Sunday, 25 November 2012

                                                         Episode IV
                                          A NEW HOP
                     It is a dark time for the Empire. Although British Brewers
                          are now producing beers to rival their US cousins, the British hop
                     growers have been driven underground, protecting their diminishing industry.
             Evading and rebelling against the trend, a group of Hop Merchants led by Charles Faram 
  and Co Ltd have established have established a stronghold in the English county of Worcestershire.
Working in secret they have developed a super hop variety to take on the USA. It is time, now the .....
 Scene 1: The Ale House Chelmsford
Holding back a great tide of constantly flowing beer (and occasionally falling on the floor and covering it) a secret is hinted at. A rumour. There may be a way to repel, compete with the rebellion new world.
Cut to ...

Scene 2: My house. Sitting in front of the tv, laptop open.
"What's this ?"
"Why, it's an e-mail from Liberty Beer !"
Tentatively I open the communique ...
It reads ...
I close the laptop, intrigued.
The Strike Back has begun.
 Scene 3: Wednesday 21st November - London
Leaving work I take the train to London town. Fighting and weaving my way through on-coming hordes of x-wing fighters  commuters, I manage to negotiate safe passage to my destination the Death Star  the Earl Of Essex , Islington.

 Scene 4: The Earl Of Essex
An expectant crowd gathers around the bar. First to speak is Admiral Ackbar Justin from Liberty Beer:
   "The fight-back has begun. A new beer, brewed with a new hop, and you gathered are the first to know its name: Jester !!!"
Thunderous applause (probably).
"To tell you more let me introduce the brewer, General Antilles  Justin from Moor Beer "
  "Friends" he began "In association with  Charles Faram & Co Ltd we are able to bring you  today a beer brewed with a hop to rival anything that  US or Antipodes has brought to the party. It's name is: The Empire Strikes Back !"
"Mon Mothma Will from Charles Faram has travelled across many galaxies up from Malvern to be here today. And he has the secret with him"
   A hush fell.
Will stepped up onto the podium bar stool. In has hand he had a small packet of green hop cones.
"Here is the future, our future regained, our heritage returned. I have in my hand the Jester hop, the product years of work. Many hop varieties were tested to bring you this today".
"Now taste the future!"

 Scene 5: The bar at the Earl Of Essex. Glasses filled with a pale yellow liquid are passed around.
We toast the future.
We taste the future.
I bring the glass to my lips and I am struck by the aroma.
Rhubarb and custard with a hint of lemon and vanilla. Nice.
I taste.
More rhubarb, more pronounced this time and with the addition of stewed gooseberries. This is a very British beer with a very British taste.
"Of course" I exclaim "we fight back on our terms, with our flavours."
I understand.

Scene 6: Later. A table toward the rear of Mos Eisley Cantina the Earl Of Essex.
I join a table with a Corellian smuggler and a Wookiee  Justin from Moor and Will from Charles Faram. They are discussing the hop.
The words are beyond me and my simple upbringing on my Uncle's moisture farm on Tatooine background in banking but in front of me, in a bag, is Jester. The Force behind the Empire's return.
I know that this is the just the beginning and I know that this is just the first wave but tonight, in a London neighbourhood the Empire Strikes Back !

Thanks to Steve at Liberty Beer for the invite, being an all-round good bloke, and letting me have a copy of the original artwork, particularly as I neglected to take any pictures of the beer or pump-clip!
Thanks to Thomas Marshall for his contacts and without whom I wouldn't have been in a position to taste this.
Thank too to all the lads from Moor beer and Will from Charles Faram for being involved in this and taking the time to talk to me about the beer and the hop. Cheers guys.
Additional thanks to Matt Curtis, great beery friend and fellow blogger, for diverting me to Craft Beer, Islington afterwards. You can read his account of the evening here.
For another report you may also want to read this by the lovely Sophie Atherton, from whose hands I first smelled the Jester hop (distinctly hempy with a hint of lemon in case you're wondering).
Lastly to Andy Parker for the image of the pump-clip. Thanks fella.

It was a great evening with a wonderful beer and a superb crowd of people. Everyone was very friendly and it was nice to put faces to people I had only previously become acquainted with on twitter. I love you guys !!! (Gushes)

The End?
It's The Beginning.                                

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Meantime Brewing Co. -
Barrel Aged Greenwich Hospital Porter 6.0%

I've drunk and reviewed many beers this year and I think it's fair to say that as a drinker, and particularly as a blogger, that it's only natural to get a sense of thrilling anticipation when you're able to obtain and drink a rare beer, or one that hasn't been reviewed before.
This is neither, but I've still got the same feeling as I sit down to write a review of this beer as when I wrote about the Mikkeller - Mexas Ranger or the Red Fox - Foxymoron earlier this year.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that I've not had it before, well it would be the first reason if that were true. It is true to say that I've not had a bottle of this before but I have sampled it, which brings me to my second reason, the last bottle I saw was nearly twice the £9.99 that I paid for this one.
That was at The Rake in Borough Market in London. I was up in town showing a good friend around some of the excellent pubs in the area, (which had included The George, the subject of a recently released and rather good book Shakespeare's Local by beer writer Pete Brown). To cut a longer (and much less interesting) story short, a bottle of this beer was bought by an American visitor and his friend at the next table to us who we had got into conversation with. They began extolling its virtues and passed us their glasses and the bottle to us to taste and view, and whereas I can't remember the beer I do remember spotting that 'Brewed Exclusively for Marks & Spencer' on the bottom of the label had been covered over in black marker. I don't know if the American and his chum ever noticed it but fearing an international incident we made our excuses and went to Brew Wharf instead.

