Anyone got a spare rib?

The mysterious Brooklyn Dive Bar

The mysterious Brooklyn Dive Bar

If you’ve been reading my blog since last year, you may be aware of the annual celebration of all things Barbecue that is Grillstock, Bristol – I go on about it enough. What makes me go back each year? Do I go for the beer?

Although you don’t generally go to Grillstock for the beer, there has always been some decent suds on offer. The first year Bristol Beer Factory did a sterling job with a good mix of regular and not-so-regular stuff. The second year they maybe underestimated how much beer they needed and only brought the standard brews but lucky for us a local farm store had pitched up and were selling a grand selection of bottles including some from local heroes Arbor. Grillstock 2013 brought in the big-guns, featuring the not-so-local Brooklyn bar run by beer giant James Clay serving mainly unidentified Brooklyn beer at between £4 and £5 for a pint along with a couple of rotating guests from Magic Rock and Flying Dog. As outdoor event beer goes, you don’t get better value than that but I went away less than impressed at the contempt they showed for their customers and their beer.

Eh?

Eh?

Call me old fashioned but I love to know what I’m drinking, even if it’s just to lord it over my Untapp’d buddies. Sadly Grillstock took the stance that their punters would rather get drunk on cheap pints of strong beer and couldn’t care less what it was! My first beer of the weekend was from the guest tap and named on the chalkboard as ‘Chipotle Smoked Ale’ at 10%ABV and available only in pints – way to go for responsible daytime drinking! Over the course of the weekend, several beers came and went from the guest tap – later on I was excited to see the name ‘Flying Dog’ written up and hurried to the bar to find out which one it was. Unfortunately nobody serving at the bar had even the foggiest idea what on earth they were selling. Sadly I had to argue that ‘Flying Dog’ was the name of a brewery and not a beer by Brooklyn! No problem though – I was reassured of the most important fact about the beer many times –  it’s 10%! Hooray – regardless of what it was I could get drunk – yippee! Grillstock missed a trick – based on their bar staff’s opinion of the type of crowd they were expecting they could have made a better markup on Buckfast! Several days later I finally found out that it was actually the Flying Dog Chipotle Brown Ale, also sold earlier in the day as Chipotle Smoked Ale. It was actually a pretty awesome chipotle beer with a gentle build up of heat – it’s a shame the Brooklyn Bar staff felt such a skilfully brewed beer didn’t deserve the respect it would normally get if it was served by people that genuinely care about their customers.

He's a genuine doctor of barbecue

He’s a genuine doctor of barbecue

So, would you go to Grillstock for the beer? Maybe but be prepared to bring your detective hat if you want to identify what any of it is. Of course, it’s a barbecue festival so mainly you go for the food right? Wrong. As a lover of ribs, this is usually one of the ultimate highlights of the festival season. I can genuinely say that the best rib I ever had was Grillstock 2011 – I can almost still taste it if I think about it. I had pretty high hopes this year and rushed to buy tickets early, especially since the organizers were tweeting about the tickets having almost run out months in advance. So guess how many ribs I had over the two days? How many? One single rib! Having posted multiple warnings on Facebook and Twitter about tickets running  out, I think possibly Grillstock may have been slightly overcome by the kerching of the cash-money and sold too many tickets meaning there were way too many people and not nearly enough foods. A number of stalls ran out of key items half way through the first day and they were still selling tickets on the gate! I have no idea if there were even any ribs to begin with. The low point was reaching the front of the queue to buy a pulled pork sandwich having queued for over 20 minutes only to find that too had run out. To add insult, the staff kept telling me ‘it’s only five minutes until the next lot comes out’ and theatrically looking around the back, then saying ‘I can see it’s being carved up now.’ After 10 minutes of this charade guess what? No pulled pork! I sadly ended up leaving hungry on the Saturday and took refuge in the always awesome Brewdog where I managed to tuck into a delicious cheese platter and some of their always exceptional beers including one of my all time favorites Tokyo (18.2%ABV) – strong but served in sensible measures. Bristol Brewdog you guys never let me down!

