Yo ho hop

 

Bierebelle has a new brewery to add to the list of favorites.OK, the label might not be terribly glamorous but my goodness they make an amazing IPA. I’m talking about Arbor Ales, yet another exceptional Bristol brewery. I was hooked the moment I tried the Yakima Valley IPA. Looking at the list on Rate Beer, I was dismayed to see how much I’ve missed already. Apart from one of the most extensive back-catalogues of single-hop beers in the history of brewing, they also produce special limited ‘Freestyle Friday’ editions which is just whatever they dreamt up at the Friday meeting. I wish all Friday meetings were like that.

When I saw Albion (6.7%) on the shelf I was intrigued – surely a rum belongs in a darker style right? Wrong. Dark rum + IPA = genius. It pours a really gorgeous cloudy gold with a big, generous head as foamy as the seas. The typical IPA aroma carries just a hint of raisin and biscuit and the flavour is really very bitter and an alcoholic burn at the back. The wave of big, dry citrus hops carries the warming, woody dark fruit of a navy style rum. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have cared much for the rum on its own; I prefer the smooth, light Venezuelan and Panamanian styles but blending a robust navy style with an ipa was a master-stroke.

I’m now very excited about trying more from Arbor and the good news is that they seem to be getting easier to find. This one came from Corks but I was delighted the other day to see a wide range in Bitter Virtue which is just round the corner from me. The problem is deciding which one to try next…

Bristol barbeque time!

After our beery afternoon at the Volunteer Arms, we headed over to Cotham in search of food and more beer. The last time the OH had been to Bristol, he had stumbled upon a rather excellent little off-licence stocking some of the finest beer of the region. Corks of Cotham looks from the outside like the average wine and spirit merchant, but if you venture to the back you will find an absolute treasure trove of Bristish ale as well as a well-picked selection of American and Continental beer. I originally planned to call in for another bottle of the Bristol Collaboration but was seduced by the selection and came away with a couple of Hardknotts and very special Arbor Ales bottles, both of which are impossible to get where I live.

The haul from Corks!

Since we were in Cotham, we decided to call in at Beerd, Bath Ales’ new concept craft beer and pizza joint. Although the bottle menu was a bit run-of-the-mill, the taps boasted a prettty nice selection of local ales as well as some keg from further afield. They have resident beers as well as guests so make sure you scan the bar or ask somebody before you order! I went for a pint of Bristol Beer Factory No7 (4.2%ABV), their Best Bitter which was a fairly pleasant, biscuity bitter with a citrusy hop. Unchallenging and a pretty good choice to go with my exceptionally delieious anchovy pizza!

Well-fed, we went for a night-cap with our friends who had just joined us from London at the lovely Colston Yard which had one of my favorite Bristol Beer Factory regulars on, their rather delectable Milk Stout (4.5%). A pretty drinkable sweet stout; just right to unwind for the meatfest ahead! We were up super-refreshed and ready for the mighty Grillstock the next morning. The moment we were got through the gate we were handed tokens for free Jeremiah Weed which was the only thing stopping me from making beer the first drink of the day. The main event at Grillstock is the King of the Grill competition which sees the international superstars of barbecue and amateur teams battle it out to be the Grand Champion and win the opportunity to compete in the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City. The judging panel is an impressive mix of award-winning experts including Dr.BBQ, who has been involved in cook-offs as long as I’ve been alive, and guests from the world of food and food writing. Throughout the weekend, they are presented with entries from each of the teams for seven rounds including brisket, ribs and desserts. As well as the competition, there’s a rather punishing chilli-eating contest, stalls where you can buy high quality goodies to cook with at home and live bands all day.

Wandering around the cooking village with a free Jeremiah Weed in hand, the day was

Dr.BBQ serving up in the Chef’s Choice round

already off to a good start when I was offered fresh-off-the-barbeque lamb ribs which were just astounding – you must try them! One of the things that makes this event so awesome is that, alongside the competition entries, the teams cook all manner of juicy meat-stuffs through the day to offer to the happy crowds and will happily talk about what they are doing and offer useful tips. The highlight had to be from the Bad Byron team member known on Twitter as @racksofruin who had created an extravagant beast from cheese and veg, encased in meat and all rolled up in bacon. Sweet! There’s also rich pickings hanging at the judging tent since once the judges have taken what they want the rest is offered to spectators! I managed to score an absolutely immense beef rib from Dr.BBQ himself as well as pulled pork and lots of pit beans.

