It’s not rocket science but it is a craft!

I’ve been finding myself staring into space a lot recently. It’s so awesomely huge that it makes my head hurt to think about it too much but thankfully I have beer so it’s never too stressful. It’s been hard not to think about space, what with real-life Major Tom Chris Hadfield hitting the news with his performance of Space Oddity actually filmed on board the International Space Station! Then the amazing opportunity came up on Kickstarter to back the first publicly accessible space telescope, Arkyd and have a ‘selfie‘ sent up and photographed. In space! Then another opportunity on Kickstarter to support the fantastic band Ananamaguchi in their quest to make even more mind-bendingly colorful beepy awesomeness. What do they have to do with space? See their latest video Endless Fantasy and prepare to be impressed.

Joining the Space Race

Joining the Space Race

I was very excited when brand new Bristol brewery Rocket Science Craft Ales got in touch to see if I wanted to try some of their new beers. Well since they have such a cute logo how could I refuse. After a long day in London seeing the V&A’s exhibition celebrating the original Space Oddity, David Bowie, it was fitting to open a nicely chilled bottle of the IO (6.5%ABV) to unwind. Named after one of the moons of Jupiter studded with over 400 active volcanoes, this American IPA has a lot to live up to. It’s unfined, unfiltered and unpasturised so it’s about as back-to-basics as brewing gets. In the glass, it’s cloudy dark amber – not what I was expecting – and the aromas are fresh, sharp citrus and slightly sweet honey with a touch of pine. It’s a surprisingly really accomplished American-style pale for such a young brewery – the bitter lemons and grapefruit really hit the taste buds hard making the mouth water and the dryness at the back is so crisp, The acidic pineapple brings a touch of tropical sunshine and there’s a little sweetness in the aftertaste like sherbet lemons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was most excited about the Jet Black (5.4%ABV) since it’s a Cascadian Dark Ale which is one of my current favorite styles. I’m fairly particular about Cascadian Darks and very few fit the bill for me. This was a very promising pour, jet black like it says on the bottle with a lovely lasting whispy head and an aroma like a charred hedgerow. The dark malts give a burnt crust characteristic to the fabulously bitter hop but it’s lifted by a delicious fruitiness, like a playful cocktail of lychee and cranberries. This is perfectly balances with deliciously bitter dark chocolate – think of your favourite bar of 80-85% cocoa solids studded with crystals of burnt brown sugar. The finish is wonderfully dry with a bitter-sweetness that’s so moreish. I think I’ll be strapping on my jetpack and blasting off to Bristol very soon – I gotta get stocked up on these! Impressive for such a new brewery!

Rebel Belle

Taking over the taps!

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go for a day trip to Bristol for the Tiny Rebel tap takeover at the Bag O’ Nails. Having tried only one of their beers previously, the magnificently hoppy Fubar, I had been desperate to try more but sadly none have made it as far as the South Coast. Having never been to the Bag O’Nails before, it was a good excuse to discover another pub in Bristol. I’d heard excellent things about the place so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay them a visit. I was also keen to meet Malcolm, the handsome chap who runs the pub (he’s actually a cat so he has a human called Luke managing the place). I hadn’t expected such a lovely, bustling little pub as the one I walked into. Luckily, we found ourselves a table, although we had to be on our best behaviour as the boss was enjoying a well-earned siesta there.

I started with a lovely Koochie (6%ABV) pale ale which had that lovely fresh and exotic new-world hop flavour. It didn’t take long to feel quite at home. I really appreciate going to a pub where the landlord is as passionate about good beer as I am, although Luke and I do not seem to share the same opinions on Irish craft. One of his other passions seemed to be his music collection; instead of CDs, there was a turntable with a collection of well-chosen classic albums on vinyl from classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and The Doors.

Malcolm wasn’t really interested in the Chocoholic. More for me then.The Doors, Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash.

