Thursday, 31 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Seventh Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

On the seventh day it's traditional to rest for most of the year, on the seventh day of Christmas there are swans a-swimming, but as it's also New Year's Eve it's time to reflect on and celebrate the year we're leaving behind, and look forward to the year to come.

I touched on a few of the things that had happened in Essex beerwise over the past twelve months, but I'd like to be a little self-indulgent and touch on my particular highlights of 2015 in my
Essex Golden Pints

I'm sure you're all familiar with the format, and I've had to trim it a little bit to fit the county's output and breweries (for example, there's no Essex brewery canning its beers at the moment), so here are my personal picks.

Best Essex Cask Beer: I've had plenty of great cask beer from Essex brewers this year as I have in previous years, but there's been a few stand-outs for me. Harwich Town's Mostly Mosaic, Red Fox's Little Fox, all of Crouch Vale's cask output (Mosaic in particular) and recently Shalford's Ebenezer Ale have all impressed, however I'm going to give this prize to one beer that I simply couldn't get enough of, so perfectly was it pitched, so my winner here is Billericay Brewing's Chilli Porter. If you had it at their recent beer festival then you'll know why.

Best Essex Keg Beer: We're not overly blessed with locally produced keg beer in Essex, and as I've yet to have Brentwood's offering, which isn't actually available in it's home county, my winner comes from Wibblers and of their range of four the Dengie IPA edges it for me as a very easy drinker.

Best Essex Bottled Beer: There's a few here I could go with. Crouch Vale's Mosaic blew me away, Maldon's Reminder and Essex Strong Pale Ale were a bit special, and George's Balthazar's Feast (which will feature in this series) was .. well you'll have to wait and see. The was however only one winner for me, and even though it's a bit pricey it's a real celebration beer. my Essex bottled beer winner is the wonderful Brentwood Brewing Company's Van Kannor. Go get some.

Best Essex Brewery: There's a couple in the frame for this one. I've been impressed with the beers from Hope, and Mighty Oak, Round Tower, George's, Brentwood, Saffron and Wibblers have been consistently good, however, if we are talking about consistency and pure damn fine drinkability then step forward Crouch Vale, you clever hop loading brewery. Simply superstars.

Best New Brewery: We have two new breweries open in Essex this year and I've only had beer from one beer from one of them, but what (no pun intended) a beer it was. Full of much promise of great no-frills beer brewed beautifully, my winner is Watts & Co. If you see Oli's beer grab yourself a pint and you'll know why.

Best Essex Branding: This was a tough call. I was unsure whether to go with a one-off label, Colchester's Brazilian sprang to mind, or an overall brewery branding. It was the latter that I decided on, but there were three that I batted backwards and forwards thinking about the relative merits of them all. I really like simplistic no-nonsense designs, and Round Tower and Billericay fit that space perfectly, however what I was really looking for was something eye-catching that would draw me towards it in a bar or bottle shop. They've won before but they fit the bill perfectly, with experience in the industry winning through, it's Crouch Vale again.

Essex Pub or Bar of the Year: Now this was difficult. I love pubs. They're great. I've been to so may in Essex this year that I really found it hard to choose between them. The Five Bells in Colne Engaine, where I went for my birthday this year was a real treat, and they couldn't have been friendlier in the White Heart in Stebbing. Should I choose the Bird In The Hand in Halstead where Shaun has a seemingly inexhaustible cellar full of great bottled beer, or the Spread Eagle in Brentwood, which I now call my local? Then there's the Billericay micro-pub, or maybe the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford? It was just too difficult. In the end though I really had to make my mind up between two. It was very close. My runner-up therefore is the Alehouse in Chelmsford, home of the SX Bottleshare each month, it's a great pub, but my winner is, and I bet you've guessed it, a pub that I really wish was a lot closer than it is, step forward The Victoria Inn in Colchester. Thank you for some great times and beers this year!

Essex Beer Festival of the Year: Well, I've been a bit slack this year I must confess. I missed, Chelmsford (both Winter and Summer), Chappel (likewise), Billericay, Brentwood, and Rochford as well. In fact I really only went to festivals in pubs or clubs, and very good they were too. Two stand out for me though. Billericay's Christmas Beer Festival was a real showcase of Essex beer, something I'd like to see more of next year, but my winner is the Future Champions Beer Fest at the Victoria Inn. This home brewers festival is a real treat, and one I'd encourage you to get a ticket for next year as you see budding brewers (and some experienced ones) producing some fantastic beer.

