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!

 

On the train again…

Earlier this week, I took a little trip to Bristol to have a look around the Bristol Beer Factory. As is now the tradition, we began our train journey with a lovely coffee, this time courtesy of Sweedish brewers Nils Oscar. Opening their Coffee Stout (6%ABV), I knew it was the right decision for a morning wake-up drink from the aroma of strong espresso with a hint of malt. Like anything poured into rubbish plastic glasses, it bubbled enthusiastically which made it look more carbonated than it was. Holding it to the light it was slightly thin in appearance and a cloudy black-brown, but the flavour was a lot more impressive. As a coffee enthusiast, I have done bad things with coffee in the name of experimentation. Ever wondered whether  iced black coffee carbonated through a soda stream would be any good? Don’t – it’s just bitter weirdness. Black coffee freeze-pops? Not a good idea when all the flavour seems to gravitate to the center. Save your effort and try this Coffee Stout instead; somehow it brings back all the best bits of those intense coffee flavours through rose-tinted glasses. Big on immense bitter coffee with a touch of red berry and slight sourness to balance. A nice little morning cuppa.

Moving on, the next ‘sharpener’ for the morning was a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2%ABV) and why not on a sunny day off from work! I can be a little daft sometimes and rarely look properly at supermarket beers, dismissing them as dull as something I have had before and have no further interest in. Wrong and foolishly ignorant. I almost missed this one as Sierra Nevada is so widely available I rarely give it a second glance. My OH had to point this one out, despite the bright and summery green and yellow label. It’s from all the way over in California where they probably know a thing or two about sunshine beer and they seem to have poured a few rays into this joyful golden IPA which shimmers with lively bubbles and a tiny amount of froth. The hop aroma was herbal, reminiscent of the forest in the rain and the flavour was a lucious bitter herbal and citrus bouquet, a little like a beer version of Riccola sweets. The end was long and dry with a waft of pineapple. A perfect refreshment to set us up for the day in Bristol!

Port & cheese on a rainy day in July

Some of you who follow my Twitter or Untappd feeds might have noticed my mini obsession with Arbor recently and last week I was lucky enough to find their Port Stout (5.7%ABV) waiting in my stash at the end of a typical cold rainy day in July. Summer pale ales, you’ve had your time. July is the month for curling up with a big glass of stout and listening to the rain beating against the window. Not warm yet? Shall we take it to the next level? How’s about some port? Now when Arbor say Port, they’re messing around with anything so fancy as barrel aging. This is a stronger version of their oyster stout with ‘several liters of ruby port added late in the fermentation.’ After a day of getting soaked in the rain this is the perfect medicine. It tastes of luxury and deserves to be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire possibly in a smoking jacket. The deep, opaque blackness invites you to inhale its dark chocolate malts and treacle-like coffee. It coats the mouth in a smooth black cloak of bitter dark chocolate and red berries with woody flavors smouldering through the finish, lifted by a slight tang of dried cranberry. I’ve never been a port drinker but Arbor now has me intrigued. All I really know so far is people drink it with cheese. I didn’t have any Stilton around but it was pretty good at bringing out the sweetness of my not-so-snooty Bavarian smoked cheese from M&S.

I am now slightly concerned that beer may be leading me astray. First, Bristol Beer Factory’s Glenlivet Stout made me rush out to buy my first Whiskey. Now I think I need to try Port. Is beer the gateway drug..? Whatever it is, I like it!

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.

Imperial luxury

Bierebelle is a very happy girl at the moment. Happy even though it’s Tuesday, work is crackers and hayfever season is in full swing but just try to pull me down from this cloud. I finally gave in to temptation and prized open stout number 11 of the Bristol Beer Factory Christmas 12, the Imperial Stout which had been aged for six months in Glenlivet casks (then kept in my kitchen for a further 6 months). To the nose, there’s class and intrigue, dark chocolates, roasted malts and coffee bound in luxurious butter-soft leather. The aroma is intoxicating but doesn’t do justice to the fabulously full, perfectly well-rounded flavour. There’s an initial sweetness, giving way to bitter chocolate and orange peel. There’s romance, drama, many, many leather-bound books, in an apartment that smells of rich mahogany. The warming, roasty, bitter-sweet flavour coats the mouth and develops to a woody, slightly charred warmth with a subtle smoke as it warms the belly. The best way to enjoy this would surely be in front of a fire in a deep leather armchair.The brewery reccomend it as an after-dinner drink to accompany strong cheeses but since all I have is Laughing Cow Light, I’ll just have to imagine how utterly deliciously decadent that would be. Following on from the absolute pleasure of the Laphroaig Cask-aged Stout, I know I’ve missed out on a whole other world of flavour. I really have to get involved with this whiskey stuff!

 

A night in with The Kernel

The Kernel – where have you been all my life!? How could I have missed this brewery? As a bit of a social media tart, I’ve seen quite a few people chucking back a bit of the Kernal’s special sauce on Untappd and Instagram. I’ve been fairly intrigued since everybody seems to think quite highly of them but for some sad reason, although we’re not far from London, there’s only one place I know of stocking these beers and they don’t have the Export Stout London 1890 (7.1%ABV) which I’d heard so much about. This made me such a sad panda that I brought one all the way back from The Bottle in York on the aeroplane and winding down from my trek around Salisbury seemed like just the right excuse to get it open.

I say – this Kernal’s rather dashing

The Kernel are proud to say their beer is ‘bottled alive’ so it can grow and develop in the bottle. This little monster was kicking and screaming when we let it out; even though the bottle was sitting in the kitchen for a week since we bought it we got a little bit of a spray. Maybe it was all that beautiful flavour waiting to burst out. In appearance it’s everything I would want in a porter – total opaque darkness, the alcohol evident in the slight oiliness on the sides of the glass as I swirl it around. The aroma is outstanding rich, dark chocolatey malt. The taste is all this and more. Rich, thick mouthfeel with bitter espresso and sour red berries. A bite of decadent dark chocolate is lifted with a touch of vanilla. Perfectly balanced. Why is it called ‘Export’ anyway? I want it for myself!

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!

 

Sweet Twoo

Bierebelle has been a busy girl this weekend. I’ve been playing in the woods at Swinley Forest on my lovely little mountain bike all day on Saturday then spent Sunday on a Dirt Divas Back to Basics course learning some awesome techniques. Let me tell any lady Mountain Bikers who read this blog, I am still buzzing from the incredible day – I would totally recommend it for building real confidence and skills which I would have been too chicken to learn on my own. All that biking is thirsty work though, and unlike on my usual weekend rides there were no beer stops. Luckily, I had a few friends back home who could sort me out.

Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout, at 4.5%, was the perfect beer to unwind with. The color is a deep reddish brown with a slight cloudiness and it has a delicious malted chocolate aroma which carries through to the sweet, full flavour. It’s quite thin but maintains a malty richness and there’s a little sweet milkiness towards the back from the lactose, which I guess makes this quite close to a milk stout. There’s a short finish but it leaves you with a little malt in the aftertaste. A light and lovely delight to end an awesome day!