Things were looking up for Sunday though – having spotted my various tweets bemoaning the general lack of barbecue food for sale, be it pulled pork, ribs, brisket, Grillstock sent me a reassuring message to say if I came back there would definitely be ribs. Sadly, like their stance on the existence of a fine brewery known as Flying Dog, their tales of fresh pulled pork and their claim that the tickets had sold out, the promise of ribs also turned out to be a lie. That solitary rib I finally managed to procure? The kind and talented BBQ Fanatics team, hearing about the lack of barbecue food for sale, cooked up a few racks on the Sunday afternoon to give away to the hoards of disappointed meat lovers and it was heaven on a bone.

So, I hate to say this considering Grillstock is a food festival, but don’t go to Grillstock for the food. Particularly if you love barbecue as much as I do. Of course there were some highlights – as ever Dr Barbecue was bringing his jovial brand of judging to the King of the Grill competition and it was fun to watch some of the best barbecue teams in action. The chilli-eating competition was particularly excruciating to watch, especially after a poor chap gave himself an eyeful of naga, ghost pepper and who knows what else and had to be escorted to the first aid tent (and possibly on to A&E)! Despite the genuinely confused bar staff, the Brooklyn Bar area turned out to be the most fun spot to hang out with a free photo booth and music provided by the likes of the fabulous Sicknote Steve and the man who brought the sunshine to an otherwise rainy weekend, Levi Roots. I really want to go to Grillstock again for the entertainment but sadly you can’t have a barbecue festival unless you actually have some barbecue available for visitors to buy! I’ll be looking forward to their new restaurant opening next month in Bristol – I’m hoping to even eat something there but my love affair with the festival may be at an end.

Street drinking with style

The famous chalkboard

The famous chalkboard

As you may have noticed if you read my post about my most recent beery adventure, I did have more than a few amazing beers at the Copenhagen Beer Celebration but during my time in Copenhagen I was pretty spoiled with the two Mikkeller bars in the city. The day after the festival was an extra cause for celebration; the original bar in Viktoriagade was turning three years old which meant a fabulous street party where everybody was invited. As could be expected, the party turned out to be pretty popular, especially since a great many of the beer geeks who had turned up for the festival were still in town, including the super-blogger behind Oh Beery Me and Tyne and Beer, Sheriff Mitchell with his super lovely partner in crime Minke Wales as well as Mr Rock N’Roll Beverage himself, Landells. I had thus far managed to never cross paths with any of these Twitter chums in our own country oddly enough so it was pretty cool to finally meet them and share a drink or two!

Drinkin in the sun

Drinkin in the sun

I didn’t mind braving the queues in the bar since I’ve marveled at so many Twitter snaps of the chalkboard – it actually felt oddly familiar! .The bar was pretty much everything I expected – cozy, modest but shabby-stylish. There was a tinge of bad memories from CAMRA festivals as I was overlooked a number of times whilst waiting to be served in favor of pushy older men, but the crowd was mostly friendly folk from all kinds of places. On the bar, alongside the various Mikkeller there was also a decent selection of guests including the delicious Pipeworks Nisperos De Batata, a pumpkin beer which took me right back to all those lovely ones I was lucky enough to try in Vancouver.I also tried my first ever beer from Sweedish brewers Narke Kulturbryggeri, the Imperial Double Porter collaboration with Norway’s Haandbryggeriet, Unionöl recommended by a very proud Swede I was queuing with.

Best. Cheese. Ever.

Best. Cheese. Ever.

