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Sunday, 27 February 2011

All hail The Duchesse

Feeling a little continental after watching England trounce France last night, a few Moules Frites and some Belgian beer seemed quite in order.  Luckily we were just round the corner from the Dovetail, which I've been meaning to check out for some time.

Rather a compact little bar, not unlike the proper beer cafes you get in Belgium, I would advise calling to book a table under normal circumstances.  But we were fortunate to arrive just as another party had cancelled their Saturday night booking, it must have been fate, a theory I expounded to the barman at the end of the night, who very politely humoured me.  Anyway, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, we settled in for a thorough sampling of the beer menu.  All the usual suspects were on draught, as well as some less usual suspects - the delirium tremens was on typically lethal exquisitie form.

The selection of bottled beers was, as you'd expect, excellent.  The Grimbergen Double was a standout for me, having a good full bodied punch to it, whilst still being very drinkable.  The Steenbrugge Wit beer was very popular with everyone, being not too sweet, not too zesty, just fresh and grassy.

Another top tip of the night is Lindemans Cassis.  Always wary of alocpop-style fruit beers, I was looking for a not-too-sweet framboise, perhaps a Lambic, but the barman said all their framboise was on the sweeter side.  I was on the verge of choosing Liefmans' lambic framboise-kriek hybrid when he talked me into the Lindemans Cassis.  This is truly the kir royal of beers.  Amazingly intense blackcurrant flavour, not sweet at all, with the full tartness of blackcurrant, this was a very drinkable "dessert beer" at the end of the night.  High praise to the barman.

But my absolute favourite of the night was the Duchesse de Borgogne.  I had really enjoyed the Rodenbach earlier in the evening, a rich sultry lambic, but the others weren't so keen.  So I thought I'd sneak the Duchesse in under their radar.  To my delight they loved it, and it disappeared rather quickly.  A real "fruit cake" beer, with sour cherry running through it, but still appealing to a broad range of palettes.  I have to applaud this, and am only sorry I never got round to trying the Rodenbach Grand Cru, to see how it compared.  But it's always good to leave wanting more - it provides a convenient excuse to go back...

I am feeling a bit of a Belgian burst coming on now.  I wonder what other echos of Belgium London has to offer...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Battersea Beer Festival

So last week saw Fuggles pottering down to the surprisingly mighty Battersea Beer Festival.  Sadly this is only a 3 day event, due to the combined constraints of hiring the hall, assembling the scaffolding and letting the beer settle.  So one-in-one-out of the rather cosy Battersea Arts Centre is hardly surprising.  But this starts at 7.30 on Wednesday and gets earlier as the week goes on.

Armed with a few stalwarts and a few would-be converts I worked my way round the alphabetically arranged bar, with a few diversions to the foreign beer stand, and the cider room.  The latter of which seemed to have some kind of pied piper effect, with a distinctly younger average age than the rest of the festival.  Anyway, to save you on the lengthy trials and tribulations of the night, below are my top picks.

HOPPY: Spire's Land of Hop and Glory was slightly spicy and kept you interested til the last drop with its fruity bitterness, quite grapefruity, lingering on the palate.  RCH's Pitchfork had a rounded citrus flavour which was bitter, but not sharp.
BITTER: Isle of Purbeck's Studland Bay Wrecked packed your mouth with flavour - all at once smoky, nutty, spicy and fruity *Favourite of the night*
AMERICAN PALE ALE: Ascot's Alligator Ale was a great fruity example of the American style.
MILD: Arbor Ale's Festival Mild was sweet and smoky, a fireside after dinner kind of beer.
FOREIGN: The Kneitinger pils was a lovely fresh lager with oodles of flavour from its honey nose and palate
PERRY: Butford's Blakeney Red was very low tanin for a perry and had a mellow soft citrus flavour to it.  Incredibly moreish.
CIDER: Springfield's Red Dragon was a great punchy cider from Devon, not too sweet, or sour or bitter, just nicely fruity and alcoholic.

Another highlight of the night worth mentioning was meeting the young entrepeneur Rupert.  About to start his own microbrewery, and conducting a little "research" at the festival, it was great to hear about his plans, for what will hopefully a great new micro in the making.  I hope to be able to sample the fruits of his labour soon.

And as from little acorns mighty Oak trees grow, I was pleased to read today that Thornbridge are planning to open a pub in London.  Can't wait to hear when and where...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Beer Fest in a box

I’ve been meaning to get down to the Euston Tap ever since I heard it mentioned by 3 different people in one day, which prompted a visit to their website.  How my appetite was whetted by the list of featured breweries including Marble, Thornbridge, Dark Star, BrewDog and many more of my favourites.  Also, any pub that has a “beer policy” on its website must be worth a visit!

And boy it did not disappoint.  The Euston Tap is truly like a Beer Festival in a box.  Quite a small box, being the old gatehouse of Euston station, but jam packed with little delights.  And I think I sampled more beers last night than I have at some beer festivals (something to do with not wasting time walking between the stands perhaps?).

Behind the bar, with no space spared, are 20 keg taps and 8 cask taps, arranged over an ample and efficient drip tray.  On either side of the bar, where you can press your nose to the glass and lustily select your next victim are 2 large fridges of beers.  This was such a treat to be up close and personal.  Rather than having to fight your way to the bar, and then squint at the fridge to try and read the labels, you can run your eye lazily over the selection, whilst sipping on your current pint, and make your choice(s) at leisure.