Independent Retailer of The Year: I had to go for the place that I get most of my Essex beer from, so the Billericay Micro-pub shop, the Essex beer shop, wins this hands down. If there's an Essex beer you're after and they don't have it, then the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford usually does though.

Online Essex Retailer of the Year: Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, it's those fabulous Billericay-based beer sellers Ale By Mail of course.

Best Essex Book or Magazine: I have to declare an interest here as I contribute articles to it, however if you want a good bi-monthly read of what's happening in Essex beer then you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of the Thirsty Times. It's free too.

Best Essex Podcast: I know I've been on it a lot, but it's the only one to have featured Essex beers and be part recorded in the county, well some on the time anyway. It's the one and only Beer O'Clock Show.

Best Blog: There is a small but growing number of bloggers in Essex, but a few new-comers this year have caught my eye though. Beer In Review is solely beer reviews, but many of them are Essex beers, and Martin Oates, a good friend and Bottleshare stalwart has started a blog that keeps getting better and better. Matt Chinnery's blog, the Half Pint Gentleman is extremely worthy of your time with every post he releases, however my winner (and no it isn't mine) is Mark Watson's Essex Real Ale blog. The longest running dedicated to Essex and Essex area beer, if you live in the county and you haven't checked it out then you really should.

So there you have it, short-ish and certainly not exhaustive, it was lots of fun to do. I hope I haven't put any noses out of joint, but if you disagree with my choices then let me know, along with the reason why you think I'm wrong.

And now for tonight's beer.

The Seventh Day:
Bishop Nick - Feast 4.5%

Bishop Nick's Winter ale was their first Limited Edition seasonal offering pours a lovely chestnut brown with a frothy off-white head that fades quickly and has the aroma of a rich malty fruitcake, it's rather inviting. Smooth and with a good body, it tastes a good degree darker than it smells with burnt raisin flavour dominating initially, bringing a deeply bitter edge to the taste. This leads to more fruitcake flavours, it's rather good, thin but not overly so, and slips down a treat. The finish brings back echoes of more burnt raisin and this fades nicely over a good few minutes, leaving you just enough time to grab one of those mince pies you still have left before you take your next sip. It's almost essential.

You can find out more about Bishop Nick and the Sacred Ales of Essex you can follow this link to their website. You can even order their beer and merchandise there.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Sixth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

The sixth day of Christmas, geese a-laying and all that, marks the half-way point in this collection of Essex festive fun. It's also the penultimate day of year, and what a year it's been for beer. Better beer available in more places across the country as a whole and even Essex hasn't escaped this trend. We now have seven micro-pubs in Chelmsford, Billericay, Colchester, two in Maldon, Southend and Upminster, with more planned as well as brewery tap rooms in which to taste and take away some good local beer. There have been two new brewery openings as well, in the shape of Moody Goose and Watts and Co. bringing our total to thirty one. Who knows what 2016 will bring?

To this end I have prepared a peculiarly Essex Golden Pints Awards that I'll publish tomorrow. It's just for fun, there are now actual awards however it does highlight who I feel deserves acclaim for brewing or doing something particularly good in Essex beer this year.

Tonight's beer is the first of a trio from one of my favourite Essex breweries, one who have opened one of the micro-pubs I've mentioned above under the surname of the brewery's founder, a brewery that was named after his father. And so, as the year becomes old, it's time to open that bottle.

The Sixth Day:
George's Brewery - Ebenezer Old 4.2%

This seasonal offering from George's is brewed with five malts as well as Phoenix and Centennial hops, and is designed to be as dark as pre-spirit-visited Ebenezer's heart. Of the three the brewery has produced with Christmas in mind it's the one I've not had before so I'm obviously keen to try it.

It pours a deep dark ruby red with a tight beige head and an aroma that mixes liquorice and grapefruit beautifully. It's got a lively prickle of carbonation that brings in a bitter burnt toast flavour that heralds the arrival of some grapefruit peel citrus and a hint of chocolate, but this is quickly swept away again by that burnt toastiness, dark chocolate caramel and a little liquorice. The finish is warm and toasty too, but it's not a boozy warmth, this comes from the chocolate malty bitterness that fills the mouth with a pleasingly satisfying sensation, the kind you get from finishing a box of your favourite decadent chocolates at Christmas safe in the knowledge that you have another couple put aside for a special occasion.

