Thursday, 21 January 2016
Beer In Essex
It's mid-November, and there's a definite chill in the air as I walk down the drive of Parsonage Farm towards the Saffron Brewery, the imposing shadow of the church of St Mary the Virgin blocking out the sun making it just that little bit colder.
I've made the visit to Henham, a small picturesque Essex village that is by distance a few miles north of Stansted Airport although a world away in time, with David Ginn of Essex Food. He has kindly driven us both there, and after a brief stop to take some photographs of the 'chocolate-box' thatched cottages across the village green we find ourselves right on time for our midday appointment.
I went to a meet-the-brewer that Saffron did in Chelmsford in the summer and recognise James as we get nearer, pacing up and down outside the main entrance with his mobile phone glued to his ear. He waves his acknowledgement but continues his earnest conversation before finishing abruptly and shaking our hands warmly introducing himself. Another door opens, from what I later learn is the office and shop, and his brother Ed appears rolling up his sleeves and shakes our hands too.
The warmth of the welcome and the ease with which we fall into conversation has made me briefly forget the temperature outside, but after chatting for about ten minutes or so we all decide that it's best if we head inside.
The first phase of Saffron Brewery started in May 2006 when the then owner and brewer Tony Barrett launched its first official beer at the 33rd Cambridge Beer Festival. The beers soon developed a strong local following and sold well, so much so that the only pub in Henham, the Cock Inn just across from the brewery, continued to stock it despite being ordered not to by Punch Taverns.
Tony was joined soon after by Dave Hill in order to expand the business, and he took over control of the operation, briefly sharing the site with Bishop Stortford Brewery, before the Hoskins family stepped in and bought Saffron outright in 2013.
I ask them why they decided to go into brewing, and James informs me that it was a natural progression for him. "I'd run the pub (the St. Radegund in Cambridge) since 2009, and before that I was in the building trade. We used to stock the beers, and when the opportunity came up it seemed like the logical thing to do."
Despite some early problems, they managed to get the brewery how they wanted it and began adding some of the beers that they wanted to brew to the range that they inherited. As with many smaller regional breweries however, they don't get to experiment as much as they'd, or at least Ed, would like.
"We have our core beers and our seasonals, and they are proving very popular," he tells me, "and when you have a limited amount of kit it's hard to find time to plan and brew another beer. Our customers ask us for specific beers, and we don't want to let them down."
I get a sense that Ed would like to brew a few more different beers though and occasionally gets his own way, the recent Saffron Galaxy with its distinctive sci-fi themed label being particularly memorable, the Galaxy hop's beautiful passion fruit and mango flavour, its tropical aroma bursting from the glass.
They've also recently brewed their first collaboration beer with Daniel Neilson of Original Gravity magazine and comedian Ed Byrne. "Humour Me" is described as a golden harvest ale, based on their Saffron Blonde with a higher caramalt content, but this has fermented out beautifully leaving a deliciously lingering brown sugar sweetness. If you're lucky you might still find some bottles out there, I believe Ales By Mail have some, but it sold very briskly I'm told.
James becomes quite guarded here, and pauses before answering, choosing his words carefully.
"Well, we already have the St. Radegund in Cambridge as our brewery tap, but we're in the process of buying and converting a new pub locally, just outside Saffron Walden (from which the brewery gets its name) but I don't want to say too much about that at this stage, just in case."
That pub is the Bluebell Inn, in Hempstead, Essex, I can now reveal, and will hopefully be opening relatively soon so keep an eye on their website for details of that.
As far as beer is concerned, I'm told that they will be trying a few different things in January and February with a Pilsner-style lager and 6-7% abv US-style hoppy IPA beers to look out for.
The afternoon passes quickly in beer and conversation, particularly as we are generously treated to a tasting of the full bottled range. I make some cursory tasting notes and buy quite a few, ready for the third and final part of my Essex bottled beer series which you can expect to see in a month or two.
We take some final pictures and head off home just as the sun is setting on what has been a thoroughly enjoyable day. I hadn't written too much down but I was taking away some good memories, as well as a very heavy bag full of beer.
It's been two months since my visit and things have moved on apace. There's more to come from Saffron Brewery and you'll be hearing from me again soon about some quite exciting developments. Watch this space, as they say.
Saffron Brewery can be found at:
Tel. 01279 850923
On twitter at: @SaffronBrewery and on Facebook at: Saffron Brewery
They have a shop on site where you can buy bottles, glasses and mini-casks, and will be hosting a series of tasting evenings at the brewery itself the first of which was on 22nd January, so if you're in the area or just fancy an evening in the Essex countryside with an extra attraction then keep an eye on their website for further details.
