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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

I'm loving it

Faith was duly restored last night at Cask's final 'meet the brewer' of 2010 - Lovibonds.  All keg beers, but this didn't detract from some interesting examples of a variety of styles.

Starting with the "Sour Grapes" because I hadn't seen it before.  Apparently originally a batch of Henley Gold that went wrong, this lambic style beer, were it not for the faint sour cherry on the palate (and admittedly not quite as appley) could have been a doppleganger for Aspalls Premier Cru.  'Cider?! ' I can almost hear you exclaiming from here.  No, really, I swear.  The Beer Gremlin put me onto it by comparing it to Appletise.  I suddenly realised where I recognised that spritzy, slightly sulphury smell from.  If you don't believe me, you have to check it out for yourself.  They could be twins separated at birth.  I preferred it to the "Henley Gold" itself, which reminded me slightly of rocket, or some other peppery leaf, but didn't pack the punch of Sour Grapes.

And there were more fruity offerings.  The "69 IPA", as well as the hop notes you'd expect from an IPA had the candied orange nose of a beer that strength, all brandy and marmalade all over the palate - almost barley wine like.  And the "Gold Reserve" was a fruit fiesta that truly had us scratching our heads.  Bearing a definite resemblance to some exotic fruit, we ran through a long list of tastes - strawberry, pineapple, gooseberry, guava, elderflower - before finally arriving at Feijoa!  This intensely fruity beer was highly quaffable (in taste, if not in strength) and probably my favourite of the night.

Although it was a close run thing, because finally (Jeff said it was a good beer to end the night on) we came to the "Dark Reserve".  A lusciously smoky porter (smoked with beechwood).  All the coffee and smoky notes you would want from a London Porter style, with a hint of the sour cherry found in the Sour Grapes.  Much smoother than the Henley Dark, the extra fermentation really rounding it off at the edges.

So, my taste for strong beers well and truly indulged I feel almost ready to draw a line under 2010.  But watch this space in the New Year, for more ramblings about beery things.  And have a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Proper Job

And so it is, the westcountry strikes back.  Always happy to liberate a few Cornish Ales from the barrel, off I trotted to the double whammy meet the brewer of the Hogswood and Coastal breweries at good old Cask.  Except it wasn't quite...  the coastal brewer was for some reason absent (surely not still snowing down there?) and the Hogswood brewer disappointingly brief, speaking for about 3 minutes.  But I have high hopes that my faith will be restored by Lovibonds next week, so for now onto the beer.
Fairly quiet night, having had a rather heavy weekend (December is so punishing for the liver), so I warmed up with some unusually weak beers for me (yes - below 4%!).  Very pleasant they were too.  Coastal's "hop monster" (well - how could I resist with a name like that? - gimmicky I know, but at least you know what you're getting, and it didn't disappoint) had a suitably crisp and pleasant grapefruit palate, which served as a nice entree.
Then onto Hogswood's "North Shore IPA".  This was fabulous, I don't know if it was dry hopped, or they'd run out of hops and shoved a load of heather in it, but it smelt like the hop store in my local brewery - musky, aromatic and deeply enticing.  It reminded me of a woodland, perhaps because it was so woody (as Squirrel put it, you almost expect splinters in the back of your throat) and was like drinking a taste of early autumn.  Mmmm.
Thought I'd better give the hops a break after that, so couldn't resist another gimmicky name (yes I was one of those people who bought Old Git wine when I was a student).  Hogswood's "Yo Crimbo" was a spicy mild, a little bit smoky, but overridingly smelt and tasted like liquorice through and through.  Couldn't drink alot of it, probably because I don't like liquorice, but it's testament to the beer that despite this it was immensely enjoyable.
Back to Coastal for some "Angelina" - a nice clean citrusy session beer.  Then rounded off with Hogswood's "Stoked" (barman's recommendation as a smoky bitter).  Not wrong, it had a very subtle nose - faintly smoky and very faint hop, but a full-bodied ferrous smoky palate, smooth and very satisfying, after an unassuming nose.  Not bad for a brewery that started in October last year after a redundancy and a car accident.  Which just goes to show that the strangest clouds can have a silver lining.

Monday, 8 November 2010

What women want

Oh good.  Coors is talking about launching another beer to “attract women”.  Details yet to be provided, but the last time they attempted this in 2009, it was pulled before it even hit the bar.  Hardly surprising since they had ultra filtered it to remove the colour (someone please show me the research that says the reason less women drink beer is because they don’t like the colour) and flavoured it with green tea and dragon fruit.  I rather suspect that anyone attracted to such a drink would probably rather drink fruity green tea given the choice.