Seeing this beer back in my local Marks and Spencer today brought this all back, so I couldn't resist buying it.
Brewed to an original 1750 recipe using seven different malts it is then aged for four months in Marks and Spencer's own Islay whisky barrels from Ian Macleod Distillers Limited. Brewed at the historic Old Naval Hospital Brewery in Greenwich, whose fascinating history can be viewed here and is well worth taking the time to read.
It's time to meet this beer properly, and on my own terms.
The first thing that is apparent when removed from it's delightful carboard tube is that the 750ml bottle, in common with many of this type of release, is corked and caged. The cork was particularly hard to remove but I was rewarded with a sweet milk chocolate aroma coming from the neck of the bottle. It pours a very dark brown with a lovely sustained cream-coloured head. The aroma is a smooth mix of coffee, burnt toast and chocolate with a nice smoky alcoholic edge coming from the barrel aging. Smooth and a liitle thin over the tongue, the dominant taste is the whisky smokiness from those Islay casks with the merest hint of coffee and chocolate settling at the tip of the tongue. I'm slightly disappointed that the latter flavours aren't a little more dominant and the balance of flavour doesn't seem quite right. The finish has a faint touch of creamy vanilla which dries into more whisky smokiness that lingers in the nose for some time.
I quite like this beer. It hits many of the right (smoky, peaty) notes for me and even though it does remind me a little of Adelscott, a beer I definitely do not like, it is nowhere near as overpowering. I'd have liked more of those chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes I picked up but I have to declare that I do love a good smoky, peaty single malt scotch whisky. The only downside for me is the price. At very nearly ten pounds, this doesn't really taste like a ten pound beer. I was warned by others earlier this today on twitter that this might be the case, and I have certainly found that out for myself.
I'm just glad I didn't pay more !

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Quando a Roma. Ottenere la birra. Bere birra.
Part Two.
(When in Rome. Get beer. Drink beer.)

I began part one of my Roman adventure with a quote from Sir Walter Scott, but this time I'm going to cross the Atlantic and quote Abraham Lincoln. "I see a very dark cloud on Americas horizon, and that cloud is coming from Rome" might not be one that immediately springs to mind when writing about beer but if I change it (admittedly more than) slightly to "I see a very bright light on the beer horizon, and that light is coming from Italy" then you might see where I'm going with this.
Italian craft beer is a relatively new phenomenon and really a 21st century one, with the number of micro-breweries now in excess of 300, but Italy still has the lowest consumption per capita per annum of beer in Europe. However, the quality and diversity of what these small breweries are producing is quite astonishing. Taking their influences not only from existing European beer styles and the US Craft Beer scene, but also from its wine-making heritage and the quality and diversity of its produce to create some truly amazing and unique beers.
What more could we do but investigate further.

Our first full day in Rome dawned, and we knew what we wanted to do so it was a short train ride to the Flavian Amphitheatre or to give its more common name the Colosseum. It is a truly awe-inspiring feat of Roman architecture and engineering and we spent a long morning exploring and marvelling at its magnificence. Lunchtime beckoned and as we had had a tip-off that there was a place serving good beer nearby we set off. As it turned out, Open Baladin wasn't where it had been pointed out to me on the map, however with a little more walking it was relatively easy to find. We were very glad that we did, for this is the sight that greeted us when we walked in:

Opened in 2009 and showcasing it's own and other Italian beer, it also had Thornbridge's Jaipur and Brasserie Dupont: Saison Dupont on tap on our first visit. Thankfully for us the staff had a better grasp of English than my pitiful attempt at Italian and very soon I was drinking a prickly hoppy brown ale called Jehol by Birrificio BiDu with its delightful spiced milk-chocolate finish, whilst we perused the menu. Sarah, my wife, opted for Panada, a big refreshing citrus Belgian Witbier by Birrificio Troll which she became quite partial to. Both the beer and the food menus are only in Italian but relatively easy to translate and the staff are also more than happy to help. I went for the Halloween burger, it being that time of year. This was a fantastic meaty delight, coming in a pumpkin bread bun, topped with pumpkin seeds and with a slice of pumkin inside. I have to say that it was one of the best burgers I have ever tasted. I needed another beer to go with this, and Nora, one of the house beers by Birrificio Baladin (pictured below),  fitted the bill perfectly. Made with Egyptian kamut grain and flavoured with myrrh and ginger, this had a huge spicy and herbal orange cough-drop taste with more than a nod to a Belgian spiced ale and was simply staggeringly good.

Lunch over, we spent a wonderful but eventually tiring afternoon exploring the fantastic expanse of Roman remains that is the Forum and the Palatine Hill.
Dinner that night was prefixed by a bottle a Birra Peroni by Birra Peroni at our hotel, before my stunning veal steak served in sage butter at Ristorante Cesarina just up the road from where we were staying, was accompanied by a few large glasses of draught Birra Poretti by Birrificio Angelo Poretti. Only a pale lager, and available in the UK, but it went down rather well.
Wednesday morning it was raining and we were off to the Vatican, arriving there by taxi with our driver showing considerable skill in negotiating the traffic, squeezing into spaces seemingly the exact size as his car. St Peters Square was filling up with people so we realised something was up. There was no access to the library which I had quite fancied seeing so we took the opportunity to walk around the outside of an entire state. It took us around forty minutes to circumnavigate the 110 acre site and as we arrived back at St Peters the Pope had put in an appearance, holding a mass and explaining the crowds.

We had seen enough so, keeping the Tiber on our left-hand side we made our way back to Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa to see if we could get some lunch there or whether Bir & Fud was open. Sadly the latter wasn't so I settled for a draft Caterpillar, a collaboration between Italian brewers Brewfist and the Danish Beer Here. This was sharp and hoppy, waking up my taste-buds and leaving them tingling with a slightly aniseed finish.
Looking at the map we noticed that yesterdays lunch venue, Open Baladin, was only a short walk away so saying our goodbyes we set off to get some food.

It was a little fuller than the day before, and we wanted to be a little more adventurous with our menu choices so we settled down with a Baladin NormAle while we decided. This is a dry, floral golden ale which went down rather nicely with our starter selection of, for want of a better description, deep-fried potato balls with various cheese and bacon fillings.

Next beer up was a Birrificio del Ducato Nuova Mattina (New Morning), a deliciously sharp spicy saison brewed with ginger, green pepper, coriander and chamomile. Sarah chose a salmon risotto for her main whilst I went for another delicious burger, this time topped with various Italian meats and served in a flying-saucer-shaped bun.
Delicious food finished it was time for  another beer, and I wanted something hoppy so I went for a Grooving Hop by Birrificio Toccalmatto. Helpfully the beer-board in Open Baladin lists them by style so chosing is easy with everything listed very clearly. This was my favourite beer of the trip, Hallertau Mittelfruh and Nelson Sauvin hops combining to give a big sharp blast of dry grapefruit. It was lip-smackingly gorgeous.

