Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Golden Pints Awards 2013

Golden Pint Awards 2013

So here we are at the very end of the year and after much contemplation, reviewing old posts and meticulously checking Untappd I've managed to finalise my favourite beers of the year for 2013, and more besides.
From all that I've read the consensus is that it's been another good year for beer overall with new breweries opening all the time, especially in London, lots of lovely beer being produced and more styles of beer being readily available than ever before.
I was extremely fortunate in that I also met some great people this year. I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that everyone I met who had a connection with beer in some way was genuinely friendly and interesting. If you were one of those people then I thank you for taking the time to indulge this cranky old beer blogger thrusting his hand in your direction and introducing himself.
So without further ado I'll kick off, as is traditional, with ...

Best UK Cask Beer 2013
I always find the actual beer selection categories for these awards more then a bit of a headache. The sheer amount of beer consumed over the course of 365 days and the various methods of dispense that they could be available in mean that sifting through the accumulated data of 12 months of drinking can be no mean feat. Looking back there was however one beer that stood out every time I was lucky enough to drink it, and was indeed the only beer I drank pint after pint of at a beer festival this year, and therefore my winner in:
Crouch Vale - Junga 4.1%
The balance of the malt with the raspberry and strawberry juice nature of the hop made this a clear winner for me. Crouch Vale are a local brewery so I was fortunate to get this in great condition and on gravity dispense on two separate occasions, which definitely helped.
Honourable mentions here for:
The Foundry - East Kent Pale 6.0% that I had at the Green Hop Festival launch and
Mauldon's - Black Adder 5.3% which is a beer that I've drunk for years and years and has never disappointed me.

Best UK Keg Beer 2013
I couldn't decide on a clear winner here so I've had to go for a tied first place in this category. The winning beers for me here are:
Lovibonds - Lager Boy 5.0%
Kernel - Double Citra 9.8%
The Lager Boy I first encountered in Henley, mere yards from where it was brewed. It was my first drink of a warm early summers day and it was so flavoursome and refreshing it quickly became my second and third drinks too. I also drank copious amounts of my runner up in this category:
Lovibonds - Sour Grapes 6.0% the non-barrel-aged version available at the brewery, as well as 69 and Dirty 69 that day (well, I was thirsty) but it's the Lager Boy that has stayed with me as a real cracker.
The Kernel - Double Citra I first encountered in Craft Beer in Clerkenwell. I had been on a bit of a journey here and there all over London that day and found myself in the vicinity of said establishment. I opened the door that leads directly onto Leather Lane and there in front of me was a Kernel pump clip. As I approached the bar and I realised what it was all the other beers seemed to melt away. I only had eyes for the Double Citra, and my judgement was not misplaced. for this moment alone it had to win in this category, a truly wonderful, if rather potent, beer.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer 2013
I've got through an awful lot of UK bottled beer this year, from those I've featured in my Beers Of London Series to the weekly BeerBods escapade on a Thursday night plus the many bottles I've been fortunate enough to be sent to review or have picked up on travels, mine and friends and family. I could have easily squeezed at least twenty beers in here, but are much head scratching and re-arranging my winner is:
Howling Hops - Amber De Luxe 4.6%
Even though I last had this back in July, you can read my review here, I can still bring to mind its wonderful aroma and taste, and it still makes me smile.
Runners up for me here are:
Honest Brew - Riwaka Hop Mule 5.4% an absolute explosion of hop flavour and aroma, and
Tavy Ales - Tavy Porter 5.2% a beautifully balanced Porter from a brewery that I hope to see more from in 2014, I'm quite keen to taste the IPA.

Best Overseas Draught Beer 2013
I think that 2013 saw more overseas draught beers being available in the UK than I can ever remember before. Whereas some of the best were the exclusive domain of such establishments as BrewDog and Craft Beer Co. this was not strictly the case with beers such as Lagunitas IPA appearing in a many more pubs and bars that cared about the quality and variety of beer available. However, just to be temperamental I've gone for a tie in first place again picking two beers that really lodged in my memory as some of the best I have tasted ever. Firstly I'm choosing
Brasserie De La Senne - Taras Boulba 4.5% that I had on tap at t'brugs beertje back in August. It had been a long day, we were all tired, but this beer really lifted me and the quality and flavours were so defined it really was outstanding. I've had the bottled version a couple of times since then but the flavour doesn't quite match up to the draught version.
My second choice is:
Toccalmatto - Supernova Suicide 4.5% This was a beer that I had at The Rake early in the summer after I had been to the Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern, when they featured beers from Italy that hadn't previously been seen in the UK. A Saison brewed with Australian Summer and Stella hops, with an enormous hit of apricot ably supported by a myriad of other stone fruits in a spicy saison wrapper. It's a stunning beer and  I'd love to have it again.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer 2013
There can only be one winner in this category for me in this category seeing as I think it's the nearest to a perfect beer for me as I can get. I was fortunate enough to have this beer on many occasions in 2013 and I wish I had a fridge full as I'd use it to toast every significant occasion in my life come. Who needs Champagne when you can have:
Mikkeller - Nelson Sauvignon 9%
There have been many other overseas bottled beers that have stood out for me this year and special mentions in this category have to go to:
De Dochter van de Korenaar - Extase 8.5% a bold blend of Belgian and US styles in a DIPA, and:
Dieu du Ciel - Peche Mortel 9.5% from Canada which I only had for the first time a couple of weeks ago but was such an amazing complex swirling vortex of tastes, flavours and sensations it would easily have made the number one spot here had it not been for the Mikkeller.
I also have to add Duvel - Tripel Hop (Sorachi Ace) as well. What an absolute cracker.

Best Collaboration Beer 2013
A popular choice on many Golden Pints this year and for very good reason, it's an absolutely stunning beer. Having had this on bottle and keg over the summer I have tried since to get some bottles without success. I wish I'd bought a case of the stuff. This beer is of course:
Wild Beer/Burning Sky/Good George - Schnoodlepip 6.5%
If you had it, and I certainly hope you did, then you'll know why.

Best Overall Beer 2013
If you're with me so far then you'll probably be assume that Mikkeller walks away with the title here, and it probably should really, but I wanted to go for a beer that was first produced in 2013 for this award so my winner here is, as above:
Wild Beer/Burning Sky/Good George - Schnoodlepip 6.5%
The keg version I only had the once, and that was at the Three Tuns in Bristol at the start of the CAMRGB Twissup at the end of August, and having such a fantastic beer in great company really made it special for me. A well deserved winner.

Best Branding/Pump Clip or Label 2013
An easy one for me, it's this beauty by artist Peter Beatty:
It's from an Imperial Black IPA that Honest Brew did for their Triple Hop event in collaboration with Column Arts Agency and Test Space that I attended this year. The beer was exceptional, I'm a sucker for a black IPA and this was very good indeed. I was also particularly taken with the artwork on the label, magpies are my favourite bird and I particularly liked the late Victorian/Edwardian feel of the whole thing. So much so that I actually own a limited edition print of it.

Best UK Brewery 2013
I'm going to have to go with:
The Kernel
They have consistently produced beers that I want to drink again and again and 2013 was no exception. Their hop combinations and consistent quality mean that I have thoroughly deserved their output, and I hope to do so for many years to come. The fact that they produced Double Citra helped a lot too.
Honourable mentions to Magic Rock and Beavertown. I think your beers are fab as well.

Best Overseas Brewery 2013
The winner here is:
Birrificio Toccalmatto from Italy
I have a great love for Italian beer, and the output from this brewery has been consistently astonishing. I absolutely love it.

Best New Brewery 2013
There is one brewery that I have spoken to, seen in action and drunk a few beers with this year that have amazed me with their output, enthusiasm and friendliness in 2013 and I'm sure are destined for great things in the year ahead, and that brewery is:
Honest Brew
If you haven't tried their beer then I urge you to seek it out. You won't be disappointed.
Honourable mentions to Belleville and Brixton here. Great people brewing great beer.

Pub/Bar Of The Year 2013
For me it has to be my local:
The Olde Dog in Herongate, Essex has been a real home from home for me and my family for many many years. Good cask beer kept in great condition and where Crouch Vale - Brewers Gold is always available.
If I had to chose the pub that I have consistently travelled more than forty minutes to again and again this year for the friendliness and quality of beer available the my vote would go to The Cock Tavern in Hackney. Whenever I go there I instantly relax and am made to feel like part of the furniture, and I can't really ask for more than that.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
My winner her is:
The Pelt Trader under Cannon Street station in London.
It's not my favourite bar but the beer is good and the staff are friendly. It's also the only place I could think of that fitted this category.

