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Christmas time, mistletoe and…beer!

Captain Ginger Beerd

Captain Ginger Beerd

Now that the countdown to Christmas is truly in full swing and the days are actually getting cold (I am on the South coast so it’s rarely properly cold!), I’ve been raiding the beer stocks for some comforting winter warmers. A coupler of days ago I re-discovered my supply of Summer Wine beers I bought a couple of months back and then criminally neglected. Of course, this time of year is just about right for a Calico Jack (8.6%ABV), the Imperial Caribbean Ginger Stout from Yorkshire. As black as the heart of Davy Jones with an aroma reminiscent of black treacle, spices and burning pirate ships, it was a pretty satisfying stout with yummy chocolate and zing. However, I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t really detect much ginger in the aroma or flavour but I don’t tend to go for subtle when it comes to ginger!

Since that was a work night, I was pretty well-behaved and saved the main beeryness for the weekend’s festivities. Today was a special day in the Bierebelle household. The day of the pre-Christmas warm-up dinner where the OH and I enjoy a big roast with absolutely no sprouts. It’s essential stomach preparation for the real thing and a treat for just the two of us. As a reminder of the meaning of Christmas, we decided to open a bottle of our Tsjeeses (10%ABV) Belgian X-Mas Ale Brewed with Spices by De Struise Brouwers. It’s billed as a ‘jolly blonde

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

winter ale….with hints of fruit, spices, refreshing herbs, and noble hops. OK it’s not that blonde, more a dark golden colour but it sure is beautiful with its delicate white lacing and treacley clovey, herbal aroma. As I’ve come to expect from the ‘Sturdy Brewers,’ the flavour packs in a sleigh-full of complex flavours and a body so bootylicious you can almost chew it. The warming fruit and alcohol is almost like mince pie filling with lively hoppy bitterness. There’s a tiny Christmas tree pine in the finish and a lot of burnt wood and molasses.

Never ones to be content with making an awesome ale to enjoy in its original state, Struise have also aged some of the Tsjeeses in different barrels to further enhance the wonderful flavours. I had the Tsjeeses Reserva (10%ABV), Vintage 2011 aged in Port barrels but there is also an Oak Aged and a Bourbon Barrel variation. This one had so much flavour sitting in there it was bursting to get out of the bottle (literally – my poor table cloth!). It had the same cloudy deep sunset amber colour with a finer smoother light head and a similar smell, albeit a little funky. There’s the same fullness in the mouthfeel but the complex flavours are richer and there’s cherry thrown in the mix with more of the woody aftertaste. The hops aren’t as obvious and the alcohol is warmer, or maybe it’s the lovely spices.

Bristletoe and beer

Bristletoe and beer

To round off the pre-Christmas Christmas beers, we opened our bottle of the lovely Bristol Beer Factory Bristletoe (4.3%ABV) which we picked up along with our 12 Stouts of Christmas at their recent open day. It’s spiced with coriander and ginger and it’s a lovely, warm, cloudy deep orange colour with a gingerbread and marmalade aroma. At a relatively low ABV (compared to the Tsjeeses!) it still packs in a massive amount of warming spices, orange peel, dark malts and a hella bitter but spicy lingering warmth. It kinda reminds me of a Christingle (who else made those in school?). It’s like one of those comforting woolly jumper ales you wish you could come back to on any cold evening.

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Blonde, ginger beer, Stouts, Winter Ales

 

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The Ginger Beer that could possibly blast a Hole in the Wall

Everyone loves a ceiling covered in pump clips

Living in Southampton, it’s frustrating that good pubs are so few and good beer is mostly only available to drink from bottles at home. Sometimes it’s nice to drink somewhere outside the home where it’s friendly and the beer selection is good. Thankfully, since I only live a short walk from the train station, the South of England is pretty much my oyster at the weekends and one place I love to go is Portsmouth – a girl can’t just survive on beer. She’s gotta shop once in a while and Gunwharf is lovely for a potter around. Just a short walk along the seafront at some point Portsmouth melts into the gentle seaside town of Southsea which is where you will find one of my favorite pubs down here,The Hole in the Wall. It’s such a cozy little pub it almost lives up to its name so it’s a good job the patrons all seem so good-natured every time you have to squeeze through to get to the bar. Since Portsmouth is a Naval town, there’s folk from all over the country and I find it comforting to hear Northern accents whenever I wander into The Hole.The first thing that attracted me to the place was that I heard they were selling a proper real ginger beer, a ginger beer that would make the Famous Five weep with joy.