As I got stuck into my second beer, a delicious Cwtch (4.6%ABV) English Bitter which had that classic biscuity taste with a hint of fruit, I got talking to the guys at the table next to us. I was amazed that they had come all the way from Newport, Wales, where Tiny Rebel is based, to support their local brewery. The OH did have to remind me that it’s not that far from Bristol by train, but still I’m impressed they love the beer so much.

It was an absolute delight to meet the two guys behind Tiny Rebel, Gazz & Brad. We spent a lot of time chatting to Gazz who was such a massively likeable beer geek. He told us about how they started out as home-brewers and we chatted about what we had been brewing at home. It’s always handy to get tips from professional brewers, especially as he still brews small batches to test new ideas. He was particularly proud of the Chocoholic (6.8%ABV) which was a beautifully bitter, smooth, rich chocolate stout. The extreme dark bitterness, I was told, was down to the raw cacao nibs used in the settling tanks.

Before the mad dash for the train, there was just enough time to remind myself of the beer that had made me want to go to Bristol that day in the first place. Fubar (4.4%ABV), with its lovely refreshing hops and really big after taste of bitterness, was just as good as I remembered. Oh and I even managed to grab a growler of Koochie for the train home, although since cats evidently rule the roost at the Bag O’Nails, Luke insisted on a swift ‘customisation,’ covering the Brewdog logo with a Tiny Rebel one. I kinda like it. Although that was also when Brewdog Jonny walked in. It’s a shame we had to catch a train relatively early but you can tell what a fun day out we had by the fact that I didn’t really get round to writing many proper words about the actual beers which is even more reason that I demand that you track some down for yourself!

Bespoke customised Tiny Rebel growler!

Further adventures in the North

A super selection at the North Bar

Wow it’s been a busy month! So little time to blog so sorry about the general silence from Bierebelle HQ. What an amazing month of an amazing year to reach that milestone 30 – it’s been a whole month of birthday! Between spending my evenings glued to the Olympics and now glued to the Paralympics, I managed to fit in a short trip up North to the wonderful West Yorkshire. Before heading off to Bradford for a music festival, first stop was Leeds where I just had to call in at the lovely little North Bar asap. Part of a small family of Leeds pubs which includes the cozy Cross Keys and even a beery ice-cream van,  although not for much longer since they’re selling it. How long ’till Christmas? Although it looks tiny from the outside, North Bar actually boasts a pretty enviable selection. On the day we went, out of 16 taps I saw 6 dark beers which for me is a pretty admirable ratio, although it makes sense on a rainy August day.The range on the bar includes a Dunkel from Erdinger, Coffee Porter from Flying Dog, a Cream Stout and two IPAs from Sierra Nevada – there’s something for everyone! The prices are pretty much what you expect in London. I had an X-Ray (8.5%ABV) from the Italian Brewfist at a fiver for a half but I guess it’s pretty rare to find in the UK. Tasting it I soon forgot the dent in my wallet (well, my boyfriend’s wallet). You could get lost in this luxurious dark Italian stallion of a beer. It had the aroma of delicious caramel with tones of burnt wood and in the flavor the sweetness hit first. Treacle toffee oozed through before a bitter coffee sweeping through to a woody leather finish. Sophisticated, elegant and complex. The OH was lucky enough to try a gorgeous Brooklyn Mary’s Maple Porter (6.9%ABV, draft only so fairly special!) which was a big mama of a sweet malty drama with voluptuously unctuous maple syrup taking it to the limit of what could turn out sickly but staying damned drinkable.

Next on our whistle-stop tour of the bars of Leeds was Friends of Ham, located on New Station Street which has become one of my favorite streets in the city. Nestled alongside Laynes Espresso, serving the best coffee around, and brew-pub Leeds Brewery Tap, Friends of Ham is the tiny bar station with a big secret in the basement. Descend below street level and you’ll find yourself in a cozy, laid back lounge complete with comfy sofas, eclectic-chic unmatched tables and chairs, sociable long dining tables and a  Shuffleboard (which somebody must explain to me some time)! Check out the gorgeous photos on their Facebook page if you’re not convinced.