Tuesday, 5 January 2016
The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas
It's the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night or Epiphany if you's prefer, and it's time for my last entry of this Essex seasonal selection, and the beer I've chosen is particularly apt for the day.
As it's the last day I'm going to take this opportunity to look forward to some of the things that I'll be up to for @BeerInEssex this year.
You can expect quite a few features on Essex Breweries as I'll be getting out and about to bring you more stories from our county's brewers starting with Saffron who I visited towards the end of last year. I'll also be finishing off my guide to Essex bottled beer starting with Pitfield/Dominion and finishing with Wibblers, hopefully finding a few gems along the way.
I have a couple of projects that I'm hoping to come to fruition, some of which are in the very early stages but could prove to be rather exciting but we'll have to wait and see. I'm also planning to brew again this year, and a beer with Billericay Brewing has been in the pipeline for a while and if everything falls into place we hope to have it available at the Chelmsford Winter Beer Festival in February.
That's all to come and I'll hope you'll join me, or at least look in from time to time, but for now the time has come to open one final Essex Christmas Beer.
The Twelfth Day, Twelfth Night:
George's Brewery - Balthazar's Feast 9.0%
This Extra Strong Old Ale has a curious name combining both that of the wise man (King or mage) who is supposed to have brought the gift of myrrh to the infant Jesus, an event that is celebrated today, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and a story in the book of Daniel, Belshazzar's Feast (which is also a painting by Rembrandt) where King Belshazzar holds a great Feast using the cups from the great Temple, but dies that night for his blasphemy. Hoping not to meet the same fate, I'm going to pour this out.
This is a deep brown beer with ruby red edges and a sustained creamy off-white head. The aroma is really fruity at first full of blackcurrant, blackberry, liquorice and burnt toast, it really is inviting, one of those beers you instinctively know is going to be good. I have had this beer before and I remember that I loved it when I had it in the summer, but my mouth is salivating just thinking about it. This is a fresh batch, and now you know why I left it to last. Smooth at first before a big bitter boozy kick propels this beer into a whirl of raisin, chocolate, blackcurrant and a beautiful alcohol burn, all stirred around with a stick of liquorice wood. The finish is equally fruity, with the blackcurrant fading out slowly into a dry bitter ghost that takes up residence at the back of your tongue and waves comfortingly at you from time to time like an old friend across a crowded bar.
This was a great way to finish this journey through twelve Christmas beers from my home county of Essex, and I'm extremely grateful to all the brewers and breweries for making them. I paid for them all with the exception of the Billericay Brewing Black Christmas, and I have enjoyed every one. I really do hope you have had a fantastic Christmas and 2016 brings you all that you wish for. I also hope that you have enjoyed this exploration of Essex beer, and if Essex brewers produce twelve different Essex Christmas beers next year, and I can get hold of them then I'll do it all over again in twelve months time. Let's drink to that.
If you like to find out more about George's Brewery beers, or their alter-ego Hop Monster, you can follow this link to their website. If you've read my reviews then I'm sure you'll want to.
Happy drinking, and a very Happy New Year to you all!
Monday, 4 January 2016
The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas
It's the Eleventh Day of Christmas, and I expect for some of you it was your first day back at work after a nice long break. If it was more of a shock than you were hoping then grab yourself a bottle, can or pint of something new, it is #tryanuary after all. If you are in Scotland of course, you'll be going back to work tomorrow. I hope you had a pleasant Hogmanay.
If you're at work and are thinking about beer, as I often do, why not consider going somewhere different for your lunchtime beer. If that isn't an option then why not try after work or on the way home. There are a few pubs close to where I am that I haven't been in for many years and one of two that I don't recall going in at all. These are the pubs I'll devoting one beer a week two in January. It may well be that I won't ever go in them again, but at least I can comment on them if asked. I'll be writing a blog for Andy at Tryanuary about my experiences, so look out for that towards the end of the month on his site. I'll let you know when.
My day at work was pretty horrendous, I hope yours was less hard work, but it's over now and time to open a beer.
The Eleventh Day
Maldon Brewing Company - Farmer's Christmas Stout 4.8%
This is Maldon's festive stout, a regular seasonal and one I've been looking forward to all year. This is a classic Oatmeal Stout, brewed with English Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings hops and exactly the kind of beer that you want when the weather turns colder.
