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Cumbria Way Pubs: Ulverston-Coniston, The Black Bull and Coniston No 9 Barley Wine

September 17, 2012 3 comments

After enjoying our Dales Way walk so much, we decided to try out the Cumbria Way, a 72 mile walk from Ulverston to Carlisle. The walk didn’t go entirely as planned and was curtailed due to injury after three sections, which was also a bit of a relief given the ever-changeable weather. However, we still got some great walking done through some lovely countryside, and got to visit a few nice pubs and drink some lovely beer along the way.

The Cumbria Way is traditionally done from south to north and starts at a square called the Gill in Ulverston, marked by a modern sculpture. We had a sunny morning and a really pleasant start to the walk through fields, small villages and farms, with great views back down to Ulverston, the beacon that overlooks it and Morecambe Bay beyond.

We remained in good spirits as we started to ascend into wilder territory in the Blawith Fells. The walk got a bit more difficult at this point, as we had to carefully pick our way through boggy ground around a tarn before descending through some bleaker landscape towards Coniston Water. Around this time the sky darkened significantly and it felt like dusk from around 3pm, before the clouds opened just as we approached the lake.

The final few miles of the walk, mostly close to the water’s edge through woodland, were very wet and it was difficult to appreciate the full beauty of Coniston Water in poor visibility. However we finally got to our stop for the night, The Black Bull at Coniston, damp and sore but relieved.

The Black Bull is an old Lakes coaching inn with a traditional oak beam and carpeted interior. We were staying in one of the ensuite rooms, which was spacious and clean. After a hot shower, we changed and hobbled down to the bar for a pint and dinner.

The Black Bull is the brewery tap for Coniston Brewery, much loved for their Bluebird Bitter, presumably named after the water speed record breaking boats of Donald Campbell, who drank at the Black Bull during his attempts on Coniston Water, the final of which resulted in his death in 1967. All of the Coniston range was on the bar, in cask, keg or bottle, so whilst I like the consistent, pale, refreshing, sessionable Bluebird, I appreciated the ability to try the US-hopped variant Bluebird XB and the more robust and malty US-influenced Infinity IPA on cask, both of which were very good examples of New World-hopped cask ales.

Food at the Black Bull is pub grub done superbly and generously, and even after a long walk neither of us could quite finish the massive plates of succulent gammon. After dinner I tried a bottle of another beer, Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, 2012’s Champion Beer Of Britain, following Coniston’s previous success with Bluebird in 1998. It was everything you could want in a barley wine and a nightcap: sweet but not oversweet, mellow and warming. A fitting end to a tough day in a very nice pub.

Beer in Copenhagen: Smørrebrød and Mikkeller at Torvehallerne

May 13, 2012 8 comments

At times Copenhagen can seem like a Guardian-reader’s utopia: all bikes, roughage, serious television drama and Scandanavian design.  Naturally, to complete the picture, it needs its own gastro-oriented food market to rival Borough Market or Mercado De San Miguel in Madrid.

Copenhagen’s version is Torvehallerne, which opened on a square near Nørreport railway station in September 2011. There’s an open area and two covered markets full of units selling a wide range of fresh fish, meat, cheese, vegetables and various prepared foods.

One Danish speciality we’d read about was smørrebrød: open sandwiches on rye bread.  On one stall in Torevehallerne (Hallernes) we sat at the bar and ordered some impressive-looking smørrebrød with a glass of Mikkeller beer.

It wasn’t clear which beer it was (“fadøl” just means draught beer) but I think it may have been Green Gold or, if not, a similar IPA.

In any event, it was a very nice beer and went especially well with the breaded fish, cured herring and even, at a stretch, the roast beef-topped smørrebrød.  It was particularly effective with the herring, which was delicious, but nonetheless it good to have a strong acidic beer to balance the taste and ultimately clear the palate.

Also at Torvehallerne on the weekend we visited, Carlsberg were giving away free four-packs of their new beer, Carlsberg Copen*hagen, a beer sold in a clear bottle apparently designed to be “gender-neutral” in its branding and marketing. The bottle I drank was a slightly skunked light pilsner with little to commend it over, say, Corona. In stark contrast to the Mikkeller and smørrebrød, it was far from the best Denmark had to offer.