It wasn’t all queues at the block party – rather thoughtfully there were also kegs of Mikkeller refreshment available outside. The crowds were tearing through the beers so quickly there was a new one on pretty much every time I looked and drinking vessels ranged from regular festival plastics, through to Danish flag plastics and finally some white coffee cups they turned up from somewhere Thankfully, with all this awesome beer available, there was plenty of superb food available. The barbecued, crispy-skinned hotdog was the best I had during my stay (and I had a lot of hotdogs over there) but a special shout-out goes to the cheese. Oh my goodness the cheese the beery Mikkeller cheese. I almost weep thinking about the fact that I only had one tray – I look back with regret that I didn’t run off with the lot. We had an apartment hotel – we had a fridge. OK I also had a tray at the festival the previous day. Best beer festival food ever. If this makes a return next year, it’s worth the trip!

Sour coffee to start the day!

Spontankoppi!

Spontankoppi!

So you know when you go to a beer festival and get a little inebriated and buy a t-shirt? Yeah I ended up leaving the Copenhagen Beer Celebration with a t-shirt of a beer I hadn’t actually ever tried, Spontankoppi, based on the fact that the picture was pretty cute and the assumption that I could buy a bottle at the Mikkeller bottle shop. Unfortunately I hadn’t actually figured out that the hundreds of other beer freaks from around the world who had come for the festival would also be looking to pick up a bottle or two to take home so the shop was pretty much ransacked by the time I got there and all the Spontankoppi had gone. Thankfully, I managed to pick some up back in the UK at my lovely local beer emporium, Bitter Virtue.

The Spontan series is Mikkeller’s series of lambics which are ‘spontaneously fermented’ using wild yeast and includes lychee, blueberry and strawberry variations. Fruit lambics…so far so good but coffee!? Doesn’t coffee traditionally go into stouts and porters? Not any more! As far as I am aware, this is the only coffee lambic in existence but let me know if you hear otherwise. As regular readers may have noticed, I prefer to enjoy my coffee beers on weekend train journeys as a little kick-start to the day. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t brought a glass, I swigged this one straight from the bottle (poor form I know) which meant I couldn’t really get a good whiff at the aroma so I was completely unprepared for the flavor! Having tried several from this series, I should have known what to expect but the shocking sourness hits me every time and I end up contorting my face like a lunatic with the first sip. To be fair I was drinking just before 11am so maybe I was still waking up. Getting past the extreme geuze-like super-sour hit at the front, the coffee tasted fresh and green – my first thought was that unroasted beans had been used but apparently the beans were roasted but unwashed when they went in. The bright but bitter super-carbonated-ness really brought out the acidity of the coffee in a unique way and the dry slightly sour-grape finish reminded me of a lively champagne. I’m pretty confident that this is my favorite of the Spontan series so far – a superbly refreshing way to take your morning coffee!

 

Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2013

Last week I fulfilled a dream of many beer geeks and jetted across to Copenhagen, Denmark for the second edition of the Copenhagen Beer Celebration hosted by the esteemed ‘gypsy’ brewer himself, Mikkeller. This was a rare opportunity to sample beers from a wide selection of the best breweries in the world today. Our tickets were for the Saturday afternoon session and, between 18:00 and 23:00, all the beer we wanted was ours for the taking. Getting off the flight and going for our train into the city that afternoon, I was already geeking out, spotting t-shirts and stickers and jackets depicting brewery logos everywhere I looked. Some I’d never even heard of. Having checked into the hotel and dumped our cases, we made our way across town clutching Google Map directions, but we kinda knew when we were in the right area. The folks staggering out of the previous session and lying on the pavement gave it away.We had arrived.

Posing with my cute festival glass

Posing with my cute festival glass

We were issued with cute little stemmed tasting glasses and told to help ourselves but it was tough deciding where to start! There was way too much choice so I started with Stillwater Lower Dens (6%ABV) and made my way around the hall to peruse the stands. One of the nicest things at a beer festival like this one is meeting the brewers or at least people associated with the brewery and hearing them talk so passionately about the beers they’ve brought I loved the team from Boxing Cat who had come all the way over from Shanghai. Their King Louie (8%) which had been aged in bourbon barrels was insanely rich and complex and one of my favorites of the day. The team were so friendly and really wanted to talk about their beers and the brewery, which I learned was named for the brewery cat Louie who used to look like he was boxing when he chased butterflies (unfortunately now no longer with us). I also loved the very smiley team from Westbrook from South Carolina and their spicy, chocolaty treat Mexican Cake (10.5%ABV).

