Happy birthday to Brew (Dog)

Brewdog Camden celebrates!

Bierebelle does not feel too good. What happened yesterday? Ah yes that would be the illustrious Brewdog’s fifth birthday party at their Camden bar where they had a total tap takeover featuring over 19 of their beers! I can’t even remember how many of those I tried but I think by the state of my wallet it was quite a few. We started the day with good intentions and I even kept notes on the first few drinks but with so much choice including some incredibly rare and never-before-seen beers it was never going to end well. The first drink was a very easy decision. I was very very excited to see Tokyo (18.2%ABV) on the taps – I’ve been putting off buying it for a while because of the price tag but this was the perfect opportunity to try. It’s an astonishingly beautiful porter ‘brewed with jasmine and cranberries, dry-hopped then aged on oak chips.’ This is one of my fantasy beers I’ve daydreamed about making in my imaginary brewery I sometimes think I’ll have one day, but Brewdog have gone and beaten me to it! Although the jasmine is quite subtle, the aroma is a generous big summer picnic of cherry jam  on brown bread. A real femme-fatale, the taste is wicked dark chocolate with dried cranberries and cherries and it feels like a mouthfull of velvet.It’s a luxurious deep  brown and so thick it leaves little legs when you swirl it around the glass.You wouldn’t leave Tokyo alone with your boyfriend.

No birthday is complete without cake (and 'IPA Is Dead' Motueka)

Moving on from the sophistocated elegance of Tokyo, I set my sights on a real bad boy for my next drink, Libertine Porter (5.9%), an ‘an irreverent, devil may care rollercoaster of a porter.’ What a rollercoaster ride indeed. Just about as inky black as a porter can be, it’s rammed with hops which dance and shout for attention but once they calm down, there’s a flash of blackcurrant and liquorice. It smells like it’s been painting the town black then crashed for the night in a hedgerow of hops and brambles. This is some bad-ass refreshment but the super-dry finish means it goes down rather quickly. Wiki says a Libertine is somebody ‘devoid of moral restraints.’ This Libertine is devoid of any restraints at all and today he had brought his crazed hound, Dog A. Oh yes, the Alpha dog was in the bar and I was faced with a dilemma – would I splash out or live to regret it? I thought about this as I shared a bottle of Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale (6.7%ABV) with my two companions which was a rather pleasant change of pace. A traditional, farmhouse-style Saison with an aroma rather like hay which made a wholesome and sunny interlude but there was a dog still jumping around, wagging it’s tail to catch my eye.

Who let the dog out of the box?!

Dog A (15.1%) is a rare beast. Everyone wants a puppy when they’re 5 and Brew Dog went ahead and got one, albeit a crazed, slightly vicious but utterly beautiful one. This Imperial Stout originally appeared as the legendary AB:04 but has made a much anticipated return for the aniversary celebrations. It contains ‘copious amounts of dark malts, pure cacao, coffee and subtle naga chilli’ so pretty much all the best things you could put into a beer. Presented in a beautifully sinister black box, you know this is gonna be pretty special. The aroma is incredible; you get so much of the chocolate and naga it reminds me of my home-made chocolate chilli but with shed-loads more awesomeness. The flavour is warming, full of dark malts with a real bitter-sweet kick of the blackest chocolate and followed with a subtle after-burn. Exceptionally silky with a tiny hint of smoke. Without a doubt the best beer of the day which is just as well since my note-taking stopped here (possibly rendered speechless by the majesty of the Dog A). Thanks for letting us come to your party Brewdog – it rocked!

The true meaning of Christmas

This is what willpower looks like - still five left to drink!

Since I’ve taken the day off to wait for parcels/finish building my new bike, I thought I’d have a much-needed clearout of the beer-bottles I’ve been keeping in my kitchen for goodness knows what reason. Besides, I’ve gotta make some room for the massive Brewdog order I have coming (excited much)! I know I’ve mentioned these fabulous 12 Stouts of Christmas a few times before so I thought I’d let you have a look before I chuck the empties. So here’s Christmas 2011’s Bristol Beer Factory sleigh-load of sumptuousness mmmmmm….