This is a delicious beer. It's as well balanced as the label claims and not the least bit sickly sweet. I'm sure you'll still be able to find a bottle of this out there, you might even find it on cask, so pick pick one up or have a pint if you do. You'll thank me for it.

To find out more about George's Brewery (and its alter-ego Hop Monster) and their beers just use this link to do so. You'll notice that my name appears on the brewery's home page but I have received no payment nor have I done any work for the brewery, they just happened to like my reviews of beer that I paid for myself. I hope to visit the brewery early in the new year, they have invited me but I've not had a chance to make it there, or to the micro-pub yet. Expect a full report when I do though.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Fifth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

On the Fifth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me ...

I'm sure you all know the rhyme, and as today is the Fifth Day of Christmas you can probably guess the name of the beer I have for today. Interestingly there were two beers brewed in England this year called "Five Gold Rings" and both of these were brewed in Essex for the festive period.

One of these was brewed at Brentwood Brewery, and featured as their '5th Beer of Christmas' on the 16th December. It was a 5.0% semi-lagered pilsner-style beer but it didn't come in bottles, so I'm afraid that this isn't the beer I've chosen for tonight. Brentwood will of course feature in this Yuletide dozen, but you'll have to wait for another day for that.

For those of you familiar with Essex beer you will have guessed that tonight's beer is ...

The Fifth Day:
Maldon Brewing Company - Five Gold Rings 3.8%

A bottle-conditioned beer (sporting the 'CAMRA says this is real ale' badge on the label) it's described as a "very pale golden ale" which it certainly is, in fact you might even say it looked golden. Brewed with US Nugget hops, it has a honey-sweet mango and peach aroma that dominates here but I'm picking up an awful lot of pale malt underneath as well. It's rather thin and as washed out as the colour of it initially and I'm fooled into thinking that there isn't much to this beer, however some barley sugar notes herald the arrival of the honeyed mango and lychee sweetness, and while this isn't a hugely flavoured beer there's enough here to retain interest. The finish, if anything, is more intense than the main body of the beer and fills the mouth pleasantly with more of the same for some time. It is certainly a beer that I could easily see myself having two or three of on an evening out, or even an afternoon given its low abv, and as it's a seasonal I'll try and test that theory next year if not before.

If you'd like to know more about Maldon Brewing Company (Farmer's Ales) and their beers you can do so by following this link. Alternatively you can visit their micro-pub, the Farmer's Yard at 140 High Street, Maldon. Essex that I wrote a piece about here.

Monday, 28 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Fourth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

It's great to be still off work, although that all changes tomorrow. I fancied another easy day so I'll leave a couple of the things I have planned for a little later on in this celebration of festive Essex beer, but I was looking through some beer related facts today and although it's doesn't have an Essex connection I noticed that today was the birthday of John Molson, the founder of Molson Brewery.

Born in Moulton, Lancashire in 1763, he emigrated to Quebec in Canada when he was 18 years old and set up a brewery, albeit one funded by a Trust from he recently deceased father. His beer was soon in much demand and he became the largest supplier of beer in the Lower Canada region. Using the money he made he was able to diversify into other areas, buying steamships to carry both goods and passengers and even building a grand hotel in Montreal. A prominent member of society he lived to be 72 years of age before succumbing to the cholera epidemic that swept through the region in 1836. The brewery is now a subsidiary of Molson Coors Brewering Company after their merger with the US brewery Coors in 2005, and now own such brands as Mitchells & Butlers, Toby, Worthington, Stones, and Sharp's as well as the controversial Blue Moon witbier, which came under fire for misleading customers its 'fake craft' labelling that omitted that it was made by a division of the larger brewer.

There's no link that I could find between tonight's brewery Molson, Molson Coors, or even Canada, although the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail to the New World aboard the Mayflower met in Billericay prior to sailing and many of their descendants settled in Canada, but this is rather tenuous to say the least.

I'm on firmer ground with the title of the beer as, to those who are familiar with the genre, Black Christmas is a Canadian psychological slasher film made in 1974 starring Margot Kidder (who played the title characters love interest, Lois Lane in the four Superman films between 1978 and 1987), that was remade in 2006 starringno gruesome fate awaits me  a couple of other sci-fi/fantasy actresses Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Katie Cassidy (Arrow).