Unfortunately, I  completely missed the 3Floyds stand, I believe because there were too many people around it to actually see it, so I missed out on the legendary Dark Lord! In fact, 3Floyds were the first to run out of beer – for some reason I hadn’t expected this to happen (yes they make some of the highest rated beer ever) so next year they’ll be my first stop. Luckily we happened to be in a huge hall packed with so many amazing breweries I was spoilt for choice!

How will I get this in my suitcase?

How will I get this in my suitcase?

It was great to have a flat ticket price which included all drinks rather than using a token system – it took me the whole 5 days I was in the country to work out the Danish money so cash would have been a  disaster! I felt like a kid in a candy store, wandering wide-eyed from one stand to the next clutching my little glass and marveling at all the wonderfully creative brews. I’m glad that the festival glasses were so small so I could try lots. A lot of the beers were pretty strong and as you can see in my list below, I didn’t drink many that were below 10% so even 1/3rd pints would have been disastrous. The trends I noticed around the hall were barrel-aging (OK that’s been popular for a while) and saisons and lambics, two styles I have only recently started getting into. I’m not sure whether I especially noticed these as they are still relatively uncommon here in the UK. Mikkeller brought a particularly exceptional lambic Spontandoubleblueberry (8%) (imagine trying to say it after a few drinks) which had a pretty disturbingly purple color and a super-serious sourness.

So was it possible to choose a favorite amongst such a stellar line-up? Possibly not but a few stand out in my mind. One of my top picks was actually from Siren who hail from the not-so-exotic Berkshire; ‘Chai Love You a Latte’ (6.5%ABV) is a spice-infused version of their breakfast stout Broken Dream. I initially loved the cute name but the flavor was a pretty close match to the hot-cross bun chocolates I love which Hotel Chocolat bring out every Easter. I also rate Against the Grain Bo & Luke (13%ABV) quite highly – the guys on the stand were great which helped but they had brought over a port barrel aged version of this Imperial Stout which was fabulously smoked. Then of course there was the Anchorage tripel, The Tide And Its Takers (9%ABV) which had an amazing citrus sourness and totally lived up to its reputation as an outstanding beer.

Of course, our trip to Copenhagen was more than just the CBC – I’ll be following up to tell you how we got on at the Mikkeller block party and whether the two bars are worth a visit. For now, I’ll leave you with a list of the beers I sampled:

What Bierebelle drank:

Anchorage: A Deal With the Devil (17.3%ABV)

Brewdog: Abstrakt AB13 (11.3%ABV)

Mikkeller/Brodies: Big Mofo Stout Blueberry & Danish Liquorice Edition (10.5%ABV)

Against the Grain: Bo & Luke (Port Barrel Aged) (13%ABV)

X-Beeriment: Brett the Elder (Berry) (9.3%ABV)

X-Beeriment: Agent Coopers Delight (10.5%ABV)

Siren: Chai Love You A Latte (6.5%ABV)

Siren: Oi! Zeus! (11.4%ABV)

Cigar City: Cheers! (10%ABV)

Firestone Walker: Double DBA (12%ABV)

Jester King: Funk Metal (8.2%ABV)

Hoppin’ Frog: Hop Heathen Imperial Black IPA (8.8%ABV)

Boxing Cat: King Louie (Bourbon Barrel Aged) (8%)

To Øl: Liquid Confidence (12.3%ABV)

Stillwater: Lower Dens (6%ABV)

Mikkeller: Spontandoubleblueberry (7.7%ABV)