Hobbycraft: Retweet, Baby-Faced Assassin and Poltergeist

October 16, 2011 8 comments

Having only ever done a kit brew, where the wort came in cans for dilution, and seen one commercial brewday, I still find the concept of homebrewing daunting.  The more I learn about beer, the more respect I have for the brewers of my favourite beers and even those well-crafted beers that aren’t to my tastes, but are consistent and reliable.

However I do want to get beyond this stage of lazy, passive consumption and comment.  I am looking forward to having the pluck, time, equipment and space to do some home brewing of my own and perhaps, as people have kindly offered, to collaborate with them on a homebrew.

Some very generous homebrewers from West Yorkshire have been kind enough to give me bottles of their recent brews and their quality has left me both worried about being up to their standards and encouraged about what is possible. On Saturday night, Kate and I sat down to try three of these much appreciated gifts, whilst watching a couple of DVDs (the 1935 version of The 39 Steps and Deconstructing Harry).

First up was David Bishop’s Broadford Brewery Retweet.  I’m not sure I’d even met David when he left one of these bottles in Beer Ritz for me to collect at the start of the summer.  I was a little worried about having left this bottle in the fridge for a few months but fortunately it was still as I think it was intended.  This 4.6% summer ale was billed as “A refreshing blonde beer with a citrus twist.  Hopped with Challenger and Styrgian Goldings“.

It poured a nice, very pale colour, perhaps not dissimilar to Ilkley Mary Jane.  It had a good size head, as you might expect of a bottle conditioned beer after a few months.  As billed, it was a really nice, refreshing citrussy beer with hidden depths of bitterness.  To that extent it reminded me of the pale Oakham beers I’ve tried: very lightly coloured and drinkable, but with a sophisticated bitterness to be relished if you pay attention to it.

Next up was Roosters Baby Faced Assassin.  This 6.1% IPA was first brewed by Tom Fozard as a homebrew when he was working in Beer Ritz.  Now that he’s at Roosters he brewed it again, with a slightly altered recipe, and gave away these big bottles to those of us to attended an afternoon at the brewery in August.

This beer has also been reviewed by Zak, Leigh and on The Bottled Beer Year, with the Mk 1 version tasted by Ghostie here.  It poured a lovely, slightly hazey orangey gold, with a remarkably inviting mango aroma.  The puckeringly tart citric bitterness was no disappointment and was matched by a richly sweet but fresh malt flavour.  If I was to compare this beer to any other it would be Kernel’s IPAs: fresh, sweet beers with the bitter, acidic sunshine of the US hops shining through.  Lovely.

Finally, and after a glass of milk to try and reset my palate to zero, I opened a beer that had been given to me that afternoon by Ghost Drinker: Poltergeist Amber Ale.  Ghostie had explained (as he does in this post) the beer was intended to be a brown ale, although the wort seemed paler than that, but it ended up being quite brown anyway.

The lovely art deco label (it looks like it belongs in an interwar cinema) informs us that the beer was brewed in collaberation with Matt Lovatt.  It seemed a shame to break the black wax to get into the beer, but it was worth it.  The rich sweet maltiness was evident from both the appearance and the aroma, which also gave a hint of the bitterness.

The tastes of slightly bitter and tart dried fruit, nuttiness, sweet malt and a hint of chocolate all came together to resemble a delicious Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut.  Once I got this idea in my head I couldn’t shake it, so instead relaxed and enjoyed a delicious, comforting beer that  perfectly ended an autumn night.

Thanks to David, Tom and Ghostie for these beers.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to repay you in kind.  In the meantime, check out David and Ghostie’s excellent blogs if you haven’t already and keep an eye out for Roosters cask beers, which are on great form right now.  If you’re interested in homebrewing in West Yorkshire, Zak’s new Leeds Homebrew group has its inaugural meeting in Mr Foleys on Thursday evening.

Citralogy: Fyne Ales Jarl v Oakham Citra v BrewDog IPA Is Dead Citra v Mikkeller Citra IPA

August 3, 2011 12 comments

Like my black IPA experiment recently, this post is born of finding I had accumulated a few beers of a single type and thought they were worth comparing.  In addition, this post is dedicated to Chris “Citra” King, a man unafraid to call a bandwagon a bandwagon.

