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Old Town/New Town: Brewdog Edinburgh & The Oxford Bar

December 1, 2011 10 comments

Kate and I spent our honeymoon in Scotland around the start of November.  We started with a couple of nights in Edinburgh, which meant we only really had one day to explore, although even that was in a bit of a sleepy, post-wedding daze.

However, we did get to go to two bars outside the hotel: The Oxford Bar and Brewdog Edinburgh.  I suppose they’re two extremes of drinking in Edinburgh: the Old Town and The New Town, which would have been a suitably poetic analogy except that the new bar is in the Old Town and vice versa.

Taking the new pub in the Old Town first, we wandered downhill from the Royal Mile into the belly of Edinburgh, the Cowgate.  The Cowgate was historically where cows were droved into Edinburgh for sale and was a slum.  Nowadays it still feels a bit like you’re in the undercity.  The Brewdog bar was a welcome sight, with its stripped back decor and exciting beer boards.  On this Sunday lunchtime it was quiet in terms of people, although the metal coming through the speakers was noisy enough.

Kate and I, with the counsel of barman Hoss, enjoyed a good pizza and olives as well as a few beers, including a Stone/Pizza Port Carlsbad/Green Flash Highway 78 (a “Scotch ale”) but the standout was Ballast Point Sculpin IPA: a really, really nice big, fruity IPA, which has deservedly been getting a bit of attention since it’s been available in the UK.

We could have stayed a little longer, but in order to actually explore the city in a state of semi-consciousness, we moved on, after buying a couple of rarities to enjoy later.  After wandering around for a bit more we ended up in the New Town and in The Oxford Bar, which Kate had wanted to visit for some time due to its appearance in Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels.

When you go into the Oxford Bar it’s tiny and packed with people.  Twenty people would probably fill the front room, and there were around that many in this Sunday afternoon.  Kate and I ordered a Deuchars IPA (in tribute to Ian Rankin) and a Williams Black.  Deuchars is Deuchars is Deuchars: a multi-award winning, bland, bready thing that teases the possibility of hops but never delivers, that I’m sure excited my naive palate around a decade ago.  The Williams Black was, by contrast, too challenging: altogether too liquoricey for an afternoon, more suited to the end of the evening maybe.

But The Oxford Bar has such an atmosphere: the barman held court in friendly chatter with the locals and strangers.  The quiet Brewdog bar of a few hours earlier was exciting in its design and the range of incredible beers it had to offer, as well as the knowledge of the staff.  The Oxford was a place I’d happily stay for ages, for reasons other than the beer. Much like Scotland.

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American Quadrilogy

December 19, 2010 4 comments

Saturday night in Leeds, exactly one week from Christmas Day. Snow on the ground; fridge full of food.  Nothing else to do but make a spicy Cajun gumbo and work through the American beers in the fridge.  Again I should warn you that my palate remains at best charmingly innocent and at worst unsophisticated.

I’d bought the Green Flash Le Freak some time ago in Beer Ritz and sensibly should have had it whilst it was fresher.  Nonetheless what is advertised as an American Imperial IPA meets a Belgian Trippel matches that description and is quite thick and very slightly bubblegummy with a solid bitter aftertaste.  Kate’s not a fan of Belgian beers so I soon had the whole (9.2%, 1 pint 6 fluid oz) bottle to myself.

The combination of the viscosity, sweetness and bitterness was nice but I didn’t fall completely in love with it.  I suspect it might have worked better for me if the hop taste was fresher than the aged bottle I had.  Perfectly nice though.  You can see Rob’s video review of this beer at Hopzine here.

I still had three American IPAs in the fridge that I’d brought back from New York in November, so I thought I’d better have them whilst they were good.  I had specifically decided not to come back from New York with a suitcase full of beer, but we had a few left in the fridge in the hotel room on the last day, and I wasn’t about to let them go to waste.

First was the Lagunitas IPA.  This turned out to be an oddly bland beer with the hoppiness almost tacked on at the end.  After a while it came across like a fairly dull cooking lager but with a bitter aftertaste.

Next was the Smuttynose IPA. I’d had this on keg in New York and really quite liked it.  It was slightly lighter in colour than the Lagunitas.  The bitterness was more complex although not too punchy, with a good mixture of lemon and pine.  Although slightly cloudy, it was a really nice, light refreshing beer, with a hint of detergent.

The Smuttynose IPA was very good match indeed to the spicy meat gumbo from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s America” book.  Give the recipe a go if you get the chance.

Finally we had the Bear Republic Racer 5.  I’d been looking for this beer for ages in New York, having read about it beforehand on Richard Burhouse’s blog amongst others.  However, perhaps because it’s Californian, it was a bastard to find until I tracked it down on the penultimate day in a supermarket in Williamsburg.

Racer 5 turned out to be the best beer of them all: big flavours of mango, citrus and pine that worked really well together.  If I had to drink only one American IPA for the rest of my life, it would certainly do, although right now I think my first choice would be O’Dell IPA.

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