This did turn out to be somewhat lethal, positioned as we were next to the Mikkeller section of the fridge.  Ahh, beloved Mikkeller.  It was not long before we could resist the “Beer Geek Bacon” no longer.  A rich chocolate stout that makes you tingle all the way to your toes.  Certainly very smoky, although reassuringly not much other resemblance to bacon.  It did become known later in the night as “the Bovril beer”, although I’m not sure I got it myself.  It was also likened to the juices from the bottom of a roasting pan, which I found a rather pleasing metaphor.

Other bottles we dipped into included Mikkeller’s "Barrel Aged 1000 IBU".  Perhaps the hops had outlived their potential, as the smell and aftertaste of smelly old cheese was too much for us to bear.  The Cantillon "Kriek" was not much more successful.  After explaining that I liked fruit beers, but not the really sweet ones, this was recommended.  Sweet it certainly was not.  I like a nice sour lambic, but this was not universally popular, drawing comparisions to sucking a lemon and a certain level of resemblance to the fake lemon juice that proliferates the supermarket shelves around pancake day.  Not for the faint hearted.

So what of the casks and kegs?  Perhaps now I should introduce the cherry on the cake of the night.  There were a couple of offerings from Anchor Steam Brewery.  The "Humming Ale" was a lovely fruity pale ale.  Slight sulphur, but not unpleasant, it was floral and mellow.  But the unanimous favourite was their "New Year" beer – a lovely sour cherry nose, with a slight chocolate roundness to it, and palette that was mostly liquorice, a little bit of treacle and something fruity but not quite cherry, maybe raspberry.  This beer was so complex, you couldn’t get bored of it.  And yet not so complex that it became too much.  What a truly outstanding beer, and highly recommended.

Clearly by this stage we were in danger of getting quite inebriated, so having watched the steady flow of enormous pizza boxes through the door, we succumbed to the 18 inch pizzas.  A genius plan for a pub that has very little room, or seating, let alone tables, but doesn’t want to lose its punters just as they get the munchies.  The pizzas were soft and tasty (New York Hot comes highly recommended) and fuelled us through ‘til closing.

Other samples included Marble’s "Pint".  Not a new one to me, but still a great beer.  Last night I got petrol and car tyres on the nose, but not in an unpleasant way.  A kind of floral sulphur that draws you in to the bitter but fruity palate.  Truly one of Marble’s best offerings and a shame you don’t see it more in London.  Also tried the Camden “Pale Ale”, a subtle herby nose with a touch of lavender and a really fruity palate for a pale ale, a hint of pineapple sweetness.  I’ll definitely be looking out for more Camden beers in the future.

Okells 5 barrel was a great session beer, an unusual nose, more like cider vinegar, but a warming honey and floral, full bodied beer made a nice contrast to some of the more zesty beers of the evening.  Ossett’s “Silver King” had very high bitterness.  But their “Big Red” was a rich fruity beer with tones of marmalade and roasting chestnuts.  Although a curious hint of sushi on the nose.  Thornbridge’s "Wild Swan" and "Lord Marples" were both on form.  But we weren’t that impressed with Jarrow’s "JB", which was very bitter and taste was likened (rather worringly by some girls too) to urinals.  Is it just me, or are my friends somewhat obsessed with urine based comparisons?

On that subject, a word of warning re the toilets, although we’re informed they’re trying to get permission for a 2nd.  Lots of customers, lots of beer, 1 toilet…  you do the queue maths.  But don’t let that put you off.  With an amazing selection of beers and friendly and knowledgeable staff who seem genuinely concerned that you’re enjoying yourself this pub is definitely worth (several) repeat visits.

Thanks to Hop Hippo, Beer Gremlin, Big Bad Dom, Squirrel and others for a very good night and your enthusiastic tasting notes.  To Big M for my inaugural artwork.  And thank you Euston Tap.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Doomed! - Coors buys Sharp's

And so it is, a regional brewer producing quality and interesting beer, defying the odds on having to ship the stuff from the arse end of nowhere and just starting to turn a profit, is snapped up by a big multinational.  The inevitable tide of economics dictates the future.  And sadly that means (probably, but I'm happy to be proved wrong) the loss of 60 jobs in Rock in about 2 years time.  I do hope that it's not just media spin and that Coors really do leave the brewery in Cornwall  alone, but I rather suspect this is a nice piece of PR to tide them over while they build the national volumes.

So, is this such a bad thing for drinkers or for Doom bar?  Arguably not.  I'm happy to accept that I'm pretty much flying in the face of my own blogging rules (do I have rules?) in that I'm less worried about this from a beer point of view, and actually just feeling sorry for the Cornish (can't deny those westcountry roots).  In this respect you have to admire Marstons because they do preserve the local breweries (and jobs) and relinquish the obvious economies of scale.  But I accept in present times that profit must persevere over sentiment. 

Sharps were pretty much the new kid on the block, and one thing that new kids are generally known for is being adventurous and innovative.  So what do we expect the new incarnation of Sharps to produce?  Will Stuart Howe still be allowed to spread his wings and experiment?  I suspect not, they've bought a brand not a brewery.  And therein lies the crux of it - national brands and distribution are not natural bedfellows with quirky beers that push the boundaries.  Whilst I'd rather have the latter there is an evolution process and I have to admit that it's going to be interesting when Coors throw their immense marketing power and distribution channels behind a brand which had already punched above its weight to grow as quickly as it had.  This will keep the other nationals on their toes, so watch this space...