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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

From Porthleven with love

Having long been of Skinners beers - especially Betty Stogs and Cornish Knocker, last week Fuggles finally got round to popping down to Truro to visit them.  I knew they weren't huge, but was still somewhat surprised to find a single 25 barrel mash tun turning out 3 brews a day, 5 days a week most of the year. Less surprised to see the hot hard job of shovelling it out by hand being undertaken.

The virtually antique copper dates from an era when they were still made of copper.  The fact that these are no longer made (/ affordable) and the distinctive flavour it imparts to the beer is one of the reasons why just one mash tun is still employed.  The copper limits the output of the brewery overall.

In keeping with the mash tun and the copper, the beer is then fermented in open squares for a week before being either put into casks by hand onsite, or sent offsite for bottling.
Pick of the beers at the bar after our lovely tour for me was Porthleven.  A seasonal from 2011, it was back by popular demand.  Demand which might just see it sit alongside 'Betty' and 'Knocker' more permanently.  With a bucketload of citra (well, actually more like a dustbinload) it balances grassy and fruity in the way that so many IPAs aspire to.

Also worth a mention are the wheat beers - Cornish Blonde and Skin Dog lager. Full of flavour without cloying sweetness.

Fuggles was most disappointed to be slightly too early to try 'Green Hop' brewed with fresh rather than dried hops, and said to have a slightly green tinge to it.  Ah well, good excuse to go back in September next year....

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fuggles does Thornbridge (twice)

You know it is a good day when it starts with the expectation of visiting a brewery and it ends having visited two.  So this was definitely a good day.  When it is one of your favourite breweries and one of the reasons you got into beer writing it is particularly good.

I've been a fan of Thornbridge since I first tasted Jaipur.  We're lucky enough to see a few beers from their range down in London, but it was amazing to see the extent of their range both on tap in Thornbridge pubs, and the impressive array of pump clips on display.

Thornbridge could be perceived as somewhat of an awkward teenager at the moment.  Too large and established to be a trendy micro, but firmly still in the craft brewing camp.  What do you do in this situation - aim big and expand by building on the continuing success of beers like Jaipur?  Or continue to innovate and stretch your boundaries with new and exciting beers?

Well both, actually, seems to be the answer.  Jaipur is a popular beer wherever it is stocked, and the five new tanks just installed will help Thornbridge to keep pace with that demand.  But their raison d'etre of producing great new beers lives on.

While I was there the first tastings of the new big brother to Sequoia were available.  Very big brother, as it happens, at 8.3% but General Sherman was a stunningly fruity hop-packed beer.  Mango and papaya hit you in the nose, before melting into a rich palate that is both sweet and fruity and bitter and grassy in equal measure.

The second (unexpected) brewery of my visit was Thornbridge Hall brewery.  The original site of the Thornbridge brewery, the smaller equipment here is still in use, producing shorter production runs of limited edition or trial beers, separately identified as Thornbridge Hall beers.

Here the brewing team can (and are encouraged to) try new things out and finesse their skills.  There's something quite magical about old brewing kit - these were second hand when first installed at Thornbridge Hall.  Perhaps it's wondering about their previous life and all the beers they've seen.  I don't know, but I like them.

The brewery tours completed, we visited a couple of Thornbridge pubs to sample some more beer (and some stunning food at The Cricket).  In no particular order these included Brother Rabbit - a light golden ale, Tzara - a refreshing Koln style keg beer, Versa - a Weiss beer with typical notes of banana, Beadeca's Well - a full bodied smoked porter, Galaxia - a pale ale single hopped with Galaxy, and still my favourite, Halcyon - with its punchy tropical fruit flavours.  Many other Thornbridge favourites were in evidence, but the day was just to short to fit them all in.

The lasting impression that you're left with after sampling this breadth of the Thornbridge range is that they definitely tick the new and interesting box, but above all they make balanced beers.  Surprisingly rare characteristics together.  Not just some, but all of their beers are highly drinkable, again and again.  Therein, I hope, lies the key to their continued success.

Thank you Jim for an amazing day.