I'm fairly certain that no gruesome fate awaits me when I open the bottle I have this evening, however you'll excuse me if I'm a little cautious.

The Fourth Day:
Billericay Brewing - Black Christmas 5.0%

Black Christmas is Billericay Brewing's first Festive beer and also their first Black IPA, which is something of a personal victory for me as I have pestered Trevor for both things over the last couple of years. That he has combined both in a single beer makes me very happy indeed. What makes me even happier is how it tastes, but I'm jumping a little ahead of myself here.

Brewed with plenty of Chinook and Cascade hops it pours a deep dark brown with a light billowing cloud-like off-white head and an aroma that combines the grapefruit notes of the hops with the toasty caramel notes beautifully, and one which typifies this style. Smooth, and perhaps a little on the thin side the grapefruit citrus notes spike early filling the mouth with a flood of fruity hoppiness before the dark roasty malts sweep in with some some chocolatey and burnt toast notes building buzzy bitterness at the very edges of the tongue. There's a light smokey element too and it's this that's the main feature of a finish that fades far too quickly for my liking.

It has to be said, and I know many will agree with me, that this is Billericay Brewing's best beer by some way. A winner in the bottle and on cask, which if anything is even better, I'm looking forward to brewing my own variation on this beer with Trevor in the near future if we can arrange it (let's talk soon!) in time for the Chelmsford Winter Beer Festival in February. Look out for it.

Should you wish to find out more about Billericay Brewing and their beer you can find them here on Twitter and normally at although the website appears to be temporarily down at present. You could also visit the Billericay Micro-pub and beer shop next door to the brewery itself for a drink and to pick up some great Essex beer, although it's worth checking the opening times before you do. Maybe I'll see you there.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Third Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

If you though yesterday was quiet ...

Actually, after having our visitors go home this morning before going to my parents for lunch this is the first time I've really had to properly relax for about a week. Our house is quieter this evening so there was only one beer that seemed to fit tonight's slot, and it's a beer I've been looking forward to for a few weeks now.

The Third Day:
Saffron Brewery - Silent Night 5.2%

Before I review tonight's beer I need to make a disclaimer, whilst I did pay for this beer I got it at a considerable discount at the brewery and the glass was thrown in for free. I was invited to visit Saffron Brewery towards the end of November with David Ginn of Essex Food. We had a fantastic day, and you can expect a full write-up in the new year, but suffice to say we sampled (read drank) a great deal of beer while chatting to James and Ed about beer and many other things besides.

I was just starting to think seriously about whether it might be possible to feasibly do a running Christmas beer blog using only Essex beers when this bottle set me on the road to achieving that goal.

Silent Night is a Ruby Porter brewed with malted barley and torrefied wheat, which is another name for puffed wheat, the kind that some breakfast cerals including Sugar Puffs are made from, along with English Pioneer and Boadicea hops.

It pours deep ruby red with a thin off-white head with a beautiful toasty chocolate aroma that invites you in. There's lots of delicious chocolate in the taste too, with hints of burnt toast around the edges and even though it's relatively thin the full flavour rounds it out nicely. There's flashes of blackcurrant and black cherry from the hops but these are fleeting and difficult to grasp before that toasty chocolate sweeps back in to take it to a long lingering finish. For me this isn't a beer to conclude an evening, it doesn't quite pack enough punch to do that job but it is certainly heading in the right direction, particularly if there's a slice of chocolate cake or even a chocolate brownie as part of the deal. Give it a try, I think you might like it. Oh, and it's also available on cask.

If you want to find out more about Saffron Brewery and their beer you can do so by following this link to their website. Alternatively you could just wait for my post next year. I advise you to get some of their beer in readiness for that.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Second Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

It's Boxing Day, the feast of St Stephen, where cold meat and pickles are the order of the day in many households. Another groaning table full of food to be consumed, and what better to wash it all down that a glass or two, or more, of locally brewed beer.

Traditionally slower-paced, the second day of Christmas is more of a recovery day after the mad-panic and over-indulgence of the day before. There's no slacking when it comes to writing a blog post, particularly when you know there's a further ten days of writing ahead. So, as we sit back and take it easy, there's one man in a bright red suit who's earned a rest more than most of us, and I think he deserves a beer.