Anchorage: The Tide and its Takers (9%ABV)

Mikkeller: X Barley Wine 2006/2013 (12.9%ABV)

Westbrook: Mexican Cake (10.5%ABV)

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12 Stouts of Christmas

So it’s May and I’ve finally finished my 12 Stouts of Christmas from Bristol Beer Factory which means my reviews are complete! I’ve been treating myself to a bottle every now and then and writing a little review so sorry if some of it doesn’t make chronological sense! The more observant among you might also note that there isn’t actually 12 reviews! I have absolutely no idea why this is but at least it seems to be the more widely available ones I missed! Unfortunately, quite a few of these stouts may now be unavailable but I just thought they were still too good not to share. We can hopefully look forward to what they have up their sleeves next Christmas!

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

Mocha (4.5%ABV) – According to the label, it contains ‘Coffee chosen with help from Extract Coffee Roasters – Hope Project Peaberry Espresso from Tanzania. It has notes of bitter/sweet dark chocolate and cherry fruitiness’ – There’s a really lovely big frothy head. The rich coffee aroma pounces out of the glass intertwined with unlit cigar. The thin mouthfeel emulates the characteristics of iced black coffee. The beans are dark-roasted, almost burnt but there’s a berry sweetness which balances out the bitterness perfectly.

Ultimate (7.5%abv) needs no introduction. A satisfyingly thick mouthfeel, rich and velvety. It’s a fine example of a full-bodied, well rounded chocolaty stout with just the right amount of bitterness at the end.

Port (5.5%ABV) – nice stout to round off Valentines Day. The port was specially selected by Avery’s Wine Merchants in Bristol and I assume was added to the beer at some point. There’s more chocolate than port on the nose and the bitter dark chocolate carries throughout the velvet richness of the flavor  rounded out by a little vanilla and a lot of warming fruity porty-ness.

Ultimate Raspberry (7.5%ABV) – The Ultimate Stout infused with fresh raspberries. The aroma takes me right back to summer, carrying punnets of beautiful fresh raspberries home from the farmers market, eating them out of the bag still warm from the sun. The bitterness and richness of the original Ultimate Stout is still there,but it’s got a jolt of sourness cutting through from those lovely sweet raspberries The bready malt almost makes me think of a raspberry jam sandwich in a glass.

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Smoked Chili Chipotle (5%ABV) – I love Chipotles so much that the OH and I actually home-brewed something like this last year. Chipotles are simply jalapeno chillis which have been dried over smoke so you have the lovely sweet chilli flavour with a warming kick combined with a rich smokiness which makes them a perfect addition to dark beer. This is not the most smokey or hot chipotle beer I have had (we used a lot of rauchmalt in ours!) but it’s pretty well-balanced and goes down smoothly with just a hint of heat at the back and a lovely sweet smoke with a touch of vanilla. The dryness at the end reminds me of the Irish style of stouts.

Blackcurrant and Liquorice (5%ABV) – The brewery building in another life was actually a Ribena factory so I’ve been told so Blackcurrant seems a nice choice for a special addition. Do I imagine a hint of purple in the deep dark stouty brown? Possibly. The aroma was typical dark malt and a little vanilla and the flavor was pretty sweet with more of that bready malt and a little of that blackcurrant at the end which actually built up pleasantly with each sip. The end had a zingy tartness, almost like under-ripe blueberries and it was a little dry. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t detect the liquorice but the yummy fruitiness made up for it.

Imperial aged in Bourbon Casks (10.5%ABV) – Aged in oak bourbon casks for four months and, well, my goodness you can tell from the smooth rich flavor – so very well balanced and deliciously warm. The aroma is all dark sticky treacle and there’s a taste of dark dried fruit with a hint of oak and that familiar bourbon-breath sensation as you take a nice long breath out and relax.

Imperial aged in Speyside Whisky casks (10.5%) Smokey, peaty and rich. Maybe a little too peaty for me since I’m not a big fan of that style of whisky but there’s also a little fruitiness which keeps me interested!.