Fyne Ales Jarl 3.8%

Prior knowledge:  A much-praised Scottish session ale which uses Citra.  I don’t know if it’s solely Citra-hopped, but don’t know for sure if there are other hops used and what they are.

Smell: Light, slightly bready but also lemon and slighty white-wine grapey aroma.  Kate thought she detected Nelson Sauvin, and I agree.

Appearance: Very pale straw colour, pale white head.

Taste: Quite a thin body but with a noticeable hint of oiliness in the mouthfeel.  Delicate fresh lemon citrus and grape flavours and a slightly alkaline bitterness.

Conclusion:  I got a lot more Nelson Sauvin in the flavour than Citra, but this is a really nice light session beer.  I do wonder if it’s a different experience on cask and more fuller bodied.   I’ve been told that Hawkshead’s excellent and similarly light, low ABV Citra-led Windermere Pale is not bottled, as they’re not convinced the hop flavours will hold up.  Nevertheless an accessible and sensible beer that I increasingly find myself reaching for in the fridge.

Oakham Citra 4.6%

Prior knowledge:  An early adopter of Citra in the UK.

Smell: Not huge, again a little bready and a little lemony.

Appearance: More golden colour, similarly pale white head.

Taste: More assertively bitter in a slightly chalky, grapefruity manner.  Lacking sweetness and body.

Conclusion:  The label mentions gooseberry, grapefruit and lychee in the aroma and that’s not far off in respect of the taste, at least.  Again this is a very nice beer, but not an immediately compelling mix of flavours.  Once again, I think this would most likely be a better beer on cask.

BrewDog IPA Is Dead Citra 7.5%

Prior knowledge: 75 IBU Citra-hopped IPA from BrewDog’s interesting single hop experiment “IPA Is Dead”, which involved four beers with identical IBUs and ABVs, the only difference being the type of hop used. I reviewed each of the beers after trying them at the North Bar launch night here.  On keg it wasn’t my favourite of the four, but others preferred it.

Smell: Rich sweet malty mango aroma.

Appearance: The shade is clearly that of a maltier beer, a different class to the previous session-strengthers.

Taste: Sweet sticky mango and lime taste, with a very sweet to cloying aftertaste.

Conclusion: I suspect the hops have calmed down a bit since the keg version I had in North, this bottle being a few months old now.  I think it lacked depth, but was still a very nice beer.

Mikkeller Citra IPA 6.8%

Prior knowledge:
From a much wider single-hop experiment (see Malt Jerry’s post here), I bought this little rarity from the Craft Beer Company in London.  So it cost a fortune.  88 IBU, which is a bit higher than the BrewDog, but slightly lower ABV.

Appearance:
Similar to the BrewDog.

Smell:
Surprisingly little aroma, boozy with a general maltiness and even some brine.

Taste: For 88 IBU I expected a bit more here.  I found it sweet, lightly fruity and malty, but that’s about it.

Conclusion: It’s difficult not to like a beer this sweet, but I’m not blown away.  I prefer the BrewDog, I think.

In reality I’m really comparing two different sets of beers here.  It isn’t possible to do a direct comparison between two beers, one of which is more than twice as strong as the other, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to simply “score” them.  If I were to draw two hypotheses from the above, and these are really just initial thoughts for further investigation, I might say this:

  1. Session-strength Citra pale ales are enjoyable from the bottle, but might well be better and more fuller-bodied from cask.
  2. Stronger IPAs might be better suited to using Citra in addition to other hops, as the experience above suggests it doesn’t, on its own, impart a sophisticated-enough range of flavours with the balance and depth to match the body.

But, as always, I could be wrong, and would appreciate your own thoughts and experiences on the topic.

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The Black Dossier: Black Rocks v Proper Black v Kernel Black IPA v Raven v Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

July 13, 2011 14 comments

I’ve avoided tasting posts recently, as I realised some months ago that it wasn’t my forté.  However, with five black IPAs in the fridge, it seemed a shame not to do a little experiment, so here we go:  five black IPAs enter the ring; only one will emerge victorious. With a style this nascent, but already verging on passé in some quarters, it’s worth seeing what it really has to offer, eh?