Paying the bill I got into conversation with one of the owners, whose name I apologise for forgetting, about beer and blogging. I was delighted that he took details of my blog and gave me a copy of 'Il quaderni di Open Baladin - Carte delle Birre' , a nicely illustrsted booklet covering the history of Open Baladin and many of the breweries and beers it sells. It is in Italian but I'm gradually working my way through, a bit at a time, translating as I go. I also picked up a bottle each of Birra del Borgo ReAle and its Dogfish Head collaboration beer My Antonia (Italian version). I had intended to take these bottles home with me but after a wet meander back to our hotel, stopping briefly to shop for souvenirs and to pick up a bottle opener, we needed something to help us dry out. These really helped.

The ReAle was dark and fruity, quite sweet with hints of chocolate and some background hoppiness. My Antonia, in Dogfish Head style, is continuously hopped for 60 minutes with Simcoe, Warrior and Saaz hops, and is an Imperial Pilsner, big with pine, citrus and caramel which has a clean crisp finish, making it a very interesting beer. Incidentally, drinking these in the bar would have cost 20 Euros each but taking them away meant they only cost 5 Euros a-piece, something you may want to consider.
A fantastic dinner in a nearby restaurant we chose at random was accompanied by more Birra Peroni. This meal was awesome, and in fact we didn't have a single bite to eat in the whole of our time in Rome that was anything less than exceptional. It was quite late by the time we climbed into bed.
The next day was the last of our short break, and as we weren't being picked up for our 6.30 pm flight back to Gatwick until 3.30 pm we spent a relatively slow morning getting ourselves packed and sorted before checking out of our room around 10 am.
With no particular place to go (isn't that the title of a Chuck Berry song?) we made our way to the Trevi Fountain before realising we hadn't visited the Pantheon. This glaring omission was quickly rectified as it was conveniently nearby, and after a magnificent spicy pizza in a restaurant off the main tourist traps, we both fancied a beer. Astonishingly (!) Open Baladin 'just happened' to be nearby (and if you that believe you'll believe anything) and we went for one last drink in the Eternal City.
It was even busier than before and my wife decided on one last Birra Troll Panada, while I went for another saison. This was a spritzy peach and green apple tasting Vielle Ville by Birrificio del Ducato, and while we were discussing the beers we'd had there we were approached by an English couple on the next table on their first visit there. Talking about beer is something I love to do, and so is sharing. I'd offered a taste of my saison to them and I was delighted that as we were leaving I was delighted to hear the husband order one. He'd previously confirmed himself as an ardent wine drinker but was impressed with this 'cider-like' style which he hadn't heard of before.
Soon we were back at the hotel collecting our bags and it was time to go.
We'd had a fantastic time and Rome is a fantastic city which I'd recommend in an instant, with or without the beery delights.
Gaius Julius Caesar, probably Romes most famous dictator, once wrote "Veni, vidi, vici", which translates from the classical Latin as "I came, I saw, I conquered".
I'd like to paraphrase this slightly and convert it to modern Italian as "Mi e venuto, ho visto, ho bevuto qualche birra impressionante".

I came, I saw, I drank some awesome beer.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Quando a Roma. Ottenere la birra. Bere birra.
Part One.
(When in Rome. Get beer. Drink beer.)

The historical novelist, playwright and poet Sir Walter Scott once said "Methinks I will not die quite happy without having seen something of that Rome of which I have read so much."
It is true that there are many many guidebooks about the Eternal City. The history, art and architecture have inspired many an author to put pen to paper, and while there are several guide books that concern food and wine, they seldom, if at all, touch on beer.
The only avenue open to the beer traveller to Italy is the internet, and particularly its social media networks. Check out the excellent Italy Brews to point you in the right direction. Fortunately I was also helped by my good friend and top beer explorer Thomas Marshall (@tdtm82) and on twitter by Bob Arnott (@RecentlyDrunk) to find the best bars. Cheers guys!
Here's what happened.

We (just me and my wife, Sarah - no children this time) arrived just before lunchtime on Monday (29th October) after a very early start, and as we couldn't check into our hotel for an hour we had a little scout around the local area and found a little pizza place nearby. With my courgette flower and anchovy pizza my first beer in Rome was Birra Peroni - Nastro Azzurro, quite often the best of a bad bunch at restaurants and bars back in the UK. Pleasant enough but having had some exceptional offerings from Brewfist and Birrificio Lambrate in the few weeks before I went I wanted something more.
That was to come later.
After checking in and sorting ourselves out we set out map in hand to explore. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain were close at hand, but as wife has my wife has a huge interest in Roman history we found ourselves, after much walking, at the Colosseum via Trajan's column. It was early evening so we didn't go in and our thoughts soon started to turn towards dinner.