Beer Festival 2013
No surprises here, and also no question in my mind. The winner is:
The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia
I had a wonderful day with some of my best friends personally and with many of my favourite beery people, many of which have become firm friends over the last year or so, united in a whole day of drinking and discussing beer. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Supermarket Of The Year 2013
I going for the supermarket that is a few minutes walk from where I work and one that I can pick up bottles of Thornbridge or Sierra Nevada as well as numerous others should I want a fantastic beer in a hurry. For me it's a no-brainer, and my winner here has to be:

Independent Retailer Of The Year 2013
I've had to go for joint winners here, one locally (within a few miles) and one a little further afield.
My local winner is Cellars Off Licence, specifically the one on Western Road in Billericay. I have been able to pick up some right little crackers there over the years, and there's always something new or surprising there that catches my eye every time I go there.
It shares the title with Utobeer in Borough Market. I simply love it's quality and depth of choice, and that's why I go there a lot.

Online Retailer Of The Year 2013
Again there's only one winner for me here and that is:
Ales By Mail
Local, hospitable and they have become real friends over the last six months or so and I'll often pop into them for a chat on my lunch break or after work. The beer selection is great and now that they have a shop front as well they could equally have featured in the above category too.

Best Beer Book 2013
I'm a big reader of beer books both ancient and modern and have read a good many of this years releases, most of which I have thoroughly enjoyed however there was one book that ticked all the right boxes for me this year and that was:
Boutique Beer: 500 Of The World's Finest Craft Brews by Ben McFarland
As I mentioned in my #beerylongreads Favourite Beer Books post it's both accessible and interesting and my only gripe with it is that it's A4 size makes it a little unwieldy to read in bed or on the move., however I thoroughly recommend it.

Best Beer Blog or Website 2013
Whereas I read beer blogs extensively there I very few that I can say that I read consistently, hand on heart, however two that I do are:
Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog
Martyn Cornell's Zythophile
I've also enjoy quite a few on a regular basis, not least among them are:
Matt Curtis's Total Ales, Phil Hardy's Beersay and for sheer output and interesting reviews Simon Williams's CAMRGB Blog to which I contributed a guest article this year.
You could do a lot worse that follow any or all of these.

Best Beer App
An easy winner here, and one without which compiling these awards would have been considerably harder. The award therefore goes to:
I'm a nosey chap and I like to see what everyone else is drinking and where they're drinking it, and seeing as most folk I follow are on it then it suits me rather well.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer 2013
My winner here is someone who tweets almost constantly with knowledge and interest, someone who replies to everything and has a view on it too, who wears his heart on his sleeve, is honest and always says what he thinks, and always makes me laugh. I'm also pleased to count him as a friend, and that person is, the one and only:
@NateDawg27 Mr Nathaniel Southwood himself.
Well done Nate, keep doing what you do as many many of us love it. Cheers fella!

Best Brewery Website/Social Media 2013
Strangely I'm not one to pay much attention to the bells and whistles of brewery websites. I generally call them up, get in there, get what I want and get out, however there is one website that I remember visiting that I was impressed by so my winner for this award for 2013 is:
Moncada Brewery
If you want to see it for yourself then you can do so here. I rather like it.

Best Podcast 2013
There is a podcast that I've enjoyed this year, particularly as I've seen the participants grow in their beer knowledge and appreciation, become friends and feature a great many of people I know well on their show, so my winner here is, of course:
The Beer O'Clock Show
It's well worth a listen if you haven't already done so, and you might want to consider sponsoring Steve as he 'goes dry' for January in aid of Cancer Research. All he's asking for is the cost of a pint.
There are two runners-up in this category that I urge you to seek out and listen to.
First of all from the UK: Beer Talkers and from the US: Craft Beer Radio
If you haven't listened to a beer podcast before then you won't go far wrong here, and the beauty of all of these three is that it doesn't matter which episode you listen to, pick one and enjoy.

Food And Beer Pairing of the Year 2013
And so you breathe a sigh of relief as I have come to the last category, and this one has no contenders, it's an easy choice.
In the summer we all went off to Bruges as a family, and on our first night searching for somewhere to eat we stumbled across De Bierbistro in an underground cellar, not too far from the main square. I opted for a prawn and vegetable pizza, and what a pizza it was. The dough was made with Orval, the tomato sauce was made with Chimay Red and the prawns were sautéed in La Chouffe, with a glass of La Chouffe to accompany it, well it was just about as perfect as it gets. In fact, it was so good I had it all over again on our last night.

So that's it from me for 2013, I hope you've had a wonderful year and I wish you an even more wonderful prosperous, happy, healthy and very beery 2014. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It's Christmas! A Selection Of Christmas Beer For The Festive Season ...

It's Christmas!
A Selection Of Christmas Beer For The Festive Season ...

Christmas time is here again!
I love Christmas, but sometimes it throws you a festive curve ball that you have to deal with.
I've had a few this past week, culminating with the complete loss of notes on 15 festive beers. Oh well, time to crack on.
Christmas is a season that certainly divides people. There are those that plan  their seasonal activities well in advance with a military precision that enables them to tell you that they've finished all their Christmas shopping, and that it's all wrapped, at the beginning on November.
Then there are the rest of us.
It's a medically proven fact (probably) that one or two beers enhances your mental creativity, enabling you to tune in to your Yuletide psyche and get into the Christmas groove, coming up with superb and imaginative presents and ideas that will impress your family and friends.
That's the theory anyway.
To enable you to achieve this, both myself and Matt Curtis have come up with a few suggestions to help you plan your drinking. Incidentally Matt's post is his 100th (congratulations Matt) and his I Don't Like Christmas Beer should help you do just that. Probably.
So, without further ado here are my selections but with notes drawn from memory this time (them's the breaks) but I hope to give you an idea of their flavour, with my thoughts on food pairing and some general musings as well.

First up is BrewDog - Santa Paws 4.5% not to be confused with the Wolf Brewery beer of the same name. This festive Porter pours a deep rich brown with a ruby red edge and a thin beige head. The aroma is big with milk chocolate and coconut, coffee and burnt toast. Tickling the tip of the tongue it unleashes a wave of roasty toasty flavours that I would expect from a Porter but it has more carbonation and is thinner than I would typically expect from that style. It's very full-flavoured, there's even a hint of rum-soaked raisin in there too, with some burnt toast and bourbon biscuit flavours lasting long into the finish. It's very good indeed. Pair this with a good quality mince pie or a good slice of chocolate Yule log. It works extremely well with both.

Wentworth Brewery - Snowman's Revenge 4.1% is one that I picked up on my travels recently. An independent brewery based in Rotherham, they have quite a portfolio of beers of which I'm sure many are very good, it's just that I found this to be a very standard beer sporting a Christmas label. It pours a chestnut brown with some ruby edging and a thin beige head. The aroma has snatches of chocolate and a light fruitiness with some burnt sugar. Disappointingly that's almost all there is to it with the flavours mirroring the aroma without much elaboration. The finish is weak as well, but having written all that it's not a terrible beer, just that it doesn't really have anything remotely Christmassy about it. This needs some stronger flavours to compliment it, with Christmas pudding or Christmas cake being obvious contenders, you might want to opt for cheese straws and candied nuts as an option too.

Shepherd Neame - Christmas Ale 7.0% is a beer that I was fortunate enough to be sent directly, and it's a beer that I particularly enjoyed. Pouring a deep rich amber and a fluffy pillow of an off-white head it has a sweet aroma filled with boozy raisin and Demerara sugar. Smooth over the tongue like a fine Amontillado, there are some sherry notes in the flavour that merge and combine with date and raisin and a brown sugar caramel sweetness that lasts long into the finish. Another beer to combine with Christmas cake, particularly if it has that crunchy icing and marzipan with it. I know that I was sent this beer but it's one that I would happily drink again and again during the Christmas period. If you don't want to take my word for it then you can read the views of Three Wise (?) Men here.