Hey little piggy!

It boasts a brilliant cask and keg range for such little bar space. I finally had the chance to try Williams Brothers Birds & Bees (4.3%ABV) after admiring the artwork on the website ages ago but never seeing it in real life. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, like a hazy summer afternoon of snoozing by a river-warm amber gold with sweet honey aroma. Honey is perfectly balanced by floral hops. Imagine this with crusty baguette and soft cheese lying somewhere in a field, if summer were ever to return. The OH had a Dark Star Revelation (5.7%ABV) which also had a little of the honey flavor like Birds & Bees, rounding off the overwhelming huge hops and a lingering dry bitterness to finish. Another win from Dark Star – can they ever go wrong? We loved this place so much we actually called in on the way out of Leeds to sample their charcuterie delights. Well it is just next door to the station. As a light lunch, the two of us shared a mixed meat and cheese board which came with delicious fresh bread, cornichons and a duo of delightful onion marmalade and a warming orange habanero jelly. The smoked goats cheese was the best I’ve had so far with a mild goats-milk tang and perfect amount of smoke and the garlic cheese wrapped in garlic leaves was incredibly delicious without anti-social amounts of garlic. I was pleased I took the suggestion of the lovely lady at the bar and went for the salted beef and I also tried the fancy salami studded with fennel seeds which gave it a pretty refreshing twist.To wash it down I indulged in a half of Delerium Red (8.5%ABV) which I had never actually encountered before. It was gorgeously full of rich and juicy cherries with a trace of bitterness in the after-taste. Still not as good as my much-loved Sam Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale but tasty nevertheless.

The gorgeous bar at Mr.Foley’s

Thankfully, we also had the chance to drop in on the York Brewery‘s Western outpost, Mr.Foley’s. It’s a lovely proper pub and the huge bar has a high ceiling so while you wait for your beer there’s plenty of interesting bottles to browse, although many are from times past and may just invoke fond memories. There’s 3 or 4 taps devoted to York Brewery so it’s a must-visit for me if I’m not actually going to York! Alongside are about 6 on cask including some changing guests and 4 on keg. I had my beloved Ghost Ale (5.4%) which we all know by now is one of my desert island ales and I love for it’s rich creamy chocolaty goodness. I don’t know whether the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ saying is appropriate or whether this was just perfectly well-kept but I swear this was even better than I remember. The OH went for a delightful Sierra Nevada Summerfest (5.0%) which was a delightfully light, citrus hopped Pilsner style. To round off our one night in Leeds, I decided to try a Bellerose which is the blonde from Brasserie des Sources, a brewery founded by by Gerrard Depardieu. In all, it was pretty typical of the style with all you expect including the off-putting aroma (or is it just me who finds that?). The flavour was smooth despite the herbal zingy hops and joyful carbonation. Although I was quite content with the Bellerose (6.5%ABV), I did find myself fairly jealous of the OH’s Buxton Imperial Black and couldn’t wait to finish my beer so I could pour myself some of his.. Had Brewdog Libertine? This is Libertine’s bolder, larger-than-life swashbuckling cousin. Hoppyer with a truckload more blackcurrant and a zesty citrus pow!

So, as you can see, mostly I haven’t been blogging because I’ve actually been out and about on my travels. You could even call it research. We had barely had the chance to unpack on our return from Bradford before we were back on the plane to the Emerald Isle… More on that soon!

The York Brewery Pumpclip Collection

A birthday to remember!

