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!

 

More dark delight in York…

Finally, back to York for the last leg of our April trip. I know it’s been a while and I’m mainly relying on my notes but the Bierebelle has been ultra-busy, building her mountain bike, riding around on it, going on a hen-weekend, celebrating Brewdog’s fifth birthday…phew! So, the story continues back in York.

Stained glass to rival the Minster at the York Tap

Spirits were high in anticipation of my mum’s wedding. Hopes were also high. Would I finally lay my hands on that elusive Rudgate York Chocolate Stout? Naturally, the first stop was inevitably the York Tap as we waited for a lift from my dad. As regular readers know, this has become a must-visit place whenever I return to York. Although I dearly love the Sheffield Tap, the York Tap is a place is becoming my favorite of the two. As a York native, I find it remarkable that they have breathed so much new life into a premises that I had never really even looked at before. The lovingly restored art-nouveau features such as the elegant stained glass skylight, real working fireplace and the mahogany finishes take this up to the next level of railway pubs; it’s such a welcoming and lovely place there’s always a danger you could miss your train. The other danger which could leave you stranded, of course, is deciding which of the draft ales, beers and ciders to sample from their dizzying selection of 32 on the huge, round bar. By the time I’ve done a few rounds of that thing, I feel like I’ve earned my drink (although smart people look at the chalk board which I always remember when it’s too late).

The coffee’s pretty awesome too- coffee nerds will understand what an awesome Electra this is!

Since it was a fairly gloomy day, I was first drawn to the rather sinister-looking black and red pump-clip of Kirkstall Black Band Porter (5.5%ABV). This bewitching black brew had a spellbinding aroma of dark treacle-toffee with a scattering of raisins. The luxuriously thick liquid envelops the taste-buds in a burnt candy flavour with blackcurrants and a little black magic which stays with you for a long finish with a hint of smoke. The seductive warming sensation and dark malt will wrap you up in velvet darkness, making the rain at the window seem a million miles away.

Not quite ready to leave the darkness, I discovered the Whitby Black Dog Brewery’s Rhatas (4.6%ABV). From the homeland of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, comes this chocolate brown beast whose bite is not really as sharp but still it’s a good stab at a dark bitter. Slightly unusual in it’s spicy brown bread flavour, it’s not as sweet as the Black Band porter but still gives way to a round vanilla finish at the end. Quite quaffable and a nice run-up to the much brighter, vibrant Chateau Rogue Oregasmic (7%ABV). Just as the sun was starting to peer through the clouds, I felt like I had the chance to taste a little bit of summer. The cloudy burnt orange echoed the late-afternoon glow and left a pretty halo on the sides of the glass. The exotic fruity aroma suggested pineapple and sunny skies and the initial sharp, vibrant flavour was enough to drag the tastebuds out of their languid darkness. The long, bitter finish is punctuated with mouthwatering pineapple-cube zinginess. Oregasmic is a livewire that keeps on twitching with flavours; getting further down the glass, toffee, bannana and pecan were all hopping around before a tangly-tingly-tongue finish.

Bouncing along next was the Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball (7%ABV), the inky black little scamp of an IPA with a wicked glint in it’s eye and a spring in it’s step. At this stage, I should make a note to self – black does not always mean it should be served at room temperature. I had a bottle of this not long ago but served it just below rooom temperature and it was awsome, but not as stand-out amazeballs as very chilled from the tap. The opaque inky black suggests a thicker liquid than this refreshingly thin delight which leaves a shimmering white lace on the sides of the glass. Attempting to do some pretentious food-matching, I would pair this with the red and black Wine Gums you just stole from your little brother (you know they’re the best ones right?). This seriously has that aroma of black Wine Gums and tastes like blackcurrant liquorice with a dry finish and tingly, slightly sour mouthfeel which leaves you sneaking back to the sweet stash to look for more. Or maybe I’ll find that chocolate instead. More to come soon…

Midnight Sun from Scotland

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. I had thought about a Mexican beer for tonight but there wasn’t one that took my fancy – maybe on a warmer day but after today’s chilly winds I was set for more of a wooly jumper style of beer and who knows warming cozy ale better than the Scots? Also, I am still fairly cross about a comment I re-read today flicking through the Spring issue of CAMRA’s ‘Beer’ magazine by an idiot. The idiot who calls himself Ade Edmondson went on record saying ‘there is no real beer in Wales or Scotland,’ thus losing any respect and credibility as a beer drinker from my point of view. Ade, meet my friends the Williams Brothers.  Based in Alloa (that’s Scotland, Ade), they use traditional ancient recipes to bring us some of the finest and most unusual beers in the whole of the UK and their appeal even reaches overseas.