Imperial Stout (8.5%ABV) The original classic. Dark with a roasted, slightly smoked malt aroma. Satisfyingly thick and warmingly complex. Fruits, dark chocolate, burnt sugar and a hint of smoke make this an exceptional stout. Lip-smacking sticky with a short bitter finish.

Creme Brulee (8.5%ABV) I’ve been saving this one! It was brewed with the legendary Melissa Cole who I was lucky enough to run into at the launch of the 12 stouts. Like the lady herself, this stout is simply a delight. Don’t expect to be able to stand a spoon in it as you can with the Southern TIer take on this classic desert. This stout is still a force to be reckoned with but it’s far more drinkable. It pours with a lovely light sandy-colored foam which lasts a while. The aroma is cafe au lait with a delicious waft of vanilla and the flavor is voluptuously yummy. There’s a dairy sweetness offset by oak and dark fruits as a result of the two months it spent aging in rum casks. The finish is long and sweet with only a mild bitterness. 

Welcome to the sunny Saison

Saison to be jolly!

Saison to be jolly!

Yay! It’s Thursday evening and the weekend starts here! I’m super-excited as I’ll be spending tomorrow around the fabulous pubs of London town before jetting off to Copenhagen to party with Mikkeller & Co. at the CBC. I have a feeling that my poor old liver might be in for a bit of a workout so tonight I’m being super-healthy! As well as being a beer-geek, I’m also a bit of a juice-monster so tonight I juiced a generous shot of fresh wheatgrass and what better to wash down that wholesome green juice than a delicious organic Saison Dupont Biologique (5.5%ABV) from Brasserie Dupont! Isn’t the label so lovely – you could almost see it on the shelves of a health-food store among the tonics and coconut water. In fact, Saisons were originally brewed by farmers because it was better for their workers to drink than the dirty water which might have made them sick.

Saison is a style I’ve been slightly suspicious of but I’ve been making an effort to try a little more. I just think it smells a bit like a farm yard sometimes. I’m learning to love them for their unusual character and it’s a pretty good thirst-quencher for this warmer weather. This one actually had more of a lager-like aroma when I popped the cork; it took me back to those mornings I spent as a student tipping away dregs from Carling tins as I cleared up from the party the night before. In the glass there’s an additional note of honey rising from the lively carbonation. It’s a pretty beautiful shade of yellow-orange with a generous puffy white head.The flavor is super-crisp with banana and cinnamon and a lot of yeast. There’s a touch of sweet citrus but a lot of bitterness. The wheat and hay combined with the sunshine color and the arid dry finish make me long for a real summer I can spend outdoors.

Arrogant Ales

Wow guys it’s been a while hasn’t it! For some unknown reasons I’ve been finding it really difficult to find the time to blog recently. Maybe it’s that the prolonged winter hasn’t done a lot to inspire me to write but spring has sprung and I have a pretty awesome year ahead. The highlight of the beery year (so far) comes as early as Saturday May 4th when I’ll be jetting off to Copenhagen to Mr Mikkeller’s fabulous Copenhagen Beer Celebration which promises to be a massive party featuring a who’s who of the greatest brewers working across the world today. It’s motivation to get drinking some of those beers I have stashed away just in case there’s anything worth bringing back. There was extra motivation to break into one of my special bottles today when the OH dropped a camera lens on the bottle of Stone Double Bastard (11.2%ABV). Don’t worry – the lens was somehow fine but the bottle cap was somehow slightly loosened so, since the seal was broken, we just had to drink it. Oh well. I’ve taken these here lucky taste buds of mine on quite an adventure since I started this blog. The first full-on American Strong Ale I tasted was Stone Arrogant Bastard which was possibly before I started blogging and it stuck in my mind as a benchmark for full-on over-hopped bitterness and big flavours – not to be messed with. However, a lot of beer has flowed since then and I