The Second Day - Boxing Day:
Wibblers Brewery - Santas Night Off 4.2%

Before I open this beer, please note that I have re-produced the name of this beer exactly as it is written on the bottle label, with no apostrophe between the second a and the s of Santas. That's how it's shown on the bottle, or indeed pump clip for that matter so that's how I'll show it here. Speaking of the pump clip, if you have seen this beer on the bar at all, you'll notice it matches the image shown on the label, relaxing in an armchair with a cup of something steaming hot, a spiced beer perhaps. This is preferable to the previous clip which showed a cartoon of the big man sporting sun glasses and a salacious grin leaving an adult store with a blow-up reindeer under his arm. It's time we confined that kind of imagery to the dustbin of Christmases past.

It pours a deep chestnut red-brown with tight off-white head and an aroma of warm malty brown bread. The initial taste is all malt up front, with caramel and chocolate notes drawing aside like the stage curtain at a church hall pantomime to reveal some chewy earthy raisin and woody hops that bring a crescendo of bitterness that fades slowly, resonating long into the finish.

Two things struck me as is drunk it. My first thought was that it wasn't very Christmassy. There's no real element here that points to this being festive in any way. The second was that it slipped down very quickly indeed. In fact if I were in a pub with a group of friends talking all sorts of nonsense as we are all sure to do at this time of year, the beer would compliment the conversation perfectly. It's just at that level where it tastes good without being overly remarkable and you could leave the pub after a few relatively less the worse for wear. Exactly the kind of beer you want at Christmas when you catch up with the old crowd.

If you want to read more about Wibblers Brewery and their beers you can do so by following this link. All being well they should be moving to a new site in 2016 with their own taproom / micro-pub as well.
For all the latest Essex beer news follow @BeerInEssex

Friday, 25 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The First Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas 

It's Christmas Day!

I hope that you've been good boys and girls this year and Father Christmas brought you lots of lovely presents. Maybe you got some beer from a friend or relative, maybe you're drinking it now while you're reading this.

This is the third year that the Beer O'Clock Show have run their #12BeersofXmas and although they start on the 20th of December, I like to start on the traditional first day of Christmas, Christmas Day, and run all the way through to Twelfth Night. You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram by simply searching for the #12BeersofXmas hashtag.

I had an idea that I wanted to do solely beers produced in Essex this time, and Chrsitmas/Winter themed or related beers at that. I have to say that that it wasn't easy to find twelve different bottles and it was a close run thing whether I would be able to source them all. Fortunately some breweries produce more than one, and with the help of the Billericay Brewing Micro-pub shop, the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford, Cellers off-licence in Billericay, and the Brentwood Brewing Company, I was able to complete the task.

These won't be long posts, but perhaps some may be a little longer than others, but I'm hoping that they will be just enough to give you insight into some of the seasonal offerings from Essex brewers this year. If I can find twelve different Essex Christmas beers next year I'll do this again, so I'll throw the gauntlet down now and allow you brewers time to get your thinking caps on and come up something a little bit special for when this season rolls around again. That is twelve months away however, and this is now. so without further ado here is the first of my #12EssexBeersofChristmas .

The First Day - Christmas Day:
Crouch Vale - Santa's Revenge 5.0%

This was one of the beers that I was keenest to get this year, not least because that where I found it I would also find bottles of Crouch Vale's fantastic Sorachi Ace single-hopped beer. I was hoping for a Christmas cracker to kick off my twelve days and this doesn't disappoint.

It has a malty caramel grapefruit aroma that leads straight into a taste that mirrors it perfectly. With enough body to capture all that flavour, there's a beautiful fruitcake element to it that makes it an easy pairing with a mince pie or a slice of Christmas pudding, as the bottle label suggests, or a Boxing Day treat with the cold meat and pickles, as its fruity grapefruit notes linger long into the finish. Brewed with pale and cara malts and ("outrageously expensive" it says) US Amarillo hops, it's well worth seeking out if you can find some.

Merry Christmas to you all!

If you would like to know more about Crouch Vale Brewery and their beers then you can follow this link to their website.
The 'Essex - Season's Greetings' image is taken from a Christmas card produced for Essex County Cricket Club by Heritage Leisure Designs Ltd.