The BBQ village where all the magic happens

The official beer supplier, Bristol Beer Factory, brought a nice selection to wash it all down which included Milk Stout, the mighty Southville Hop, Acer and Bitter Californian. Although the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, the hoppy delight of Southville more than made up for it. I was slightly disappointed on day 2 when a large amount of the beer had run out including my favorites. Lucky for us, the new Bristol Farm Shop were selling a lovely selection of local produce including beer so the day was saved. Of course, we were reminded that it was not meant for consumption at the festival and we did spend a lot of time trying to hide it like kids whenever we saw security! I was particularly taken with the Arbor Yakima Valley IPA (7%ABV) which was a joyful explosion of hoppy candy sunshine. Arbor’s dark ruby old ale, Old Knobbley  (4.5%ABV), also proved to be a pretty good choice. I found the burnt woody taste slightly unusual since it gave a bitterness quite unlike the IPA I’d had previously!

Another fabulous weekend in Bristol then. Admittedly I came away a lot heavier but full of ideas for cooking and even found a couple of new favorite breweries to add to the list. I’ll definetly be back soon – very soon indeed for the Beer Factory tour. I can hardly wait!

A lesson in beer at the Volunteer Tavern

After our train beers, there was just enough time to perk ourselves up with a non-beery coffee before checking into our residence for the next few days, the Future Inn. Lucky for us, we spied an intriguing chalk-board propped up outside our hotel. Beer Festival at the Volunteer Tavern you say? 24 beers? But where!? Thirsty from our travels we were puzzled by the lack of directions on the sign but these are the times GPS was invented for. Unfortunately, Google Maps navigation literally took me through the middle of a ghetto in a sweeping circle to get to the Volunteer Arms. It was 2pm and the po-po were already out making rounds of arrests! After my OH nervously told me to get my phone away and hold my handbag close, we finally stumbled upon the lovely little village-pub oasis of beer we had been seeking. We cut through the pub, noting the admirable selection on the handpumps (which includes a dark all-year round!) to the festival in the beer garden. What a lovely beer-garden too, with plenty of mis-matched furniture to go around and high walls.Since it was East Midlands themed, I was delighted to see a selection from breweries not normally seen in our neck of the woods. I was particularly amused at the inclusion of Blue Bee from Sheffield since, being from North Yorkshire, I do regularly mock a Sheffield friend for not being a proper Northerner. Childish, but he is fiercly proud of his Northern roots!

I started with a Mr Grundy’s 1914 (5%). Being a nerd I appreciate a brewery with a historical theme and gave myself a pat on the back for immediately picking up the WW1 theme. Other beers include Passchendaele & Lord Kitchener. 1914 was a rather deliciously dark stout with a chocolate and blackcurrant aroma. Drinkable, smooth and unchallenging, the hint of hedgerow blackberries and short bitter finish made it just right to savour in the rare warmth of the day. Entertainment, as is sadly often the case, came from two old-school CAMRA relics. I tried not to choke on my beer with laughter as I heard them tutting and moaning about the imminent arrival of Brewdog‘s new Bristol pub. ‘Well I’ve been to the one in Edinburgh’ one proudly bellowed to the other, ‘and all they sell is keg. I ended up leaving.’ It’s apparently all the fault of this silly American ‘craft beer’ fad. All they want to do is make easy-to-store and easy-to-serve beer with no character. It takes no skill to do this silly ‘craft’ beer. So that’s me told then! Real beer, they went on to decide, is Real Ale from a cask. Apart from the Europeans. They’re allowed to do what they want. Thank goodness for that. So Mikkeller, Evil Twin, you’re cool. Brewdog, Magic Rock, go back to school you talentless upstarts!

Taking a break from my lesson in beer, I headed back to the bar to grab me some of that Oyster Stout (4.6%) from local brewer Arbor Ales. I now love Arbor and you will be hearing a lot more about them from me. Wow – if somebody asked me to close my eyes and imagine an Oyster Stout, this would be it. It was the classic little-black-dress of an Oyster Stout – smooth and opaque with a thick, foamy white head and a sweet mocha aroma. A full chocolate malt flavour giving way to silky smooth black coffee and a bitter finish makes this feel so indulgent.Unlike Marston’s, Arbor throw some real Oysters into the boil near the end which I guess almost makes this a meal in a glass?

