Jingle-Belles, Jingle-Belles….

As usual, the flights up North for Christmas really should have come with a health warning or possibly an in-flight detox on the return journey. There’s so much choice of real ales and craft beers in the many many pubs that every day feels like a beer festival. Having spent a day enjoying the fabulous pubs of Leeds, we caught the train to York where, there in the station, is one of the best pubs in Yorkshire, the York Tap. It was just my luck that after I had been trying to track it down for so long, the Tap were serving Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%ABV) brewed in collaboration with Emelisse. It looked pretty much like an IPA, smelled like an IPA, albeit an IPA that  had a little stroll in a floral meadow. The taste was initially typically hoppy and satisfyingly bitter, but there was this beautiful gentle bergamot and orange blossom drifting in and the tea itself glides in at the end and leaves a slightly over-brewed bitterness which totally compliments the hops. Worth tracking down!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

Of course, one of our first stops is normally the bottle shop on Stonegate for hotel beers. However, we had procured some hotel-room refreshments already at the lovely Beer Ritz in Leeds. The beer we selected to toast the morning of the End of the World was To Øl Moccachino Messiah (7%ABV), a classic breakfast beer. It could have been mistaken for Coca Cola on its deep red-brown colour and  a fizz to almost match. If those four horsemen were to actually show up, I felt that this exceptional dark roasted espresso wake-up call was a good way to start the day. There was a slightly harsh bitterness at the end but the  lactose sugar lightened it up and smoothed over any sharpness.

Since being absolutely spoilt in Canada for delicious pumpkin ales, I’ve been missing them so much that I have brewed my own! Naturally I was delighted that when I visited the cozy Pivni to see that they had a Pumpkin PA (6.8%ABV) on which is the result of a collaboration between Tempest and Cromarty. It certainly looked like the real deal with a really lovely cloudy amber colour (maybe helped with the addition of carrot juice to the brew) with pumpkin and vanilla in the aroma. The first flavour to hit was the pumpkin and at first I didn’t really get much spice but once it had a chance to build up, there was a definite spicy cinnamon and ginger spice which warmed the throat along with cracked pink peppercorns. This was the proper smooth, thick pumpkin ale I had been missing so badly.

A ray of sunshine

A ray of sunshine

One of the biggest surprises of our trip came from Sunbeam Ales which I had never even heard of before, but that’s not surprising since they are the ‘smallest brewery in Leeds. Seriously, go to their website and look at the pictures. This guy makes 50 litre batches in a regular kitchen in a back-to-back terrace and has picked up several home-brew awards. No wonder if the Honey & Lavender (4.9%ABV) I tried was anything to go by. What a joy even to look at, such clear, golden, straw-coloured liquid sunshine with a beautiful honey aroma. The honey sweetness stood out and the lavender (from brewer Nigel Poustie’s garden!) was so delicately lovely. It made the bus out to Beer Ritz all the more worthwhile.

No trip to York would be complete without a visit to the Maltings, conveniently situated about a two minute walk from our hotel Of course if the river level had come up any further we may have had to swim to it. Despite the flooding of the cellar, we still managed to get ourselves a bowl of some of the finest chilli and chips in Yorkshire and more importantly, an exceptional Old Ale (8%ABV) courtesy of Kirkstall, with a little help from Doug of Colorado brewery Odell.who just happened to drop in on a trip to Leeds! I feel slightly bad mentioning this beer here – landlord Shaun had kept his cask for a year so it was pretty unique as far as I’m

You can't argue

You can’t argue

aware (although I’m still wondering if it was also available under the name Aquitane). What a beer!  It was complex, strong and fruity, almost like a beer version of a dark rum with a red wine aroma and a slight woodiness. .

For our last night in York, we cracked open the Hardknott Rhetoric Edition 1 (10.2%ABV) chilling out in the hotel and what a special yet ever so unusual beer that was. Beautiful beery dark gold with an exceptional aroma-sweet sweet treacle and star anise like a festive spiced bread. It was malty and sweet up front with an almost minty, kind of metallic cool freshness. The exotic star anise after taste had received a light sprinkling of cinnamon which made me recall a distant memory of some Chinese pork dish I can’t quite remember but certainly enjoyed.

Christmas is always a busy and sometimes stressful time of year, rushing around to get around all my friends and family. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant choice of pubs and bottle shops in and around the city I grew up in so I can relax with real treats in the time I have for myself. They don’t call it God’s Own Country for nowt!

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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!

 

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…

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!

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…