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Uncommon Market: The Rake and Brew Wharf, Borough Market, Southwark

March 19, 2011 4 comments

A trip to London for work means an early start, a lot of train time and usually a fairly hectic day (or couple of days) of work when I get there, and a late finish. However every cloud has a head on it, so I decided to use the opportunity to explore the beery delights of Borough Market, which was less than a mile’s walk from my hotel near St Paul’s.

After a picturesque walk across the Millennium Footbridge that runs between St Paul’s and the Tate Modern, I followed the South bank of the Thames to London Bridge. The first place I came to that was on my list was Brew Wharf, a large, spacious, minimalist modern bar under railway arches.

It was quite busy, so I took my half of their own 1 Hundred IPA and went to stand outside. It was a malty, US-style strong (6.3% or thereabouts?) IPA, but on cask. It was quite amber and malty in the way a lot of US IPAs are, and had a nice piney, furniture polish bitterness. It was a very tasty beer indeed, but… Sacrilegious as it was to think, on this of all days (being the 40th anniversary of CAMRA) it probably would have been slightly better on keg.

I then wandered around slightly lost in an enjoyable kind of way, in the shadow of the half-built Blade-Runneresque Shard that now overlooks the street food vendors of Borough.  I popped my head into The Market Porter, a pretty, large, traditional pub with a wide selection of cask ales, but it was also a bit full for a solitary visit.  After a while I finally found The Rake, which must actually only be about 20 metres from Brew Wharf.

The tiny and neat bar had a wealth of incredible bottles, as well as two Sierra Nevadas (Bigfoot and Celebration) on keg and a few cask ales. However, I’d come here for the Kernel. I bought a bottle of Kernel Citra IPA to drink and another to take home, along with a Kernel Export Stout, a Kernel Black IPA and a can of Caldera Ashland Amber Ale, also for the bag.

I went out to the beer garden at the side (which probably more than doubles the size of the tiny pub) and sat down on a bench to enjoy what turned out to be a wonderful beer. On the Twissup people had mentioned how amazingly fresh Kernel beers taste, and on the evidence of this first one, they weren’t wrong. It was a truly lovely, refreshing, bittersweet beer, like the cool morning dew on a mango tree.

I went back to the bar for a De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis (“Hell & Damnation”), which was my first De Molen beer. The closest I’d come to De Molen before was Marble’s take on Vuur & Vlaam. Hel & Verdoemenis was a very nice imperial stout with all the warm, dark, roasted coffee flavours that lend themselves to contented contemplation. However, it was also very drinkable relative to its strength, which is well over 10%, and it probably went down a little quicker than intended.

I had sat down next to a table of gents talking in an informed way about beer and ended up being brought into the conversation. It turned out that I was sitting next the owners of The Rake and Utobeer (Richard and Mike), Nigel from the drinks importers James Clay & Sons and Gildas from Chimay’s export team. They were all very friendly and happy to talk about beer, the legend that is Jeff Pickthall, the Lake District, the interelationship between monasticism and clericalism etc. You know, the usual. I must remember that I owe Nigel a drink if I see him again.

As it was getting late and I was getting tipsy, I decided to head back to Brew Wharf, which had calmed down a bit. I sat at one of the long tables and enjoyed a plate of sausage and mash and another Kernel bottle, this time the Pale Ale South. This was another very, very nice beer, not quite as mindblowing as the Citra but with the same wonderful freshness.

I’d had a fantastic evening and enjoyed some great beer. I was only sad that Kate wasn’t here to enjoy it with me, but at the very least that gave me an excuse to come back soon with her.

As I walked back, my heavy bag clinking with local beers on my back and the huge, baroque dome of St Paul’s dome shrouded in mist looming over the river, I thought that London wouldn’t be such a bad place to live. But perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate it as much if I did.

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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.

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.

Leeds Brewdog Show: North Bar Single Hop IPA Event & Mr Foley’s Brewdog Taps

January 31, 2011 5 comments

Following my post on Alfred Bar yesterday, I don’t want to spend too much time praising the North Bar group, but Jings, Crivvens an’ Help ma Boab, this is exciting:

According to the message sent to North Bar’s Facebook group:

There will be, in the near future, a very special unique occasion at North, Brewdog are launching their brand new range of Single Hopped IPAs. We will have ALL FOUR IPAs on for one night only, as well as lots of other Brewdoggy goodness […] sign up to our mailing list for more news here: http://bit.ly/epQp8Z

Read more about the “IPA Is Dead” project on the Brewdog Blog:

IPA is dead showcases 4 killer hops varieties from 4 different continents. The result is 4 radically different single hop IPAs. Each IPA contains the same malt backbone and is brewed to be 75 IBU and is enthusiastically kettle hopped and dry hopped with Citra, Bramling Cross, Nelson Sauvin or Sorachi Ace.

Leeds Brewdog fans should also be excited that Mr Foley’s has recently installed a permanent Brewdog tap, with two changing keg Brewdog beers on at any one time as well as a load of bottles in the fridge.  The 5AM Saint was especially good from keg.  According to their It’s Your Round page the ones currently on are Punk IPA and Zeitgeist.

UPDATED: The date of the IPA Is Dead launch has been confimed as Wednesday 16 February.  I should be there, with any luck.

Bottled Roosters: GCB, XS, 2XS & Oxymoronic Black IPA

January 18, 2011 3 comments

Of the number of local craft breweries that regularly sell their beers in Leeds pubs, one of the most consistent is Roosters.  They have a particular bent towards pale, nicely hoppy ales in the vein of (what I suppose is) their flagship beer, Yankee, which is getting on for 17 years old.

