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Going Solo: Leeds Brewery’s Single Hop Range

April 20, 2011 10 comments

Whilst some of us are able to swan off to Copenhagen to enjoy 19 single-hopped beers at the Mikkeller bar, I find myself more firmly rooted to the ground in Leeds crying into my parkin as my shivering whippet empathically pines alongside me.  Still, there are some compensations for the wan, potbellied Yorkshire-based salaryman, as we’re currently enjoying our own homegrown single hop event.

As Jerry notes, single hops are so hot right now.  Mikkeller did their first range of single-hopped IPAs a while ago and a lot of other breweries have done similar things.  Most notable in recent months is BrewDog’s IPA Is Dead release.  As I mentioned at the time, I’m very much in favour of this type of thing as it serves to interest and educate the budding beer geek who doesn’t know quite enough about brewing (i.e. me and presumably a few others, but mainly me).

Leeds Brewery’s single-hopped range is called “So1o” and each of the four beers is brewed on the small brewkit on the premises in The Brewery Tap, near the entrance to Leeds station.  They’ve brewed four identical beers but for the hops used. However, as the base beer, rather than using a 7.5% strong IPA like IPA Is Dead, instead they’ve gone for a light 4% session pale which would fit into their range more coherently.

I started with the Sorachi Ace, the Japanese hop which had produced an intriguing and divisive IPA in the BrewDog release, with pepper, herbs and lemon cheescake amongst the multitude of tastes it was compared to. By contrast this beer had a delicate aroma. It was a light lime cordial smell, subtle but fresh rather than bready. This carried through to quite a light taste and bitterness in with the relatively full creamy mouthfeel which characterises most Leeds beers.

Northdown is an English hop apparently often used in stouts, although I’m not familiar with it specifically. The beer had very little nose and initially little in the taste. The beer was quite cold however and as it warmed I noticed a subtle traditional English bitterness and also a very slight plastic/bubblegum undercurrent. The aftertaste was satisfyingly bitter and rounded in the style of an English pale ale.

I thought I knew what to expect from Cascade and I usually really enjoy the astringent grapefruity bitterness. This beer had a little grapefruit in the smell although it did seem more like watered down grapefruit juice than the fresh stuff. This mildness carried through to the taste and aftertaste which, whilst refreshing, didn’t really make the best use of what can be a spiky, interesting hop that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Hallertau Mittelfrüh is a traditional German lager hop. The beer had a fresh herbal to grassy nose and a nice lagery bitterness on the swallow. Being a relatively low ABV beer which was less strongly hopped than an IPA, I thought this worked really quite well, showcasing the hop bitterness to a much better extent than lagers usually allow for.

We’re being asked to vote for the hop that makes it into the regular range, and I duly filled in my card, deciding to opt for the Hallertau. The Cascade and Sorachi Ace are both nice hops and made for pleasant beers, but I wanted them to be more forthright than they were. Northdown was fine if lacking in aroma, but didn’t produce a beer that was different enough to Leeds Brewery’s usual range. The Hallertau beer simply made the best use of the hop.

I tend to think of Leeds Brewery as being cautious and playing to a mainstream audience. Their core range (Pale, Best, Midnight Bell) is fine but of those I’ve personally found only the last to be both consistent and interesting. Their ambitions to step into Tetley’s shoes are quite clear in the upcoming events around the time of Carlsberg’s sad closure of the site as reported by Leigh.

However things like the So1o range (including the willingness to enter into a dialogue with their customers on what they think of them) and their recent Gyle 479 suggest that Leeds Brewery are branching out and doing more experimental things. This might start to get people genuinely interested in and talking about their beers, even if they’re not going to be at the front end of innovation, capturing headlines with offal beers or 55% eisbocks. It’s fine winning the loyalty of the mild and bitter drinkers of West Yorkshire who want a default beer to have time and time again, but let’s keep some spice in the relationship, eh?

The State I Am In: BrewDog Nanny State

April 19, 2011 4 comments

I’ve been a bit wary about opening this bottle of BrewDog Nanny State, which I’d bought in a slight rush from Utobeer as they were closing up one evening a few weeks ago.

Nanny State is described as an “Insanely Hopped Imperial Mild” and is a very low ABV “beer” that was first produced a couple of years ago in response to a controversy over the the 18.2% Tokyo.  I’m not sure how good a beer brewed as satire is supposed to be, but I thought I’d give it a go.