Arrogant like a Sauce Boss

Arrogant like a Sauce Boss

recently revisited the Arrogant Bastard. Although it remains a well-made and tasty ale, it didn’t blow me away as it did the first time round. So would Stone deliver the next big hit with their Double Bastard? According to the website, the IBU count is actually classified and the blurb from the label promises much. Well the good news is this bastard has every right to be arrogant – this bad boy has swagger. The deep golden color is almost sunset red topped with a wispy white hint of foam. The aroma is dark malts and deep burnt caramel with a little spice. The flavor is a real wake-up for the tongue, starting with roasted malts in spades and delicious candy sweetness, then diving into devilishly deep bitterness offset by a little berry fruit and a hint of wood. It packs a punch whilst staying well-rounded, balanced and complex.There’s only a tiny burn at the back which has a rum-like warmth. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how it shines through in the Double-Burn Habanero sauce (pictured as part of the unholy ‘trinity’ of hot sauce) when I find an excuse to open that – maybe it’ll have a run-in with a falling Tupperware and then of course I’ll have to try it!

Stouts for a snowy weekend

Salty stout!

Salty stout!

Last weekend I ended up venturing on yet another trip to Bristol for a bit of a rest from the dreariness of Southampton and a change of scenery. This time, the all important beer selected for the train was the fabulous Netherlands brewery De Molen‘s Spanning & Sensatie (9.8%ABV). This Russian Imperial Stout is one of their limited editions and boasts additions of spice, salt and chilli! Like any great stout, the opaque thickness and deep chocolate brown with tight tan head lace the sides of the glass enticingly and there was an excitingly chocolate malty aroma with a twist of spice. The unusual flavor was typically stouty dark chocolate but it fell more onto the raw cacao side with a little sourness. The salt at the end was mouthwatering and moreish and there was a so so subtle hint of warmth at the back from the chilies.

Since the weather took a turn for the worst and snow and winds descended on the city, we spent a lot of our time in our favorite pubs (OK any excuse). After dropping into the lovely Bag O’Nails where I enjoyed a refreshing, biscuity pint of Box Steam Broad Gauge (4.8%ABV), we headed to Brewdog where I found my top beer of the year so far, Mikkeller Black (17.5%ABV)  (other beers be warned – this will be a tough act to follow). I was overjoyed to see this on the bar as I wanted to try it for ages! The hypnotically luxurious aroma was like vanilla smooshed up with dark chocolate mars bar,

Super-happy Bierebelle!

Super-happy Bierebelle!

deceptively sweet sticky chocolate caramel in a minstrel black with a golden head. Surprisingly the strength doesn’t hit as hard as you might expect but it starts of super-bitter, courtesy of the French Cassonade sugar (thanks for this fact @BrewDogBristol).it takes a few sips to really get into and surrender to the dark malty burnt chocolate and slight tang of red berries with an alcoholic afterburn on the tongue. But my goodness the bitterness was delicious. CBC cannot come quickly enough – I can’t wait to get immersed in the decadent world of Mikkeller and friends!

I can’t really mention the trip to Brewdog without commenting on the amazing service I saw there. Have any of you fellow beer snobs ever been into a super-awesome pub where somebody strolls in off the street, asks for a lager and is scolded or mocked for suggesting such a thing? It’s pretty funny and a lot of bar staff can get away with such banter due to their charming personalities. However, Molly (really hope I got the name right) in Bristol trumped such behaviour with her brilliant knowledge and enthusiasm and may have even started some lucky customers off on the path to discovering more awesome beer. I saw three groups walk in who were new to Brewdog and possibly just sheltering from the blizzard conditions, nervously asking if there was any lager. Each group stayed and tried something new as Molly enthused about what set their beers apart, poured tasters and talked about the ingredients and brewing process with a lot of charm and a sense of fun. If we can have somebody like Molly in every craft beer/real ale pub who knows how many folk we can coax away from the drab old commercial fizz?