The second BrewDog beer of this review is a reprise of last years Christmas IPA Hoppy Christmas 7.2% and it's a very fine beer indeed, currently my favourite beer of that style at the moment which was a very pleasant surprise to me. Pouring a pale amber with an orange inner fire and a head as pure and white as the driven snow, the aroma buzzes with tropical fruits and a pine background that gets the taste buds tingling. Prickling the tongue with a good carbonation it explodes with passion fruit and papaya with some good bitterness. There's some pine here too, but it's not overpowering and I got a lovely burst of tangerine juiciness that was very welcome. The finish is lasting and a little oily with lots more of that tangerine flavour drying nicely at the end. It's simply a wonderful beer, and one I anticipate I'll be drinking a lot more of this Christmastime, and indeed I've already had another bottle and drunk it on keg at BrewDog in Camden since I wrote my initial review. Pair with oily fish or strong cheese for a real festive treat.

Weird Beard - Hit The Fairy Lights 4.6% describes itself as a Festive Pale Ale using fresh orange juice and a twist of spice to bring out some seasonal charm. I'm a big fan of Weird Beard beers as you'll have gathered if you're a regular reader of my blog, and one I could have easily used for my Beers Of London Series but it sits rather well here. It pours a cloudy orange/yellow with little clumps of yeast held perfectly in suspension, it's head is a bright glowing white making it a very inviting beer indeed. The aroma has some nice fruity flavours with peach and orange being the most easily recognisable but there's an undercurrent of stale fruit peelings at the back which is actually not that unappealing, if you'll excuse the pun. It's quite sharp over the tongue, but fills the mouth with more of those lovely orange and peach flavours that I picked out in the aroma with the merest hint of spiciness that is more akin to some crushed coriander seed than the star anise it is said to contain. The finish is dry and a little powdery with the orange lingering a while and as bottle says it is best enjoyed with roast turkey and all the trimmings, and it will certainly be accompanying my Christmas dinner.coming

All of Stroud Brewery's bottled beers are certified organic and vegan friendly too, with Ding Dong 4.5% being their bottle-conditioned festive Porter. It helpfully has the 'Cyclops' system of See, Smell, Taste, Bitter and Sweet on the side of it's label which has nudged my memory and taste buds enough to recall this beer almost perfectly. Pouring a dark brown with some ruby red highlights a thin beige head it has the unmistakable aroma of flat coca cola. It's one that I remember well from visiting my grandparents at this time of year, when a screw-top bottle of coke would be produced from the cupboard and poured into some exquisite diamond cut lead crystal tumblers only it was from the same bottle that had come out our last visit some two weeks before and probably two weeks before that as well. It's surprisingly rough over the tongue but when the kola nut flavour kicks in it has all become a little thin with some cinnamon and nutmeg coming through with a little white pepper. The finish disappears with the ghost of those flavours hanging around and it's a beer that I'd happily pair with any of those rich chocolatey delights that happen to find their way into the house at this time of year.

The first of my Belgian beers is Brasserie du Bocq - Gauloise Christmas 8.1% Gauloise, of which this is the 'winter version' was the first beer brewed at the brewery back in 1858, with its name being inspired by the many Gallo-Roman sites in the Ardennes region of Belgium, which is where it is situated. It pours a wonderful ruby red colour with its billowing beige head filling the glass and requiring further pourings. The aroma is a nice combination of toffee apple, maple syrup and figs and it positively sings as you drink it, maybe being a little sweet. There's a little creaminess here and then the fruits, plums, dates, raisins and figs all kick in and combine with a burnt sugar caramel. The finish is full of these flavours too which fade rather nicely making this a very pleasing beer at this time of year and certainly one you'd want to be drinking in front of the fire after a trek through the snow.

Wold Top - Shepherd's Watch 6.0% is a beer that I can cheat a bit as with as it was actually the Beer Bods beer of the evening for 12/12/2013 and I've been able to draw on my online tasting notes to help me along. It pours the colour of a ruby red port with a gentle off-white head and a dominant espresso aroma but there's hints of dark chocolate and Christmas spice lurking behind. It has a deliciously full mouthfeel with flavours of coffee, milk chocolate, raisin coupled with some faint nutmeg and cinnamon spiciness coming through nicely. The finish falls away a little too quickly for my liking with kola nut and Kahlua floater coffee hanging around before dissipating into the ether like the Ghost Of Christmas Past. Perfectly paired with a warm mince pie as long as you add a big dollop of double cream on top.

Christmas beers are often notoriously boozy and Ridgeway Brewing - Insanely Bad Elf 11.2% is a big bad barley wine which is not trying to be subtle in any way shape or form, just look at the label. Ridgeway have a whole series of 'Elf' beers that they release each Christmas and this 2013 version is the biggest alcohol-wise. Ideally I'd age a bottle like this to round off the sharp edges which are evident in the drinking but for the purposes of this blog I'll forego that luxury, and save myself a space for something else in my beer cellar. It pours a bright shiny liquid gold with quite a large and amazingly sustained snow white head for such a big abv beer. The dominant aroma is grassy and is akin to that which you get from biting into a fresh green apple, with a little honey sweetness and a light sherry note in the background. Smooth and oily with the faintest caress of carbonation as it passes over the tongue before some boozy apple strudel, pastry and all kicks in. There's honey and raisin in there too and it's all steeped in a little far too much sherry with a lots of sweetness. I've got quite a sweet tooth and I would be enjoying this more if were all a bit more but it's rather in-your-face and is a beer that pulls no punches. The finish is where the booziness really takes hold with perhaps a slight whisky peatiness but that apple flavour still lingers. This is great on it's own and makes a superb night-cap of a beer, that's what I used it for after a long day but if you really wanted to indulge yourself than a single square of the darkest bitterest chocolate you have is sublime with it.

The Orkney Brewery - Clootie Dumpling 4.3% is a beer based, I'm assuming, on the traditional Scottish pudding of the same name, made with flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, suet, sugar and spice, with the 'clootie' being the strip of cloth used to bind the mixture while it's simmering. Orkney Brewery is based in a former school house in the wonderfully named Quoyloo, where the owners father actually went to school. It is owned by Sinclair Breweries Limited who also own Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven. I've never had a clootie dumpling as far as I'm aware but from the description I'm expecting something that's a cross between a Christmas and bread pudding, but the only way to find out is to open the bottle. It pours a tawny colour with a thick beige head and the aroma of burnt sugar, raisin and a little freshly baked brown bread. Rougher over the tongue than I was expecting and drier too, there is more of the that raisin, caramel and bread in the taste with a touch of nutmeg grated over it and a subtle clove note, but it's all a bit thin and wishy-washy when really I was hoping something a bit more definite. The finish is thin as well but this is where it is at its most 'cakey' and I'm sure with a good helping of Christmas pudding this would fit the bill nicely.

Christmas puns abound in the names of Christmas beers and Bristletoe 5.5% by Bristol Beer Factory combines the way that the locals pronounce the name of their home town with the traditional decorative plant commonly used as a decoration this time of year. It pours a beautiful hazelnut brown with some ruby red highlights and big beige head, and hardly any aroma to speak of, perhaps some raisin and cherry but it's quite faint. Some nice carbonation over the tongue gives way to more cherry and raisin, far more pronounced this time and with plum and blackcurrant for good measure too a background spiciness of white pepper and cinnamon dances just out of my reach but it's presence (or should that be presents) is felt nonetheless. The finish is a bit of a disappointment after the tasty playful flavours felt when drinking with only the ghost of a sticky cherry cough sweet hanging around for a while. Due to the sweet flavours this beer would work rather well alongside your festive cheeseboard. Best drink a few bottles to get the cumulative effect.

Time for a beer from my home county of Essex and Maldon Brewery Company (Farmer's Ales) - Wassale 3.9% brewed just behind the Blue Boar Hotel in Maldon, fits the bill nicely. Wassail, or 'Waes Haele' meaning 'be you healthy' was traditionally a drink made with mulled cider drunk, supposedly, to encourage the apple trees to wake up in winter and drive out evil spirits, thus promoting a favourable harvest in the coming year. There is a variety called Lambs Wool made with beer and containing baked apple, sugar and spices and it will be interesting to see if this beer is anything like that. Pouring a deep ruby red with a deliciously creamy looking beige head the aroma has some musty beady yeastiness and a little milk chocolate and nutmeg. A smooth and gentle carbonation tickles the tongue leading to some coffee and chocolate notes wrapped up in a little fruity caramel with dates and figs rolling around the mouth too. It's all a bit thin but not unpleasant with the finish dry and drawn out with the fruitiness and chocolate lingering faintly. You could drink this with a little chocolate if you were feeling safe but I plumped for twiglets and matchmakers and it went very well indeed with both.