Venturing across the Tiber after a quick walk across the Circus Maximus and witnessing the spell-binding sight of thousands of starlings looking for a place to roost, we found our way (eventually) to Bir & Fud. We went in and asked for a table only to be told that it didn't open until 7:30, an hour away. Explaining that we'd come a long way that day, we were directed across the road to Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa (the bar is pictured above) or Football Pub as it's also known on account of showing football matches on screens strategically placed around the place, all the time.
This is exactly what I'd been looking and hoping for, great beer and a great atmosphere, and I settled down with a wonderful hoppy, malty milk-chocolate edged Black IPA by Birrificio Menaresta called 2 Di Picche (2 Of Spades). I was anxious for more Italian beer, and changing beer direction completely I picked Seta (Silk) a delicious lemon and tangerine tasting Witbier by Birrificio Rurale. A man behind me said over my shoulder in excellent English, "Good choice there". He was putting on his coat to go, and with a swift goodbye he was gone.
 Whilst perusing the board (above) for my next beer, I noticed that another couple sitting at the bar were also English. Seems we were a little early for the majority Italian drinkers (although there were a few in there) and we quickly got talking to them about beer, both British and Italian, with a healthy disagreement over the term 'Black IPA'. It turned out that Vince (for that was his name), on holiday with his charming wife Sue, is the current Chairman of North West Yorks CAMRA , and a thoroughly nice and engaging chap. They, like us, had intended on going to Bir & Fud  but had arrived too early and been ushered in here.
There was time for one more drink so I went for another Birrificio Menaresta beer, Pan-Negar a thin coffee tasting stout with a lovely creamy finish. Thirst suitably quenched, the four of us having struck up an immediate friendship, decided to head across to Bir & Fud for some dinner.
Bir & Fud is best descibed as a linear bar and restaurant and a beer lovers paradise. It was the one place that everyone who had been to Rome had, without exception, said that I must visit. Essentially a pizzeria but the menu stretches way beyond that, and the food is all beautifully presented. After being shown to our seats and scanning the menu, it was time to order a beer from the board (below).
Vince and I opted for the Re Hop by Birra Toccalmatto. This was lemony hop heaven with lots of fizzy sherbert, a little honey and an added twist of lime in the finish. Delicious. For food Sarah and I both went for the Sea Bass and Haddock burger which was simply divine, served with hot and spicy pickled vegetables, whilst Vince and Sue opted for pizza. I washed this all down with a Noscia, a robust citrus hoppy American-style Pale Ale by Maltovivo, and complimented the food nicely.
Time for another beer, and both Sarah and I went for a Weizen (called Weizen) from Birra Artigianale Italiana, Birrificio Italiano (being poured in the above picture). This didn't disappoint either, clove, vanilla, banana and bubblegum flavours working wonderfully together, and this slipped down rather quickly. After a brief interlude where we 'Skyped' the children back in the UK and chatted to a Belgian couple with a baby in a pram at the next table, I went for another beer. Bir & Fud has 3 enormous beer fridges packed with big bottles of Italian beer that is situated right between its bar and the restaurant sections, and one bottle in particular had been catching my eye since I'd arrived:
B Space Invader by Birra Toccalmatto is a much travelled and much transformed beer. Originally brewed as a Galaxy-hopped Golden Ale at Brew Wharf, London as a collaboration brew with Toccalmatto's Bruno Carilli, this Italian version has metamorphosed into an awesome Black IPA. Packed with black coffee, spikey pine, liquorice and citrussy hop flavours it was simply stunning. The perfect end to a wonderful first, but very long and tiring, day.
Saying goodbye to Vince and Sue, we got a taxi back to our hotel.
Sleep was not long in coming that night, and very welcome.
Little did we know the delights that still awaited us ...

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Beavertown Brewery - 8 Ball 6.2%

There's a bit of a buzz about Beavertown Brewery at the moment, and the buzz says that the beer is good. Very good. So when, last Friday, I got the opportunity to taste and purchase a few bottles of their beer I jumped at the chance.
I'll be reviewing the Rye IPA, 8 Ball, tonight with Smog Rocket, the smoked porter and Black Betty, the black IPA (released on 17th October) to come soon, however before I break off I'll take this as my cue (did you see what I did there?) to tell you a bit about the brewery.
Formed in February of this year (2012) by Off Broadway cocktail bar owner Byron Knight and the son of Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant's son, Logan, it is based in Dukes Brew & Que restaurant in the De Beauvoir Town district of Hackney from which it gets its name. Beavertown is an affectionate local derivation of the name, given to it by those cheeky Cockney scamps (my old man, cor blimey guv'nor, strike a light, etc.) and caused a little confusion amongst drinkers at first.
Incidentally, for those of you with an interest in graphic design and branding I found an article in Design Week online concerning Beavertown Brewery that you may find informative.
The 8 ball is dry hopped with (unspecified) 'juicy American hops, using old pool balls to weigh the hop sack down in the beer. Hence the name.' It might also be noted, and completely unconnected, that an 8 ball is the 'street' name for an eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams) of cocaine, and also for an Olde English malt liquor usually served in a 40 ounce bottle, to quote Eazy E in Boyz N The Hood "They greet me with a 40 and I start drinking, And from the 8 ball my breath start stinking".
Hoping to avoid stinking breath this evening I open the bottle.
It pours a murky, muddy brown with a thin but sustained off-white head. The aroma is grated grapefruit peel, a little soapiness, raw bread dough and some gritty dryness, big bold and fresh as you like. It skids lightly over the tongue but pulls at the edges as though pulling a liquid tablecloth from the surface leaving all the flavour intact. And flavour it certainly has. A great big dollop of grapefruit peel mixed up with sticky oily bready mango dipped in toffee lands right in the middle of your tongue, bursting and raining down over the whole palate, ushering in a delicious wave of pineapple coupled with caramel, washing and sloshing around. It has a wonderful sweetness but the merest hint of meat juices like a sticky pork rib, very appropriate for the venue the brewery is based in, and I'm sure this is no coincidence. I would really love to try it 'in situ' with a big plate of ribs or the pulled-pork sliders I've read about. Oh yes. The finish is big, gooey and sweet, fading through a soft brown-bread-crust dryness into the grapefruit peel oiliness I got right at the beginning of both the aroma and taste.
This is one of the earliest recipes from Beavertown but it is an incredibly accomplished beer, soft, sweet and juicy but with doughy breadiness that pervades throughout, but without the strong soapy flavour sometimes found in rye beers.
It certainly is a very promising start.
The buzz is justified.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Double Jack 9.5%