Top row from left: Chocolate Orange Stout, Raspberry Stout, Bristol Stout, Imperial Stout (Laphroaig Cask), Ultimate Stout, Imperial Stout

Bottom row from left: Chocolate Stout, Bristol Vintage 2011, Vanilla Milk Stout, Hazlenut Latte Stout, Milk Stout, Imperial Stout (Glenlivet Cask)

In case you were lucky enough to get your hands on this set and you’re wondering what happened to the Chilli Chocolate Stout, the stupid oafs at Fedex destroyed it so if you happened to get one, I’d love to know what it was like. The kind and beautiful people at BBF sent us a different one to replace it (can’t remember which though) even though this was the second box they sent (Fedex destroyed the first box. I still mourn those yummy stouts).

Looking forward to Grillstock! Hope Bristol bring some more of that incredible Indian Ink to go with my barbeque ribs!

Summer drinking in South Yorkshire…

Continuing from where I left off, after our short wander into the Peak District, we weren’t really interested in going very far from the house that evening. Fortunately, since we were in Sheffield, it turned out an awesome pub would always be just around the corner and as luck would have it, we were staying only a short walk away from the Hallamshire. The Hallamshire is a beautifully refurbished pub which brings the traditional friendly local pub up to date with elegance and flair. The walls are covered with tasteful flocked wallpaper and ‘Victorian’ portraits (of debatable authenticity) and the lighting is pretty spot-on. It’s not just the decor you visit a pub for though. As part of the Thornebridge family, the bar is well stocked with a selection of their permanent ales alongside a few more special ones. Don’t worry if you’re not much of a beer fan since you’ll be thoughtfully catered for with a tap permanently devoted to Becks Vier.

Such a pretty bar

As Dark Star devotee, I made a bee-line for their exotically-titled Thornebridge collaboration, Puja (6.7%ABV). Named after a Hindu ritual where an offering is made to a deity, Puja is an IPA with a Jasmine twist. Would I offer this up though? Only to one of my very favorites but I’d rather drink it. It looks pretty much like an average IPA, light golden in color with a stark, dense, creamy white head. The aroma is sweet and hoppy but there’s also a lovely delicate whiff of jasmine. It’s got a fairly bitter flavour but not as hoppy as expected. Instead, it’s lively and sweet with a tangy finish like after eating lemon sherbert. Bizarrly though, as thirst-quenching as it is, it feels thicker in the mouth than it should. The addition of jasmine gives it an added dimension of yumminess. It reminds me of my favorite tea – far too drinkable for it’s strength!

Ignoring the April showers outside, my next pint was another light, summery affair. Wye, those crazy chaps only went and took a pale ale and chucked some whopping chunks of Cucumber in. Call the Queen – Wye (4.7%ABV) could possibly be a contender for official beer of the Jubillee! Why have cucumber sarnies when you could drink them (cereals, cucumber, same thing right?). I had a mixed initial reaction to this one – there’s really not much aroma to speak of so the pure hit of cucumber was a bit of a surprise. It did grow on me as I got further to the bottom of the glass though. It’s pretty hydrating and almost tastes healthy – could I count this in my five-a-day? Maybe. I still had the cucumber aftertaste the next morning so there must be quite a bit in there!


This is not just red ale, this is Greenwich red ale

Pretty bottle, shame about the ale...

I wasn’t going to do a review tonight but since I’ve been curious about the M&S ‘Dine In for £10’ beer option for a while I thought I’d say a little bit about it. Normally, when I get the ‘Dine In’ I go for the wine since it’s normally fairly decent and comes in handy if I go to a friend’s house and want a bottle to take. Recently, however, they have started to offer a beer and, like most fashionable supermarkets these days, they have teamed up with a popular brewery. Greenwich Red Ale (4%ABV) is a collaboration with Meantime so I was quite keen to try it since they normally do a decent ale. It’s presented in a beautiful corked 750cl bottle but the cork did end up being fairly troublesome though since it seemed slightly too small and the OH ended up using molgrips to remove it!

