Salisbury Saturday

So after a few trips up north, Bierebelle is stuck in the south, so what does a girl do for fun here? Today I went for a little explore to see what Salisbury has to offer. I had a little ulterior motive too; although I have a weekly coffee delivery from Hasbean which is awesome, I still crave my visits to the exceptional Quetzal Coffee on the Saturday market. That chap is a legend – he sources and roasts his coffee personally and his Old Brown Java is second to none! But a girl can’t live on coffee alone, and I certainly couldn’t drink the coffee beans till I got home. Thanks to the Twitter hive mind, I had a few places in mind so first stop was The Village. Well I can’t believe I hadn’t found this place before! So close to the station but a real hidden gem in the opposite direction to the city center. I knew I was onto a winner looking at the bar policy on the chalk board outside; 5 real ale pumps dispensing Downton Quadhop, Tim Taylor‘s Landlord, two guests and a dark. Refreshing to see that commitment to darks even at this time of year, especially at this end of the country. I can almost forgive the Landlord!  There’s even a whiteboard in the pub saying what’s on next board and space to write requests! This place is a little shabby and smells proper pubby but it’s got character. There’s an awesome vintage collection of bottles on a shelf behind the bar and loads of train memorabilia. It does carry out, Sky Sports, even yummy Snyders of Hannover treats.

First selection from the Village pumps was the Box Steam Tender Mild (3.6%ABV) which turned out to be a pretty good drop for a mid-morning. Quite thin feeling but lots of sweet blackcurrant aroma and hedgerow berries flavour with bitterness at the end. The OH had Downton Eurohop (4.4%ABV). Fairly acceptable but not really my thing. The main characteristic seemed to be bitterness. My next choice was Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby (6%ABV) which unexpectedly had the dark looks and thin body of a Cola with tiny bubbles. The OH thought it might have been bottom of the barrel, given the sourness, but I didn’t mind since it was quite refreshing. There was quite a bit of tongue tingling sour cherries or raspberries and a fruity red wine vinegar aroma – quite unusual. The boy went for a Liverpool Craft Beer IPA which turned out to be a lovely satisfyingly rich beer with lots of herby lemony hops and a big hoppy aroma.

After a little wander round the shops and a bite to eat, we headed on to the Wyndham Arms, Hop Back‘s first pub. Unsurprisingly, all 6 hand pumps were devoted to Hop Back, a brewery I have mixed feelings about. I love their Entire Stout and Summer Lightening is fine for a hot day, but I find a lot of their stuff is variations on the same theme so I was fairly disappointed that all 6 pumps were devoted to the paler side. Although it is June would it be too much to ask for Entire Stout? Unlike their Southampton bar, The Waterloo (in my opinion a warmer, more lively place), there were no guests-pumps although Fosters, Thatchers and Murphys were on tap to placate non-beer lovers. Since I was there, I had a half of Pioneer (3.7%ABV) which is a perfectly fine amber ale for summer but nothing exceptional. Easy drinking, unoffensive honey and cereal aromas with a slight citrus zing and long bitter finish. The OH was slightly more impressed at the Heracles (2.8%ABV) since, for a very low strength pale it was fairly satisfying  and had an admirably hoppy flavour.
So after the Wyndham there was just enough time left to check out Twitter-reccomended pub number 3, the Duke of York, another very traditional little pub near to The Village. Again, the decor was slightly shabby but this was a place which cared about beer and displayed a nice selection of pump-clips and old posters. On the mantlepiece was a fairly admirable library of Good Beer Guides going back to late 80s, as well as other beer and whiskey publications. I always like to sit in a pub where the staff and punters are chatting about beer too, especially the more opinionated ones. Favorite overheard quote in The Duke of York? ‘Green King Abbot I wouldn’t give you tuppence for!’ Although I did note the Stella, Becks Vier and Red Stripe taps but I guess they need to cater to those crazy fools who don’t like beer too. On the bar, I was most excited to see a certain little red barrel proudly sitting there. As CAMRA would say, you haven’t lived until you’ve had Watneys Red Keg but I wanted to try one of the Duke’s guests instead so maybe next time (plus poor old Watney’s is no more). I selected a Jennings Tom Fool (4%ABV) which was an easy drinking amber ale; bitter, spicy, a little touch of sweet toffee apples. I could imagine this is nice in autumn, although I have a feeling it’s a seasonal offering for summer. Not amazing but a good little sup. My sturdy drinking companion had a Shardlow Five Bells (5%) which wasn’t dreadful but just wasn’t that interesting. A little dark roasty malt but not a lot else.

