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The Grand Old Twissup Of York

February 27, 2011 2 comments

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect buys four packets of peanuts from a pub just before the world is destroyed, as you need the salt and protein after going through a matter transference beam.  However Kate and I realised that a day’s drinking in York with beer bloggers and brewers from as far apart as Kent and Glasgow would require a Wetherspoons breakfast in Leeds station at the very least.

We met Dean, Leigh, Adam, Martin and Rob on the platform and headed to York, where Dean led us to the York Brewery.  Whilst we were waiting Dean cracked open his new homebrew, a superb, fruity black IPA called Devil In Disguise (following the Elvis theme after the previous “All Shook Up”).  After everyone else showed up we enjoyed some cheap drinks in the York Brewery bar, where the dark, coffee, chocolate Centurion’s Ghost and light, hoppy seasonal beer First Light seemed to go down best, and everyone started chatting.

We were treated to an entertaining and informative free tour before heading back for further discounted drinks at the bar.  After a short while we moved on to the Market Town Taverns bar Brigantes on Micklegate. A lot of people seemed to enjoy Hambletown Nightmare whilst I went for Baboon by The Brass Monkey Brewery in Sowerby Bridge.  It was a slightly peculiar pale but oddly smoky beer.

We then moved on to Pivni, the diminutive but proud father of the Sheffield and Euston Taps and, I’m informed, expectant parent of The York Tap!  A great selection included BrewDog on cask (Riptide, 5am Saint, Trashy Blonde, Edge) and 5am Saint in Keg, Camden Pale Ale and Bernard beers.

I quite liked Camden Pale Ale although it did taste somewhere between an IPA and a light pilsner.  Bernard Special Ox was a sweet, relatively high ABV pilsner.  5am Saint was great on keg, although I didn’t try the cask version and Hardknott Dave pointed out that it had a slight taste of silverskin pickled onions.  I wasn’t too excited by the cask Riptide, although it was fine.

What was interesting though was when Dave, Ann and, er, Sooty from Hardknott treated us to a sneak preview taste of two variations on Aether Blaec, one in Balvenie casks and another in those of another whisky whose name now eludes me.  They were both really nice.

After staying in  Pivni for a while, we decamped to various places for food (Kate, Dean and I got much-needed but tooth-shattering pork and crackling baps from a hogroast shop) and then came together with some others in The White Swan, a big Nicholson’s pub on Goodramgate.  I had two slightly disappointing beers: Kelham Island Pale Rider and Thornbridge Jaipur, which for some reason was far less interesting than usual.

We went on to The House Of The Trembling Madness above The Bottle on Stonegate.  It’s a favourite of mine: a hidden hunting lodge-themed bar with a good selection of imported bottled beers and meat and cheese platters secreted above an excellent off-licence.  I had an O’Dell 5 Barrel Pale Ale before we decided that it would be sensible to draw a line under the day whilst all was well and we could face the train back to Leeds with a brave face.  At this point people were headed in the direction of the Rook and Gaskill, which is a great pub, but one that we might have found diffcult to leave.

The House Of The Trembling Madness does have a clever setup where you walk out, slightly inebriated, through a shop full of great beers and of course I ended up buying three big Stone bottles: Arrogant Bastard; Cali-Belgique and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.  And this is on top of the bottle of Driscoll’s End that Dominic himself had very kindly given me earlier in the day after I told him how much I enjoyed it on cask.

Once again it was a great day  and it was lovely to meet loads of people whose blogs I read and a few whose beers I drink, and everyone was really nice and welcoming.  Thanks very much to Andy and Mark for organising it and to everyone else for being so friendly: see you on the next one!

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Let The Right One In: Croglin Vampire

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

At the National Winter Ales Festival, Jeff Pickthall, the hairy godfather of Cumbrian beer, kindly gave me a bottle of Cumbrian Legendary AlesCroglin Vampire to review.  I’ve tried Cumbrian Legendary Ales’ beers only once before when I had  their Loweswater Gold in Burgundy’s in Kendal.  I found it to be a very light, pale, drinkable beer but not quite interesting enough to merit a second pint.

Croglin Vampire can’t be accused of being uninteresting.  An 8% doppelbock, it pours a reddish brown and gives off a rich port smell.  The yellow head dispersed quickly.  It had a rich, tongue-coating viscosity.  The rich taste is of a deep maltiness containing sour fruits and a slightly iron-like, appropriately bloody quality.

I have to confess that I’m not entirely familiar with the doppelbock style, and have yet to try Paulaner Salvator, for example.  Wikipedia informs me that, “Historically, doppelbock was high in alcohol and sweet, thus serving as “liquid bread” for the monks during times of fasting, when solid food was not permitted.”  I would not recommend having Croglin Vampire on an empty stomach, for it may induce either beatific visions or, more likely, darker consequences.