So, was the battle with the cork worth it? Sadly not. Looks-wise, it’s a beautiful deep amber with a fluffy white top but the smell is not really that pleasant. There’s a little fruit but it reminds me too much of old washing-up sponge. The flavor is bitter up front but not in a hoppy way, even though it was made with five different hops from the Yakima Valley, Washington. The bitterness gives way to berries, but it’s all hollow and there’s nothing but dryness at the end. From M&S and Greenwich I would have expected more. I would advise go with the wine next time.

Sheep, ducks and beer in the Peak District

Since I got distracted with a couple of reviews this week, I’m going to continue with what we got up to on our trip to the north. After the total carnage of Resistanz festival I was feeling a little fragile once more. In the absence of good beer, I tend to go for spirits and since I was determined to stay up to dance until 4am, Jagerbombs and JD and Cokes seemed like the most sensible choice at the time. This seemed less sensible in the morning when I remembered we were going to stay with the OH’s sister and brother-in-law for the rest of the week. Needless to say, Monday was a pretty quiet evening (well, for me anyway – the OH still managed to chug down a couple of tins of Old Speckled Hen). Thankfully, by Tuesday, I had bounced back from self-inflicted certain death and was ready to go exploring so we drove out to the Peak District. First stop was Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell Tart. Since I seem to have had a sheltered little life, I hadn’t previously realised the genuine article was actually known as a Bakewell Pudding. I had to try the local delicacy of course so we stopped in a lovely little cafe for a very civilised tea and pudding. Surprisingly, the Bakewell Pudding is a totally different thing to the tarts sold by Mr Kipling – try it if you can!

Baaad sheep - always in the way!

So on from Bakewell, we headed to Ladybower resevoir where our attempts to have a walk were almost thwarted by a gang of sheep charging down the road! Then on the way back from our reservoir stroll I was attacked by a duck! I was trying to feed him and he bit me. The little thug even took a run-up. We had a really lovely walk and enjoyed some spectacular scenary, but perhaps he was trying to tell me something. Maybe we needed to get to a pub. Luckily, we weren’t far from the rather lovely Ladybower Inn where they serve a selection of fine local ale. Since my shocking discovery that Bakewell Pudding is not a tart, I thought it appropriate to try the Bakewell Best Bitter (4.2%ABV) from Peak Ales. It turned out to be a pretty good choice, golden and full-flavored with a tight, frothy head. There was

Those ducks ain't touching this!

some honey and floral hops in the aroma and the flavour was cerealy with a bitter finish – pretty spot-on for some light refreshment post-walk. The OH went for a rather delicious Bradfield Farmers Blond (4%ABV) which we were quite excited to see since we only ever see Bradfield occasionally in our little corner of the country. We then went on to discover it’s a common favorite on the pumps around Sheffield, but it was still nice to see.

So, after our eventful day of walking and run-ins with the local water-fowl, the perfect ending would be a nice beer or two but we didn’t want to go too far from the house. It’s just as well that the streets of Sheffield seem to be lined with amazing pubs and we merely had to stroll around the corner to find ourselves at the Thornebridge brewery pub, the gorgeous Hallamshire. Find out what awesomeness was imbibed in the next installment…

First of the batch

So I meant to continue the beery tour up North on the blog today, but that ain’t gonna happen just yet. As a reward for actually doing some housework today, I was allowed to head up to Bitter Virtue for a tasty beer. In an effort to be less biased to Northern beers (which by the way I still consider to be best), I was on the look out for another local brew. Luckily, there’s another new brewery down our way and this one promises to make us ‘Love beer (again).’ Based in Winchester, Batch Brew is a microbrewery which so far only has one beer out, their flagship black lager known only as, Batch 9 (5%ABV). Although it’s a local bottle conditioned ale, I was at first slightly suspicious. I had heard a rumour that it was a contract brew by Oak Leaf although I could find absolutely nothing about this on the internet and doubt it’s true. The bottle’s incredibly slick-looking for the first output from a young microbrewery and even features a food-pairing recommendation from their chef/taster/resident beer fan Maria. It’s refreshingly modern and I love the heart logo! On their very polished website I would have liked to see some information about the actual brewery though, but that’s because I like to find out about the different approaches brewers take in their methods and ingredients.

