Café au Lait?

Through this blog you will come to know that as well as beer, I am also a massive fan of coffee so when you put the two together, I’m a very happy girl. On the South Coast, we are very fortunate to have our own experts in this heavenly partnership, Dark Star. Their Espresso remains high on my list of favorite beers and it’s always easy to find bottled (at least in the South of England). My first experience of it was shamefully from out-of-date bottles being sold off in a local off-licence, but it was exceptional even then!


There's something not quite right here...

Alongside their regular pemanent selection, they also do an imaginative selection of seasonal ales throughout the year, as well as monthly specials. February’s offering was a Black Coffee Pilsner, apparently inspired by a trip to the Czech Republic and the ‘intrinsic coffee flavour in the unfiltered dark Budvar.’ I was very excited to learn that my local ‘Bitter Virtue’ had procured a cask of the stuff this week. So excited that I have been checking the website obsessively twice a day to watch for the ‘coming soon’ to turn into ‘available now.’ Last night it finally came on so off I went, milk carton in hand to have it filled straight from the cask. It’s a good job I did too – they only had a pint left after filling my carton!

So it's not really milk?

Another breakfast beer?

There’s something kind of fun about buying beer off the cask and carrying it home in a milk carton. It makes me feel like I’m recycling and getting a nice fresh beer at the same time. It also means I have to drink it all up on the same day (that’s what I tell myself). I had already been allowed a small taste in the shop so I was eager to get stuck in as soon as I got home. After a hard day of practically re-building my bike with muscles still burning from the kettle-bells session the night before, I needed a little pick-me-up and by gosh, that’s exactly what this is!

In the glass, it’s such a deep brown it’s almost black. You could mistake it for black coffee! It even smells just like coffee but this ain’t no cheap instant. This is a chic, sophistocated dark-roasted espresso. There’s a hint of malt there just to remind you that this is actually a beer. The coffee flavour runs all the way through from start to finish with a delicate sweetness. According to Dark Star, this is down to the intrinsic coffee flavor of the imported Czech malts as well as the coffee beans added after fermentation. I was rather surprised at how refreshing this is for such a dark beer. It’s rich and full of flavor without being too strong. It definately shares a lot in common with the dark Czech lagers I have tried (Budvar & Bernard Dark).

I really really hope that Mr Dark Star will make us some more of this lovely stuff (pretty please). It would be another worthy addition to the growing list of beers for breakfast (as a weekend treat of course). For tomorrow’s treat, I’ll have to make do with my humble bottle of Mikkeller Koppi IPA – I might even review it if it’s any good…

Black & Blue

Atlantic Blue: Yummy Cornish Porter

Rich, dark, drinkable

So just thought I’d do a little review of this rather lovely porter from Atlantic ( who I had actually never heard of before their beers started to appear in Bitter Virtue, my beloved local beer store. Atlantic are based in Newquay in Cornwall and boast some impressive green credentials. The whole operation is a very local affair; they grow their own organic hops, use pure Cornish water  drawn fresh from their own spring and use organic barley and wheat malts produced by Warminster Maltings. Plus, they are certified vegan!

Atlantic initially caught my eye because of the variety of styles which includes a range of ales developed with Michelin starred chef Nathan Outlaw to enjoy with food, as well as the more traditional styles. ‘Atlantic Blue’ is their porter. According to the blurb, it’s a ‘rich porter that smoothly blends five different malts. It exhibits a light smokiness fused with roasted coffee and hints of dark chocolate.’ It doesn’t disappoint. The color is deep chocolate brown and the scent is rich vanilla and hazelnut with a little malt. At 4.8%abv, it’s an average strength and goes down extremely smoothly. Just the kind of thing for unwinding after a long day. The first thing I notice is the creamy chocolate, then a slightly acidic, slightly tangy coffee. The coffee builds the further down you get and lingers. I don’t really get the smokiness but I’m not too upset since it’s a great porter for a regular evening treat.

Reassuringly expensive?