Of course mass produced tasteless lagers are hard to sell to someone whose regular tipple may be a full bodied pinot noir.  So why not appeal to their senses instead of trying to deceive them.  Surely the point is not to con women into drinking beer by disguising it as something else, but to break the perception barrier and dispel the myths.  If it’s all about clever marketing, surely we can use the existing attributes of beers to appeal to women. 

The only details we have been given so far are that they are going to change the glassware offering to something more elegant and unusual, more of a goblet style.  This is encouraging, although we cannot rule out the launch of an alcopop dressed as a beer, (or is that a beer dressed as an alcopop?) at least it is a step in the right direction.  Firstly, women are likely to drink smaller quantities of beer at a.  Secondly it’s a more elegant solution, and more similar to the glassware they are used to holding.  And thirdly, it’s not a patronising gimmick -  goblet style glasses are also associated with quality craft beers, so it has connotations of good taste.  So the goblet has the potential to be both aesthetically pleasing and practical.  I only hope that Coors come up with the contents to match, and don’t try to pretend that it’s not really beer.

Friday, 5 November 2010

An Uneven Keel

You know what they say, you can take Fuggles out of Devon, but you can’t take the Devon out of Fuggles.  So, tipped off to a South West Beer and Cider Festival, and also discovering they sell my newly beloved Hardknott, off I trotted to the Rake in Borough market with the usual suspects.  Always good to have a bit of a debate, which some of our samples certainly sparked.  Our favourites are below, and worth a try if you see them, either in the Rake or the Westcountry.

Bath Ales “Festivity” is a pleasantly soft porter, with rich coffee notes through the aroma and palate.  Arbor Ales “Black Eyed IPA” was brilliant – looks like a porter (Black! – as the name suggests), tastes like an IPA.  Strident hop notes, full bodied flavour (as you’d expect from a beer of that colour) and clean finish.  I’ll definitely keep my eye open for that again.  Moor’s “Raw” was another lovely fresh bitter, smelling of wheatgrass.

Generally, I like my strong beers, because they pack so much flavour.  So the beer that surprised me the most was Keltek’s “Even Keel”.  Weighing in at only 3.4% I felt like I was in Thailand when I smelt and tasted this beer.  Lemongrass was clear and strong throughout, making this a highly quaffable beer, and at that strength it wouldn’t even get you into too much trouble.  The Beer Gremlin and Hop Hippo managed a side debate about whether it smelt like curry flannels or piss.  Although it was agreed that the latter might be attributable to the fact that we were stood next to the gents.  So I’m sticking with Lemongrass, although, as always, I’d be interested to know if you pick up anything unusual.

Far more contentious though was O’Hanlon’s “Special Reserve 2009”.  Available for the special price of £6 a half.  A cloudy, amber, barley wine style beer, punching an almighty 12.9%.  For the Beer Gremlin it was an absolute no no – it just smelt and tasted like archers and orange juice.  Hop Hippo though, was rather taken with it, declaring ‘Miso soup,’ after his first sniff, followed up by a definite ‘Umami kick’ upon tasting.  I’m not sure I got that, but I’m not an aficionado of Miso soup as Hippo.  For me it was all about the orange from start to finish, which partly puts me in Gremlin’s camp, although I was a fan like Hop Hippo.  Fruity, creamy and malty, to me it tasted of brandy and orange marmalade on toast, but mostly just ridiculously orangey.

I hope you find and enjoy some of the above as much as we did, or other eminent offerings from the Westcountry.  In case you’re wondering what happened to the Hardknott, they’d sold out.  But I have been assured it will be back soon… and so will I.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Granite Challenge

It's amazing how some beers can just knock your socks off.  As you can probably tell, I love an IPA, or a tripel, or anything with overriding hop notes.  But sometimes I struggle to find anything distinctive, anything that catches the imagination to write about.  Probably a sign that I should be more bold and try more stouts and session beers.  Which I am quite partial to, but it's like when someone offers you roast beef, or a burger (I will avoid the steak analogy - it's not that big a difference).  Obviously a burger is more than normally satisfying, however, roast beef has a special place in my heart and therefore always wins in a straight either or choice.  Which is generally what you're presented with when stood in front of the pump clips.