The mysterious Batch 9

Even though the actual brewery is fairly mysterious, this beer speaks for itself. Don’t let the word ‘Lager’ put you off. It’s a Black Lager so it’s more similar in style to something like Budvar Dark than Carling! It’s fairly opaque black but has a thin but refreshing mouthfeel. It’s got a lovely dark roasted chocolate malt flavour and a short dry, slightly hollow finish. It has a malty aroma with a little hint of candy sweetness. I’ll be very interested to try future batches. In the pipeline they have 24 (a ‘Robust Porter’) and 50 (an ‘IPA’). Very exciting to see another up-and-coming micro on our doorstep!

Bristol Winterlude

Some readers unlucky enough to not have any trips to York or Sheffield planned (more fool you!) may be pleased to know that this is a little interlude from that particular tale. As you may be aware, I am particuarly partial to darker styles and in my humble opinion Bristol Beer Factory make a fine stout at the best of times. They’re so good that at Christmas my partner and I couldn’t resist treating ourselves to their Twelve Stouts of Christmas which is a great way to try their regulars as well as some special editions. Unlucky for you, this here bad boy is an extra-special edition. Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig Whisky Casks (9%ABV). Innis & Gunn – you’re toast. We had good times but this stuff is the real deal. This is what happens when you take an already exceptional stout then age it in the oak casks from an exceptional whisky. The ideal Friday evening treat to cozy up with and round off this wet and wintery week.

Whisky in the jar? I'd rather have some of this yummy stout thanks!

The strange thing is, although I know from my whisky-loving companions that Laphroaig is the schizz, I am in no way a whisky drinker. My partner had a bottle a while ago which he savoured and loved but for a warming spirit, I go with rum every time. I did try some a couple of times, but it was just too smokey, too much. The aroma of this stout brings it back vividly; on a blind test, I’m not convinced I could even identify this as a stout, or any other beer. It just smells of Laphroaig. I guess it’s expected since the Stout was aged for six months in oak casks previously used for Laphroaig’s 10 year old whisky. As I’ve come to expect from Bristol, this is a proper, almost black as night stout, opaque and so thick you can roll it around in the glass and watch it coat the sides. The flavour is intense, complex, voluptuous, full. It remarkably maintains the character of the stout with velvety notes of chocolate and takes on the oaky smoke of the whisky, combining to create a deep dark roasted old brown java crescendo finish. You’re quickly left with a slightly dry boozy mouth which makes you long for the next sip.

I really hope this makes a re-appearance at some point, but if not I am still super excited that Bristol will be putting together another twelve stouts this Christmas! Only another 8 months to go! For now, I’m looking forward to catching them at Grillstock, the ultimate celebration of barbeque, beer and hick music. I’m pretty sure last year I was their first customer. Who’s going this year?

Station to station

So I bid the York Tap a fond farewell and hopped aboard a train which took me all the way to the door of it’s South Yorkshire sister, the Sheffield Tap. It would be rude not to go in and the crowded train had left me feeling slightly worse for wear (nothing to do with the stupid quantities of champagne quaffed at the wedding the day before). So there was only really one way to go to regain my strength for the evening festivities ahead. Beer.

