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.