Thursday, 31 May 2012


If you like hops (which I do) what better way to spend an evening than quaffing your way through some of the finest offerings of the Kernel Brewery.  Still small enough to get away with never producing the same beer twice, their pursuit of punchy but balanced flavours is responsible for some of the best beer coming out of microbreweries today.  Having just relocated slightly east from their old brewery near Borough market into a brewery with five times the capacity in Bermondsey, I hope to see more of it around in future.  We were lucky enough to try some of the first brews from the new kit.  

There is something quite magical about heavily dry hopped beer barely a few weeks old.  Their pale ales are brewed with a simple malt and yeast base, allowing the hop character to dominate.  Dry hopped to within a sniff of perfection creates a delicate but powerful aroma, extracting all the fruity flavours without the bitterness from the hops.  We tried a couple of single variety hop pale ales - Nugget had a fresh lemongrass character and Nelson Sauvin the classic grapefruit and gooseberry notes that make it such a popular hop at the moment.  But the star of the show was the IPA SCCANS - the latter standing for the five hops it contains - Simco, Centennial, Citra, Apollo and Nelson Sauvin.  I could drink this beautifully balanced, intensely fruity, slightly hazy beer all night (probably not a daytime drink at 6.9%).  The precise mix in their multi-hopped IPA is a moveable feast, subject to what is, quite literally, 'flavour of the month' with the brewers.  I look forward to trying the next pick 'n' mix.

We then moved on to some of the darker beers.  Their IPA Black V is probably the finest example of a "black IPA" I've ever had.  According to Toby, if you tasted it blind you would think it was a normal IPA.  Quite some claim, and almost accurate.  It certainly smells just like an IPA, and the first taste is full of tropical fruits with a hint of pine.  But the slightest tell tale on the follow through is just a hint of chocolate.  I will however allow the claim as it's such a beautiful beer.

The Export India Porter had a huge coffee nose and bitter coffee palate, but the dry hops still came through. And the Export Stout was full of burnt toast body.  But these were probably wasted on a Fuggles who was still floating on a cloud of dry hops  from the Pale Ales and India Pale Ales.  And I think that's where I'd like to be left, for some time...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

EBBC12 in pictures, because I am lost for words

In some ways I could probably reflect that EBBC12 was not the most successful for Fuggles.  Unforeseen circumstances meant I could only attend the Friday, and I was particularly sad to miss the spectacle that is live beer blogging (or live taking notes and writing them up later, if you have not yet joined the i-generation like me).

Being a technophobe is a disadvantage for a blogger in many ways.  Trying to juggle beer, camera, notepad and pen with only two hands simply doesn't work.  This is probably why Steve Jobs wrapped the latter three into one.  If he'd managed to achieve all four, even Fuggles might own an apple product.  The result of my juggling conundrum, you will see below, is alot of photos and lamentably few notes from which to write now.

But to call it unsuccessful would deny justice to the brilliant day that Friday was, and above all the fabulous people that made it so.

First mention must go Williams Brothers, with their unfailingly brilliant selection of beers, not to mention quite remarkable tolerance of my cheek on Friday (thank you Chris).  I was particularly in love with the Double Joker IPA, the Hollaig and the Fraoch.  But I've not had a Williams beer I didn't like yet.

Special mention too must go to the Badger girls and their pairing of beer with cheese.  Quite the most spectacular truckle of cheddar I have ever seen and damn tasty with the poacher too.  I was unconvinced by the Dorset knobs, I hope you'll forgive me.
Marstons hop display (before I scattered them all over the table) was also great for sniffing, comparing the single hop beers, and generally picking your favourite.
To Molson Coors and Stuart Howe for the beers and commentary with dinner.  But particularly to my fellow diners for their fabulous company and for tolerating my chat and pouring, both of dubious quality by this stage.
Did I mention I'd like to thank Chris from Williams Brothers?  Alot.

And thank you to all the lovely lovely people there on Friday who are the reason I go to things like this, and the reason I write about beer.  The passion of people for the drink and the industry creates an atmosphere unlike any other.

I was very sorry to miss you all on Saturday.  Twitter is no substitute!

Thursday, 29 March 2012


It had been far too long since Fuggles had paid a visit to the lovely folks at, so whilst it seemed a shame to pass by the bustling banks of the Thames on an unseasonably warm March evening, I was very much looking forward to an evening with the Ilkley brewery.