This is the one I've been waiting for. This is the culmination of the three Firestone Walker bottles and I'm a little nervous.
It's a bit odd.
I have wanted to drink this beer from the moment I bought it. I also know it's best drunk fresh - within 120 days of bottling, Firestone Walker recommend - and I'm close to the limit now, but still I hesitate.
This is a beer that many covet, often described as one of the best of its type - that being the Imperial or Double IPA. Scoring 100 overall and 99 for style on RateBeer and 94 Exceptional on BeerAdvocate it might just be rather good.
But still I have this nagging doubt.
Does it get high ratings because it is so highly prized?
Other people who've had it tell me it's good, but what if I don't think so?
Well the answer to the last question is easy, my opinion is as valid as anyone elses so that's not a problem, but at 9.5% will it be all booze and no beauty?
Well, it's impossible to taste a beer without opening the bottle, so ...
Pouring an orange amber it has a high rocky off-white head that quickly settles to a light dusting of soap-bubble snow. The aroma is a gorgeous mix of tangerine, peach, lemon and grapefruit, but whilst these are all full and fruity there's a herbal blanket lurking in the background as if preparing to cover it all and snuff it out in an instant. The deeper I inhale the more intense this herbal note becomes and it's here that I detect the alcohol, like a puppet master controlling the whole affair, or a First World War General sending out the infantry to be slaughtered whilst wallowing in luxury miles from the front line. It's oily and a little heavy over the tongue, and this is a smooth mover, sinuously slinking and easing itself down the throat before exploding a big juicy hop bomb that envelops the whole mouth bursts out of the nose. There's a hint of caramel and honey at first, always a good sign of a decent malt balance, then the hops take over. Grapefruit, tangerine, mandarin orange marmalde and roasted caramelized pineapple detonate then vaporize in a glorious juicy flavoursome soaked instant. But what an instant that is, and one that I'm drawn back to again and again. Given its high abv this should really be a sipping beer, but it's one I find myself gulping down with gusto. I'm only getting the merest hint of the alcohol that I really expected to reveal itself as the malevolent usurper taking over in a boozy coup d'etat, but it holds itself back with splendid restraint. The finish is oily orange cream with a touch of white pepper and a piny resonance in the nose. This doesn't last as long as expected sadly, fading a little too quickly, and that it really my only criticism of this beer.
The balance here is superb, and even though the burst of flavour is pretty awesome it isn't the sole element that stays with me but more the focal point of a rather picturesque jigsaw. My fears over the alcohol content prove to be unfounded and I get an inkling of what the fuss is all about.
This was the most expensive (£10 a bottle) of the beers that I picked up at the GBBF, but my only regret is that I didn't buy another. As I write this final paragraph I finish the bottle, and although I had to concede a little to my wife this wasn't done grudgingly, it was just too wonderful to keep to myself. A beer this good deserves to be shared. I wish it was more widely available in the UK and if you're ever in possession of one then invite a few friends over, get a few hoppy IPAs together and have this as the culmination of the evening. I've thoroughly enjoyed my Firestone Walker adventure and looking back at this review I note that I have waxed a little more lyricaly than I intended. I suspect that this may be due to the alcohol, finally taking me by stealth and deception after all.
I care not. To the victor the spoils, I got the beer. And what a beer it was.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Union Jack 7.5%

First brewed in 2008, Firestone Walkers Union Jack apparently utilises four pounds of Pacific North-West hops per barrel, so I'm thinking that this might be a little hoppy and as RateBeer estimates it at around 75 IBUs then it certainly promises to be.
What's in a name ?
The Union Jack is the name often given to the Union Flag, the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, however this term is correct only if it is flown by a warship, and then only when that ship is at anchor. The United States has its own 'Union Jack', flown from the jackstaff in the bow of its vessels and representing its nationality. Jacks are always and only maritime flags and the US Navy originally adopted this design in 1776 consisting of thirteen horizontal stripes before switching to a dark blue flag with increasing numbers of stars representing increasing numbers of States. A rattlesnake was added to the original design and this has been used by the US Navy since September 11 2002, one year after the al-Qaeda attacks.
Quite some pedigree and quite a name. Let's hope this beer is up to it.
Pouring a darker amber than the Pale 31 I reviewed earlier this week, it has the same thin, lightly whipped white head. It probably won't surprise you that the aroma is big! There's lots of grapefruit pine and orange marmalade, with peaches and mango galore, but there's also a light waft of rich tea biscuit in the background as if a lorry carrying a great load them has had a head-on collision with a skip full of washing-up liquid. Odd, but strangely exciting. This beer leaps to the back of the throat, pouncing like a sharp citrus-soaked puma leaving thick and heavily concentrated grapefruit, orange and a hint of caramel in its wake. The heavy hop addition is certainly showing itself here but there's also a malty backbone holding the whole thing together nicely. The finish is a thick and sticky citrus sauce, sharp, and drying out everso slowly with a tiny bit of soapiness.
This is some beer, bold, brash and out there rather like the USA itself.
Yes indeed.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Pale 31  4.9%

Life. Funny old game isn't it?
The journey of idea to beer to glass can be an interesting one. Brewers take their inspirations from a variety of sources. Notions, dreams, paintings, snatches of overheard conversations can all plant the seed that leads, sometimes many years later, to bloom into wonderful examples of what happens when you combine four basic ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast.
Similarly drinkers can experience similar epiphanies. I had one with Firestone Walker, and how I managed to get three different beers into my fridge.
It's all CAMRAs fault.
Them and their GBBF. Oh, and twitter too.
Planning to go to this years Great British Beer Festival, back at Olympia - by far my preferred venue - after its brief flirtation with Earls Court, I was keen to explore which beers I could expect to find there. Looking at the website was fine, but it was just a bit basic. The international beer bars have provided a increasingly interesting diversion at many recent beer festivals and I looked at the list posted with some real anticipation. This is where twitter came in. I wasn't fortunate enough to have tickets for the brewers day on the Tuesday, but had planned a trip for the Wednesday - with my wife I hasten to add. It was our wedding anniversary after all, and my wife is very partial to hoppy and golden ales, as well as claiming most of the wheat beer bought into our house, but I digress.
Twitter (if you've been following this so far) provided a willing procession of Tuesdays attendees willing to furnish me with ideas and suggestion for what I should try and what was on where, for which incidently I was very grateful, not only for cask ale but also for beer of the bottled variety.
The name that kept cropping up in nearly every post was of course Firestone Walker.
These were beers I'd heard about, read about and daydreamed of tasting.
So on the Wednesday after some wonderful beer tasting (I can still taste the Emelisse - Imperial Russian Stout(Ardbeg) if I think back to it) I wanted to buy some bottles to take home.
Going up to the bar I spotted  Firestone Walker beer. And not just one, three different ones!
My heart beat a little faster I admit.
These were duly purchased and if you want to know what the other two were, well, I'll be reviewing them soon enough.
Incidentally, as these were bought I had a tap on the shoulder from a chap who asked me if they were any good. I replied that I'd heard they were, so he bought some too. Chatting for a while it transpired he was in the process of setting up a new London brewery. With Mr. Des De Moor in the house I took him over and made the introductions. If only I could remember what the brewery was called I'd love to know how they are getting on.
Back to the beer.
Back to tonights beer.
Pouring a clear light amber with a thin white head, it has the most wonderful aroma of fizzy lychee sherbert with creamy mango and a touch of white grapes covered in cream. I know that sounds faintly ridiculous, but it really is all fresh and zingy. Prickly and fizzy over the tongue there's more creamy mango fused with white pepper and sprinkled with a little grapefruit peel. I love the way that beer sometimes gives up flavour combinations and notions that are impossible in food reality. For a 4.9% abv beer this sure packs a punch but it's enclosed in a velvet glove here for it's beautifully smooth and elegant. The finish is all dry pepper, grape and lychee with the merest hint of pine. It simply purrs.
What an introduction to Firestone Walker beer.
If this little beauty (and sadly little it is, coming in a 355ml bottle) is anything to go by, then I may be in for a couple more treats yet.
I'll drink to that.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Moor Beer Company - Revival 4.0%