Wheal Maiden’sGrandma’s Weapons Grade Ginger Beer has become the standard ginger beers must

Poor Bierebelle got the wrong one. Lucky it was only a half!

live up to for me. It’s allegedly 5.5%ABV although I would not be surprised if there’s still a bit of fermentation occuring in that white plastic barrel it’s served from. Although it used to be on the bar at the Hole In the Wall every time we went in, it’s become slightly more random now. Thankfully there’s plenty of awesome ales to choose from so we always end up staying. The landlord must be something of a connoiseur as he keeps his ales perfectly and sources them from the very best breweries up and down the country. The last time we went in, I made a duff choice on my first drink, Quantock Royal Stag (6%ABV) which had a bit of a sicky smell and no real hop flavour, despite being marketed as a ‘traditional IPA.’ However, the OH had a pretty delectably nutty Irving Admiral (4.3%ABV) oatmeal stout which I managed to trade with him halfway though. To my delight, also on the bar was Magic Rock Carnival (4.3%ABV), a gorgeously golden summer ale with a full hop aroma with candy lemons. Magic Rock do a cracking job and The Hole is one of the only places down this way where I have seen it on tap. With the initial hit of lemons the Royal Stag had become a distant memory and then the hoppy bitterness and a trace of bitter orange at the end provided a magnificent full finish. Also on the bar was the slightly dialed-down but still very refreshing Curious (3.9%ABV) which the OH was more than happy with.

Finally the Weapon’s Grade is back!

Although the Magic Rock had been awesome and a really rare treat, I was still missing my lovely ginger (as were two other people who came in while we were there and asked after it). I hadn’t had any since the day I celebrated completing the Great South Run at The Hole a year before. Thankfully, last weekend my luck had finally turned and I got a pint of what I had been waiting for and it was indeed worth the wait. As is usual when ordering a pint of this stuff, it came with the usual ‘watch out love, it’s a bit strong’ warnings from regulars propping up the bar which is a sure sign of a good drink. The lemon and ginger aroma is so clean and fresh, it’s almost worryingly like something you could clean your sink with it it’s so sharp. Any readers familiar with those lip-tingling plumping lip-glosses will already be familiar with the ginger burn but you get the bonus of the lovely sweetness and a mouth-watering dryness at the end. Looking at the milky white colour, the OH did point out that it had more in common with cider than beer, and he may be right but I love it no matter what it is. The only problem is I can’t normally drink more than a pint without getting giddy!

 
 

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Midnight Sun from Scotland

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. I had thought about a Mexican beer for tonight but there wasn’t one that took my fancy – maybe on a warmer day but after today’s chilly winds I was set for more of a wooly jumper style of beer and who knows warming cozy ale better than the Scots? Also, I am still fairly cross about a comment I re-read today flicking through the Spring issue of CAMRA’s ‘Beer’ magazine by an idiot. The idiot who calls himself Ade Edmondson went on record saying ‘there is no real beer in Wales or Scotland,’ thus losing any respect and credibility as a beer drinker from my point of view. Ade, meet my friends the Williams Brothers.  Based in Alloa (that’s Scotland, Ade), they use traditional ancient recipes to bring us some of the finest and most unusual beers in the whole of the UK and their appeal even reaches overseas.

I’ve been a fan of the Williams Brothers for a long time – I especially love their Fraoch Heather ale and have never been disappointed by any of their output. On a recent trip to Bristol, my partner discovered a rather good bottle shop, Corks of Cotham and was thoughtful enough to bring a few beers back for me, including a Williams Brothers Midnight Sun (5.6%ABV). It’s a dark, spiced porter with a little ginger thrown in. It pours out the colour of midnight with a thick, frothy head and you get a generous waft of coffee and spices. The taste is stronger than the 5.6%ABV would prepare you for. There’s a warming richness like a toasty fireside on a blustery night and a thick, almost sticky texture. The initial flavours of coffee and the dark chocolate malts give way to cloves and ginger which continue to flitter around on the tongue, keeping it warm for another sip. There’s also a long bitterness at the end from the hops. Another win for the Williams Brothers then.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Porters

 

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