Wild thing

The apple of my eye!

The apple of my eye!

As a lover of apples and a hater of cider, I have often wondered why somebody can’t just make an apple beer!? Then I chanced upon Unibroue Ephemere (5.5%ABV), a candy-cane sweet Belgian style apple ale last October and found that I was right – apples can make a good beer! Unfortunately this was over in Vancouver and the brewery is in Quebec so there’s little chance of finding it over in the UK. I’d almost lost hope on another apple ale until I spotted the Wild Beer Co‘s Ninkasi,(9%ABV) a very strange beast named after the ancient Greek goddess of beer. It’s a Belgian-style saison with New Zealand hops, wild yeast and Someset apple juice. If this all sounds rather zingy for you, be warned that champagne yeast is added at secondary fermentation to take the effervescent bubbles up to the next level.

Whilst I love a pretty bottle and noticed this one partly due to it’s striking appearance, I soon realized it may not have been a good idea after all. The regular metal lid was coated in wax which had been elegantly allowed to drip down the sides but there’s just one issue with this. When the wax is solid and the beer inside is potentially pretty lively, wrestling with a tough seal is a fast-track to a very beery kitchen. Eventually we ran a sharp knife around the edge and then held our breaths in anticipation as the OH gallantly prized open the lid. Thankfully disaster had been avoided. Now the main  challenge was in pouring the damned thing using the good old ‘pour half an inch then wait for the head to top the glass then subside’ method. But what a sensational saison. They were right about the bubbles! The rustic aroma has a hint of the apples and the taste is so unbelievably crisp and dry you can almost taste the crunch – there’s definitely a hint of champagne-ness. It doesn’t have the typical flavor one would expect from New Zealand hops; there’s a lot of bitterness and a hint of citrus but the tart apple is the star of the show here. It”s a world away from the candy apple Unibroue Ephemere which makes me wonder where else brewers can go with delicious apples.

Squeal Piggy!

Could this be how we make beer for girls!

Could this be how we make beer for girls!

My word holy smoke we finally have the long-awaited Rogue Voodoo Maple Bacon Ale! We heard it had hit down at our beloved local beer emporium, Bitter Virtue and rushed down to grab a bottle before it all went, but would it live up to the hype? I’ve been a fan of Rogue Ales for a long time and beers such as the Mocha Porter and the Chatoe OREgasmic are a tough act to follow! With an ingredient listing including Cherrywood, Beachwood & Hickory Smoked Malts and Applewood Smoked Bacon I really really wanted this to live up to the hype and guess what…it actually surpassed expectations! Especially so after the bitter disappointment of Uncommon Brewers Bacon Brown ale and having read many an unfavourable review. I was concerned that I’d built myself up to be let down. It’s a collaboration with Portland doughnut crazies, Voodoo whose idiotic offerings include such delights as Cock & Balls and the Tex-Ass Challenge so you know this beer aint’ gonna be subtle whether that’s good or bad. I started to feel a little happer pouring it out of the bottle, seeing the joyful bright red sunrise colour but one whiff of that aroma confirmed my suspicions about the treat I had in store. What an enormously extravagant hit of maple sending me right back to Canada. The first sip has all of that maple sweetness, but then there’s the extraordinarily dirty smoke like you’re sitting downwind from a barbeque caked with burnt-on bacon that’s been cooking non-stop for 6 hours. Then you get to the salt. I would not be in the least bit surprised if you had enough of this to fill a pool, you would float in it like in the sea, although such wastefulness would be unthinkable. In fact, there’s so much sticky-sweet salty maple caramel I’m surprised it pours from the bottle so much like a liquid! This beer is massive and I suspect a bit like marmite. But more salty. You’ll love it or loath it. I love it. Don’t worry about horse in your lasagne and get some bacon in your beer

The rest of the haul from Bitter Virtue

The rest of the haul from Bitter Virtue