The richness of the Arbor Oyster set my beery expectations high which was unfortunate for the next one. I’d heard a few people talking about Muirhouse Jurgens Jungle Juice (4%) already but in hindsight maybe it”s just because of the fun name because the actual beer was slightly…forgettable? A golden sessiony bitter with a little biscuit and yawn……. In my boredom I was jealously eyeing up the OH’s selection, Tiny Rebel Fubar (4.4%) which has got me rather excited about this new kid on the Newport Brewing scene. They might be tiny (there’s only two bottles in the range at the moment) but I expect massive things from this brewery. At only 4.4%ABV, Fubar packs more of a punch than other stronger beers in its class. It’s a pale ale with buckets of tangy lemon and honey hoppiness and distinctly bitter and just damned gorgeous. The astounding citrus hop aroma was reminiscent of sherbert lemons at the moment you break the hard candy and it starts to fizz on your tongue. I absolutely cannot wait to see more from the Tiny Rebel. Oh and their marketing’s cute too.

After I’d guzzled the last of the poor boy’s tasty Fubar and he finished the dregs of Jungle Juice, we left through the back gate of the beer garden and realised that we were literally two minutes from the door of our hotel and civilisation. Thanks Google Maps.

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!

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…

Return to York and dreams of chocolate…

Wow it feels like years ago that I started writing about my trip up to York & Sheffield so maybe I should bring it to a close! The problem (if you can call it that) is there is just far too much good beer up there. There was a debate on Twitter not long ago about whether you could get away with only drinking beer from a 100 mile radius of your home town. Now I live in Southampton, I am certain I wouldn’t last long but if I was still in York, just think of the choice! York Brewery, Rudgate, Thornebridge, Manchester Marble, Sam Smiths, Revolutions, Ilkley, Durham, Mordue, Kirkstall, Saltaire, Magic Rock, Bradfield, Titanic….I could sit here for hours! However, even in a land as rich in good beer as the beautiful North of England, I would still hanker for the odd foreign beer here and there and in York that need is more than catered for.

All hotel minibars should look like this

Although we were in a Travelodge above a fairly decent Weatherspoons, our first stop was The Bottle, which conveniently has Trembling Madness tucked away in the loft like a crazy uncle. Amongst the stellar selection of bottles from both home and away, it’s always difficult, especially since we were only there for three days with limited luggage space but we made our choices well and came back to the room with smiles on our faces and a ching-ching in our bags. Taking a pitstop at the hotel, it was hard to resist a beer so first up was Flying Dog‘s Kujo Imperial Chocolate Stout (8.9%ABV). I always look forward to Flying Dog beers, not only because they’re darned tasty but also because they take label illustrations to the next level with the help of Ralph Steadman who also worked with Hunter.S.Thompson. Kujo is part of the Wild Dog series and this dog is a bit of a crazy bitch. I’m not sure if it was the hotel plastic cup but out of the bottle it was pretty lively compared to others in this style. The malty black treacle and strong espresso aromas jump up and lick you in the face and the silky opaque espresso black liquid foams at the mouth as you pour. The coffee bites, giving you a flavour jolt and leaving an alcoholic afterburn not dissimilar to Cafe Patron. Lost weekend planned? This is the breakfast for you, but there was a city out there so we weren’t staying in the hotel all day!

Fortified with our dose of coffee, we headed straight to the York Tap’s older sister pub, Pivni. Although it’s tiny and can sometimes look off-puttingly busy, those people are there because like you, they know where to find great beer. Fight your way to the bar and you can always climb the higgledy staircase and fit in somewhere in their gorgeous upstairs lounge. We were lucky enough to find the rather fancy Thornebridge Hall Bracia (10%) on tap which is a beer I’ve been longing to try for a while but never got round to shelling out for (the fancy Thornebridge carries a fancy pricetag)! The one-third pint I ordered was dripping with luxurious sophistocation; opaque black treacle coating the sides of the glass with sticky legs and topped with a cloud of crema. The aromatic waft of honey, malt and burnt toffee carries through to the rich dark-roasted malt flavor. Lip-smackingly sweet but well-balanced and drinkable, this glass has class. Who knows, maybe I’ll stretch to the whole bottle next time.

Moving on from Pivni to Trembling Madness, my luck was in again! On the taps was another I had been wanting to try for some time. Ever since that magical Christmas morning finding a Temptation in my Christmas stocking, Durham Brewery has held a special place in my heart and I was impressed when I heard that they had attempted to reclaim the true meaning of Stout with their White Stout (7.2%). According to their publicity, two hundred years ago a stout was a strong beer but not necessarily black. Strictly speaking, the white is closer to a strong IPA and in appearance is quite close to a golden lager. Dangerously drinkable, it’s easy to forget the high alcohol content. The delightfully thin, effervescent mouthfeel and unusual limey bitterness dance over the tastebuds in a summery wave. Perfect for this heatwave we’ve been having but potentially dangerous.