Buxton Brewery Black Rocks 5.5%

Prior knowledge: Nice on cask, from a very promising new brewery who specialise in hop-forward but drinkable beers.  I met the guys from the brewery at North Bar recently and they were lovely.

Label-derived facts: Contains Columbus, Cluster and Southern Cross hops.

Blackness: Pretty bloody opaque to start off with, in a full glass. Not priest-sock black, but cola-like round the sides as it gets to the bottom.

Aroma: Nice light citrusy aroma. Bodes well.

Taste: Good, very slightly oily mouthfeel. Acidic, citric taste (unspecific fruit) and a little blackcurrant, some background espresso roastiness. Is light roastiness good or bad in a black IPA? Bad for the illusion, but when you boil it down, perhaps this is the genre’s USP?

Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. A good very, drinkable beer and a fine example of the form. Smells great, but I would prefer a more malty US-style IPA or a pale ale with some fresher fruitiness. For more on Black Rocks, see Hopzine.

St Austell Proper Black 6%

Prior knowledge: Black version of Proper Job, which is an excellent bold IPA and arguably the best widely-available cask beer in Cornwall. Original beer named after some Cornish regiment’s involvement in quashing the Indian Mutiny, presumably explaining the strikingly bitter aftertaste.

Label-derived facts: Brewer’s Gold, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade hops. Their own yeast. You can’t have any of St Austell’s yeasty goodness. Their mycoculture is their castle.

Blackness: Less opaque than above, but black enough. At least as black as Guinness Original, I reckon.

Aroma: Less than the Black Rocks, light and citrusy but slightly bready too.

Taste: Thinner and certainly more savoury and traditional on the tongue, much more like an English pale ale. Fizzy with larger bubbles, despite also being bottle conditioned. Not exactly kicking my arse with the bitterness, immediately following the Black Rocks. More dark chocolate than coffee in the roastiness, as well as a little bit of nuttiness.

Turning to the dark side rating: 6/10. A pleasant beer but not one that really shows off the appeal of the style. Faced with this and a Proper Job, I might choose either depending on my mood, but would go for the Proper Job 66% of the time.

The Kernel Berwery India Pale Ale Black 7.2%

Prior knowledge: I like this. Glyn from the Rake collaborated in the brewing of it. Kernel are basically this one bloke who sold cheese at Borough Market and developed his home-brewing into his job.  Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Label-derived facts: It’s a black IPA from Kernel. It’s bottle conditioned. It’s best before March 2013 (really?).

Blackness: Quite black. It’s got a lot darker since I opened the first bottle so difficult to say. Basically they’re all dark brown really, but Dark Brown India Pale Ale isn’t as compelling a name for a style.  None of them are “priest-sock black”.

Aroma: Stunning. Big, heady aroma with passion fruit, lychee, all that tropical stuff that you get in cans of Rubicon.

Taste: A slightly fizzy mouthfeel that merits a bit more swirling to knock the bubbles out. After that much smoother. The rich and lasting tropical citrus bitterness is great and pretty much eclipses any roasted malt flavours until the death, where there is a smooth chocolatey whimper in the night.

Turning to the dark side rating: 8/10. Really nice, but I still prefer some of Kernel’s non-black IPAs. The brilliant distinguishing hoppy freshness of the Kernel range is very slightly cut short by the underlying roastiness. It is very lovely though. Mmmm…

Thornbridge Raven 6.6%

Prior knowledge: The first Black IPA I ever had, from cask in the Narrow Boat in Skipton on the day before my 30th birthday. It was sensational then, but I’ve rarely had it since and never from the bottle.

Label-derived facts: Nelson Sauvin, Centennial and Sorachi Ace hops. Maris Otter, Black and Chocolate malts.

Blackness: Espresso-coloured.

Aroma: Right from the first smell you get the roastiness along with the pine and fruitiness.

Taste: This mixture of flavours comes through to the taste. There is much more coffeelike maltiness than the previous examples, but it still doesn’t dominate and the fairly complex-tasting varieties of hops come together into a wonderfully sweeping mixture of bitterness. Not too bitter though, but a drink to really savour, with the warm booziness more obvious than the Kernel.