So anyway, back to the beer that knocked my socks off.  On an average evening, over an above average Thai curry, I suggested a mini tasting to The Beer Gremlin.  Ever game, we cracked open my collection of Hardknott bottles that I've been saving for just such an occasion.  We started off with the Infra Red - a rich and lustrous IPA, a subtle fruity, grassy nose on it, smelt like autumn, and it really got my tongue tingling (this was before the curry, in case you're wondering).  I was about to crack open the Aether Blaec (a divine sounding whisky stout aged in Caol Ila cask), but The Gremlin didn't fancy a stout, so I opened instead the beast that was Granite.

What a treat.  The nose gives away some of the melting pot of flavours that roll around this coffee coloured liquid.  The Gremlin's first impression was of blue cheese.  Never repeated after the first sniff, and I never picked it up, but not to be dissuaded of first impressions, I promised to note this down.  Perhaps appropriately, as we approach November the 5th, I was overwhelmed by petrol and smoke in my first nostril fest.  Later on I picked out the brandy background, so typical of a barley wine style.  Definitely moving from autumn to winter.

After this, the palate did not disappoint.  As well as the smoke and brandy we got liquorice, mince pies and something that we still couldn't put our fingers on after finishing the bottle.  So please help us out, take the Granite Challenge, get your hands on a bottle and let me know what you smell and taste in the Hardknott Granite - we'd love to know if you can pick out that elusive flavour.  Or smell the blue cheese!

And so, after quaffing most of a bottle of 10.4% beer, we decided we wouldn't do the The Aether Blaec the injustice of opening it.  But have pencilled in a future tasting of Aether Blaec vs Caol Ila...  I can't wait.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In Bruges

I don't know how the Belgians do it.  A country whose national foods include waffles, chips, deep fried cheese, chocolate and beer, and they are only 19th on the world obesity charts.  Even the gorgeous Fins are fatter than the Belgians.  I can only assume is that they were born with inhuman amounts of self restraint.  Or you reach I point where these foods seem mundane (surely not?).  Either way it seems rude not to pop over and take some of the strain by consuming their produce every now and then.  And so, one of many reasons I found myself in Bruges last weekend.  Alas I was not born with such levels of self restraint, so apart from a brief amnesty on Saturday, I dedicated myself to an extensive sampling regime, of which I will share a few gems with you, but mostly recommend you check it out for yourself.  Oh - why the amnesty? - well despite spending 3 years at university perfecting the art of drunk cycling, even I had to concede that riding a tandem through streets bustling with hapless tourists is not an occupation to be undertaken whilst inebriated.

Top tips for beer sampling would have to be Cambrinus - which also does really nice food, though gets rather hectic and the service suffers somewhat, or 't Brugs Beertjie, a classic beer cafe, whose tip top service never wavered even when the tables were full and the tiny bar heaving.  Both these places have a beer menu to make your eyes water - literally, ploughing through the 400 or so they each boast gives you eye strain.  Waiters are happy to make recommendations, but in my experience they tend to recommend more main stream beers, which are great, but I prefer to take a chance with something I've never heard of.  And so I discovered a micro called Smiske, from where I sampled many offerings.  Including the mustard beer, the pumpkin beer - brewed specially for Halloween, and the nature-ale.  They packed so much flavour that I can't honestly say I could pick out either mustard or pumpkin particularly, but they definitely had a spicy complexity that left me wanting more.  These Belgians do know how to brew a good strong beer.  Another great beer, which you can (according to the waitress) only get in  't Gulden Vlies (a very cute little restaurant with excellent food) was "Trappieter".  I found it strangley endearing that a guy called Pieter had brewed a trappist beer and named it after himself.  A very interesting beer, with the rawness of a drink that is still finding its feet, and the hops a little green, it was nice to experience something without the polish we are used to these days.

I was saddened to learn that breweries in Bruges are going the way of most major cities, and there is now only one left in the centre itself.  Naturally, I had to pay homage to this, and have a nosy round the Halve Maan brewery.  Mostly a historical tour now, as two large FVs outside the main building have replaced the numerous tanks inside, which it was no longer efficient to clean out.  Still, we were lucky enough to visit on a day when they were brewing (only Wednesday - Friday) so at least it smelt like a proper brewery.  They have a small collection of marketing material (think Guinness museum and shrink it alot), but the zany tour guide was worth the cost of the tour on her own.  In the bar you can sample the 3 beers they now make (a 4th only available in the US).  Zot blond is a light (at 6%) zesty beer, the brun it's darker nuttier big brother (7%) and the tripel - always my favourite - Straffe Hendrik punches in at a moderate (when in Belgium) 9% with a waft of banana on the nose and a really fruity follow through on the palate.  All excellent beers, as you would expect from a brewery proudly maintaining tradition through 6 generations of family.