So Salisbury, of course I’ll be back for the coffee, and so far two out of three pubs will see me again. Not a bad start to my beery adventures down south!

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How Bierebelle learned to Hardcore the Hop

When it comes to food and drinks, I’ll try most things once. Rather surprisingly though, as a lover of beer and real ale, I have actually been fairly conservative in my choices of beverage, deciding if I’ll buy a pint mainly on colour. Porters and stouts will always be my first love, my bangers & mash, my comfy old sweater, the ones I go to for comfort when it’s cold outside and I need a hug. We can all relate to liquorice, berries, chocolate, coffee and malt but when it comes to floral bitterness…really? Part of my long-standing disdane for the lighter side of beer is no thanks to the bland, ‘traditional’ watery pints that  are so common on the real ale scene in the UK using boring old Fuggles and Goldings. Yes, fine if you want to sit in a pub all day getting a gut and cursing ‘her indoors.’ Of course you wouldn’t want something too challenging on the tastebuds, but I’d rather drink water.

It has now come as a bit of a shock to find out in recent years that pale can really be rather interesting! How much I missed out on! Especially on the craft brewing scene. Maybe my tastes have grown up a little, maybe I love a challenge or maybe it’s the sheer variety of hops and all the different flavours they bring to the mix. Pale doesn’t have to be dishwater! It hasn’t been easy – there has been the odd shocker (Stone ‘Ruination’ I’m looking at you) where I’ve literally had to screw my face up from the sheer bitterness. What I say these days is that it’s better to be impressed by how close against the face of undrinkability they can push than be disappointed by slightly flowery, forgettable, frothy water.

So, with my new love of IPA , I was pretty excited by the new project from current darlings of craft, MikkellerBrewdog who have formed an unholy union of ‘I Beat YoU’ and ‘Hardcore IPA’, but would ‘I Hardcore YoU’ be too hardcore for me? Initial reactions at first whiff? Me: ‘Jesus what does that smell of!?’ hands the glass over to the OH whilst listing the hops which prompts the reply ‘they’re asshats.’

Mikkeller ‘I Beat YoU’ (9.7%) is an impish little double IPA which was created at Brewdog, who were probably a bad influence anyway. It features the mighty and relatively new hop Herkules from Germany alongside old friends Centennial, Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe and Columbus. I had a dance with this little gremlin a few weeks ago and found it immense, intense, beautiful but bruitish in its full-frontal attack. As I said in my review, ‘it whollops you in the chops with a bouquet of lemon, lime, bitter hops, more bitter, but stays sprightly and lively.’ Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA ain’t that shy with a roll in the old hopsicles either; once the Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe are all packed in nicely there, it’s dry-hopped with Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe. So, naturally, the two beers have been chucked in together and those IBU perverts have dry-hopped the living hell out of the unholy mix not once but twice.

The result is a beautifully clear burnt amber golden IPA with the most beastly hop aroma which is floral, herby, piney, citrusy, almost an exotic greenhouse complete with honey bees buzzing in through the windows. The big, generous flavour is surprisingly sweet with a thick texture. There’s lemon zest, grapefruit and honey coating the tongue with a little spicy kick towards the back. It leaves the mouth feeling dry and watering for more all at once as the alcohol sizzles all the way down. As a DIPA goes, it’s more well-rounded than some hop-missiles I’ve tried but still packs an eye-watering punch. I think I’m in Hardcores with this beer.

So now that Brewdog, with help from their friend Mikkeller, have pushed the boundaries of hop insanity, what could they possibly have planned next? Hmmm….how’s about we give the hops a bit of a break boys? Ever heard of ‘No-IBU IPA?’ You would think only Brewdog would be insane enough to attempt an IPA with no hops, but it turns out that they have a rival accross the pond who will also rise to the challenge. The competition in this so-called International Arms Race comes from the crazy fools at Flying Dog. Who will win? I don’t really care either way. I just can’t wait to see what they come up with! All will be revealed this month apparently!

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…