This made me think that I’d like to explore the style more.  It also made me want to try the rest of Cumbrian Legendary Ales’ range, which include a Cascade-hopped bitter called Dickie Doodle.  For the life of me I don’t know why this isn’t the house beer in Dickie Doodle’s in Kendal.  They’re missing a trick.

Thanks very much to Jeff for the bottle.

Canny Bevvies: BrewDog Punk IPA, Maui Big Swell IPA, Caldera IPA

February 21, 2011 4 comments

Although tinned craft beer has been something of a hot topic recently, it’s not been that easy to get hold of them. But it turned out that, after waiting ages, three turned up in my fridge at once: BrewDog new Punk IPA (from the website); Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA (also from the BrewDog website); and Caldera IPA (from Beer Ritz). 

BrewDog Punk IPA (5.6%)

This is the new Punk, more Green Day than The Clash.  I wasn’t that impressed the first time I opened these cans, but that may well have been because I did so in less than ideal tasting conditions: the cans were warmer than they should have been, having just lifted them out of the post, and I’d just tried not one but four 75 IBU beers, in BrewDog’s IPA Is Dead range.

However, cold from the fridge and enjoyed at home in a tulip glass, it was a different matter altogether.  Upon cracking open the brew(dog)ski, you immediately get a lovely sweet waft of mango.  I noticed this the first time I tried it but now I also found the old, mouthwatering, grapefruit bitterness mixed in with the new fruity sweetness, which added up to a really nice finish; perhaps not as long as it used to be, but still very good.  So yes, I take it back: new Punk in cans is definitely worth picking up.

Maui Big Swell IPA (6.2%)

A sweet, appley Cidona smell upon opening the can: again the aroma is fantastic and the can (or at least the way you open it) seems to help this.  A sweeping fresh tropical fruity taste with a light grapefruity bitterness.  Kate and I decided that there was pine and apple in the taste, and indeed some pineapple too.

Whilst still very light and refreshing overall, compared to the BrewDog the slightly higher ABV results in a heavier mouthfeel, but that’s only really noticeable after a few gulps.  Again a really nice beer and nothing to suggest the can has done anything other than keep the beer very fresh and hoppy.

Caldera IPA (6.1%)

Noticeably more amber than the fuzzy yellow-orange of the previous two, Caldera had a rich sweet piney aroma.  This carries through into a lovely instant piney bitterness and a long finish.  The mouthfeel is thicker and more viscous again than the Maui.  It’s everything you want from a strong American IPA.

All three of the beers were excellent and certainly worth buying again.  Canning did seem to suit – or at worst doesn’t seem to detract from – the freshness, bitterness and hoppiness, without any sort of “tinny” taste, that I associate with the usual tinned lager or bitter.

Whilst the Punk IPA is the junior of the three in terms of serious bitterness and ABV, it’s also likely to be more easily available and around half the price of the others to UK cansumers.  I’m looking forward to trying it against the keg and maybe the bottled version of the same new recipe Punk IPA.  I’m also anticipating having more use for my Aussie can-sleeve, from the Talwood Hotel, Queensland!

Find more reviews of canned BrewDog Punk IPA on The Beer Monkey; of the Maui Big Swell IPA on Hopzine and The Beer Monkey; and of Caldera IPA on The Ormskirk Baron.

Lager, Lager, Lager, Shouting: Thornbridge Italia & Leeds Bierkeller

February 20, 2011 5 comments

For the purposes of a leaving do and a birthday party, I went to Leeds Bierkeller twice this week.  Thursday night was fine: a quiet night in the bar as there was no band on, I was able to talk with friends and try some of the different beers, of which I decided that Früh Kölsch (not a lager) and Flensburger Pilsener (which was) were my own favourites.  There was a delicate floral hoppiness in the Flensburger which was more interesting than most of the various Paulaners.

In accordance with the standard practice, many of the girls (excluding Kate) opted for the Belgian fruit beers, with many enjoying the draft Rosarda.  The waitresses in short dirndels, however, may or may not be to their tastes.

Friday night was very different: with the band on, the bar was bunged by 9 O’Clock, and one’s enjoyment of the event depends very much on whether you enjoy a Northern English band leading everyone in drinking songs, synchronised swaying, and being encouraged to stand on your seat (essentially the rules require that you absolutely must not stand on the table but you pretty much have to stand on the bench).  There was at least one stag do in, which is probably the market being targeted, really.

The band were good at what they did, however.  An example of one of their medleys went as follows:

Hitler Has Only Got One Ball > Yellow Submarine > She’s Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts > Lily The Pink > The Can Can > Oggy Oggy Oggy! Oi Oi Oi! > Ein Prosit.

If I had one particular criticism of the Bierkeller it’s that the televisions everywhere (above and around the bar, the little ones above the urinals) should probably be switched to something other than Sky News when all this is going on.  It’s difficult to get really into bawdy German drinking songs whilst the death tolls of anti-government protestors in Libya and Bahrain are constantly revised upwards on the big screen.

