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!

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…