This bottle was actually of a newer, even lower ABV batch: the original Nanny State was 1.1% and this one was half that, at 0.5%.  This version is supposed to be an improvement on the original, after a rare admission of remorse from BrewDog for their prioritising of publicity over taste in the original.

 

Having not tasted the 1.1% version, this lower ABV Nanny State first surprised me with its smell.  I didn’t expect the rich, very hoppy, unusually malty aroma that reminded me of one of those big malty American IPAs.  I remember speaking to a barman in The Ginger Man in New York last year and he said that the thing he disliked about Punk IPA was a lack of maltiness which he expected in most hoppy US beers.  He would have no complaints here, based on just the smell.

It poured a caramel colour and there was initially a light bitter hoppy sweetness in the taste.  However the thing that probably can’t really be got around in a beer of such nominal ABV is the thinness.  The lack of body made it seem very fizzy.  A slight raspberry taste in the bitterness was quickly overcome with the unrelenting fizziness.  After knocking the bubbles out a bit however I was left with a slightly alkaline aftertaste.

I see that Martin describes it as a “quinine bitter finish“.  Maybe that’s fair, but it definitely started to bore after a while: smelling that pleasant rich hoppy malty fruitiness before each taste, whilst always being disappointed when it reached the tongue.

I had started out thinking that I wouldn’t mind having this beer when I was driving.  I had Becks Blue recently, the 0.05% lager which seems to be this decade’s Kaliber or Tennents LA, available in Loch Fyne, The Living Room and similar decent midmarket working lunch restaurants.  Nanny State is an improvement on Becks Blue, but it’s a real shame that the fantastic smell doesn’t carry through to a correspondingly nice mouthfeel or a lasting pleasant taste.

All in all, if I’m not able to drink properly for whatever reason, I’d rather have a smaller amount of a good session beer (like the fantastic Hawkshead Windermere Pale) than a lot of this.   But all credit to BrewDog for trying and trying again, like another famous Scot.

Irish Beer: Porterhouse Hop Head

April 19, 2011 2 comments

I hadn’t actually intended to bring any beer back from Dublin, not least because we were flying with frigging Ryanair and had observed their avaricious attitude to baggage allowances before the flight over.  However I did end up with one bottle of beer, a Porterhouse Hop Head.

The bottle is very nice: a ringpull bottle cap and a metallic label design, although with what might be regarded as slightly BrewDog-esque design and a similar slightly confrontational first sentence to the blurb.  However, instead of launching into postmodernist nonsense, I found it refreshing that the ingredients list told you specifics about the hops (Pilgrim, Nuggett, Cascade, Centennial) and the malt.  I recall that the summaries on the beer list in Porterhouse Bars were similarly informative.  Given that The Porterhouse is and has been at the forefront of expanding Irish consumers’ beer horizons, this would seem to be a useful and admirable way to do so.

Opening the ringpull cap, the beer poured on the orangey side of pale with a decent amount of carbonation and a thin head.  It had a nice piney malty smell like you might expect of an American pale ale.  Kate noted strawberry on the nose before me, which then gave way to a slight alcohol smell.

The taste had a definite malty raspberry hint to it.  It was really quite fizzy on the tongue, but had some oilyness. In the aftertaste the raspberry flavour gave way to an ultimate bitterness, but always with a slightly alkaline taste.

A few of the ratings on Ratebeer reckon the beer overplays its hand with the name “Hop Head”, and it’s fair to say that whilst it’s quite bitter, it pales (no pun intended) in comparison to some of the more extreme American examples.  Nonetheless it seems to be quite well liked and deservedly so.  This is a very enjoyable American-style pale ale that I would definitely have again.

It also demonstrated to me that The Porterhouse is able to produce some great beers outside the stouts and porters I’d already been impressed with, particularly their Oyster Stout and Wrassler. 

Nose To Tail Drinking: St John Bar & Restaurant, Smithfield, City of London

April 14, 2011 5 comments

Some time ago there was a debate on the blogs about restaurants and beer. I was generally in agreement with James from BrewDog and Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating that it was odd that otherwise excellent restaurants, who take such care over their menus and wine lists, seem to regard beer as an afterthought at best and at worst an annoyance.

Whereas I would accept that most restaurants might face difficulties getting through a cask of real ale in a reasonable time, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a good stock of bottled beers and perhaps replace the dull macrolager they have on keg with a more interesting craft equivalent.