I’ve been a fan of the Williams Brothers for a long time – I especially love their Fraoch Heather ale and have never been disappointed by any of their output. On a recent trip to Bristol, my partner discovered a rather good bottle shop, Corks of Cotham and was thoughtful enough to bring a few beers back for me, including a Williams Brothers Midnight Sun (5.6%ABV). It’s a dark, spiced porter with a little ginger thrown in. It pours out the colour of midnight with a thick, frothy head and you get a generous waft of coffee and spices. The taste is stronger than the 5.6%ABV would prepare you for. There’s a warming richness like a toasty fireside on a blustery night and a thick, almost sticky texture. The initial flavours of coffee and the dark chocolate malts give way to cloves and ginger which continue to flitter around on the tongue, keeping it warm for another sip. There’s also a long bitterness at the end from the hops. Another win for the Williams Brothers then.

Bierebelle gives a hoot!

Whoot whoot! My Brewdog package arrived and guess what was in it? A whole range of ow-aley goodness and fun from Hitachino Nest! Hooray! Also, may I point out the Hitachino Nest almost came in a nest – look at all the packaging! I’ll certainly be ordering from here again!

So – what do we have? Top row from left: Sweet Stout, Red Rice, Japanese Classic (matured in Cedar casks) & White Ale. Bottom row from left: Weizen, Amber Ale, Commemorative Ale, Extra High (apparently more malt & hops than usual and matured 6mth) and Ginger Ale.

There weren’t just owls hiding in the box! Here’s the rest along with some promotional Brewdog ‘Equity for Punks’ stuff we got sent recently and a lovely shiney glass I bought to put the beer in – yay for goodies!

From left: 8-Wired The Big Smoke Smoked Porter (from New Zealand!), Brew Dog Sunk Punk (fermented at the bottom of the ocean where the Kraken lives), Bear Republic Black Stout & Lost Abbey Lost & Found!

It’s what Bank Holidays were made for!

Happy birthday to Brew (Dog)

Brewdog Camden celebrates!

Bierebelle does not feel too good. What happened yesterday? Ah yes that would be the illustrious Brewdog’s fifth birthday party at their Camden bar where they had a total tap takeover featuring over 19 of their beers! I can’t even remember how many of those I tried but I think by the state of my wallet it was quite a few. We started the day with good intentions and I even kept notes on the first few drinks but with so much choice including some incredibly rare and never-before-seen beers it was never going to end well. The first drink was a very easy decision. I was very very excited to see Tokyo (18.2%ABV) on the taps – I’ve been putting off buying it for a while because of the price tag but this was the perfect opportunity to try. It’s an astonishingly beautiful porter ‘brewed with jasmine and cranberries, dry-hopped then aged on oak chips.’ This is one of my fantasy beers I’ve daydreamed about making in my imaginary brewery I sometimes think I’ll have one day, but Brewdog have gone and beaten me to it! Although the jasmine is quite subtle, the aroma is a generous big summer picnic of cherry jam  on brown bread. A real femme-fatale, the taste is wicked dark chocolate with dried cranberries and cherries and it feels like a mouthfull of velvet.It’s a luxurious deep  brown and so thick it leaves little legs when you swirl it around the glass.You wouldn’t leave Tokyo alone with your boyfriend.

No birthday is complete without cake (and 'IPA Is Dead' Motueka)

Moving on from the sophistocated elegance of Tokyo, I set my sights on a real bad boy for my next drink, Libertine Porter (5.9%), an ‘an irreverent, devil may care rollercoaster of a porter.’ What a rollercoaster ride indeed. Just about as inky black as a porter can be, it’s rammed with hops which dance and shout for attention but once they calm down, there’s a flash of blackcurrant and liquorice. It smells like it’s been painting the town black then crashed for the night in a hedgerow of hops and brambles. This is some bad-ass refreshment but the super-dry finish means it goes down rather quickly. Wiki says a Libertine is somebody ‘devoid of moral restraints.’ This Libertine is devoid of any restraints at all and today he had brought his crazed hound, Dog A. Oh yes, the Alpha dog was in the bar and I was faced with a dilemma – would I splash out or live to regret it? I thought about this as I shared a bottle of Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale (6.7%ABV) with my two companions which was a rather pleasant change of pace. A traditional, farmhouse-style Saison with an aroma rather like hay which made a wholesome and sunny interlude but there was a dog still jumping around, wagging it’s tail to catch my eye.

Who let the dog out of the box?!