I should be clear that I’m not one of those people who liked pilsner before being converted to “real ale”; I always actively disliked pilsners, preferring Guinness and other nitrokegged stouts and even watery smoothflow beers such as Caffreys and Tennents Velvet.  That’s not to say that, given no other option, I won’t happily drink a Peroni, Stella or Mahou in a restaurant, but it tends to be a last resort.

However, on Saturday I found myself buying pilsner again, as Beer Ritz had Thornbridge Italia in.  According to the label, it’s a collaboration with Maurizio Folli of Birrifico Italiano, made with Hallertau Northern Brewer, Perle and Spalter Select hops.  I thought it would probably go well with curry.

Pouring a very pale blond, it had a fresh lemongrass smell and a light, sharp, slightly grassy floral taste.  There was a small amount of the usual pilsner biscuitiness in there, which carried through into a building, light citrus bitterness in the aftertaste.  As Reluctant Scooper notes, there’s a lot going on in there for a pilsner, although it remains a light, refreshing beer. 

I think it’s an excellent example of the style, it’s just that it’s not a style of beer that I particularly like.  Much as I love Thornbridge, it’ll probably be a while before I get this again.  However I would probably pick it over most other pilsners.

For Rob’s review of Italia on keg at The Grove, Huddersfield, see his post on Hopzine.  Ghost Drinker has a more comprehensive review of the Bierkeller with lots of photos here.

BrewDog @ North Bar: IPA Isn’t Dead. It Just Smells Funny.

February 18, 2011 13 comments

On Wednesday night Kate and I went to North Bar for their IPA Is Dead launch night. BrewDog have released four single-hopped IPAs, all with the same level of bitterness (75 IBU) and using the same base beer, a 7.5% “mini-Hardcore”. North Bar had all four on keg and it was £7 for a taster tray, in which you got a third of each.

I was particularly interested in this project as it really serves to showcase the hops, one of which I was very familiar with (Citra) and three less so. All of the beers were relatively sweet with a light carbonation. Kate (who has a more sophisticated palate than me generally) also took some detailed tasting notes.

Citra

The Citra IPA had a strong, sweet mango nose. The taste was the fruity bitterness as expected although I think the finish was more sweet fruitiness than sharp hoppy bitterness. The slightly cloying sweetness gave an overall impression of cheap sweeties.

Sorachi Ace

The second IPA I tried had a much more subtle nose, but Kate thought it was flowery. The principal taste I got was a tingling black pepper flavour. Behind the pepper there was a lemony, herby base. As well as the lemons, Kate noticed peaches and lychees.

Bramling Cross/Bramling X

A really noticeable blackcurrant nose and a rounded, sweet, almost Ribena taste. Kate also detected a cakeyness that reminded her of blackcurrant crumble. She also noticed a slightly chalky mouthfeel.

Nelson Sauvin

I’d had Mikkeller’s Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA before and this came across as really quite similar. It had a sweet and sour aroma, by which I mean a smell that was both sweet and sour, rather than smelling like Chinese food.

I got a strong, sour, white winey, but really quite meaty flavour. The combination of sweetness and meatiness made me think of those tropical plants that smell like rotting meat to attract flies. Kate noted that the rotten grape and umami reminded her of the things she dislikes about white wine.

The Citra was a bit too sweet for both my and Kate’s liking without a stronger bitterness to balance it out, possibly as we’ve tried a lot of very good Citra beers recently (Summer Wine Diablo, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, O’Dell IPA).

The Bramling Cross was perhaps also a bit less to my tastes, due to the berry flavour, but was a very interesting beer. The Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin were the most complex and rewarding to drink and I opted for another half of the latter.

Speaking to Rob, Matt and others there did seem to be a general consensus forming that Nelson Sauvin was the best, although Kate plumped for the Sorachi Ace, which was a close second for me.  All of them were good, interesting beers and I would be very happy to drink each of them again.  I’d buy the bottles if they turned up in Beer Ritz so I could avoid the postage.

As well as the IPA Is Dead beers we got to try some unique Alice Porter that Matt had bottle-conditioned himself, which tasted less punchy than when it was on cask but nice and rounded.  Alice Porter contains both Bramling Cross and Sorachi Ace.

I also brought along a couple of cans of new Punk IPA which I’d just received in the post. It had a really fruity nose but lacked bitterness both in the initial taste and the aftertaste: I would concur entirely with The Beer Monkey on this.

However, having not tried the new Punk in bottles or otherwise it’s difficult to know if it’s the new recipe or the canning process.  However again this is a minor niggle and I do have another 10 cans to get through, which I don’t consider a hardship.