Compass Brewery - Tannenbaum 6.0% is a Christmas beer that excites me just by looking at the bottle. Brewed with sour malt from Germany and flavoured with spruce needles from Christmas Common (an inspired choice) in Oxfordshire, this beer pours a rich chestnut brown with some deep red highlights and big voluminous head that requires a slow pour to fill the glass. I can't say that I've had spruce in a beer before, but I do know that you can make a beer with it and it is most definitely not the same as pine. It has the most wonderful aroma of carnation milk and vanilla custard that is simply divine and I can't wait to taste it. Gently and deliciously creamy over the tongue this has the most wonderful flavour that of a slightly lactose vanilla custard swirled with a little chocolate pudding and lightly spiced with a faint dusting of nutmeg, it's simply stunning and unlike any beer I've had before. the finish is creamy with a sweetness like good white chocolate, though not the overly sweet kind and I couldn't resist plucking a few milk chocolate ornaments from the tree in the hall to eat alongside, which I have to say were an absolute treat. A properly good winter/Christmas beer and one to most definitely look out for.

My second beer by Ridgeway Brewing is Lump Of Coal 8.0% which is primarily brewed for export, mainly to the USA, but available in sufficient quantities in this country to be able to find some this time of year. I rather like how it's described on the label: 'Dark Holiday Stout', 'Much More Than You Deserve For Xmas This Year ...' and 'liquid consolation' and certainly ticks all the boxes in that area but as with any beer it has to be opened before it reveals its true worth. It pours a dark dark brown, very much the colour of the lump of coal it is named after, with the thinnest of off-white bubbles adorning its rim. The aroma has plenty of milk chocolate, though not the high quality variety, as well as some espresso coffee, a hit of liquorice and a smell reminiscent of syrup of figs lurking at the back, whistling and trying to look inconspicuous. Bitter over the tongue, and low on carbonation the espresso coffee pushes along more of the milk chocolate flavour but it's slowed down by some molasses and date flavours but it's not a thick unctuous stout, just a tad thin. The finish is sweet with milk chocolate and more coffee, a little oily too, and this is certainly a beer that releases its flavours more fully as it reaches room temperature. Best served with a big slice of fruit cake in front of a roaring fire.

Last but most certainly not least in my festive selection selection, and the second Belgian beer to feature here, is that Christmas crowd pleaser Brasserie D'Achouffe - N'Ice Chouffe 10% Pouring a deep plum red with a big beige head this has a wondrous aroma of cherries and plums coupled with some spicy bready Belgian yeastiness and a hint of clove. It has a good body and a lovely tickle of carbonation releasing more fruity raspberry, fig and cherry with a spikey stab of thyme that works supremely well with it. The caramel flavour has a little sweet fudginess and maybe some liquorice and nutmeg but this is all swept away rather quickly leading to an elegant finish with a little spicy pear and more thyme ensuring that this beer is beautiful enough to drink purely on it own. Why spoil it.

So there you have it. Fifteen festive beers to get your Yuletide juices flowing. I've plenty more Christmas beery treats to get through this year, but part of the fun is in finding a beer and trying it for yourself. I picked mine up from the Ales By Mail and Brentwood Brewing shops in Billericay where I work, as well as S H Jones in Bicester, Shenfield Wines in Shenfield and UtoBeer in London's Borough Market, with the one exception being the Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale which was sent to me as I mentioned.
My memory has served me rather well I think and I'm rather happy that I've remembered the essence of all these beers faithfully, if not their exact nuances. I hope you've enjoyed reading it.
I may well publish a follow up to this at some point as there are other goodies that I have tucked away but that very much depends on how much time I have.

All that remains for me to do is wish you a very merry Christmas drinking some fine beer, always remembering of course that quality is infinitely superior to quantity.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Beers Of London Series: 63. Brixton Brewery - Effra Ale 4.5%

Beers Of London Series
63. Brixton Brewery - Effra Ale 4.5%

This is the third of the beers I was sent by Brixton Brewery to review after Electric IPA and Reliance Pale Ale and as I've covered their story thus far in some detail in my other two posts I'll keep this brief and focus on the beer itself. I had heard of other bottles of this batch pouring flat, hence the slight delay in reviewing but I'm pleased to say that this was not the case with mine when I opened in up. I will mention however that the beer is named after the river runs under Brixton via the sewerage system when this was built in the mid-nineteenth century following the design of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and it enters the Thames at an overflow outlet near Vauxhall Bridge.

Effra Ale is an American Amber Ale described as fresh and feisty on the label. It pours a chestnut brown with a touch of russet red and a thin beige head with the fresh mango peel aroma with a little freshly baked wholemeal bread in the mix, it's a touch earthy too and has a little twist of citrus in there as well to round it off nicely. A prickly carbonation rough up the tongue, giving way to an unexpected cherry drop flavour dissolving into a smooth apple caramel that fades into a rather tasty orangey fudge finish.
This is the sort of beer that I really want to drink at least three of in a row as I could see those gorgeous sticky fruity flavours building and becoming more accessible the more you drink, filling the mouth wonderfully. All three of the beers that I've drunk from Brixton so far have been very good indeed and I'm looking forward to see what they will produce now that their core range is established, and if you're ever Brixton way I urge you to pick up a bottle of each if you can.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

My Favourite Beer Books ... #beerylongreads

My Favourite Beer Books ...

A seasonally self indulgent guide for the literary minded

I love books, I always have. Reading is something that I've always enjoyed and was a big part of my up-bringing, whether it be the Shoot! and Victor annuals (and comics - do you remember 'Tough Of The Track' and 'Morgyn The Mighty'?) via Commando books (possible unhealthy war theme appearing there!) to the Target series of Dr Who books, I read and read and read. Granted it wasn't the highest level of literature but it was the 1970s and I hadn't reached double figures age-wise.
I also collected.
I have a rather completist mentality, an almost obsessive trait which leads me to try and obtain all of the particular thing that has become the focus of my single-minded pursuit at that time.
To be honest I haven't really grown up but I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that there have to be limits.
Beer has been an passion of mine, and I'm guessing yours as well, for as long as I have been old enough to be served in pubs. Now I could reminisce for a while about Courage light and bitter, pints of Flowers and Ruddles County and trips out to the Olde Dog Inn from my then home in Barking to drink Mauldons wonderful Black Adder and Suffolk Punch beers, but I won't because this isn't what this post is about. As an aside though, I have realised a dream and now live within walking distance of the Olde Dog and even though the Mauldons range is no longer a constant fixture, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold is. No. This longer than usual post is for me to share my passion for books about beer.
I have been asked by a few folk to provide recommendations for beery reads so, as part of Boak And Baileys Long Reads I thought I'd share these on my blog so that you, should you be so inclined, might think about getting for yourself or for a friend or partner who might want a book (or books) for the festive season. Look, I 've even put the title up in Christmassy colours!
I've tried to (loosely) clump titles together in sections that will I hope become apparent as you read through, and this is by no means a definitive list but rather a list of books that I have particularly enjoyed. I am aware that some of what I have written may not properly be classed strictly as reviews but more accurately you could call them rememberings as did not have the time to re-read every page of every book, but I have tried to give you a little of their flavour and perhaps you will pick up on some of the emotions I have when reading a book I enjoy. I make no apologies if you don't agree with my recommendations but I would urge you to pick one or two at least to read if they take your fancy.

First up, and a book incidentally that I have re-read recently is The Death Of The English Pub by Christopher Hutt for a number of reasons. First published on the 5th November 1973 this book is almost exactly forty years old, but to read it you wouldn't think so. Sadly much of the issues mentioned within its pages are just as relevant to lovers of beer and pubs in 2013 as they were then. If you substitute the then 'Big Six' (Allied, Bass Charrington, Courage, Scottish and Newcastle, Watneys, and Whitbread) with the Pub Companies of the present day, which some of them became, then you'll see we haven't really come very far in some respects. This is a book of its time for sure, some of the images are a real delight, a real window onto the pub culture that I have brief remembrance of from my youngest years, but it's also a seminal work, one which galvanised activists and provided a point of reference for the fledgling Campaign For Real Ale. In fact Christopher Hutt, then a young journalist, went on to become Chairman of CAMRA when he succeeded founder Michael Hardman, and this book very much reflects the mood which caused the campaign to be founded in the first place. I highly recommend this book, it is clear and very easy to read, you won't regret it.