Sad beer blogger

Always impressed at correct glasswear. (Note: still clutching pen like idiot)

I was incredibly relieved to see Nøgne Ø Porter (7%ABV) on the tap as I hear porter is very beneficial for health. I have already had this one bottled a couple of times and it has quickly become a favorite so I was interested to try it straight from the keg. At home, I generally serve porters and stouts just below room temperature. I was slightly suprised to be handed my Nøgne much colder – not ice cold but cold enough to be dripping with condensation. However, I discovered that served cold it had a slightly different character, becoming almost like a grown-up iced coffee, just the thing to help a slightly fragile girl recover from her long journey! At first taste, it was slightly sour but this gave way to a well-rounded coffee flavor with a hint of liquorice and treacle toffee at the end which brought back memories of bonfire night.

All dressed up for the Dev Cat on a Sunday (poor regulars)

They also had another new favorite on the bar which I had immensely enjoyed out of a bottle recently, Magic Rock‘s Magic 8 Ball (7%). I had already decided at this point that this was (potentially) the best black IPA I have had so far. Off the tap it’s a beautiful beer to look at; an inky black with an amazingly luxuriously thick head you could write your name in. The appearance is deceptive, though, and it’s a real surprise how refreshing this is, particularly served almost ice-cold. Initially, you are hit with these incredibly bitter hops, then a wrecking ball of lemons swings right up in your face.

So, filled with beery glee, I was ready to get out to Corporation for a night of mayhem. Since (like most clubs) the ‘beer’ would actually be dishwater, we made a quick stop at the Devonshire Cat, one of my very favorite pubs in Sheffield where I treated myself to a delicious Brewdog Alice Porter (6.2%). Although by this point I was in my glad rags ready for Resistanz and without my trusty beery notebook, this is what I had to say on Untapped(my new favorite app): ‘Awesome sauce Mmmnnn. ..liquorice and dark malts. Chewy and rich.’ Just as well I had a final nice beer as all they had to offer at the Corp was San Miguel Fresca which made me a sad panda. The Untappd review I posted at the time says it all. ‘Hahaha cheapest thing on the bar. Dishwater.’ Thankfully, once we had recovered from the craziness, angle-grinders and Jagermeister Cake of Resistanz, we would be spending some time with the sister and brother-in law which would involve some rather more civilised establishments…

Angle-grinder carnage @Resistanz

Two weddings and a festival

So the Bierebelle has been back up north again and therefore drinking enormous amounts of beer rather than posting blogs. Hope you didn’t miss me! Seriously my liver (and waist) are grateful that I am safely back in the town where a decent pub is a rarity and breweries are few. The journey started in York where two very dear friends of mine tied the knot. We then ventured to Sheffield where we had an amazing night at Corporation for Resistanz festival and were shown the many, many beery sights by the sister and brother-in-law. Then it was back to York for the wedding of my awesome mother and new step-daddy (ok maybe I’m too old to say that).

Although our week of drinkingness began in York, the beeryness didn’t really begin until the day we left for Sheffield. We arrived on the Friday but were whisked away for a family barbeque, then Saturday was the wedding, although we did sneak a little drop of beer at the infamous House of Trembling Madness on the way to the church. However, whilst the half-pint of Kwak I enjoyed would normally be savoured with glee, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, for I was on a mission. Earlier that week, it had come to my attention that Rudgate Brewery were launching a York Chocolate Stout to coincide with the York Chocolate Festival. Having been raised in York by parents who worked for two of the city’s major confectioners (Nestle Rowntree & Cravens), growing up with the sweet chocolatey aromas combined with the sugar beet processed at the factory next to my school, a love for chocolate is in my blood. It is therefore a fundamental right that I should expect to try this York Chocolate Stout. Rather surprisingly, nobody had mentioned this to Trembling Madness who had failed to save even one drop from the launch the night before. I was so upset I had to console myself with cheese instead. At least they hadn’t run out of that. My goodness, they do a cracking Yorkshire Rarebit with the most delicious mustard. I was so upset about the stout I also shared a cheese board with the OH which included a delicious Newcastle Brown Ale cheese. I could just about forgive them, even if I did leave York that weekend without having sampled the longed-for stout.