Back in August (all that time ago!) I posted a review of Moor's Nor'Hop that I picked up at The House Of Trembling Madness in York. I mentioned at the time that I wanted to sample more (pun intended again) of what they had to offer and having picked up plenty of beery treats in Bacchanalia in Cambridge yesterday I spotted bottles of Moor beer in another off-licence on my way back to the car. Despite being laden with bottles I couldn't resist buying some.
Brewed to celebrate the revival of the brewery, all the information that you need (except which hops are used frustratingly) can be found on the brewery website here. Hoppy and refreshing, according to the bottle so let's see.
Pouring a cloudy amber with a thin white head and a fresh grassy citric-grapefruit-orange aroma, this is a very inviting beer for those who like it hoppy. Watery caramel toffee, a touch of pine and grapefruit flavours wash around the mouth, and it is rather refreshing - description satisfied. The finish is lovely dry citrus with a hint of barley-sugar too.
Another delicious beer from the Moor brewery, but to be honest I expected nothing less having heard very very good things about them from people whose opinions I respect.
Now, if only I could get my hands on a bottle of Hoppines ...

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ayinger Brewery - Celebrator Doppelbock 6.7%

Sometimes a beer just seems to fit the mood. Today this beer is spot on.
Due to a worn-out power cable failure my laptop has been out of action for a week. Now it would be trite (linked in both senses of the word strangely) to suggest that being able to use my computer again would be cause fro celebration but there are a few other things, which I won't bore you with here, that have been worth celebrating this week.
This is a dark "double" bock, ending in 'ator' as doppelbocks do, and is a "starkbier" or strong beer from the Ayinger brewery situated an hour south-east of Munich in Bavaria. The brewery states that the origins of this particular beer lie in a monk's recipe but they don't give any more information than that, so I'd better drink it to see if there's any celebrating to be had.
It pours a very dark brown, almost black with a ruby red edge and a tight creamy beige head that quickly dissipates. Plums, prunes and raisins on the nose bring to mind a rich malty fruitcake. Leaving a pleasant tingling sensation over the tongue, there's more fruitiness in the taste, especially tea-soaked raisins with a hint of cranberry, some light coffee (sweet -with two sugars) roastiness and some milk chocolate in there too. A sweet malty fruity finish leaves a slight tannic alcohol dryness on the tongue that is rather pleasing.
Almost bridging the gap between a schwarzbier and a porter this is a tasty and satisfying beer that is just what I'm looking for late on a Sunday evening which is when I'm writing this. It's quite rich with the 6.7% alcohol being noticable and rather welcome. A lager to savour indeed.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Goose Island Double Header #SupSaison

Goose Island - Sofie 2010 6.5%
Goose Island - Pepe Nero 2011 6.0%

Coming late to the party, I was unable to partake of the twitter event that was #SupSaison last night due to another family/drink-related commitment. It was organised by fellow blogger and appreciator of fine beer @Filrd , and you can read all about his intrguing Pre-Saisonathon in Macclesfield here.
When I found out that this was to happen I knew that I had no Belgian or English Saisons in my cellar, having already drunk and reviewed Ilkley Brewerys excellent Siberia in July, I contemplated buying some more. Then I remembered that last year I had procured some of Chicago brewery Goose Island's Vintage Series beers, two of which, Sofie and Pepe Nero were both brewed in the Saison style but both very different.
I'm sure you're all familiar with the history and definition of the Saison style, however just in case you need to refresh your memory you can read the Wikipedia entry here and the BJCP Style Guidelines here.
Time to drink the beer.


It pours a pale and ever-so slightly cloudy yellow-gold with a highly carbonated pure sparkling white head. The thing with Saisons generally is that they take a while to pour, but they're usually worth it. The aroma has lots of grapefruit and orange peel, but muted, as if sub-merged in Chardonnay but with a sour funky edge. Smooth, sharp and dry over the tongue, it has tart grapefruit, the bite of white pepper, some white wine sharpness, a sprinkle of sour lemon juice, a whisper of vanilla and a good dose of the funkiness you would associate with a spontaneously fermented beer. More of the tart sour grapefruit and lemon lingers long in the finish.
This really is a refreshing fruity saison in excellent condition for a two and a half year old (it was bottled on 24/03/2010) and although it states that it will mature for up to five years in the bottle I'd say it's drinking rather well right now.
Pepe Nero
Bottled 03/01/2011.
By total contrast, this pours a deep dark brown with a coffee-coloured edge and a tightly carbonated beige-brown head. There's lychee, peppery grapefruit and white chocolate in the aroma with an initial smooth then a gentle prickliness over the tongue. There's a massive hit of evaporated milk which clashes then merges with a tropical fruit yoghurt taste, certainly not what I was expecting from such a dark beer. There's some coffee notes and a hit of spicy black pepper in there too. As it warms it develops an almost a light chocolate sponge taste, served up a a mild but sour tropical fruit coulis. The aftertaste has some creamy grapefruit with some shavings of white chocolate but without the faintest hint of oiliness, and this is sustained for a good few minutes before fading into a wonderful echo.
This is a surprising and stunning beer that I first tasted just under a year ago. I'd read in Draft magazine that it was brewed as the first black Saison and I was anxious to try it, but it was too rough around the edges for me to really appreciate it. Ten months later it has blossomed into the beer that I was hoping to taste then, full, rich and rounded with every flavour and nuance pin-sharp.
As I mentioned earlier, I had these beers stored away with a view to drink them in a few years time, however due to #SupSaison I believe I might just have caught both of them at their peak. Cheers!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Bear Republic - Big Bear Black Stout 8.1%