I was very pleased to note that on a recent visit to St John Bar & Restaurant at Smithfield that there were some great beers on offer. I’d previously been to St John Bread & Wine at Spitalfields and the only beer available was Meantime Pilsner.

However I had been impressed that, even though the selection was limited, they’d gone for a local beer from an interesting brewery rather than the Peroni that almost every restaurant seems to think is the best they can do these days.  The Pilsner also went very nicely with the simple quail and quince starter and truly wonderful chicken and ham pie I enjoyed that Friday evening.

The beers available at St John Smithfield on this occasion included a few Meantime ones on keg: London Pale Ale; Wheat Beer; Helles and Union. There were also cask beers available: Black Sheep and Hyde’s (although which Hyde’s beer wasn’t clear from the blackboard pumpclip). I had a refreshing London Pale Ale followed by the Union, which was a nice, slightly smoky version of a Vienna-style lager. The bar staff also seemed to know what they were talking about, which was good.

Sitting in the bar rather than the restaurant we were able to enjoy Michelin-starred food to go with the beers. I should perhaps explain that St John’s founder Fergus Henderson is famously the leading light of “nose to tail eating” (also the name of his book), encouraging the creative use of offal/”fifth quarter” cuts that have passed out of use in these squeamish times.  I had the signature bone marrow salad (which came in the bone with a silver pokey-scoopy device with a kind of forked-tongue shaped end) followed by a snail, spicy sausage and chickpea stew and then some madelines.

The bone marrow was a little bit disappointing: a little bit oily and fatty in texture (in a not unpleasant way) but quite bland in taste.  It was an experience nonetheless.  The snail and sausage stew, however, was really very nice and I’ve been a fan of their madelines since going to their restaurant in Spitalfields.

I would definitely recommend a trip to St John, especially because the bar menu is very reasonably priced, as you can see from the sample menu.  Six dishes and five or six very good pints of beer came to £64.  However, I would recommend you take a friend or partner with a sense of adventure regarding food (as well as good taste in beer and/or wine) to make the most of it.

Irish Beer: The Church, The Long Hall, & McDaid’s, Dublin

As my last few posts demonstrate, I was pretty impressed with the state of the Irish craft beer scene.  There are some interesting beers and great bars to be found if you know where to go.  In that respect, you could do worse than checking out the directories on Beoir.

However, it’s probably fair to say that Irish craft beer is still something that is either fortuitously stumbled upon or actively sought out.  You could easily visit the Republic of Ireland and have no inkling of the existence of native craft beer, and most visitors almost certainly just sink a few pints of Guinness and come away with a view of Irish beer with is positive but monolithic.  More specifically, an immovable black monolith with a shiny gold harp in the middle, three quarters of the way up.

Which brings us on to the subject of this post, which is basically that there are some very nice bars in Dublin which haven’t yet bought in to craft beer, even if they are part of the tourist trail.  The first one we visited was The Church, an interesting large bar and restaurant in what used to be St Mary’s Church Of Ireland on Mary Street, close to the busy shopping area around Henry Street.

The Church has a considerable history, including being the place where Wolfe Tone (a Protestant and a rebel) was baptised and Arthur Guinness (a Protestant and a Unionist) was married.  A bust of Arthur Guinness sits at the end of the bar, one of a number of interesting features including the organ pipes on the wall and a pleasant stained glass window.  A bright, spacious and bustling venue, I can see that The Church would be an interesting and unusual place to come for lunch, Guinness or a cocktail.

A more traditional pub, but one that is no less spectacular, is The Long Hall.  It has a wonderfully preserved interior, with a lot of decorative dark wood, elaborate light fittings and mirrors.  On the afternoon we visited they were polishing the fittings with Brasso and the air was quite potent with the fumes.  At the end of the bar a wooden archway suspends a clock above your head as you walk into the back room.  I suppose it would have separated the equivalent of the public bar and the lounge bar or dining room back in the day.  We stopped at the bar briefly for a Beamish and quietly enjoyed the surroundings.

McDaid’s is another traditional Victorian pub.  Just off Grafton Street, I remembered the distinctive and colourful frontage from when I visited Dublin as a child.  Nowadays a statue of Phil Lynott stands opposite it, a man who (with Whiskey In The Jar) did a fine job of exploiting Irish tradition and at the same time reinventing it.