The main event and our reason to be in York that weekend was, of course, my dear mother’s wedding which was an awesome day. Although the reception venue was perfect and the staff were lovely, there was only Sam Smith’s Taddy Lager on the bar. Since I probably drink too much beer, especially in the north, I have a pretty strict policy of only drinking it if a) I love it or b) I’d love to try it so I played safe and stuck with my trusty backup drink, G&T. The soberingly chilly walk back to the hotel, however, put me in the frame of mind to have a little bit of a nightcap. Mikkeller I Beat You (9.7%) was waiting, perched on the shelf like some hulk of a beer in it’s bright green label – it looked like a challenge and I would take that challenge thanks. Mikkeller’s generally pretty bad-ass with his hoppage but the famous gypsy brewer had gone up to the house of Brewdog to whip this one up so it was clearly obvious there’d be trouble. Prizing the top off, the immediate hit of the hops is intense, strong and floral, almost like geranium! The colour is a clear, dark, golden amber like syrup, beautiful but bruitish in its full-frontal attack. It whollops you in the chops with a bouquet of lemon, lime, bitter hops, more bitter, but stays sprightly and lively – maybe less Hulk and more Yoda in Episode 2. It leaves your tongue feeling a little like you’ve been making out with a lemony, furry-tongued hop but not unpleasantly so and leaves your mouth watering for round two. Smart choice for a night-cap…maybe not so. Perhaps thankfully, our next Mikkeller of the night, Hop Burn Low (10%ABV), had dialled the hops back somewhat.. It’s probably more relaxing in the evening to have a beer that won’t knock you about so much you end up in hoppital.

Wedding cake. Bottled.

So, the morning after the wedding. Maybe the G&T strategy had been a good one. Feeling good. How’s about wedding cake for breakfast? And something equally classy to wash it down? Yes this is what Struise‘s Pannepot Grand Reserva 2008 (10%ABV) was intended for surely? It’s been aged for 14 months on French oak before maturing a further 8 months on Calvados oak barrels so I guess there was a lot of awesome waiting to get out of that bottle, hence why it was a surprisingly lively pour. Arrestingly and voluptuously gorgeous, the lip-smacking sticky-sweet and thick liquid is initially a sweet caramel but blooms into sweet, malty, spicy dark raisins and dried cherries with a bitter coffee finish. Mind-blowing luxury worth getting out of bed for, has the highlight of the day arrived too early…?

The sweet taste of chocolatey victory

But it’s the last day in York! The last day of obsessively checking Twitter to see if anybody has managed to finally rotate that Rudgate York Chocolate Stout (5%ABV) onto the bar at last! Today must be my lucky day! The Maltings has come up with the goodies! After killing a bit of time at the shops, we headed there at lunch time, my mind full of doom that maybe they had sold out already, maybe I’d never try it after all. We got to the door and the friendly landlord was waiting for us, poised to pour a pint of the chocolatey stuff. All was well and I had just had the weird experience of being recognised from Twitter which confused me a little until I remembered that I had been relentlessly harrassing The Maltings for a week demanding to know when the York Chocolate Stout would be on. A collaboration between Rudgate’s Craig Lee and Sophie Jewett from the York Cocoa House, it was made for the York Chocolate Festival to celebrate York’s rich chocolate heritage. Colombian cocoa gives it it’s authentic chocolatey flavor. It’s similar in looks to Guinness, deep black with a contrasting white foamy cap that sticks to the side of the glass. The full chocolate flavour, packed with chocolate malts and a flourish of vanilla make this one of the best of its kind I’ve had. We had originally planned to stop for one or two, but the chocoholic had been awakened and one or two soon became quite a few which led me to another discovery; The Maltings does exceptional food! Fresh from the ‘Dragon’s Pantry,’ my pie was deliciously satisfying but my goodness was I eyeing up the OH’s plate of their famous chilli. It’s getting quite the rep as the best Chilli in York, possibly even Yorkshire and is the ideal companion for the Chocolate Stout. The perfect end for our beery week in the North!

 

More dark delight in York…

Finally, back to York for the last leg of our April trip. I know it’s been a while and I’m mainly relying on my notes but the Bierebelle has been ultra-busy, building her mountain bike, riding around on it, going on a hen-weekend, celebrating Brewdog’s fifth birthday…phew! So, the story continues back in York.