Dog A (15.1%) is a rare beast. Everyone wants a puppy when they’re 5 and Brew Dog went ahead and got one, albeit a crazed, slightly vicious but utterly beautiful one. This Imperial Stout originally appeared as the legendary AB:04 but has made a much anticipated return for the aniversary celebrations. It contains ‘copious amounts of dark malts, pure cacao, coffee and subtle naga chilli’ so pretty much all the best things you could put into a beer. Presented in a beautifully sinister black box, you know this is gonna be pretty special. The aroma is incredible; you get so much of the chocolate and naga it reminds me of my home-made chocolate chilli but with shed-loads more awesomeness. The flavour is warming, full of dark malts with a real bitter-sweet kick of the blackest chocolate and followed with a subtle after-burn. Exceptionally silky with a tiny hint of smoke. Without a doubt the best beer of the day which is just as well since my note-taking stopped here (possibly rendered speechless by the majesty of the Dog A). Thanks for letting us come to your party Brewdog – it rocked!

First of the batch

So I meant to continue the beery tour up North on the blog today, but that ain’t gonna happen just yet. As a reward for actually doing some housework today, I was allowed to head up to Bitter Virtue for a tasty beer. In an effort to be less biased to Northern beers (which by the way I still consider to be best), I was on the look out for another local brew. Luckily, there’s another new brewery down our way and this one promises to make us ‘Love beer (again).’ Based in Winchester, Batch Brew is a microbrewery which so far only has one beer out, their flagship black lager known only as, Batch 9 (5%ABV). Although it’s a local bottle conditioned ale, I was at first slightly suspicious. I had heard a rumour that it was a contract brew by Oak Leaf although I could find absolutely nothing about this on the internet and doubt it’s true. The bottle’s incredibly slick-looking for the first output from a young microbrewery and even features a food-pairing recommendation from their chef/taster/resident beer fan Maria. It’s refreshingly modern and I love the heart logo! On their very polished website I would have liked to see some information about the actual brewery though, but that’s because I like to find out about the different approaches brewers take in their methods and ingredients.

The mysterious Batch 9

Even though the actual brewery is fairly mysterious, this beer speaks for itself. Don’t let the word ‘Lager’ put you off. It’s a Black Lager so it’s more similar in style to something like Budvar Dark than Carling! It’s fairly opaque black but has a thin but refreshing mouthfeel. It’s got a lovely dark roasted chocolate malt flavour and a short dry, slightly hollow finish. It has a malty aroma with a little hint of candy sweetness. I’ll be very interested to try future batches. In the pipeline they have 24 (a ‘Robust Porter’) and 50 (an ‘IPA’). Very exciting to see another up-and-coming micro on our doorstep!

Bristol Winterlude

Some readers unlucky enough to not have any trips to York or Sheffield planned (more fool you!) may be pleased to know that this is a little interlude from that particular tale. As you may be aware, I am particuarly partial to darker styles and in my humble opinion Bristol Beer Factory make a fine stout at the best of times. They’re so good that at Christmas my partner and I couldn’t resist treating ourselves to their Twelve Stouts of Christmas which is a great way to try their regulars as well as some special editions. Unlucky for you, this here bad boy is an extra-special edition. Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig Whisky Casks (9%ABV). Innis & Gunn – you’re toast. We had good times but this stuff is the real deal. This is what happens when you take an already exceptional stout then age it in the oak casks from an exceptional whisky. The ideal Friday evening treat to cozy up with and round off this wet and wintery week.

Whisky in the jar? I'd rather have some of this yummy stout thanks!

The strange thing is, although I know from my whisky-loving companions that Laphroaig is the schizz, I am in no way a whisky drinker. My partner had a bottle a while ago which he savoured and loved but for a warming spirit, I go with rum every time. I did try some a couple of times, but it was just too smokey, too much. The aroma of this stout brings it back vividly; on a blind test, I’m not convinced I could even identify this as a stout, or any other beer. It just smells of Laphroaig. I guess it’s expected since the Stout was aged for six months in oak casks previously used for Laphroaig’s 10 year old whisky. As I’ve come to expect from Bristol, this is a proper, almost black as night stout, opaque and so thick you can roll it around in the glass and watch it coat the sides. The flavour is intense, complex, voluptuous, full. It remarkably maintains the character of the stout with velvety notes of chocolate and takes on the oaky smoke of the whisky, combining to create a deep dark roasted old brown java crescendo finish. You’re quickly left with a slightly dry boozy mouth which makes you long for the next sip.