All-in-all it was another nice, friendly night at North trying great beers and chatting to beery people I already knew and some I didn’t (Tunks, Tuff).  Again, Twissup in York in a couple of weeks looks like it’ll be great.

Things to look out for at North Bar in the coming months include a Belgian Beer Festival in March and a very exciting Thornbridge event where their core range will be available on keg!

For another take on the North Bar event see Eating Isn’t Cheating, and for a similar event at the Euston Tap see Maltjerry.

This Is Euston Tap

February 15, 2011 3 comments

An early finish following a day of work in London and a pre-booked railway ticket left myself and a colleague at something of a loose end. Fortunately I had a plan B, and it involved The Euston Tap, the relatively new, tiny craft beer bar at the front of Euston station from the people who brought us The Sheffield Tap and Pivni in York.

From Euston Square I dragged my reluctant colleague through the pouring rain to the porterhouse stone building at the front of Euston proper. Unimpressed as he was by the almost entirely male clientele, even he was forced to admit how great the little bar looked, with the big copper-coloured back bar with American taps and peculiar, CAMRA-baiting unpumpable hand pumps. With little room or no room to sit downstairs, we shared a minor grumble over the lack of coat-hooks under the bar.

On each side of the bar there were fridges of European (on one side) and American (on the other) bottles. “Not cheap”, my colleague noted, and his Northern intuition was in this case correct: these are fancy imported beers with prices to whiten the hair of casual drinkers. He balked at a £20 bottle of Mikkeller, and double-balked at a £43 bottle.

The excellent selection of casks ale was much more reasonably priced, especially for That London, so I recommended a couple of pints of Marble’s Driscoll’s End. Impressed with this, a really robust, hoppy cask ale, we moved onto two keg beers, an O’Dell 5 Barrel Pale Ale and a Matuska Raptor, a Czech IPA.  After starting with a pretty severely hoppy beer (again), it took me a while to appreciate the finer nuances of the Raptor.  An earthy, lavender taste melted into a solid bitterness in the aftertaste.

My colleague went to meet a friend, leaving me to try Sierra Nevada Celebration on keg, which had a oddly cold, flat mouthfeel.  However it did have a nice solid malty, astringent bitterness.  Next was  Thornbridge Brock on cask, which was dark, with a creamy mouthfeel and smoky, bready flavour.  I then had a half of BrewDog Alpha Dog, which, after the pounding my tastebuds had already taken, came across initally a bit like a boring brown beer with barely any aroma, but did have a very nice finish.

Just like in the Sheffield Tap, it’s very easy to go a little bit mad in the Euston Tap, but I did manage to drag myself away with only a couple of bottles of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard and a bottle of Lupulus (by, erm… some Belgians, I think), after a slightly confused (on my part) conversation with the helpful barman.  I happily and purposefully strode out through the rain back to King’s Cross for the train north.

As it turned out, the entire train network had collapsed in a gibbering heap that evening, so I ended up drinking one of the Oaked Arrogant Bastards accompanied by a Tunnocks Caramel Teacake, which was the only thing I could afford from a vending machine whilst stranded for a time in Doncaster station.  They went pretty well together actually.  It certainly beat the usual can of John Smiths Smoothflow on the East Coast service.

Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Coniston Bluebird & Bluebird XB

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Coniston Bluebird is one of the most beloved beers of the Lake District: almost as ubiquitous as Jenning’s Cumberland Ale, but for my money, much more interesting.  I’ve had quite a few pints in my time of both it and its American-hopped counterpart, Bluebird XB, in my time; however I’d never tried a side-by-side comparison and thought it was worth the exercise, so I bought a couple of bottles in Beer Ritz for the purpose of doing so.

Coniston Brewing Company Bluebird Bitter (4.2%)

Distinguished, the label says, with “unusual quantities” of Challenger hops, this bottle-conditioned version had very little aroma and what there was came across slightly bready.  There was a small amount of bread as well in the slightly tart bitterness, with a slightly oily mouthfeel.  I also noticed a chalkiness in the taste.

Coniston Brewing Company Premium XB Bluebird Bitter (4.4%)

The XB version adds the “new wave American hop variety Mount Hood with robust citrus aromas“.  Certainly this resulted in a much more interesting nose, with more citrus and perhaps even a slight fresh, herbal mintiness in there as well.  The citrus carries through to a light, gentle lemony flavour, but one that seems to meet head-on with the chalkiness I noted in the standard Bluebird.  As a result, the first impression I got was of the bitterness that you experience when drinking orange juice just after brushing your teeth. 

Mulling it over more, I think this alkaline chalkiness has always been present in Bluebird.  It might just go to show that I’ve tended to drink it without analysing the taste and the beers both contained some surprises when I really applied my attention to them.  Although I think I prefer the cask version of each, I did quite like both bottles and, given the choice, might tend towards the lighter notes and stronger aroma of the XB version.

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