This bottle conditioned beer pours a deep dark ruby red, so dark it's close to brown, close but not quite. Chocolate, liquorice and prune notes dominate the aroma once you've let it warm a while, in fact the closer to room temperature it gets the more pronounced it becomes, so you might want to let it warm a while. Full bodied and a touch coarse, this isn't a silky smooth beer but I think it's much the better for it, there is a dry toasty chocolate note that runs throughout with raisin, prune and the merest hint of blackberry lurk in the background but, as before, become a little more prominent as the glass warms in my hands. The finish has a thick lick of frothy chocolate mousse before it dries beautifully leaving the thinnest of milk chocolate veneers mixed with a hint of burnt toast. This is a delicious Christmas stout, I wish I'd bought some more.
If you'd like to know about Maldon Brewing beers, you can follow this link to their website or visit their micro-pub, the Farmer's Yard, in Maldon High Street.
Sunday, 3 January 2016
The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas
On the Tenth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me ten lords a-leaping, which reminds me that 2016 is a leap year.
The extra day we have every four years helps us synchronise with both the astronomical and seasonal years, as the earth travels around the sun roughly every 365 and a quarter days this gets us back on track. The extra day is always in February, meaning it has 29 days this year instead of the usual 28, and the name leap year itself comes about because the calender days 'leap' an extra weekday when a leap year occurs. For example Christmas Day, which was on a Friday in 2015, leaps a day so that it falls on a Sunday this year.
However that isn't until February, and we still have the whole of January to get through first, and keeping with the theme of my posts this new year I'm going to remind you once again of Tryanuary and give you a way you can take part, particularly if you live in Essex this week.
This Tuesday the 5th of January, as well as being Twelfth Night is our twelfth monthly meeting, and also the first time that the SX Bottleshare meet this year. For #tryanuary we're all trying to bring along a beer that none of us have actually had before, it'll be quite a challenge.
We meet at the Alehouse in Chelmsford on the first Tuesday in the month, with the majority of us coming straight from work for a beer and a chat. We drift in from around 6.00pm, meeting at the bar for a pint or two before we make our way to our reserved table for the main event at 7.00pm sharp(ish). It's always lots of fun, and we have had brewers, publicans, beer sellers, beer writers and overseas sales reps turn up, sometimes out of the blue, to join in, drink and talk about beer. There's often food, usually home made and always delicious, so we never go hungry.
What I'd like you to consider, particularly if you live in Essex and you're free on Tuesday, is to come along and join us. Make coming to the SX Bottleshare something that you decide to do for #tryanuary. If you're not able to come, then try and make 2016 the year that you do go to a bottle share, if we're too far away find one near you, and if there isn't one near you then think about starting one yourself or with a group of friends. Share that special beer, share the love, it tastes so much better when you do.
If you're thinking of joining us on Tuesday, I urge you to take the plunge. Let us know at @SXBottleshare on Twitter, or leave a message with me @1970sBoy so that we know to look out for you. I can't wait for you to join us.
The Tenth Day:
George's Brewery - Marley's Ghost 4.0%
The second of my three George's beers is named after the first ghostly visitor to Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". With three hop varieties although only one named, which is Citra, this pours a medium amber cover with a bright white head, and from the aroma the Citra hop is very evident with its grapefruit citrus notes. Medium bodied it has an initial light Rich Tea biscuit malt taste before the sweet and tart citrus hops, of equal lightness, emerge from the background to balance those malts perfectly. This is a lovely beer, one I've had before but I don't recall it being as good as this, surely the recipe has changed? I'm sure the brewery will let me know if this is the case. The finish is clean and crisp like the beer itself, and those beautiful citrus flavours linger just long enough. It's simply delicious.
If you'd like to know more about George's Brewery / Hopmonster, then follow this link to their website where you'll find my reviews of some more of their beers.
If you'd like to come along to the SX Bottleshare then follow this link to see a list of the amazing beer we've drunk in our last eleven meetings. We'd love you to come and ask for that.
Incidentally, if anyone from George's Brewery would like to come along at any point then please let me know, or even just turn up with some of your beer. That would be fantastic.
Saturday, 2 January 2016
The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas
The Ninth Day of Christmas is, rather strangely, National Science Fiction Day in the USA due to, and I'm guessing this, it being the birthday of Isaac Asimov in 1920. It is also the day that my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing, and all that.
It's not going to be a long post tonight, I have to confess that I've been at a local pub this afternoon, the Olde Dog in Herongate, a pub that I've been drinking regularly at for over a quarter of a century. It's one of those pubs that, even though I hadn't been in for a couple of months, I immediately felt at home. They keep their cask beer on stillage behind the bar and their house beer, Olde Dog IPA is brewed for them by Crouch Vale. They usually have their Brewers Gold on, however the Essex beer available tonight was from Wibblers, and very good it was too.