Stained glass to rival the Minster at the York Tap

Spirits were high in anticipation of my mum’s wedding. Hopes were also high. Would I finally lay my hands on that elusive Rudgate York Chocolate Stout? Naturally, the first stop was inevitably the York Tap as we waited for a lift from my dad. As regular readers know, this has become a must-visit place whenever I return to York. Although I dearly love the Sheffield Tap, the York Tap is a place is becoming my favorite of the two. As a York native, I find it remarkable that they have breathed so much new life into a premises that I had never really even looked at before. The lovingly restored art-nouveau features such as the elegant stained glass skylight, real working fireplace and the mahogany finishes take this up to the next level of railway pubs; it’s such a welcoming and lovely place there’s always a danger you could miss your train. The other danger which could leave you stranded, of course, is deciding which of the draft ales, beers and ciders to sample from their dizzying selection of 32 on the huge, round bar. By the time I’ve done a few rounds of that thing, I feel like I’ve earned my drink (although smart people look at the chalk board which I always remember when it’s too late).

The coffee’s pretty awesome too- coffee nerds will understand what an awesome Electra this is!

Since it was a fairly gloomy day, I was first drawn to the rather sinister-looking black and red pump-clip of Kirkstall Black Band Porter (5.5%ABV). This bewitching black brew had a spellbinding aroma of dark treacle-toffee with a scattering of raisins. The luxuriously thick liquid envelops the taste-buds in a burnt candy flavour with blackcurrants and a little black magic which stays with you for a long finish with a hint of smoke. The seductive warming sensation and dark malt will wrap you up in velvet darkness, making the rain at the window seem a million miles away.

Not quite ready to leave the darkness, I discovered the Whitby Black Dog Brewery’s Rhatas (4.6%ABV). From the homeland of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, comes this chocolate brown beast whose bite is not really as sharp but still it’s a good stab at a dark bitter. Slightly unusual in it’s spicy brown bread flavour, it’s not as sweet as the Black Band porter but still gives way to a round vanilla finish at the end. Quite quaffable and a nice run-up to the much brighter, vibrant Chateau Rogue Oregasmic (7%ABV). Just as the sun was starting to peer through the clouds, I felt like I had the chance to taste a little bit of summer. The cloudy burnt orange echoed the late-afternoon glow and left a pretty halo on the sides of the glass. The exotic fruity aroma suggested pineapple and sunny skies and the initial sharp, vibrant flavour was enough to drag the tastebuds out of their languid darkness. The long, bitter finish is punctuated with mouthwatering pineapple-cube zinginess. Oregasmic is a livewire that keeps on twitching with flavours; getting further down the glass, toffee, bannana and pecan were all hopping around before a tangly-tingly-tongue finish.

Bouncing along next was the Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball (7%ABV), the inky black little scamp of an IPA with a wicked glint in it’s eye and a spring in it’s step. At this stage, I should make a note to self – black does not always mean it should be served at room temperature. I had a bottle of this not long ago but served it just below rooom temperature and it was awsome, but not as stand-out amazeballs as very chilled from the tap. The opaque inky black suggests a thicker liquid than this refreshingly thin delight which leaves a shimmering white lace on the sides of the glass. Attempting to do some pretentious food-matching, I would pair this with the red and black Wine Gums you just stole from your little brother (you know they’re the best ones right?). This seriously has that aroma of black Wine Gums and tastes like blackcurrant liquorice with a dry finish and tingly, slightly sour mouthfeel which leaves you sneaking back to the sweet stash to look for more. Or maybe I’ll find that chocolate instead. More to come soon…

Bierebelle gives a hoot!

Whoot whoot! My Brewdog package arrived and guess what was in it? A whole range of ow-aley goodness and fun from Hitachino Nest! Hooray! Also, may I point out the Hitachino Nest almost came in a nest – look at all the packaging! I’ll certainly be ordering from here again!

So – what do we have? Top row from left: Sweet Stout, Red Rice, Japanese Classic (matured in Cedar casks) & White Ale. Bottom row from left: Weizen, Amber Ale, Commemorative Ale, Extra High (apparently more malt & hops than usual and matured 6mth) and Ginger Ale.

There weren’t just owls hiding in the box! Here’s the rest along with some promotional Brewdog ‘Equity for Punks’ stuff we got sent recently and a lovely shiney glass I bought to put the beer in – yay for goodies!

From left: 8-Wired The Big Smoke Smoked Porter (from New Zealand!), Brew Dog Sunk Punk (fermented at the bottom of the ocean where the Kraken lives), Bear Republic Black Stout & Lost Abbey Lost & Found!

It’s what Bank Holidays were made for!