When you hear the words "Bear Republic Brewery" from California, the first thing that springs to mind might be the wonderful fruity mango and tangerine IPA Racer 5 or possibly the coarse, orange, pine and peppery Hop Rod Rye, but today I've gone down to the woods for their Big Bear Black Stout.
This is an Imperial Russian-style stout possibly on the lighter side abv-wise for its type and brewed with Cascade and Chinook hops. A '... robust, deep-roasted heartiness you can sink your teeth into ...' the brewery states on the bottle, so let's get stuck in.
It pours a light-sucking inky black with the smallest of dark dark brown edges. The head is like the foam on a black coffee that has had a faint drop of milk added then whisked to perfection. Moving expectantly forward, the aroma has deliciously generous portions of coffee, molasses and dark muscavado and whisky marmalade. This beer is singing to me already, drawing me toward it with some beautiful deep dark notes. Treacly coffee with a rich orange-tinged toffee and a hint of aniseed and chilli coat the mouth with a wondrously full and an incredibly rounded crescendo of tastes. There's a tiny prickle of hoppy grapefruit served up in a spoonful of blackstrap molasses right at the end before the sticky dry finish throws in some date and caramel to add to the rest of this awesome experience.
Another fantastic beer from a brewery that never fails to amaze with the quality and complexity of their output. A dark, fruity, rich, engulfing brew that is best experienced alone, I'd say. Sit, savour and smile.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Two from:
Second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is traditionally said to be named after the son of the Polynesian navigator Hawai'iloa credited with the discovery of the Islands.
The first European explorer to see Maui was Captain James Cook in 1778. Captain Cook (tenuous link time) was married in the very church - St Margarets, Barking, Essex that I was baptised in, sang in the choir, and rang the church bells for weddings and services - although I didn't do all of those at the same time! In fact, I have seen the very marriage certificate 'in the flesh' so to speak.
Captain Cook wasn't the first to land there though, as he could not find anywhere suitable. That honour went to the French Admiral, Jean-Francois de La Perouse in 1786, on the shores of what is now known as La Perouse Bay, and ties nicely in with my first beer:
La Perouse White 5.2%
It pours a cloudy yellow with a high bright white head, but this quickly fades. The aroma has a big hit of orange and lemon squash, but orange and lemon squash made with a week solution of cream soda instead of water. There's also a hint of dry coriander and some more juicy fruity citrus notes. Over the tongue it is smooth, sweet cleansing and refreshing, making it tingle ever-so slightly. Coriander and more juicy lemony-orange flavour hit you first, but this is followed up with a sweet powdery texture fading to fresh coconut milk. The finish of soft coconut cream and orange is beautifully sweet and simply delicious.
I gave the little beer I had left at the bottom of a can a swirl around, and this brought forth a lovely yeasty sediment that I really wasn't expecting in a canned beer, and this added a more lemon-melon punch to the finish.
This is a wonderful witbier, which the brewery describes as 'Limited Release' so I assume that this isn't going to be accessible for everyone, but if you see it, buy it.
Maui Brewing Company was founded in 2005 in Lahaina, Maui, and is the islands only micro-brewery. The beer was first made available in cans in 2007, which were chosen for sustainability - key to the brewerys philosophy, lightness, durability and to preserve freshness.
Their beers have won many awards, but undoubtedly the one that has won the most, and for which they are most famous is my next beer.
CoCoNut PorTeR  6.0%
It pours a glossy dark brown, almost black, with a tawny-port-coloured edge and a sustained foamy beige head. Desiccated coconut and dark chocolate, a little like a Bounty bar is the first aroma to hit you, but it's much drier and has a hint of wood varnish, coffee and cola nut in there too. It dances over the tongue initially, before leaving a massive footprint of tastiness in the middle whilst slipping shyly down the throat. Masses of dry coconut all wrapped up in dark chocolate fill the mouth followed by a gentle creaminess and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. It manages to be tangy, sharp and bitter all at the same time. The finish has more dry chocolate and coconut but fades a little too quickly for my liking.
This may not be the most multi-dimensional beer, but it doesn't have to be. It is what it is, and it is simply gorgeous.
If you would like to you can find out more about Maui Brewing Company and their beers here.
I picked these two cans up from Utobeer in Borough Market a few weeks ago and they have been settling and chilling nicely in my fridge ever since. They are the third and fourth of the beers that I bought to try and get over my prejudice against  canned beer, and I have come to the conclusion that this method, when applied to 'craft' beers is a fantastic way of preserving subtle nuances of flavour that can be lost more easily from bottled beer.
Am I converted?
Oh yes!!



Thursday, 6 September 2012

Southern Tier - Gemini 10.5%

Gemini. One of the 88 modern constellations, associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology, and the second manned spaceflight of NASA between Mercury and Apollo, has a double association with space and the number two. There are also two different Gemini supervillains, one in the Marvel Universe and one in the DC Universe, and who can forget (if you are of a certain age) Johnny Morris singing Geminee Geminii about Terry Nutkin's 'pet' California sea lion Gemini.
This Gemini is from the Eastern side of the USA however, Lakewood in New York State to be exact, the home of Southern Tier brewery. Described as an 'Imperial Blended Unfiltered Ale' it is a blend of two of Southern Tiers beers, Hoppe, an Imperial extra pale ale and Unearthly, a potent Imperial IPA, the hop count is pretty impressive: kettle hops - columbus, chinook and cascade, aroma hops - amarillo, hopback - styrian golding, dry hops - amarillo, cascade, centenial, chinook and columbus. It comes in a nice big 650ml bottle, so there's plenty to share around, or keep all to yourself if you're feeling greedy, but beware of its 10.5% abv potency!
It pours a reasonably unassuming medium amber colour with a rocky off-white head, but it's the aroma that drags your nose straight into the glass and gets your mouth watering. There's some nice big resinous pine all stirred up with with some pineapple and mango fruit yoghurt, there is a real creamyness about the smell of this beer that is really inviting. Initially sharp and biting over the tongue, it coats the mouth with a gorgeous oily stickiness. A big tropical fruit butterscotch and toffee explosion is followed by a sticky chewy boozy orange gooeyness. The flavours are wonderfully rich and full - celery, mango, peach, orange blossom water and pineapple are painted liberally all over the inside of the mouth with an enormous glorious paintbrush of deliciousness. The finish has a lovely sticky dry Grand Marnier-like flavour that keeps the mouth watering in the same fashion as when you first caught a whiff of its beautiful aroma.
I've not got much else to say about this beer except -wow!!!
It is without a doubt one of the best beers I've drunk this year, and I want more, much much more.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Magic Rock - Dark Arts 6.0%
Redchurch Brewery - Hoxton Stout 6.0%