Many pubs are quiet this time of year, but not the Olde Dog, with its real fire and Christmas decorations still decking the bar it had attracted quite a late afternoon-early evening of crowd drinking plenty of good beer. This is the one f the best times of year to visit a pub near you that has some festive charm and good beer. The once-a-year Christmas drinking crowd have melted away like the remnants of a late winter snowman, before the warm weather brings the families in to enjoy the gardens and lighter evenings. So get out and supprt your local pub, they'll thank you for it.
The Ninth Day:
Brentwood Brewing Company - Santas Little Helper 4.0%
This hoppy blonde Christmas beer from Brentwood almost didn't make it into this selection, and if I'd had a substitute I probably would have gone for it, and there are two reasons why.
The first, and most trivial of these is the lack of correct punctuation. For goodness sake, if you have to write Santa's please put in the apostrophe otherwise it looks very sloppy. But I'm sure this isn't what caught your eye if you looked at the label, I'd imagine it's the scantily clad blonde haired girl making Father Christmas (or Santas (sic)) look like a lecherous old pervert. This is something I'll keep going on about until it changes, but there is no need for this type of out-moded 1970s imagery in beer, and certainly not in beer in Essex. We get a rough enough ride with TOWIE showing us in poor light without this kind of thing as well. Please stop it.
Onto the beer itself. It pours a pale amber with a pure white head and the aroma of peach juice and lime zest. It's actually very good, smooth and medium bodied it ticks all the right boxes for this style, with gentle honey-soaked waffle malts wrapped up in grapefruit and mango citrus sprinkled with the merest hint of orange zest. The finish drops the malt and leaves the citrus notes to linger, not too long but long enough to keep you drinking and make you want another.
This is a really good beer sullied by some ill-thought out packaging. I'd like to see it next year looking a little more mature.
If you'd like to know more about the Brentwood Brewing Company and their beer then follow this link to their website, or visit their shop at the brewery itself. They'll be more than happy to introduce you to their range.
Friday, 1 January 2016
The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas
New Year's Day it is, and I'm sure that by now this morning's hangover is a thing of the past and you're already thinking about the beers you'll be drinking this evening. Will you be drinking a beer that you know well, an old favourite that you've had many times before or perhaps sloping off down the pub for a pint of the usual?
As it's the first of January today I'm urging you to do something different.
That's the thinking behind the Tryanuary initiative, that urges you to get out there and try beer that you haven't had before, visit a brewery that's near you, or perhaps a bit further away, that you haven't been to before, and pick up some new beer to try. Get out and visit those great pubs you've heard of and always meant to get to, if not now then when? It's all about doing something positive for the industry and broadening your horizons at the same time, you might even find a new favourite, and if you do then why not let everyone know about it? All you need to do is post something on Twitter using the #tryanuary hashtag. Give it a go.
As for me, there are a still some Essex breweries I've not visited, beers I've not had, and lot's of pubs still to check out, and I plan to spend some time roaming the county doing my own Essex-centric Tryanuary trail. I'll report back on this blog as I do, so keep checking these pages to see what I find.
Tonight's beer is from a brewery I've had before, one I've already featured on these pages, but it is a new beer to me.
The Eighth Day:
Maldon Brewing Company - Rudolph's Red 4.3%
This is Maldon's second outing of three, and it's the only Red Ale to feature in this seasonal selection although they actually produced six beers with either a Yuletide or Winter theme, making them the most Christmas focussed of Essex brewers.
Pouring a deep ruby red with dark amber highlights but no real head to speak of, it has a malty red berry aroma exactly as you'd expect from this style. It's quite bitter, surprisingly so as I was expecting it to be a little smoother, and this dominates the whole of the taste with little of the strawberry bootlace sweet or blackcurrant wine gum taste I was expecting. I put this down to it being a bit too cold so I'll warm it for a minute or two before I continue.
So I've watched a few minutes of the World's Strongest Man Final, with Savickas going for the world record deadlift and failing (see, I really do this on the day) and the beer's had a chance to warm a bit and it's taken on a slightly different character. There is some berry fruit there, cherry, redcurrant and a touch of blackcurrant, but also a caramel chocolate note under the malty bitterness which I rather like. The finish is a bit disappointing however, just a thin jumble of those flavours that doesn't actually go anywhere or add anything to the beer, and that's a real shame. It's not a bad beer by any means, I just don't think it's one on Maldon's best, but that's the risk you run with a lower abv Red Ale.
If you want to find out more about the Maldon Brewing Company then follow this link to their website. The home page gives away what my last beer selction from them is, and you'll see why I'm saving that for later.
If you'd like more details on Tryanuary, you'll find the home page here and the Twitter page here. Get exploring.