Inevitably the weekend had to come to a close, and my liver breathed a sigh of relief, for a day or two at least.  So I'll leave you with the description of my favourite t-shirt slogan.   Underneath a large selection of bottles it read "Drink them all and you'll never forget Bruges".  I rather think that if I drank them all, I might not remember much of it.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Champagne cider to Hardcore IPA

What has Fuggles' nose been in recently?  Well, a little bit of everything really (but not too much of anything, of course).  I didn't get round to trying many new brews in Cornwall in the end, but a bottle of "Clouded Yellow" (a wheat beer brewed with coriander) made particularly pleasant drinking on Saturday afternoon.  Although it could just be lazing in a patch of sun away from the tourists in picturesque St Ives that made it taste so good.  Still, a smooth and quirky offering from St Austell.

On that same Saturday I was sampling the local fish in a restaurant and looking for something of suitable provenance to wash it down with.  Nestled somewhat misleadingly in the "wine" list, was a selection of apple or pear based drinks from the Polgoon Vineyard (Penzance).  According to the waitrose, after an abundant apple crop one year they started to experiment with Champagne style cider.  She extolled its popularity, being purchased in volumes by River Cottage, no less.  Needing no further encouragement we opted for the "Raspberry Aval" and it didn't disappoint.  As crisp and dry as you would want from the Champagne process, with a really fruity nose from the raspberry, which translates to a subtle hint on the palate.  I plan to visit the vineyard and conduct some extensive research on their offerings next time I'm in the area.  I definitely recommend you try it if it sounds like your cup of tea.  After all, if it's good enough for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall...

To console myself on returning to big the smoke, I popped into Cask this week.  My first tip - "Mushashi" (if I remember the name correctly) by Oakham Ales has a rather scary pump clip, but a complex grassy taste that flirts with your palate, and is well worth a date.  And finally I succumbed to the beer that has been quietly calling me.  A collaboration by Brew Dog and Mikeller, the double IPA "I hardcore you".  Hardcore referring to the ABV, which at 9.5% means anything more than half a pint is not for the faint hearted.  Even though I only had a half, the hops were still tingling on my tongue two hours later (not an unpleasant sensation).  If you like strong bodied and hoppy, this is certainly a treat.  The aromatic nose with distinct hints of lemon and coriander gave nothing away about the palate, except the warmth that such a level of alcohol usually bestows.  It was lighter and fresher than many beers of such strength, with really fruity tones of grapefruit and cherry.  I hope they have a decent stock, as I'll be back to savour it again.  Soon.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

What's new?

What's new?  Well, everything at the moment.  Take first of all, my inaugural experiment with blogging.  A foray possibly never to be repeated, based on a combination of technical incompetence or indecision over a suitable future topic (I am, unfortunately, quite an indecisive person).

What else is new?  Well, the news this morning that preliminary research indicates that very high levels of vitamin B could protect against Alzheimer's, one of the most under-researched and devastating diseases of old age.  And where do we find vitamin B?  In cask ale, for one thing.  However, given that your average pint of beer provides only around 1/12 of your RDA of vitamin B6, and the research in question used doses up to 300 times your RDA, we could be looking at gulping through 3,600 pints a day in search of some protective effect.  I think we can safely say that studies would show that anyone who drank 3,600 pints a day would not die of Alzheimer's.  But perhaps we ought to leave that research to the scientists for now.

Finally, and the thing that makes me most happy (between the hours of 7 and 11pm, at least) I discovered a new brewery last night.  My new favourite pub - Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico had another one of their brilliant "Meet the brewer" evenings (I'm still devastated that I missed Thornbridge).  Last night's treat was the brewers from Marble brewery.

And what a treat!  The whole spectrum of hoppy goodness was served up from the fantastically zesty session beers "W97" and the aptly named "Pint", through the grassy but not overly bitter "Lagonda IPA", to the full bodied, but still fresh and clean (and deeply dangerous at 5.7%) "57".  "Ginger" is also worth a mention (sorry Dominic) as definitely the most intense and interesting ginger beer I have tasted, but not a session beer if you want to preserve your palate - might be interesting to try with curry though?  Let me know if you have.

Sadly, I didn't make it through the whole range before they ran out, but at least two more Thornbridge beers appeared on the pump in their place, an apt consolation.  I'll be keeping my eye open for future Marble beers at Cask and elsewhere in the future.

Off to 'sunny' Cornwall next week, so we'll see what tickles my tastebuds down there.  Perhaps some Skinners.