Turning to the dark side rating: 9/10. Suddenly Black IPAs make sense: a fantastic beer all round. There’s a good malt flavour in here that is perfectly balanced with the rich bitterness and solid ABV. However, it could easily be described as a light hoppy porter; you definitely would not mistake this beer for a normal IPA if you closed your eyes.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale 8.7%

Prior knowledge: 100/100 on ratebeer. Crikey. This one’s a bit old, unfortunately. Big hoppy Stone beers seem to be slightly past their best when they get to us in the UK and then I went and sat on this bottle for a couple of months. Idiot.

Label-derived facts: Blah blah blah “first brewed in 2007 as the Stone 11th Anniversary Ale” blah blah blah “thusly” blah.

Blackness: Black, ruby notes around the edge when held up to the light.

Aroma: Woah! Big, strong malty high-ABV US IPA smell, with even more molasses.

Taste: Dark, liquorice, bitter, very richly flavoured indeed; really big and viscous. Calls out for some food and a glass of water to break it up a bit. There’s a lot of slightly acidic bitterness, but no obvious fruitiness. Loads of dark fiercely bitter chocolate malt.

Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. Perhaps less fresh than it should have been, this bottle is an enormous, dark, malty, bitter and interesting drink to sip slowly. It’s not an IPA though… or not any more, anyway.

The Black Gospel

Firstly I should say that I felt that I got value for money for each of these bottles.  They were all, at the very least, good beers from great breweries.  I think that I should caveat the above by saying the Stone beer was older than it really should have been, so don’t let me put you off a fresh bottle.

After trying all of them over a few nights, it’s clear there’s a balance to be struck with Black IPAs.  You can pretend that there’s no dark malt involved at all and try to surprise people, or you can embrace a limited amount of roastiness and make a great beer with [Greg Wallace voice] big hop flavours [/Greg Wallace voice].  That’s what Thornbridge Raven is: a wonderful, sophisticated, superbly balanced beer that expertly exploits the best features of the style.  But what else do you expect from Thornbridge?

Summer Wine On Keg: 7Cs IPA

Being interested in new things doesn’t mean that you think old things should cease to exist.  It is possible to enjoy both a roast dinner and molecular gastronomy; to admire both Michelangelo and Picasso.  But if you have any real interest or passion on any subject, you will naturally be interested in exploring, if not mere novelty, then certainly variety and innovation.

James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery are interested in innovation.  Their many plans for the next few months involve four different saisons, which will appear in keg and bottle only “as we feel saison as a style is best suited to an elevated level of carbonation to bring out that zesty, spicy, estery freshness“.

Their desire to choose the best tool for the job, from ingredients through to the method of dispense, is also reflected in their first (unfiltered, unpasteurised) keg beer: 7 Cs IPA, which debuted at the bar at Mr Foleys yesterday evening, on their new dedicated UK craft keg tap.  Doubtless to the disappointment of many Queen fans, 7Cs isn’t a rye beer.  Instead it’s a style very much suited to keg dispense: a big, bitter, hoppy IPA with (in a UK context) a relatively high ABV of 7%.  The name refers to the seven C-hops it’s made from: *deep breath* Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cascade, Crystal and Cluster.

The beer was a great one to have after work on this hot Friday evening: cool, pale, fresh and solidly, pleasantly bitter. It was on the bar next to O’Dell IPA on keg, one of my all-time favourite beers.  I was happy to keep alternating between the two: the O’Dell providing the rounded mango sweetness and the 7 Cs holding its own with its bitter hit.

The beer was actually served from a corny keg, although in future Summer Wine will be using real, no wait, actual kegs.  Mr Foleys will also have one of their Nerotype black IPAs on keg, and have some cask 7Cs in the cellar for comparison.  As I mentioned previously, the imported bottled selection also continues to improve whilst remaining reasonably priced and their cask range remains unbeaten in Leeds.

I want variety and novelty.  Pubs like Mr Foleys and breweries like Summer Wine continue to interest and excite because of variety and novelty.  They provide the possibility that your next beer could well be different to anything you’ve ever had, or might even the best you’ve ever tried.  And that is a good thing.

I should also say thanks to Dean for being an excellent host once again, and to Andy from Summer Wine, Leigh from The Good Stuff, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Tom and Ol from Roosters, Mr Foley’s chef and new beer blogger Tyler,  Adam, Mark from North Bar and Sir Zak Avery for a night of fun, if increasingly drunken banter.

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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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