Previously familiar with the award winning Mary Jane and Lotus IPA, I was keen try some of their lesser seen beers, and meet one of the men behind it.  Only brewing since 2009, these two beers have really catapulted Ilkley into the limelight.

If you haven't tried them, keep an eagle eye open.  Mary Jane is a staggeringly tasty beer for 3.5%, owing to a good dose of Amarillo hops, which impart great citrus character, but in a well balanced way.

The Lotus notches up the stakes in strength, hop character and fruity esters.  The tropical aroma hits you in the nose straight away, rich and warming mango drawing you in.  The first taste is a hit of richness, which gaves way to a lighter finish before the bitter follow through.  A great example of an IPA.

Ilkley Gold was a fruity floral session beer of 3.9%, delicately hopped and very drinkable.  Ilkley Pale was very dry pale ale, so pale it was almost green in appearance.  The Nelson Sauvin hops impart a classic grassy character with hints of Elderflower, so reminiscent of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

But the revelation of the night for me was the Ilkley Best.  The use of burnt malt makes for a very full bodied bitter, before the spice of the Brewers Gold hops kick in.  This was a really fiesty bitter that left your tongue positivley tingling.  The burnt malt was used again in Ilkley Black, just peppering slightly the smooth Mild with hints of liquorice.

Some really nice examples of what you can do with bold ingredients to reinvigorate classic beer styles, these brewers have good paletes and the beers are highly worth a dabble if come across them.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Camden Town @ Draft House Tower Bridge

Does unfiltered beer give you hangovers?  Always keen to test a theorem and highly optimistic for the null hypothesis Fuggles merrily quaffed away tonight courtesy of Charlie Mcveigh of Draft House, Jasper and the team from Camden Town Brewery and Justin Carter (who kindly got me in the door at the last minute).

I'm a huge fan of what Camden Town are doing.  An artisan twist on traditional beer styles - contemporary, with being try-too-hard.  I'm mostly in love with everything I tried tonight.  Being in much polite company I can't supply you with photos, so please open your imagination instead and enjoy the below.  Or better still, seek them out for yourself in the soon to be opened brewery tap at Camden.

We opened with the Gentleman's Wit - a lemon and bergamot wheat beer where the lemons are roasted to release the oils.  This pale almond cloudy liquid was fresh, zesty and immensely drinkable.  Definitely the session beer of the night.  The Hells had been matured for 6 weeks in tank at Camden town, and 6 hours later, pretty much decanted into our glasses.  A proper kellarbier with spicy floral notes that remind me so much of heather honey.

Then onto the bottled wheat beer, a heffe weisser, brewed using traditional german yeast and very few hops.  There is an interesting story behind the yeast, which Jasper tells far better than I would ever attempt to, but the character of the yeast is the embodiment of the beer.  A variety of malted barleys balance the wheat to create a darker, sweeter and very quaffable variant of wheat beer.

And finally onto the hoptastic finale.  I'm not sure we were ever told how many IBUs were in this beer, but alot.  However, this chestnut coloured IPA had a richness that complemented and toned down the strident bitterness of the (9?) hops and resulted in a full and satisfying IPA.

Mention also should go to the chef, for the quite awesome foot long pork scratchings and even better pork belly.  Fuggles is all at once quite satiated with good beer, food and company and will be visitng draft house again very soon.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Lambic Odyssey

It's been a while, I know, but after a brief hibernation Fuggles has rejoined the world of the wide web.  I blame Christmas myself, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  Research commissioned by the cask report in 2011 suggests that cask ale drinkers are more naturally adventurous in what they drink, and consequently less likely to stick to one category of drink.  In December, for me, this comes in the form of mulled wine.  But if it weren't for this fact, I might not be about to extol the virtues of the unusual Lambic beer from Belgium. 

Ever since a tip off from Mark Dredge I've been meaning to check out the Cantillon brewery in Brussels.  Cantillon has been brewing Lambic beer in Brussels in the traditional way for over a hundred years and is the last brewery still running in the capital, under the auspices of the same family which founded it.  The knowledge and skill passed down through the generations is as important a part of the beer as the very fabric of the brewery in which it is made.

