewery has held a special place in my heart and I was impressed when I heard that they had attempted to reclaim the true meaning of Stout with their White Stout (7.2%). According to their publicity, two hundred years ago a stout was a strong beer but not necessarily black. Strictly speaking, the white is closer to a strong IPA and in appearance is quite close to a golden lager. Dangerously drinkable, it’s easy to forget the high alcohol content. The delightfully thin, effervescent mouthfeel and unusual limey bitterness dance over the tastebuds in a summery wave. Perfect for this heatwave we’ve been having but potentially dangerous.

The main event and our reason to be in York that weekend was, of course, my dear mother’s wedding which was an awesome day. Although the reception venue was perfect and the staff were lovely, there was only Sam Smith’s Taddy Lager on the bar. Since I probably drink too much beer, especially in the north, I have a pretty strict policy of only drinking it if a) I love it or b) I’d love to try it so I played safe and stuck with my trusty backup drink, G&T. The soberingly chilly walk back to the hotel, however, put me in the frame of mind to have a little bit of a nightcap. Mikkeller I Beat You (9.7%) was waiting, perched on the shelf like some hulk of a beer in it’s bright green label – it looked like a challenge and I would take that challenge thanks. Mikkeller’s generally pretty bad-ass with his hoppage but the famous gypsy brewer had gone up to the house of Brewdog to whip this one up so it was clearly obvious there’d be trouble. Prizing the top off, the immediate hit of the hops is intense, strong and floral, almost like geranium! The colour is a clear, dark, golden amber like syrup, beautiful but bruitish in its full-frontal attack. It whollops you in the chops with a bouquet of lemon, lime, bitter hops, more bitter, but stays sprightly and lively – maybe less Hulk and more Yoda in Episode 2. It leaves your tongue feeling a little like you’ve been making out with a lemony, furry-tongued hop but not unpleasantly so and leaves your mouth watering for round two. Smart choice for a night-cap…maybe not so. Perhaps thankfully, our next Mikkeller of the night, Hop Burn Low (10%ABV), had dialled the hops back somewhat.. It’s probably more relaxing in the evening to have a beer that won’t knock you about so much you end up in hoppital.

Wedding cake. Bottled.

So, the morning after the wedding. Maybe the G&T strategy had been a good one. Feeling good. How’s about wedding cake for breakfast? And something equally classy to wash it down? Yes this is what Struise‘s Pannepot Grand Reserva 2008 (10%ABV) was intended for surely? It’s been aged for 14 months on French oak before maturing a further 8 months on Calvados oak barrels so I guess there was a lot of awesome waiting to get out of that bottle, hence why it was a surprisingly lively pour. Arrestingly and voluptuously gorgeous, the lip-smacking sticky-sweet and thick liquid is initially a sweet caramel but blooms into sweet, malty, spicy dark raisins and dried cherries with a bitter coffee finish. Mind-blowing luxury worth getting out of bed for, has the highlight of the day arrived too early…?

The sweet taste of chocolatey victory

But it’s the last day in York! The last day of obsessively checking Twitter to see if anybody has managed to finally rotate that Rudgate York Chocolate Stout (5%ABV) onto the bar at last! Today must be my lucky day! The Maltings has come up with the goodies! After killing a bit of time at the shops, we headed there at lunch time, my mind full of doom that maybe they had sold out already, maybe I’d never try it after all. We got to the door and the friendly landlord was waiting for us, poised to pour a pint of the chocolatey stuff. All was well and I had just had the weird experience of being recognised from Twitter which confused me a little until I remembered that I had been relentlessly harrassing The Maltings for a week demanding to know when the York Chocolate Stout would be on. A collaboration between Rudgate’s Craig Lee and Sophie Jewett from the York Cocoa House, it was made for the York Chocolate Festival to celebrate York’s rich chocolate heritage. Colombian cocoa gives it it’s authentic chocolatey flavor. It’s similar in looks to Guinness, deep black with a contrasting white foamy cap that sticks to the side of the glass. The full chocolate flavour, packed with chocolate malts and a flourish of vanilla make this one of the best of its kind I’ve had. We had originally planned to stop for one or two, but the chocoholic had been awakened and one or two soon became quite a few which led me to another discovery; The Maltings does exceptional food! Fresh from the ‘Dragon’s Pantry,’ my pie was deliciously satisfying but my goodness was I eyeing up the OH’s plate of their famous chilli. It’s getting quite the rep as the best Chilli in York, possibly even Yorkshire and is the ideal companion for the Chocolate Stout. The perfect end for our beery week in the North!

 

 
 

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