I really hope this makes a re-appearance at some point, but if not I am still super excited that Bristol will be putting together another twelve stouts this Christmas! Only another 8 months to go! For now, I’m looking forward to catching them at Grillstock, the ultimate celebration of barbeque, beer and hick music. I’m pretty sure last year I was their first customer. Who’s going this year?

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…

Titanic triumph

I have been a big fan of Titanic Brewery for a long time. Like the ill-fated luxury liner herself, you can always expect quality, classy, refined flavors and beautiful designs on the labels and pump-clips. However, it’s unlikely that this brewery will be sunk anytime soon since their beers seem to be appearing everywhere at the moment (incuding Waitrose) so there’s no excuses not to take a cruise with these brews. One of my best memories of Titanic was a lovely strong beer called something like Shipwreck at the Southwestern Arms. I don’t have clear memories of exactly what this was (maybe one of you could tell me) but it went down far too easily for it’s strength and made me feel jolly perculiar through pint number three. I believe the only Titanic I have been disapppointed by was the Nine Tenths Below which recently made an appearance at the Weatherspoons Real Ale Festival, although I admit the style of this one is not generally the sort of thing I go for. I was very excited today when I saw that Weatherspoons are due to have a festival of Titanic beers between April 5th & 9th.

Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout

The old lady definately wouldn't throw this back into the ocean

Since I have spent my Sunday peddling up and down the hills of the Tennyson Trail on the Isle of Wight on my mountain bike (recommended by the way – just beautiful), my choice of beer tonight is a bit of an indulgent treat and a real firm favorite. Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout (4.5%ABV). The clear glass bottle allows you to be tantalised by the beautiful deep brown colour. When you open the bottle you are hit with the most incredible rich scent of chocolate and vanilla with a tiny whisper of espresso – I would consider wearing this scent it is so amazing and addictive. I literally sit here inhaling from the bottle like a crazy glue-sniffer but with a more refined palate. Pour it out and you discover the luxurious white head which is almost like a posh liquor coffee. The flavor lives up to the looks and aroma 100%. There’s literally enough flavor to sink the Titanic here. It feels thick and rich,  almost creamy. There’s a definate sweetness but also a little dry bitterness at the back, perfectly balanced by the Madagascan vanilla. It’s the perfect grown-up pudding. The warmth and fullness of flavour makes you think it’s much stronger so it’s a really good one to round off a busy day.

False Economy?

Well, we might be in the midst of a recession and looking at the silly old taxman taking an even bigger cut from our beer-money, but at least the weather is lovely. So lovely that I’ve been neglecting my blog in favour of enjoying the sunshine. The shame! So I thought I’d do a topical review for you tonight of a rather nice Pale Ale I picked up in Cheshire from the Spitting Feathers Ministry of Beer range. Spitting Feathers is about as traditional as a brewery could be. Their home, in the village of Waverton, is a farm so the grain used in the brewing process is used to feed the livestock, including the pigs who go on to become tasty sausages made using some of their tasty beer (ahh…the circle of life). They also keep bees and the honey goes into their seasonal ‘Honey Trap.’

The family have been farming in Waverton for five generations so they are probably in quite a good position to understand the importance of pubs in the community and the great brewing traditions here in the UK. They came up with the Ministry of Beer range as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction that ‘successive governments have failed to recognise the importance of these industries.’ I managed to track down their False Economy (ABV 3.8%) which, as an English pale ale, I would normally have dismissed. The label caught my eye though and the description promised ‘so much hop that it probably costs the ministry more than it recovers in revenue.’

False Economy, or just good beer?

It’s actually their winter edition, available from October to December but from the description I assumed it would be more suitable for a springtime sup. Once the beer was in the glass and I got a whiff of those hops and honey, I knew I was right. The color is a cloudy golden haze like runny hunny on a sunny window sill. There’s no bubbles but the flavor is still quite lively with lots of honey and some subtle spice. The bitter hops only come through towards the end before a final flash of honey taking you through to a long, dry hoppy finish with a hint of refreshing citrus. Summer in a glass…pretty much everything you would expect from a good quality pale ale and certainly not a false economy. I’d be pretty keen to try some of their other stuff, particularly their Heritage Ales brewed with brewing historian John Murray (if you got Beer magazine this quarter you would be excited about these too!)

Island Brewery Wight Gold

Beer, bikes, sunshine = perfection

While I’m in a summery mood, I really want to share with you another recent discovery – the Island Brewery of the Isle of Wight. Yes there’s a new kid on the Island – watch out Goddards! I found their very refreshing, hoppy Wight Gold on tap at the lovely Shoe Inn on a weekend bike ride on the South Downs. If you see it, try it. I’m looking forward to seeing more from these guys on my next trip to the Island. Cheers!