Not long ago, I became aware of some rather interesting reports from accross the Atlantic. Reports of a covert operation going on at Brooklyn Brewery under the code name ‘Black Ops.’ Apparently, they had been creating a lucious Russian black stout each year, but when questioned they denied all knowledge. Still, the reports kept coming in from all over the web. Some said they had procured Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels in a deal shrouded in secrecy and they had been aging a stout in these casks for four months, bottling it flat and re-fermenting it using champagne yeast. Pretty decadant for a stout. So surely if it really did exist, I would have seen it on their website? One day in late January 2012, a covert operation was launched in Southampton UK. The mission? To find proof of whether or not Black Ops actually exists once and for all. It wasn’t long before the trail lead us to the door of Bitter Virtue (, a small, friendly, unassuming off-licence with a secret. They had been selling Black Ops!

The evidence

They said it wasn't true - here's the proof

What is Black Ops? In the glass, it is a  rich, black velvet with a tight, luxurious, caramel head. At 10.7% ABV, the flavour is strong but impressively smooth. The rich bourbon shines through, closely followed by muscavado sugar, dark fruit cake and burnt toffee. Then you’re hit with the coffee wrapped up in soft sweet vanilla. Truely an exceptional stout and a must-try if you can track it down.

So if you couldn’t find this 2011 edition, when will there be more? A Brooklyn employee who would not give his name says ‘We have no idea what you’re talking about, and if there was such a beer, we would certainly not be able to tell you it’s released every November in exceedingly small quantities.’ My sources have revealed that Bitter Virtue may still have a couple of bottles. But I have a strong suspicion they are on to us. I’m going to buy another before it disappears without a trace.

At around £20, yes you could buy a decent wine or a few good bottled beers but I guarantee they won’t come close to this. At 750ml, it’s even more fun to share with a good friend (ok a very good friend). When Stella Artois coined their marketing slogan Reassuringly Expensive, I doubt they had discovered the American craft scene (or seen what their dross sells for in Asda come to think of it). It is even less likely that they would have encountered Brooklyn Black Ops, since Black Ops does not exist. Or so they would have you believe.

The post-Christmas Biereless-Belle

So as you might have noticed in the first installments of this still very young blog, I got through quite a bit of beer over Christmas and I haven’t even told you the half of it. Unfortunately, since I am just a humble girl, the seasonal festivities weren’t kind to the waist-line and this Bierebelle was in danger of becoming a little beer-belly instead! So, January was to become the age of austerity. Nothing but coffee, tea and juice to refresh this poor girl. However, as usual, all the good intentions came to an abrupt end with the arrival of a long-lost parcel. It was way back in November that my partner and I had unknowingly planted the seed of our downfall, when we placed our order for Bristol Beer Factory’s 12 Stouts of Christmas as an early treat for ourselves. Little did we know that our poor little stouts would be uncaringly man-handled by the courier and left broken in the corner of a warehouse. Needless to say, we grieved for our 12 fallen friends but there was no time to pursue it with the good folk of the Bristol Beer Factory. They were presumably occupied by their Christmas preparations and we were homeward-bound for the holidays so we had no choice but to console ourselves at the jovial drinking establishments of York and Newcastle. And as you no doubt read in the previous post, a lot of drinking was done.

So we went into January with a firm ‘no alcohol until Valentines Day’ policy which we embraced whole-heartedly. Until that fateful day when those wonderful amazing and lovely chaps at the Bristol Beer Factory had replaced our 12 stouts, minus the Chilli but the Bristol Old Ale they put in as a replacement more than made up for it! Then Friday 13th came around and were headed for a weekend away in London. Oops. But before you judge, know that we did go to London to see the Outdoor Show and the Bike Show (which is what healthy people do!) and when in London it is considered just plain rude not to visit The Rake and The Cask which are two of the finest drinking establishments our capital has to offer. I can’t even tell you exactly what I drank but I’m pretty sure Mikkeller had some involvement.