Inns, Ales And Drinking Customs Of Old England by Frederick W. Hackwood  is not actually the most spectacular, insightful, or in-depth book on the subject however it is rather well written and rather easy to read. It's not a thin volume either comprising of some 392 pages and 34 very manageable chapters, it is nonetheless very comprehensive covering the birth of the earliest inns and taverns through to the birth coffee houses and tea rooms (remember beer isn't the only drink) with some lovely quotes and literary references. It is the illustrations that make this book an absolute joy however. I could quote some specific passages, practically every page has something that I could reasonably use, and even though it's been a while since I've read it I still smile as I hold it in my hand and can't resist a little look through, just for old times sake. It's simply a romp through roughly 800 years of English drinking and if that's your thing, and you quite like the idea of working your way through this rather hefty tome then you can pick it up relatively cheaply online, making it a rather safe bet in my view.

The Bedside Book Of Beer by Barrie Pepper is exactly as it sounds, a book to relax with before you turn out the light (accompanying drink optional). It is basically a compendium of beer related stories, rhymes, literary quotes, songs and cartoons both factual and fictional presented in easily digestible segments which are perfect for dipping in and out of as the mood takes you. Published in 1990 by Alma Books, CAMRA's first publishing company and not to be confused with this years 'Independent Publisher Of The Year', this was one of the first books on beer that I remember buying on release and as such holds a special place in my heart, but beyond the nostalgia it contains both wit and gravitas in equal measure. Barrie Pepper, Chairman of The British Guild Of Beer Writers from 1991 to 1998, pulls together passages from William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas as well as including some writings by more established by such beer luminaries as Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, and while the limericks section is a little puerile that really is the only criticism of this book that I have. I can't really say fairer than that.

The contribution of the United States to modern brewing is undeniable and I have put the next three books together as even though they end up at roughly the same point in US brewing, that being the 'Craft Beer Revolution' and particularly how it came to be, they arrive there via very different but nonetheless very interesting routes.
Ambitious Brew: The Story Of American Beer by Maureen Ogle is essentially a history book, but rather than taking its starting point at the earliest attempts at brewing by the first colonists, it instead begins with the later arrival of the first Europeans and particularly those from Germany and how the introduction of lager changed the drinking habits of a nation and, it could reasonable be argued, the world. It truly is, as the back of the book proudly says 'a tale of gamblers and entrepreneurial visionaries, of ambition and passion', written in a captivating style that manages to maintain your interest throughout. Unsurprisingly much of the story is centred around Anheuser Busch however there are enough surprises and twists and turns along the way to keep even the most ardent anti-Budweiser drinker engaged to the very end.
The Birth Of The Craft Beer Revolution by Ben Novak  is a book that is almost perfect in it's naivety in places but this is by no means a criticism as the passion and enthusiasm that the author exhibits for the then emerging 'craft beer' scene and the momentum is was gathering is so apparent it is infectious. It is a collection of articles that Ben Novak wrote for his column on beer for the Centre Daily Times newspaper in central Pennsylvania between September 1984 and May 1987, the first regular column on beer anywhere in the United States and it just so happened to coincide with the what could be said to be the birth of modern beer. It would be easy to pour scorn on some of the articles with the benefit of hindsight and it would have been easy to have omitted some of them for that reason, however that would have missed the point, and the rumblings that were going on prior to the explosion of American brewing can be experienced throughout. Read this with an open an accepting mind and you will get a glimpse of the anticipation and excitement of those early days.
The Audacity Of Hops: The History Of America's Craft Beer Revolution by Tom Acitelli  deals with brewing in the USA with a starting point considerably later, beginning as it does with Fritz Maytag's acquisition of the failing Anchor Brewery is San Francisco in 1965. Exactly as the title suggests, it charts the rise of 'Craft Beer' using a pastiche of short articles gathered together in roughly chronological order using quotes and stories from and about the people who were involved at the time whether directly or indirectly. What started as the realisation of a dream, a struggle and determination to do something different, to produce something better than that was available by different groups of people or individuals in different places at different times can be seen in this book to grow and blossom into a real movement which we can now reap the benefits of. It does get a little bogged down with covering similar stories and  little too much detail just past the middle of the book but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with a much clearer understanding of the current surge in American beer and how that is being reflected in the UK right now.

Staying with American beer, Brewed Awakening by Joshua M. Bernstein states on it's cover that it goes 'behind the beers and brewers leading the world's craft brewing revolution' but it is so much more than that. It's a bit of a 'journey' book insofar as it follows a young mans exploration and total immersion into the world of great beer. It is the style of this book, not just in the way it is presented but also the way that it took me along with the author and made me genuinely excited about the beers it introduces, that make it for me the pick of this list of favourites. It is so achingly good that it almost hurts and the beers that it features, surprisingly many of which are now available in the UK, are the very best of their kind. You could argue that it's a bit too trendy-looking for its own good, and it certainly is very modern in its approach but if you think that there's not much more to American beer than Budweiser and Coors you are most certainly in for a very pleasant surprise, and if you are already passionate about beers from across the pond then this could well be your perfect read.

Another book that one that is very much up their with my 'highly recommended' in this list is Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown. I'm sure many of you will have read this book already, and if you haven't will probably have at least one of Pete Brown's books on your shelf at home, but for me this is his best by some way. Centred around the George Inn close to Borough Market on the south side of London Bridge, Shakespeare's Local is feast of beer and pub related history that happened around the area throughout the six centuries of this pubs documented existence. Southwark is an area of London that I particularly love and somewhere that my family enjoy going to as well as a place where I can bump into many of the friends that I have made in the eighteen months or so since I started writing about beer, so it resonates very strongly with me. The fact that you can visit what is left of this pub today, walk the streets and visit or imagine many of the places mentioned within its pages make it a must-read for anyone with an interest in history or London itself. I have to confess that I couldn't put this book down when I read it, it totally absorbed me, and I can give it know higher praise than that.

Looking For The Moon Under Water: The Search For The Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner takes its title from George Orwell's 1946 essay in the Evening Standard concerning his (fictional) perfect pub and is the story of two men trying to discover if such a place exists or even if it ever really existed in the first place. This book could so easily have deteriorated into a 'road-trip of disappointment' and there are some places that they visit that will make your heart sink, however it is written in such a way that the authors take you along with them and there is much with and clarity within the pages to make you smile and think. It takes you on a journey, albeit a brief one, around Britain and the culture of pubs and drinking drawing in some diverse elements along the way as well as meeting brewers, politicians publicans, singers and writers who help the narrative along. It is a rather pleasing read all told, and almost the complete opposite to the other book that I've chosen in my 'journey' category Beer, There And Everywhere by Peter Hill.  This book starts with a challenge, to drink in every one of Banks's pub and evolves through, it has to be said, a series of drunken escapades into a continuing twenty-six year pub crawl quest to drink in every single pub in Britain. It really is a most enjoyable romp, even if it is a little crass in places, and it is the sincerity and sheer sense of fun, adventure and warmth that shines throughout this book which means that you can't help but smile as you read it.
I've started a new paragraph here as even though Around Bruges In 80 Beers by Chris Pollard and Siobhan McGinn  isn't technically a 'journey' book it is the book that I used extensively when I visited Bruges in the summer (I did warn you that this was a self-indulgent list) and therefore becomes a 'journey' book for me by default. Bruges is of course a destination that is high on any beer lovers list of places to visit and the Third Edition published this year was a terrific help in enabling me to locate some of the newer places that have opened since my previous visit. The format is clear and concise but still managing to maintain a sense of fun in every entry, each featuring a different beer and I will be eternally grateful to it for directing me to Bierboom on Langestraat with its decidedly different selection of Belgian beers from small producers. There are currently '80 Beers' guides to Brussels (which I also found useful this year), Amsterdam, London, and Berlin so if you're thinking of visiting any of those cities then you could do a lot worse than taking one along with you.

I have to give a mention to Great Yorkshire Beer by Leigh Linley as it's a pure celebration of some of the best beer that my favourite (extended) county, obviously excluding Essex, produces. It's very easy on the eye and succinct in its writing as it takes you from the Dales to Sheffield via Leeds and ending up in the North Yorkshire Wolds at the appropriately named Wold Top Brewery featuring producers of some of the finest producers of beer in 'God's Own County' along the way. Featured throughout and having their own section at the end of the book are some of Leigh's tried and tested recipes that either contain beer or compliment/contrast the beer pairings from the breweries it is about. In fact there is so much to love about this book that it is hard to believe that it is all contained within such a relatively small volume. It really is a sheer delight.