Drowning my sorrows

Fighting back the tears and trying to enjoy the Kwak & cheese

So the day after the wedding, we were due to board a train to Sheffield, but it is pretty much impossible to get through York station without calling in at the York Tap. Combining the elegance of a Grade II listed former tea room with the convenience of being in a train station, it just lures you in with its’ mind-blowing selection of 32 taps and astoundingly well-stocked fridges. There was a remarkable chap in there who was celebrating the 800th birthday of York by making it his mission to try 800 beers throughout 2012. I believe he was in the right place.

We were especially lucky that Sunday for we had the opportunity to try both of the rather special Ilkley Brewey Origins beers. As a girl with an almost unhealthy obsession with rhubarb (I eat it raw with no sugar and even stick it in my juicer) I immediately went for the astonishing Siberia (5.9% ABV). Brewed with one of my new favorite beer writers Melissa Cole (read her blog where she takes the ‘beard out of beer’), it’s a saison made with Yorkshire forced rhubarb, vanilla, grains of paradise and orange peel. In the glass, it looks typically saison-ish – it’s a delightful hazy golden color. However, stick your nose in and you get a lovely delicate whiff of rhubarb and vanilla. The taste is amazingly lively with the tang of rhubarb and the vanilla almost gives you a nostalgic impression of rhubarb & custard which stays with you for a long finish. There’s a little spice and a lot of sour which makes your tongue feel a little perculiar as you get to the end.

The OH had a half of the other Ilkley Origins saison, Medina (6% ABV), brewed with another notable beer writer Pete Brown. Much darker than the Siberia but just as hazy, this is a spicy Moroccan-style saison, the likes of which I have never tasted but I would very much like to track down again as it was pretty delicious. However, Sheffield was waiting and we had a train to catch! So I bid York farewell, knowing that the next weekend I would be back. Would my mission turn out to be a success? Would I find that elusive Chocolate Stout…? Find out soon…

Titanic triumph

I have been a big fan of Titanic Brewery for a long time. Like the ill-fated luxury liner herself, you can always expect quality, classy, refined flavors and beautiful designs on the labels and pump-clips. However, it’s unlikely that this brewery will be sunk anytime soon since their beers seem to be appearing everywhere at the moment (incuding Waitrose) so there’s no excuses not to take a cruise with these brews. One of my best memories of Titanic was a lovely strong beer called something like Shipwreck at the Southwestern Arms. I don’t have clear memories of exactly what this was (maybe one of you could tell me) but it went down far too easily for it’s strength and made me feel jolly perculiar through pint number three. I believe the only Titanic I have been disapppointed by was the Nine Tenths Below which recently made an appearance at the Weatherspoons Real Ale Festival, although I admit the style of this one is not generally the sort of thing I go for. I was very excited today when I saw that Weatherspoons are due to have a festival of Titanic beers between April 5th & 9th.

Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout

The old lady definately wouldn't throw this back into the ocean

Since I have spent my Sunday peddling up and down the hills of the Tennyson Trail on the Isle of Wight on my mountain bike (recommended by the way – just beautiful), my choice of beer tonight is a bit of an indulgent treat and a real firm favorite. Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout (4.5%ABV). The clear glass bottle allows you to be tantalised by the beautiful deep brown colour. When you open the bottle you are hit with the most incredible rich scent of chocolate and vanilla with a tiny whisper of espresso – I would consider wearing this scent it is so amazing and addictive. I literally sit here inhaling from the bottle like a crazy glue-sniffer but with a more refined palate. Pour it out and you discover the luxurious white head which is almost like a posh liquor coffee. The flavor lives up to the looks and aroma 100%. There’s literally enough flavor to sink the Titanic here. It feels thick and rich,  almost creamy. There’s a definate sweetness but also a little dry bitterness at the back, perfectly balanced by the Madagascan vanilla. It’s the perfect grown-up pudding. The warmth and fullness of flavour makes you think it’s much stronger so it’s a really good one to round off a busy day.