Well January was a write-off from there folks. Thankfully, I have also discovered Spinning Classes are actually fun in a sweaty and often-painful way. Where else do they play Sash anymore? And guess what else? I haven’t actually finished the 12 stouts yet (obviously too busy polishing my halo) as I’ve been ‘rationing’ (or rather getting sidetracked by other bottles that somehow find their way to my kitchen). So I promise, at some point I WILL review those 12 stouts! A little birdy told me they will be doing another set next Christmas and if the ones I have already had are anything to go by, they will definetly be on my list!

What I drank on my holidays…

So, as promised, I’m going to tell you about some of the delicious Christmas (and general wintery) beers I tried. I’ll try not to go on so I’ll only tell you about a few sessions. As you know already, the Bierebelle Christmas deliciousness award already went to Gourdon Carolus Christmas! In fact, since this was the first one I tried at The House of Trembling Madness, I regret to say that it stole the show from the rest of the seasonal line-up. Nevertheless, I was also impressed by Gordon Xmas which is a typical Belgian style but has a little hint of burnt toffee. As expected Delerium’s festive offering, Delerium Noel, was also of a typically high standard; quite sweet, a little acidity in the back and a hint of bananas. La Chouffe Christmas was quite similar in style but since this was drunk directly after the Gourdon Carolus, it was hard to find much to remark on.

At this point, I should mention that since most of the beer styles I enjoy are fairly strong, I prefer to go for halves, or maybe even thirds. I used to have a bit of a thing about not wanting to look like a typical little girl,and I still have pints where there’s not much of interest on the bar. However I’ve come to the conclusion that if there’s lots of beers to get through, it’s better to a) be sober enough to taste them properly and b) not be bankrupt (some of these aint that cheap!).

So on with the ales… unfortunately not all seasonal specials can be relied upon to be awesome. At the York Tap, I tried a variety of specials and not-so-specials and I couldn’t help wondering why there wasn’t really much that stood out on the 20 taps that time. The first disappointment came from Tempest’s seasonal ale, Chipotle Spiced Special Porter. It was an ok-ish chilli porter with a little bit of spice, but I expected a little smoke from the Chipotle and it didn’t deliver. The usually reliable Thornebridge also let me down a little with their McConnel’sVanilla Stout which was slightly too hoppy with not enough Vanilla. I don’t think this is strictly a Christmas beer so you might see it at other times of year, but the true masters of Vanilla Stout are still Titanic. Manchester Marble Chocolate Marble was another ale which, in my opinion, had too much hop for the style but it was perfectly acceptable, just not that special.

So, on to Brigantes, the best pub on Micklegate if you ask me and I’m so glad I managed a visit as I had the chance to try the very special Gyle 479 from Leeds. It’s aged in whiskey casks so it has a rich and complex flavor with dark winter berries and a hint of smoke at the back. Very well-rounded and satisfying – I hope I encounter this one again! They also had Dark Star Winter Solstice on which I couldn’t resist trying since this brewery never seems to disappoint. Not the typical winter style, it was strong and dark but had a strong citrus flavor with some biscuitiness and was very bitter. Not what I would normally drink but I appreciate what Dark Star were going for and they did it well.

Visits to York always have to include a few hotel room beers to unwind after doing the rounds with the friends and family. The city is lucky to have a few good bottle shops such as The Bottle on Stonegate and Gluggles on Goodramgate ( The favorite this year had to be Southern Tier Iniquity – I really wish this brewery had more bottles imported since they are awesome (incidently their Pumpking halloween special is one of the best things I have ever tasted). If you can imagine a rich fruit cake with black cherries, but imagine it as a beer as well, that’s Iniquity. Amazing. Another fruity treat came from the boys at Brew Dog in their yummy Christmas Porter. A tiny hint of hopiness and coffee could be detected but mainly just an indulgent Christmas pudding in a bottle.

Of course hotel beer is not necessarily for the evening and Mikeller took the first step into the breakfast beer niche with their exceptional Beer Hop Breakfast. You will come to know that I am not the biggest fan of over-hopping but Mikeller somehow got away with it. I have a lot of respect for their no-compromise attitude. This one was a bit of a challenge but very rewarding with a chewy cereal flavor.