Beer is Best: A History Of Beer by John Watney and Trumans The Brewers 1666-1966 are two very different books but are united in that they both hark back to a bygone era when brewing in the UK was ambitious and grand, providing sustenance to the thinkers, planners and toilers of the Industrial Revolution. Beers Is Best paints its picture with a broad brush, encompassing as its title suggests a wide history of beer, splitting it into three sections - Down The Ancestral Throat, Social Graces, and The Money Game - all of which are surprisingly thoughtful and quite insightful in places. It's an unexpected pleasure. Trumans The Brewers is rather narrower in its celebration of beer and is a little pompous in places but that only adds to its charm. The pictures and illustrations in this slim volume are a real treasure trove of images from a past era, and one of the main reasons I've included it here is that its recent rebirth has carried its history on into the Twenty-First Century so that perhaps there will be an edition produced to celebrate its 400th anniversary. Let's hope so.

Even though I have many of them, and you could even describe Brew Awakening as one of them, I'm not the greatest fan of the 'six-million-beers-to-drink-down-the-years' 'how-jealous-are-you-of-the-great-places-I've-been-and-awesome-beers-I've-drunk' list books but there are a few out there that at enjoy. Melissa Cole's - Let Me Tell You About Beer was the first one that I actually read all the way through from cover to cover, and very good it is too, but I decided that I could only choose two of them to be in this list and to be honest it wasn't that difficult when I'd set that criteria, and I deemed they had to be different enough to be worth acquiring both. First, and my favourite of this type is Boutique Beer: 500 Of The World's Finest Craft Brews by Ben McFarland. Ben was the youngest recipient of the acclaimed 'British Guild Of Beer Writers Beer Writer Of The Year' award in 2004 (as well as two other times since) and his writing can often be found in the national press as well as a range of beer and food magazines. You may think that a long and distinguished career in beer writing might cause a modicum of superiority to creep into his work but you couldn't be further from the truth. I found this book extremely accessible with the descriptions of the beers interspersed with interesting articles, brewers 'Top 5' beer lists and snippets of information about all things beery that make this a book that you'll want to dip into again and again. The pictures are particularly gorgeous and the nine sections (Quench, Lager, Hop, Grain, Classic, Curiosities, Sipper, Wild & Wood, and Cellar) are enough to spark any beer lovers inquisitive nature to make you want to delve deeper into them. There's something here for everyone, interesting brews to seek out and savour as well as some old favourites for you to re-examine and perhaps drink in a new light, this book is a true gem. Much more straight forward in its approach is All Belgian Beers compiled by Hilde Deweer. With this book you get exactly what it says on the cover, all Belgian beers (as of 2011 in the latest edition), and contains over 1100 of them arranged alphabetically by brewery in a very sensible fashion. This no-nonsense approach continues inside with no flowery brewery(or even blogger)speak descriptions of the beer just brief sentences under seven sections (Fermentation, Beer Style, Ingredients, Colour and Transparency, Character Taste and Flavour, How To Serve, and Tips and Facts) alongside a picture of the beer in its appropriate glassware and the bottle it comes in. It reminds me very much of those Taschen coffee-table books, 100 Chairs and the like, that I'm rather partial to and if you're familiar with those then you'll feel right at home with this. This book will offer something to even the most ardent Belgian Beerophile and I hope an even more up to date version is in the works as the Belgian beer scene is constantly expanding and evolving and really rather exciting. Op uw gezonheid.

I really need to pause and say a few words about The Oxford Companion To Beer edited by Garrett Oliver. This is a book that was simply crying out to be written (or rather compiled), a one-stop reference work on all things beer related and on the whole it succeeds wonderfully in this ambition. Much has been written about its faults and errors, but on balance these are minor and if you set them aside then this as near essential as beer books get. Sure, it's big and it's pricey but I have found it invaluable as a reference point when used alongside online and other literary research. I don't really need to say any more than that.

As I have previously mentioned I've rather indulged myself in this post, and possibly in no more section than this one. Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher and Beer & Cheese: 5oo Delicious Combinations by Vinken & Van Tricht may seem on the surface to be almost exactly the same book, and to a point you'd be right. However, when you discover that Janet Fletcher is a California resident who teaches cheese-appreciation classes across the US, and that Ben Vinken is a Belgian Beer Sommelier and Michel Van Tricht is a cheese master who owns what the Wall Street journal has described as 'the best cheese shop in Europe', then you may start to get an inkling of the differences in the two books and their approach. As a huge fan of both US and Belgian beers you may well work out why I'm having trouble choosing between them as well. There are some cross-overs here although they do err toward the Belgian side, but the mouth-watering descriptions and stunning photography make both of these books a wonderful addition to the collections of any beer or cheese lover, and particularly in the winter months when such an indulgence is almost mandatory.

We're on the home straight now so I'll highlight two books that have both bought me immense pleasure this year. Often when I look for books online I know roughly what to expect when I make my purchases, occasionally however a book arrives that greatly exceeds my expectations. These two books most definitely fall into that category. First of all I have chosen Unusual Railway Pubs Refreshment Rooms And Ale Trains by Bob Barton. This book takes you on a wonderful journey through the emergence of the railway and its close and on-going association with beer, breweries and pubs. I'm guessing that this book is aimed more toward the rail enthusiast with an interest in beer, and whereas I confess to having little interest in any kind of transport I was totally captivated by this book from start to finish. It is part history book, part travel guide, part directory and part beer related railway events calendar with plenty to sustain the reader in an area that I can't remember being covered before, and to be honest I can't really see it being bettered.
Geuze & Kriek: The Secret Of Lambic by Jeff Van den Steen is by far the most visually stunning of the all the books I've featured here. It is so full of detail and an absolute feast for the eye that I feel a tremendous sense of both calm and excitement every time I open it. As books go this is the most completely immersive of any book about a beer style that I have ever read. Starting with the history of Lambic beers such as it is know, and dealing in depth with the producers and blenders in separate sections this superb book is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

Finally, because the holiday season is upon us it wouldn't be write to not feature a beery Christmas book and Wishing You A Merry Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, And Most Unusual Holiday Brews by Don Russell more than admirably fits the bill. I mentioned my love for books and collecting right at the start of this piece, although I did neglect to state that in addition to my collection of a considerable amount of beer books I also have close to a hundred books related to Christmas too. This book is no mere stocking filler either but a rather satisfactory list of around a hundred Christmas brews that the author has collected and sampled. It's not all US beers either, there are a fair few from Europe and the UK too, as well as some interesting sections on beer-related Christmas customs, some recipes and even a piece about acquiring, collecting and storing them. It's a lovely book to have and I find that there hasn't been a Christmas since I first purchased it in 2009 that I haven't re-read it. In actual fact it's the book that I shall be reading this evening before I go to sleep.

So there you have it, a reasonable smattering of some of my favourite beer books. You may notice for instance that I haven't included any by such wonderful authors as Martyn Cornell, Michael Jackson or Roger Protz, all of whom I greatly admire and whose books I would not hesitate in a heartbeat, however a list such as this has to have limits, so I limited myself to my twenty-one desert island reads and a seasonal indulgence just for good measure.
You may well have your own views, comments or recommendations, all of which I'd be delighted to read and answer if you'd like to post here or contact me via twitter where I'm more commonly known as @1970sBoy.
Alternatively if anyone would like me to recommend a book or perhaps a reading list on any aspect of beer then I'd more than happy to oblige.

All that remains for me to do is wish you some very merry Christmas reading!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Home Brew Review - Still Thinking

Home Brew Review

Still Thinking
Monarch 5.5%
Still Thinking About That Hefeweizen 5.1%

If you've been following my Beers Of London Series of reviews you'll have noticed that most of those breweries were in fact by aspiring home brewers who decided to turn their passion into their job with some fantastic results. I featured Nelson Saison a beer by Weird Beard and Andy Parker, a seriously accomplished home brewer who is seriously considering taking the step into the world of brewing, and four beers from Crema Brewery two excellent home brewers from Streatham, so it's rather exciting to be sent two beers by Michael McGrorty from Stirling in Scotland who has only been brewing since February this year.

Michael (or @h_doody as he's known on twitter) admits to only 'getting into beer' properly after a trip to the Oktoberfest in Munich last year. He didn't actually go to drink, really he was there to party, but found himself downing countless Masskruge of hefeweizen that ignited a passion for beer that has burned ever since.

