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…

Two weddings and a festival

So the Bierebelle has been back up north again and therefore drinking enormous amounts of beer rather than posting blogs. Hope you didn’t miss me! Seriously my liver (and waist) are grateful that I am safely back in the town where a decent pub is a rarity and breweries are few. The journey started in York where two very dear friends of mine tied the knot. We then ventured to Sheffield where we had an amazing night at Corporation for Resistanz festival and were shown the many, many beery sights by the sister and brother-in-law. Then it was back to York for the wedding of my awesome mother and new step-daddy (ok maybe I’m too old to say that).

Although our week of drinkingness began in York, the beeryness didn’t really begin until the day we left for Sheffield. We arrived on the Friday but were whisked away for a family barbeque, then Saturday was the wedding, although we did sneak a little drop of beer at the infamous House of Trembling Madness on the way to the church. However, whilst the half-pint of Kwak I enjoyed would normally be savoured with glee, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, for I was on a mission. Earlier that week, it had come to my attention that Rudgate Brewery were launching a York Chocolate Stout to coincide with the York Chocolate Festival. Having been raised in York by parents who worked for two of the city’s major confectioners (Nestle Rowntree & Cravens), growing up with the sweet chocolatey aromas combined with the sugar beet processed at the factory next to my school, a love for chocolate is in my blood. It is therefore a fundamental right that I should expect to try this York Chocolate Stout. Rather surprisingly, nobody had mentioned this to Trembling Madness who had failed to save even one drop from the launch the night before. I was so upset I had to console myself with cheese instead. At least they hadn’t run out of that. My goodness, they do a cracking Yorkshire Rarebit with the most delicious mustard. I was so upset about the stout I also shared a cheese board with the OH which included a delicious Newcastle Brown Ale cheese. I could just about forgive them, even if I did leave York that weekend without having sampled the longed-for stout.

Drowning my sorrows

Fighting back the tears and trying to enjoy the Kwak & cheese

So the day after the wedding, we were due to board a train to Sheffield, but it is pretty much impossible to get through York station without calling in at the York Tap. Combining the elegance of a Grade II listed former tea room with the convenience of being in a train station, it just lures you in with its’ mind-blowing selection of 32 taps and astoundingly well-stocked fridges. There was a remarkable chap in there who was celebrating the 800th birthday of York by making it his mission to try 800 beers throughout 2012. I believe he was in the right place.

We were especially lucky that Sunday for we had the opportunity to try both of the rather special Ilkley Brewey Origins beers. As a girl with an almost unhealthy obsession with rhubarb (I eat it raw with no sugar and even stick it in my juicer) I immediately went for the astonishing Siberia (5.9% ABV). Brewed with one of my new favorite beer writers Melissa Cole (read her blog where she takes the ‘beard out of beer’), it’s a saison made with Yorkshire forced rhubarb, vanilla, grains of paradise and orange peel. In the glass, it looks typically saison-ish – it’s a delightful hazy golden color. However, stick your nose in and you get a lovely delicate whiff of rhubarb and vanilla. The taste is amazingly lively with the tang of rhubarb and the vanilla almost gives you a nostalgic impression of rhubarb & custard which stays with you for a long finish. There’s a little spice and a lot of sour which makes your tongue feel a little perculiar as you get to the end.

The OH had a half of the other Ilkley Origins saison, Medina (6% ABV), brewed with another notable beer writer Pete Brown. Much darker than the Siberia but just as hazy, this is a spicy Moroccan-style saison, the likes of which I have never tasted but I would very much like to track down again as it was pretty delicious. However, Sheffield was waiting and we had a train to catch! So I bid York farewell, knowing that the next weekend I would be back. Would my mission turn out to be a success? Would I find that elusive Chocolate Stout…? Find out soon…

Damned Albert…

It’s been a while since my last post so sorry about that! I haven’t abandoned my blog and I have actually had the first part of this post written for over a week but then I decided I needed to buy another bottle to finish the review (excuses). Also, I have spent a rather alcoholic weekend in the beautiful city of Chester for a friend’s hen do. If you love beer by the way, Chester is crammed with real ale pubs. Even the hotel I was in, The Mill, had a real ale pub with 10 rotating guests! So now I have sobered up, I’d like to tell you about two beers from the amazing Struise Brouwers.