Twitter has a lot to answer for, however it does throw up some interesting challenges.
If you'll allow me a little poetic licence, I'll set the scene.
It was a dark a stormy night, rain was lashing at the windows and the sky was ablaze with lightning. Somewhere in North London Matthew Curtis aka @totalcurtis was drinking a bottle of Redchurch Hoxton Stout. Waxing lyrically about this brew from East London he had the temerity, nay the audacity to compare it to Magic Rock Dark Arts.
Somewhere in the North of England (ok the Stafford area, possibly) a certain Chris Dixon aka @ckdsaddlers was incredulous.
"Impossible!" he cried.
But Mr Curtis was adamant (not to be confused with 80s pop icon Adam Ant ).
There was only one way to decide it.
That's right, it's the Harry Hill way.
So here it is.
Hoppy stout fight club.
In the black corner we have Magic Rock - Dark Arts.
From Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, Championing the North. A self-proclaimed 'Surreal Stout' and weighing in at a 'healthy' 6.0% abv, it's the older, more established of the two. A well respected beer.
And in the, er...., other black corner we have Redchurch - Hoxton Stout.
From Bethnal Green, East London, Darling of the South. The new kid on the block, also weighing in at that 'ideal' 6.0%, and using Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus hops, it's ready to play with the big boys.
The gloves are off.
First up is: Magic Rock - Dark Arts

Pouring a heavy, light-devouringdark dark brown, bordering on black, this has just the faintest muddy milk-chocolate hint at the base of the glass, with a carbonated milky-coffee head.The aroma is a muddle of tropical coffee liquorice fruit, with a touch of freshly sanded wood and some rum and raisin fudge. Quite coarse over the tongue, the flavour is a big, all-encompassing dry coffee smack which sucks away all the moisture from the mouth. Then there is a fleeting hint of mango and pineapple with some herbal notes, quickly replaced by a lovely coffee-raisin taste with a dark chocolate and tar backing. The finish has a lot more dryness with a sticky dark-chocolate coating.
So, a good start there with lots of good form. Next up its: Redchurch - Hoxton Stout
Pouring a very similar colour and texture to the Dark Arts, it is maybe the slightest touch browner but with a much creamier mousse-like head with much finer bubbles. The aroma has a huge nose-full of herbal chocolate orange, more resinous and with a light backing of milk chocolate, rather like having a chocolate fountain bubbling away in the background. Tropical fruit punches you right in the face initially, which quickly dries into some fruity blackberry roasted coffee bean flavour, whilst some basil and kumquat hover around. The finish is dry and fruity with a late chocolate orange taste.
So there you have it. The final bell has sounded.                                                                                     
And what a close contest it was.                                                                                                            
A great fight between two surprisingly different light-heavyweights.                                                                
I have to declare a little southern bias here, Bethnal Green is an area of London I know quite well and the Dark Arts was, I would estimate a good 3-4 months older than the Hoxton, however I have had the Magic Rock beer fresher and have tried to reflect that, draw on my memory be fair and objective in my decision.                                                                                                                                       
But, I have to choose a winner, and, on points with a score of 16-15 (hey,I had to think of some numbers and these were the first two that sprang to mind) that winner is:                                    
Redchurch Brewery - Hoxton Stout
I prefer the flavour of the Hoxton, with its rounded orange-ness and being less mouth-hooveringly dry. It was close run thing though, and this is only my opinion but seeing as it's my blog then it's my opinion that counts. I'd recommend trying this comparison for yourself, and welcome your comments too.                                                                                                                                                           

Friday, 31 August 2012

Red Fox Brewery - Foxymoron 4.5%

The name Black IPAs is here to stay it would seem, usurping Cascadian Dark as a more encompassing term for thin, dark (black!) hoppy beers, and they really have to be hoppy.I think anyone who's had Brodies Dalston Black IPA for example, as I did at this years GBBF will attest to how big, gutsy and downright fantastic they can be.

I've singled out Brodies on purpose as had their black IPA been brewed prior to 1965, before the new administrative area called Greater London swallowed up the south western-most extremes of the county, then it could have rightly claimed to have been the first commercially brewed in Essex. This honour now, however belongs to the Red Fox brewery in Coggeshall.

Red Fox was founded in some specially refurbished chicken sheds in 2008 by Russ Barnes, former head brewer at Crouch Vale. They use only East Anglian malts and produce a wide range of traditional, an some not-so-traditional beers, the Wily 'Ol Fox and Coggeshall Gold are particular favourites, and whereas the aforementioned Brodies Dalston Black is a big 7.0%, Foxymoron is a more modest 4.5%. I picked it up at a local off-licence, the Shenfield Wine Co. that has a good range of local ales as well as a surprisingly good range of German beers. Foxymoron, according to the bottle is an 'American style black IPA' brewed with American Chinook hops, and as this is a favourite of mine I have high expectations.

It pours a very very dark brown, a shade off black, with a ruby red edge and a light beige head, It has a rather pleasant sweet-shop fruity liquorice aroma with hints of aniseed and basil. Initially smooth as silk over the tongue with a light herbal wash, it leaps to the top of the mouth and back of throat with a huge crashing dryness. Flavours of liquorice mixed with tarragon and basil explode slap-bang in the middle of the tongue with a little soya milk sweetness outlining it. There's some milk chocolate in the finish drying to a sharp herbal note with some tropical fruit flavours right at the end.

Essex's first black IPA isn't half bad, certainly scoring well in the flavour stakes and while it's obviously not as in your face as higher abv examples it's one I'll looking out for again. Yet another beer that makes me proud to be an Essex boy.