Right from the start he felt that he'd have a go a home brewing but initially thought the cost made it too prohibitive, however when he realised that you could actually brew at a fraction of the cost he imagined he did a couple of kit brews and a boil-in-the-bag brew before moving rapidly on to all-grain. He was fortunate in being able to purchase a three vessel set up online from Wales for a very competitive price and using some family connections it quickly made it's way north. With a desire to 'brew every style under the sun', an IPA, a lager, a Munich Helles, an amber and maybe a Scottish ale are all in the pipeline and Michael has his sights set on bigger and better things. Only twenty-two years old and currently working full-time at his father's electronics factory, as I write this he had helped out at nearby Loch Lomond Brewery the day before and is looking, with a fellow home brewer, for a location to possibly open a 1BBL plant. Inspired to brew good beer by others that do likewise he cites no major influences although has taken advice recently from brewers at Thornbridge and Buxton, the latter of which he visited recently on a road trip with Steve from The Beer O'Clock Show who recently incidentally featured him in a homebrew special that you can listen to here.
The name 'Still Thinking' comes from Michaels tendency to spend ages deciding what to drink when confronted by an array of choice at a bar, his standard response to "What can I get you?" being "Still Thinking, sorry". Whether this phrase has caused him to miss valuable drinking time is unsure, but it has provided him with the title for his on-going range of beers called 'Still Thinking About The ... (insert style here)' with a little help from Steve and a certain Nathaniel Southwood.
The two bottles I have today are much travelled, having come from Stirling to Buxton where they were given to Steve from The Beer O'clock Show, before going back to Witham in Essex, on to Leeds and via various London pubs before I collected them. They had actually been right past my house twice before I actually got them, so after them being so tantalisingly close before I can't wait to get stuck in.

First up is Monarch, a 5.5% saison-style beer hopped with Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin and Pale, Munich and Vienna malts, and is the beer featured in the Home Brew podcast I linked to above. It pours an enticing burnt orange with golden-yellow highlights and a dense foamy off-white head. The aroma is sweet with lime, a hint of orange zest and a faint underlying digestive biscuit which reminds me a little of a fruity citrus lager and lime, which is probably exactly as it should be if I think about the hop and malt combinations. It has a delicious prickle of carbonation that plucks lightly at the tongue but slides down rather smoothly before that refreshingly dry zesty bitterness that is associated with modern saisons comes crashing through heralding an explosion of lime-edged intense orange cordial that flashes and fades into a touch of tangerine juice before collapsing quickly into a dry dusty orange zest.  Unfortunately there is no real finish to speak of, just a faint echo of bitterness which is hard to pin down exactly, but this is nonetheless a very accomplished beer indeed.

Next up is the hefeweizen which has no label as you can see, however I do know that it happens to be 5.1%  and is called 'Still Thinking About That Hefeweizen' so there's really only one way to find out more about it. Pouring a light cloudy lemony yellow with a rich white fluffy head it has the classic aroma of coriander seed and lemon with a good sniff of freshly baked white bread in the mix as well but there's also a spread of butter cream in there too which adds an interesting dimension to someone with a sweet tooth like me. Sweeping gracefully across the palate the carbonation tickles the roof of the mouth with a wave of thyme and lemon, sweet and full with a hint of cream soda and the same tangerine juiciness I detected in the saison. The finish this time is long and lingering with dusty coriander and a hint of grated parmesan cheese which works rather well with the tiniest touch of lemon zest and a slight resurgence of that thyme, and perhaps a little rosemary, to make an almost gose-like salty finish which I particularly like, in fact it reminds me of nothing more that than home-made parmesan cheese straws which I'm rather partial too. It's a finish to a wheat beer that I'm rather taken with and of the two beers I tasted I think that this is the one that appeals to me most, it really is rather good.

I'm pleased to say that despite Michael being slightly concerned about what I think of his beers he needn't have worried, and to think that he has produced two beers of this quality with so little experience should be an encouragement to you to get out there and give home brewing a go if you've been thinking about it for a while. I'd like to thank him for sending these beers to me, which by the way was completely unsolicited, and wish him every success as he edges closer to what I hope will be a long and prosperous career in brewing. Cheers matey!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Beers Of London Series: 62. Brixton Brewery - Reliance Pale Ale 4.2%

Beers Of London Series
62. Brixton Brewery - Reliance Pale Ale 4.2%

This is the second Brixton Brewery beer in a row that I've reviewed, and there's a very good reason for that. As I was writing about the Electric IPA I requested a bit more information from Jez and although it arrived a little too late for that one I felt I'd really like to let you know more about this brewery as soon as possible. Well, that ... and I was anxious to try more of their beer.
I mentioned in the previous review that Jez and Mike were avid home brewers but what I didn't realise at the time is that they were also friends and neighbours since 2006, on Saltoun Road if you know the area. It was in 2009 however that Jez had his personal epiphany when a friend who lived in Borough persuaded him to come along to visit a new brewery that had opened in nearby Bermondsey. That brewery was The Kernel, and on meeting Evin O'Riordain and tasting the beer that they were producing Jez says "I was staggered about what could be achieved and that was definitely one thing that majorly inspired me to be part of the London brewing scene."

They draw a lot of parallels with New York's  Brooklyn Brewery too where the founders were home brewing neighbours in an area with a rich brewing heritage and wanted to give something to the local community.

American style beers are a particular favourite and they want to continue making beers in that style for a while before venturing into more 'extreme' territory, but they do have a stout and a brown ale in the works that they hope to add to the three core beers in the range in the not too distant future.
Before I move on to the beer I must make a quick reference to the artist who designed those graphically appealing colour-saturated beer labels as I know there is an interest in good design amongst many of you. Emma Scott-Child is a local graphic designer based at Bird Seed Studios near Coldharbour Lane and here is a link if you wish to see more of her work.

Reliance Pale Ale is named after one of the covered arcades that radiate from Brixton Market where local cobblers and tailors still practice there craft, an artisan beer named for an area of artisan workman. They currently bottle most of their beer with the occasional casked versions available and kegging is planned in the near future, but as it's the bottled version I have tonight it's time to get it open and see what it's like.

Pouring a rather delicious shade of autumn sunset orange and with a relatively thin off-white head, it has the aroma of satsuma juice and a touch of elderflower mixed with one or two drops of pineapple juice, tangy and floral and maybe a little coriander seed in there too. It slips smoothly down the throat before the carbonation kicks in at the roof of the palate and the tip of the tongue simultaneously with a fizzing buzzy bitterness. There's a big wash of pithy orange flavour, both juicy and bitter at the same time but this is quite clipped, followed by a wheaty malty biscuit caramel which is rather nice. This dries quickly into an zesty orange peel-like flavour which fills the mouth with an acidic citrus bitterness which becomes quite intense in the centre of the tongue and although this doesn't last for an eternity as the flavour of the Electric IPA seemed to it does seem to leave a ghostly imprint to remind you of what was once there.

I really like this beer, especially the bitterness of it, but I know it might be a little too much for some as it truly is all about bitter pithy oranginess all the way through. Brixton Brewery have designed their beers to go with food and I can see this working rather well with roast chicken or panna cotta where it would work rather well as a counterpoint, however it may well be lost in stronger flavoured dishes. Give it a try.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Beers Of London Series: 61. Brixton Brewery - Electric IPA 6.5%

Beers Of London Series
61. Brixton Brewery - Electric IPA 6.5%

Brixton Brewery was officially launched with a party at Craft Beer Brixton on October 16th this year. Sadly I couldn't make it (it was my fathers birthday to be fair) but I was fortunate enough to be sent samples of three of the beers by Jez, one of the brewers,  to try and review.

According to the Brixton Buzz - Brixton's listings and news site they obtained a licence for their premises, Arch 547 on Brixton Station Road making it another of London's railway arch breweries, in August this year but the story goes back a little further than that. In fact it goes back to a discussion by two avid local homebrewers Jez and Mike, over a pint in the pub that is now Craft Beer Brixton, the Hive Bar, back in 2011. The idea took root and became a driving passion over the following two years with Head Brewer Dominic bringing some professional expertise to the brewery, having previously worked with Kelham Island, Welbeck Abbey, Sheffield Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada, London Field and Brewdog. They are fiercely proud of their Brixton roots and great believers that beer is best drunk fresh at the source with a possible mission statement on a flyer the sent to me that reads as follows:
'Our dream is for Brixtonites to start drinking local. They say independently made beers are best enjoyed fresh where they're brewed, and we can't think of anywhere we'd rather have a pint than in our own neighbourhood'

Electric IPA is named after Electric Avenue in Brixton, the first market street to be lit by electricity and one currnetly specialising in some of the most ethnically diverse produce in Europe. Made with New World hops, the beer is described as 'packed with energy and attitude', possibly to reflect the area in which it was produced. The branding on the bottle is eye-catching and bright too, the colours and stylised 'lightning-bolt' electric charges make this look rather inviting so I guess it's time to open the bottle and see if it delivers on taste.