Over a decade ago, two Flemish ostrich farmers had a crazy notion that they would start brewing beers for their guest house. Now I would never be one to turn down a juicy ostrich steak, but my goodness, I’m glad they branched out into beer! Since humble beginnings producing regional beers with the aid of a local wine maker back in 2001, De Struise Brouwers now have their own microbrewery and have received numerous accolades including the honor of 2008 ‘Best brewers in the world’ as voted for by readers on Rate Beer.

Amongst their line-up proudly stands Black Albert (13%ABV). Described as a “Belgian Royal Stout” and made with ingredients of only Belgian origin, this noble beast was named for the Belgian King Albert II.

Before I started my beer blog, two of the most memorable bottles the OH had brought back from one of his trips to Brussels were Struise Black Damnation I & II (Mocha Bomb). These stuck in my memory because I absolutely adore the Russian Imperial Stout style and these had some clout and a lot of character. Back then, I hadn’t appreciated that these were the first two of a dozen very special creations spawned from Black Albert.

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

I have now been lucky enough to find Black Damnation IV (13%ABV) right here in Southampton at the lovely Bitter Virtue. IV is the ‘Coffee Club’ edition. To me, ‘Coffee Club’ would make me think of some imaginary sophistocated Al Fresco cafe in Europe where ladies carry dogs in handbags and sip Espresso. This is completely the opposite. The label looks like it’s the kind of beer your mother might have warned you about. A skull grins out from a dark, intricate design which came straight out of the Temple of Doom. The text describes a beer ‘as black as hell, filthy rich in the nose and with a massive taste.’ It shares the first two Black Damnations’ dark, smooth good looks and tight froth cap. What makes this one different is that the Black Albert has been aged for six months in very old rum barrels. The aroma is an intriguingly sweet, malty, rich, dark coffee, like a posh coffee-cream enrobed in a luxurious velvety black chocolate. For a lover of quality espresso, this is pure indulgence. It’s like a thick, warming but naughty bitter-sweet shot of espresso with a little tot of your favorite rum to warm the very depths of the soul. There’s a slight smoke but it’s the rich smoke of very darkly roasted coffee beans, offset by the sweetness of the vanilla. I don’t care if I’m damned – I took a dance with this demon and liked it.

Simply Sumptuous

Simply sumptuous

So now that I had tried three of the Damnation dozen, I had to try the original, hence why this review was slightly held up! Since I had a long train journey to Chester and needed the company, I took Black Albert (13%ABV) along. A crowded train is always so much nicer with an interesting companion. Out of plastic and on a moving vehicle, the Black Albert poured the same rich, dirty black as the Black Damnation IV, but had a slightly effervescent quality with a dark tan head that disappeared in seconds. Maybe this effervecence enhanced the beautiful, addictive aroma of malt, dark cherries and candy-floss which paved the way for one of the most incredible Stouts I have ever experienced. The flavour was rich, gooey, sumptuous dark chocolate gateaux with some of that candy sweetness shining through, the mouthfeel thick like liquid velvet. Right at the end you get a soft malty fruit cake and you’re left a warming alcoholic satisfaction that feels a little naughty like you’ve been stealing the plump kirch cherries from the top of a black forest trifle. The OH had better leave room in his suitcase next time he goes to Brussels for the other 9 Black Damnations – I need to try them all!

Black & Blue

Atlantic Blue: Yummy Cornish Porter

Rich, dark, drinkable

So just thought I’d do a little review of this rather lovely porter from Atlantic (http://atlanticbrewery.com/) who I had actually never heard of before their beers started to appear in Bitter Virtue, my beloved local beer store. Atlantic are based in Newquay in Cornwall and boast some impressive green credentials. The whole operation is a very local affair; they grow their own organic hops, use pure Cornish water  drawn fresh from their own spring and use organic barley and wheat malts produced by Warminster Maltings. Plus, they are certified vegan!

Atlantic initially caught my eye because of the variety of styles which includes a range of ales developed with Michelin starred chef Nathan Outlaw to enjoy with food, as well as the more traditional styles. ‘Atlantic Blue’ is their porter. According to the blurb, it’s a ‘rich porter that smoothly blends five different malts. It exhibits a light smokiness fused with roasted coffee and hints of dark chocolate.’ It doesn’t disappoint. The color is deep chocolate brown and the scent is rich vanilla and hazelnut with a little malt. At 4.8%abv, it’s an average strength and goes down extremely smoothly. Just the kind of thing for unwinding after a long day. The first thing I notice is the creamy chocolate, then a slightly acidic, slightly tangy coffee. The coffee builds the further down you get and lingers. I don’t really get the smokiness but I’m not too upset since it’s a great porter for a regular evening treat.