Well the Olympics is over but what a fortnight it was! If you are anything like me, you will have been glued to the Olympics at every spare moment! At work, I’ve discovered the very best reason to have an internet browser with tabs. I have absolutely no idea how I passed the time in the dark days before the games came to London! What a memorable week to hit a milestone birthday! Last Monday I hit the big 3-0 and I really don’t mind if you know that since I still get asked for ID (so there!). We had meant to get tickets for the Olympics on that day but

Birthday beer time!

weren’t lucky enough. Since we’d heard London was actually not too manic we decided to venture up there to spend the day generally wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere. In a dramatic but very fitting diversion from the usual coffee train-beer, I had been keeping a special birthday beverage to one side. Æther Blæc 28 (7.7%ABV) is Hardknott‘s phenomenal Stout Beer aged in barrels which had been used to distill Inchgower Whisky way back in the year I was born. Out of all the barrel-aged stouts I have tried, this stands out as one of the best, if not the best. Well-balanced, rich, dark fruits, bitter and hypnotic depths of complexity. So far I’ve had two of the 420 bottles made. I will count myself very lucky if I get another!

The Æther Blæc set me up for a crazy awesome day combing the streets of London in search of the painted Wenlock statues dotted around the city – there’s apparently 80 in total! Since this was hungry work, I had the ideal excuse to try out Tonkotsu the new ramen bar in Soho which I’d heard about from various beery sources on Twitter and had pretty much the best ramen ever! The mains on the menu consist of only two pork ramen and one vegetarian but they excel at what they do! I have never raved about hard-boiled eggs so much – you will not regret ordering extra! The reason it’s popular with beer fans, of course, is its rather enviable and fairly-priced beers from local breweries Beavertown & The Kernel, as well as Brewdog. I went for a Beavertown Smog Rocket (5.4%ABV) which was a deliciously smokey porter and the OH went for their impressively hop-tastic IPA, 8 Ball (6.2%ABV).

More Wenlock-spotting called for more thirst-quenching beer. Just my luck then that The Cask had a ‘Meet the Brewer’ event with Red Willow brewery! What a fantastic place to watch as Jason Kenny took another Team GB gold in the mens sprint, an event I became a little obsessed with. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to let out a cheer as he crossed the line. I drank halves so I could try as many as possible and I can pretty honestly say that I didn’t have one bad one but the stand outs were the liquorice black IPA SoullesS (7.2%ABV) and sweet but smokey and incredibly drinkable porter, Smokeless (5.7%ABV). Unfortunately, the day had to come to an end early as I had to be at work the next day so to round off a rather lovely birthday we got a lovely pudding to take on the train. The perfect pudding? A cakey, figgy Vanilla Tree Dubbel (7.5%) by Westbrook Brewing Co. Only another two working days until we’re back in London for the Great British Beer Festival and seeing the Olympics for real.

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…

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.

Black Magic

Bierebelle is having another shocker of a working week dear readers. Don’t fret though. A black mood can only be cured by one thing and as we all know that can only be a black IPA! Black IPA is a relatively new phenomenon in craft brewing from over in that big ole USA. In a recent CAMRA festival programme I noticed with a little chortle that it can still only be spoken of in quotation marks. On the basis of the beers of this style I’ve been lucky enough to try, a black IPA is characterised by the same crazy levels of hoppage as American IPAs but with added complexities of dark roasted malts and a high ABV.

Moor Illusion, at only 4.7% ABV, is an attempt at a ‘session strength’ version of a black IPA. Sold in a generous 660ml bottle, it’s great for sharing but who would blame you for keeping it to yourself? This deep, sleek, black beer pours from the bottle with a thick head which, though short-liked, leaves an elegant white lace shimmering on the surface and sloaping down the sides of the glass as you swirl. The aroma of toasted malts and orange zest are comforting and energizing at the same time. This same toasted malts are the first flavor to hit but there’s a sweet orange-blossom honey trickling through and a tangy citrus hop with a coffee bounce at the end. It’s not quite as over-hoppy or powerful as some of the black IPAs I’ve had, but I think Illusion is perfectly joyful as a light and lovely expression of the style.