It pours a cloudy dirty deep dark orange and it's lively too, throwing a high off-white head that takes a while to settle down, which means that filling the glass takes a little longer than expected, heightening the expectation. The aroma is exactly like the colour with deep dark orange peel dominating, but there's also an underlying juiciness of passion fruit, grapefruit, pineapple and mango all in the mix with some damp pine sap. It caresses the tongue rather smoothly before the stabbingly sharp bitterness announces itself everywhere at the same time with an explosion of ripe zesty citrus fruits, lime, grapefruit and tangerine, all vying for attention before the tangerine wins through quite quickly, flooding the mouth with its sweet juice. The finish is sustained juicy citrus too with a dryness akin to the pith you experience when biting into an unpeeled orange, and when I say it's sustained I'm not exaggerating as it lasts and lasts and lasts for absolutely ages.

This is wonderful debut from a very promising young brewery, full of flavour and very easy to drink despite it's relatively high abv. These guys are clearly keen on you drinking this fresh and preferably locally, so if you're ever Brixton way then I'd recommend that you check this out. It might even be worth a special trip.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Beers Of London Series: 60. Brew By Numbers 04|01 Berliner Weisse 3.7%

Beers Of London Series
60. Brew By Numbers - 04|01 Berliner Weisse 3.7%

So I find myself reviewing my sixtieth London beer so I thought I'd make it something that I had been saving for just such an occasion, Brew By Numbers Berliner Weisse, the first beer in that style that I've tasted in this series.

I've previously reviewed two of their beers, 01|01 Saison Citra and 01|02 Saison Amarillo & Orange, back in April when they were generating quite a bit of interest, but then it all seemed to go quiet over the summer. Apart from hearing that they had gone on holiday from the good people at Utobeer there was nothing but a whisper, rumour and hearsay. Luckily for us it was because they were moving premises, from a flat on the Southwark Bridge Road a lovely large location under the railway arches (yes, it's another underneath-the-arches brewery) on Enid Street in Bermondsey. They are now back brewing again, from what I gather, and the brewery is, or will be open on Saturdays so that you can buy directly from them.

Onto the beer. Berliner Weisse is a sour wheat beer originating from the area around Berlin in Northern Germany. The style can be traced back to the sixteenth century, but in modern versions brewers deliberately create the sourness with the addition of Lactobacillus at the secondary fermentation stage in the bottle. If ordering this beer in Germany you must be very clear that you want it plain as it will more often that not have raspberry or woodruff flavour syrups or even pale lager added to it to counteract the sourness. I will of course be having mine as the brewer intended, poured straight from the bottle. I've chosen a glass that mimics the bowl-shaped glasses that it is traditionally served in to a certain degree but with a lip so that the aroma is retained, and although this beer has a best before date of February 2016 I hope that the flavours will have evolved a little since it was bottled on 5th February this year (2013).

It pours a hazy pale yellow and it's really rather lively with a steady stream of bubbles rising quickly to the surface to form a beautifully tight bright white head. It has an aroma akin to a good quality dry cider, not sweet at all but more like freshly pulped apple skins, quite tart and a little dusty. Surprisingly gentle over the tongue given its high level of carbonation in the glass there is the faintest tickle as it is swallowed. There's more than a hint of lemon at first but this quite quickly evolves into a soft dry apple juice flavour with a tangy tartness around the edges of the tongue, I'm certainly not detecting the high level of sourness I was expecting. The finish is long dry and refreshing and it is here that that gorgeous apple sweetness that it was promising finally manifests itself but it's not like apple juice that you might pour from a carton, it's that trickle of juice that flows down your chin when you bite into a freshly picked apple.

This is a truly delightful beer. It may well have been more sour when it was first bottled but any edginess it may have had has softened a little over the last eight months, almost as if its corners have been rounded off, and it has developed into a thing of beauty. I don't know how there a many bottles of this beer (or its bigger brother, the 04|02) there are out there, but if you can track one down then I suggest now would be a perfect time to drink it. I certainly hope they brew it again, and I hope to visit there new premises in the not too distant future as even though I stocked up on their beer in the Spring, they're not going to last for ever.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Beers Of London Series: 59. Honest Brew - Riwaka Hop Mule 5.4%

Beers Of London Series
59. Honest Brew - Riwaka Hop Mule 5.4%

Honest Brew are the thirty-seventh new brewery that I've featured in this series and a very interesting one they are too. Born in a tiny flat in London around two years ago, the story really goes back quite a bit further.

Growing up in New Zealand, Andrew Reeve the head brewer started home brewing in his parents garage at the age of sixteen. By his own admittance his first brews were little more than ' alcoholic muddy water', however he kept brewing and the beers got better, much better. Taking inspiration from Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head particularly Sam started brewing on a SABCO BrewMagic kit that Honest Brew now use for their small batch and pilot brewing, other influences include the hops from his New Zealand homeland which are a particular passion, and he cites two breweries Yeastie Boys and 8 Wired in particular that looks to for creative inspiration. I've not had beer from either of these breweries but will certainly be looking out for in the future having had a look around their websites.

After uprooting and moving halfway around the world to London in 2011, Andrew says that he hasn't looked back. Honest Brew now comprise of a team of three, Annabel who looks after the finance and marketing, Craig who handles the beer and bar relationship along with Andrew who does most of the brewing. Alongside the small batch and pilot kit that goes 'on the road' to brew at places like Urban Sessions, they also have another kit down at Late Knights Brewery (a brewery I hope to feature in this series as soon as I can get some of their beer) in Penge, but should be collecting everything together under a single roof in the next few months.

The main philosophy of Honest Brew is 'Share'. Sharing their kit, you can contact them to arrange a date and time and go brew there making your dream beer come to life, sharing their knowledge and experience, and they even go so far as to give a full list of the ingredients on the bottle and a link to the recipe online, that's what I call honest. I've been invited to go down and brew my own beer with them and as I've had an idea for a beer that's been with me for some time then I may well be doing that. Reviewing my own beer in this series is something I've not thought of before but fills me with more than a little excitement. Watch this space.

Rather more immediate is their collaboration with Column Arts Agency at the Triple Hop Beer And Illustration Exhibition on Thursday 24th October 2013 at the Test Space creative agency in Warren Street in London. With five beers brewed especially for the event and a live exhibition of brewing alongside a gallery and live wall drawing while you watch and drink, why would you not want to go? Here's a link to where you can buy tickets, maybe I'll see you there.

On to the beer and using the handy list of ingredients on the side of the bottle I can tell those who may be interested in such things that the malts are Maris Otter and Wheat Caramalt, with US-05 yeast used along with Riwaka and Magnum hops, however as we all know the real test is in the tasting when the ingredients combine into that delicious drink we love, beer. It's time to open the bottle.

It pours a beautiful sunset orange with a fluffy nearly-white head and the most wonderful aroma of freshly grated lemon and lime zest that leaps into your nostrils with an amazing sharpness bringing with it a few peppery spicy notes. Initially smooth over the tongue it then bites and claws a little to let you know that it's there and as it does so it chooses this moment to release its flavour in a huge explosion of taste, and what a flavour it is. There's a huge wave of grapefruit up front, big bold and powerful it's like swallowing a whole pulped grapefruit with all the bitterness and sharpness you might expect, the lime zest is in there too with even some fleeting mint, pine and mango elements but these are quickly swept aside, or more accurately they are sucked into the grapefruit crescendo helping it build into a monster. The finish is dry and oily, with the spent hulk of the grapefruit behemoth washed up on the tongue, gasping for life, before finally expiring and fading away over millennia to leave a faint ghost of its glorious majesty.

This is a superb beer most definitely best drunk fresh with all those oily alpha acids in the hops delivering the most wonderful kick to the taste buds. A potential palate wrecker of a beer it still manages to maintain all that delicious citrus flavour the whole length of the experience from opening the bottle to the eventual fading of the final sip. I was kindly sent this bottle by Andrew to review but if I saw it for sale then it's something that I would definitely be buying and have in the fridge to bring out when friends come round. That's if they lasted that long (they wouldn't). I love it.