Many beers describe themselves as Lambic.  Most that reach the export market have been sweetened to increase the appeal and popularity.  Classic examples being Lindemans and Mort Subite.  The purest and most traditional form of lambic has virtually no sugar in at all (having been entirely consumed by the yeast) and is incredibly tart and sour - a definite acquired taste.  Unlike most beers, old hops are deliberately used to avoid imparting any flavour, and solely for their preservative properties.  Lambic is perceived by some to more closely resemble cider than beer.

What makes Lambic beer so special is the yeast.  Most breweries preserve a pure strain of their yeast in an off site yeast bank, to allow generation of new yeast for fermentation and a consistent brew every time.  Lambic beer is produced using wild yeast.  Samples of Cantillon beer have revealed over 60 different strains of yeast in a single bottle.  The production of lambic beer is therefore unlike any other. 
The cooling tank (above) is where the magic happens.  This large flat vessel is where the near boiling wort is pumped to for cooling.  Boiling has at this point destroyed any organisms that may have been present in the beer thus far.  The sterile liquid is now exposed to the air overnight whilst it cools.

The brewery must therefore ensure a good "infection" of the wort.  There are holes in the roof to encourage circulation of air.  The wood from which the brewery is built is the natural breeding ground for the yeast.  If repairs need to be undertaken to the brewery, only a small amount of wood can be removed at a time to ensure this unique "yeast bank" is not depleted.  Furthermore, brewing can only take place in the winter months to ensure that the wort cools to a level where the wild yeast can survive but bacteria (that would spoil the beer) cannot - around -5 to +5 oC.

The beer is then left to mature in barrels for anywhere from 14 months to 3 and a half years.  From this base a number of beers can be created.  The skill in lambic beer production lies not just in a good brew, but in a good blend.  "Geuze" beer is produced by blending old and young lambic to create secondary fermentation in the bottle, which adds carbonation to the beer.  This blending is the skilful part of making a geuze and the "head brewer" describes himself instead the "master blender" in reflection of this.  Because each bottle of beer is different (due to the effects of the wild yeast) this can only be done by tasting and blending.
Alternatively, fruits are added to provide the sugar for secondary fermentation.  Classic beers are Kriek (sour cherries) and Framboise (rasberries).  The Cantillon fruit lambics have an intense nose and first hit of fruit when you taste it, with the sourness of the lambic sweeping in to finish.
Our favourites were the Fou Foune (apricot) and Zwanze 2011.  Zwanze is the annual limited edition brew.  Cantillon are not afraid to experiment with mixing grain and grape and have several regular examples of this.  Zwanze 2011 contained a peppery grape variety called Pineau d'Aunis which provides a great contrast to the underlying sourness of the lambic.
You can only get this beer in the brewery itself, so if you want to try some you'll have to get over there (which I thoroughly recommend anyway).  Be warned though, our guide recommended a 1-2-3 approach to drinking the beer.  Essentially it takes 3 sips to get used to the flavour before you can start to enjoy it.  Some would argue more, but this is a beer that will not be to everyone's taste.

It's no secret that I like my Belgian beer, but I cannot stress enough that the Cantillon brewery offers a rare (but very accessible) opportunity to learn about and try something unique.  If you're ever in Brussels do pay it a visit.  Even if you can't get your tastebuds round the style it's a living part of Belgium's brewing history.

Much can (and has been) written about Belgian beers and bars, which I won't attempt to better.  If you're planning a visit I recommend a read of the beer advocate.  Instead, I'll just leave you with some abbreviated highlights.

LATE NIGHT BEERS: Delirium Taphouse (excellent selection, didn't ever seem to close, also 400 vodkas if you're that way inclined)
LENGTH OF BEER LIST: Porte Noire (a warm dark cellar with an overflowing fridge and never ending beer list)
LOCALS' BEER CAFE: Le Coq (choice completely uninfluenced by childish humour)

GEUZE: Cantillon (obviously), Tilquin, Oud Beersel
LAMBIC: Bon Voeux 1 An
BRUNE: Bourgogne des Flandres Brunes
KRIEK: Kasteel Red
TRIPEL: Karmeliet, Caulier