The cockerel logo on their pumpclips is, for me, a badge of quality.  Although they appear to have been brewing some more experimental beers recently, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pint of any of their range that I didn’t like.   I especially enjoy being able to enjoy their beers outside with friends at the Chapel Allerton Arts Festival every year. 

Roosters GCB (3.7%)

However, Roosters beers don’t seem to have been sold in bottles until last year, when  I picked up a bottle of their GCB (“Good Cheer Beer”).   This beer is described as a “pale Yorkshire bitter – a happy marriage of upbeat fruitiness and moderate bitterness“.  It had a slightly biscuity smell, quite a lot of carbonation, a relatively thin mouthfeel and a light lemony bitterness in the aftertaste.  Like the cask version, I think it’s at the safer end of their pale ale spectrum and is probably good crossover beer which can be given to lager drinkers with relative impunity.

However, it was very exciting indeed to be able to pick up one 75cl bottle of each of three experimental beers Sam Franklin (son of founder Sean) made at the end of last year.  There were only 30 bottles of each sold.  Given that they have been reviewed by Zak, Leigh and Rob, it would appear that over 10% of the beers went to beer bloggers!  Whilst I encourage you to read/watch their more expert reviews, this is what I thought of them:

Roosters XS American Pale Ale (5.5%)

The label describes this beer as an American-style IPA/pale ale with 60IBUs and, “hopped at an excessive rate, using Chinook, Citra, Crystal and Simcoe from the US and New Zealand’s Riwaka hops, all as late kettle additions.

After a satisfying pop when the cap came off, the beer poured a pleasant orange colour with a slight cloudiness.  It gave off a fantastic mango smell and had a rich, slightly oily mouthfeel. The punchy dry fruity bitterness in the aftertaste made my mouth water.  This was a very lovely beer which I enjoyed with a curry from Mumtaz, which it suited perfectly.

Roosters 2XS India Pale Ale (7.1%)

The big bad brother of XS – excessive in every way imaginable.  Hopped using Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Crystal and Simcoe.  It weighs in with a whopping 100+ IBUs and certainly isn’t a beer for the faint-hearted!  Continuously hopped during the brewing process to create a smooth but powerful bitterness.  We then dry-hopped the beer in the fermenter and conditioning tanks to give it a strong and aggressive hop aroma.”

Again pouring a slightly cloudy orange but perhaps a little darker, this gave off a rich piney mangoey aroma.  The mouthfeel was thicker and the fruity, bitter taste deeper and more rounded but slightly less punchy and fruity as a result.  Again this was a great beer, which went nicely with Cajun Chicken.

Roosters Oxymoronic Black IPA (6.5%)

American-style India Black Ale – big, black and bitter, this American-style Black IPA is a shock to the senses.  Your eyes say stout but your tastebuds scream IPA!  A jet black appearance, with little roast flavour, is backed up with a serious bitter finish.  Packed full of citrus hop aroma, brewed and dry-hopped with 100% Simcoe hops.  The citrus content of this beer might even count as one of your five a day!

It’s difficult to expand on the fairly comprehensive and unusually informative label text, but this black IPA had a very tart but not completely juicy passionfruit taste, resulting in a slightly champagney dryness.  The dryness results in a shorter finish, as if the fruit becomes totally absorbed into the (very slight) roastedness.

The black IPAs I’ve had on cask (and all enjoyed) include Summer Wine’s Heretic; Thornbridge’s Raven and Saltaire’s Cascadian Black.  In Peculier Pub on Bleecker Street I also got to try 21st Amendment’s Back in Black on keg.  However this is the first time I’ve tried a bottled black IPA, and it worked very well.

All three of these beers were excellent, and the XS in particular is a beer I would be happy to buy on a monthly basis for the rest of my life if it was an option.  There’s always a bit of a thrill in having something that’s so rare, but fortunately the hoppy nature of these beers meant it would ruin them to try and keep them for ages, which is always a risk with me. 

Although I understand that Sam Franklin has flown away over the pond to Canada, I would welcome it if Roosters decided to reprise all three of these beers.  I’m only sad that the good proles of Leeds might not be amongst the first to try Sam’s next brew.  Blame Canada!

Raj Against The Machine: Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I had a solid 14 hour day in the office today so it was good to come home to the arms of a strong comforting beer.

Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale claims, “Wherever Victorian men served in the Empire, the pale ales of Burton were alongside them. Light in colour, strong and heavily hopped to survive long journeys over sea and land, the beers helped to preserve social life after sunset. This brew is a recreation of those famous ales that should equally soothe and sustain you after a hard day in the Urban Jungle.

Sounds about perfect. This bottle-conditioned beer poured quite flat, with little or no head, so judging by the huge persistent heads boasted of by reviewers on Beer Advocate, I think I might have (not for the first time) been a bit unlucky with the bottle fermentation.

However, regardless of that, there was a nice punchy alcoholic sour fruit smell as suits the 7.5% ABV. This carried through to the taste of an amped-up version of a classic IPA with a good traditional English hop bitterness in the aftertaste. I think there’s a bit of the sulphurous Burton water taste in there, but there’s a good amount of heady, sweet strength enveloping it.

The beer was a much-needed warming and relaxing end to a long day, but I have to say that the thing I like most about it is the label, which references the iconic, if anachronistically insensitive, Camp Coffee labels. Regardless of the truth of the IPA myth on the label, which is disputed by people interested in such modern fripperies as facts, evidence and historical accuracy, I’m very glad this beer exists along with its playful label.

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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