Inside, McDaid’s conforms to all my own prejudices about what a Dublin pub should look like, with more dark wood, wooden floors, decorative tiles, mirrors and leather benches, and an incredibly high ceiling for who knows what reason.  Perhaps a lower ceiling would have turned the place into a box of smoke.  The natural light from the huge windows falls attractively into this setting.

Although it would appear almost every Dublin pub of any age purports to have some literary connection or other, McDaids claims an exceptionally illustrious heritage, with a clientele which included Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien and J.P. Donleavy, amongst others. 

You probably won’t find a pint of Galway Hooker in any of these pubs.  You certainly won’t find a working handpump.  I didn’t even notice any Irish craft beer in bottles, although I might just have missed them.  However, they’re definitely all worth a visit nonetheless, for a pint of Guinness or a glass of John Powers, whilst you let yourself forget how much is history rather than nostalgia, marketing or myth.

Irish Beer: Against The Grain, Dublin

April 11, 2011 2 comments

After The Bull & Castle, the second pub we visited on the recommendation of The Beer Nut was Against The Grain. We’d been out to the seaside at Dun Laioghaire on a cool, sunny spring weekday afternoon and on our return to Dublin were in the mood for a pint. From Pearse Station we walked West, stopping briefly to admire the selection in the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street, before crossing St Stephen’s Green and ending up on Wexford Street.

Against The Grain is a relatively new pub which is part of the same chain as The Oslo, The Cottage and The Salt House in Galway. The Oslo is also a brewpub and produces two “Galway Bay” beers, a lager and an ale.

The pub itself has a pleasant frontage and an uncluttered interior. When we went in there was no-one but the barman about, so we sat at the bar and he was happy to chat about beer, on which subject he clearly knew his stuff.  The selection of keg and bottled beers was excellent, with quite a few imported craft beers. After a good bit of umming and ahhing I decided on a bottle of O’Hara’s Leann Folláin, a nice full-bodied 6% stout from Carlow Brewing Company. It was a good muscular stout, with a lovely coffee-coloured head and a roasted dark chocolate bitterness.

Kate tried their own Galway Bay Ale, which had a bit of a bready smell and a fairly uninteresting brown beer taste. She also tried the Trouble Brewing Ór, a golden ale. This had an unusual, rich, very sweet orange/mandarin smell. There was definitely a lot of orange in the taste as well, which reminded me of sticky orange Calippo lollipops.

Unfortunately we had to head on and meet someone before the pub presumably started to get livelier with the after-work crowd, but I was again impressed to see such a good representation of both Irish and imported craft beer in a nice welcoming setting.  Again, thanks to The Beer Nut for the recommendation, which I’m happy to pass on to you lot.

Irish Beer: The Bull & Castle, Christchurch, Dublin

April 10, 2011 8 comments

Beyond The Porterhouse, I had very little idea of where to find craft beer in Dublin. Fortunately Irish beer blogger laureate The Beer Nut was a great help, suggesting over Twitter that I try The Bull & Castle, Against The Grain and L. Mulligan Grocer. Although unfortunately we didn’t make it to the last one, we did visit the first two.

The Bull & Castle is by Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, a short walk from Temple Bar. It has a beer hall upstairs and a restaurant downstairs, both with a comprehensive selection of Irish craft beer. The furniture upstairs has something of a gothic arch theme running through it, reflecting the cathedral over the road.

We sat at the bar upstairs and tried a few of the different beers. Castle Red was an “Irish Red” in the vein of Smithwicks. As such it was relatively sweet and malty and had next to no hoppiness. Franciscan Well Rebel Lager was good enough for a pilsner but that was about all there was to it.

Metalman Pale Ale was more interesting. A new beer from a new brewing company (although actually made at the White Gypsy brewery) it had a fresh citrus bitterness that to me seemed to include a bit of Burton sulphur.

The Bull & Castle is owned by FXB, a chain of steakhouse restaurants around Dublin that use meat from their own farm in County Offally. Kate and I took a table downstairs and both enjoyed really excellent medium rare ribeye steaks with champ and a delicious surf-and-turf side of prawns.

With dinner I had a bottle of O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale by the Carlow Brewing Company, who do a lot of bottled beers and produce the Irish Stout for Marks & Spencer. Their IPA had a nice light flavour and a subtle, slightly floral, oily bitterness.

I’ve made myself incredibly hungry and thirsty just writing this. Many thanks to The Beer Nut for the tip-off. Based on our experience, I’d definitely recommend the Bull & Castle to anyone visiting Dublin for a winning combination of craft Irish beer and good eats.

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