Being in York, I also took the opportunity to drink some local ales (believe me a lot of Old Centurion’s Ghost is always enjoyed on trips home). York Brewery’s 2011 offering, Humbug, was bitter, sweet and not really a Christmas beer. Dark toffee in color, it also has a slight burnt toffee flavor. Maybe it would make a good bonfire night beer. The other notable local ale, Sam Smiths Imperial Stout crammed in everything I love in a stout. Dark, creamy, smooth with chocolate, coffee and hazlenut flavors. Please please can somebody in the South start ordering Sam Smiths!

So there’s the Christmas report – I hope I didn’t go on too long! It didn’t even cover them all though. There’s still the 12 Stouts of Christmas from Bristol, but that might be for another day…

What I did on my holidays….

OK so I am probably a little late with my Christmas post and I was wondering if I should bother at all. Then I remembered Christmas is just about the Bierebelle’s favourite time of the beer year. As a Northern lass living in the South of England, I do get a little bored by the prevalence of hoppy session beers. When it comes to ales, I am very much drawn towards the dark side. Porters, stouts and black lagers are this girl’s preferred brews. So Christmas brings a bounty of treats for me. My Christmas is usually split between the beautiful and historic city of York and beside the sea at Whitley Bay.

The North of England really is spoilt for choice when it comes to breweries and bars. Legend has it that York has more than one pub for each of the 365 days of the year. Whether or not that is true, I do know that there is an unusually high number of quality real ale pubs for such a small city. A good place to start is the York Tap (, not just because of it’s convenient location in a beautifully restored tea room within the train station but also because of its 20 (yes 20) real ale pumps on the spectacular circular bar. Expect to see Thornbridge, Manchester Marble, Ilkley, Hardknott… and that doesn’t even account for the amazing selection of keg and bottled beers. The Tap is also one of the few places you can sample beers from the Czech brewers, Bernard. My favourite is Bernard Dark, a lager similar to (but I think nicer than) the dark Budvar. Lucky for York, the Tap also has a sister bar, Pivo, where you can find a similar offering in a slightly more intimate setting in the heart of the city.

Of course no visit to York is complete without sampling a pint or two from the only brewery within the city walls ( They own a few pubs in the city but this Christmas I only had time to visit the Yorkshire Terrier on Stonegate where I made the most of being able to drink the amazing Centurion’s Ghost Ale straight from the cask. It’s a very drinkable dark ruby with a subtle fruity taste – just the thing for catching up with old friends. If you are ever interested in learning where Ghost Ale got it’s name, please feel free to ask any York native you meet. It’s a fascinating tale.

The House of Trembling Madness

The House of Trembling Madness

Also on Stonegate, there’s a new kid on the block. The bohemian little brother of the Evil Eye cocktail lounge, The House of Trembling Madness, has quickly captured the hearts of the discerning drinkers of York ( This beautiful medieval bar above a rather well-stocked bottle shop is small but has an enviable selection of real ales alongside craft beer from the US and the continent. This is where I tasted my new favourite Christmas beer – Gourdon Carolus Christmas. If you only have one beer next Christmas (goodness knows why), this should be it. It crams every delicious taste and scent of Christmas into one dark, irresistible drink. It’s spicy, complex and rich with cloves, citrus, aniseed…this is what they probably kick back with at the North Pole on Boxing Day. And because they really do know how to spoil us at Trembling Madness, this wasn’t the only Christmas Special on tap. I could also highly recommend Gordon Christmas, Delerium Noel and La Chouffe Christmas. Don’t worry if you have too much of the strong stuff…there is a badger on the wall and he will wink at you when it’s time to go.

I would love to tell you more about my Christmas beer adventures and I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon. As I said, the North is blessed with many great breweries and bars. I still haven’t told you about Guy Fawkes, The Lamb and Lion, Brigantes, Koko… And there’s still the Briar Dene of Whitley Bay and the illustrious pubs of Newcastle. All in good time readers…