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Two Stouts & Irish Stew

I am a lover of porters and stouts especially when there’s a chill in the air. There’s something as comforting as a roaring fire in supping a beer the colour of coal.

With St Paddy’s day coming up, I thought I would pair a couple opposing beers on the stout spectrum with an Irish stew and soda bread. First from the micro world I Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.02.02uncapped an Oyster Stout from Bristol based Arbor who are making some very good beers these days. My first introduction being an excellent one off De Rokerij rauchbier or smoked beer.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.05.43Coming in at a very reasonable 4.6% their “seafood seasoned” stout gave off lovely snoot blasts of salty liquorice, sweet raisin bread and coal. On the palate, there were seams of rich iron and the pillowy, creamy texture was punched through with sea salt, bitter coffee grinds and a smooth as pearl finish. Yum!

My macro had to be a Guinness Foreign Extra which I embarrassingly had never tried before. Substantially more boozing at 7.5%, the nose sang a sticky treacle, sweet malt loaf, sweaty prune ballad. Pressing it to my lips I received a caress of sour ripe fig, unfermented grape must and a fine dry dark chocolate finish. Quite good, but perhaps not altogether to my taste. Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.05.28

The Arbour was certainly the better match for the stew with the GFE being more of a pudding beer in my humble opinion. But whatever style takes your fancy on St Patrick’s Day, when you raise your glass make sure it’s brimming with the black stuff.

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Too Crafty for our own Good?

You would think me being a beer lover, that I would be finding the manic pace at which new breweries are opening up around the country universally positive. Well, you would be mostly right. 

On the bright side, it can be thrilling to spy a never before seen logo on a pump clip as you sidle up to the bar of well-stocked alehouse. That fizzing sense of discovery, a bubbling quiet joy every time you raise a glass to sip an unfamiliar nectar, as yet so full of potential. 

Speaking of alehouses, the number of pubs and restaurants dedicating themselves to good beer increases at breakneck speed. Thus offering an even broader stage, from which the ever multiplying men and women who brew are given voice to shine. 

And it’s not just us drinkers that are being given a new lease on life, many of these breweries are literally enriching their communities by providing gainful employment (after years of decline in manufacturing and primary industry). Plus those opening up a brewery tap can bring social regeneration and the creation of a hub to come together in neighbourhoods robbed of their pubs by closure and conversion into a Tesco Metro.

So what’s the dark side?

Well, if everyone was brewing great beer, there wouldn’t be.

Case in point; I recently bought six bottles from three newish microbreweries (2 beers from each) that were all local to me in SE London. I had visions of the glowing reviews I would write, shouting the praises of the fine craft breweries in my own backyard. But unfortunately I found the beers in the main to be: lacklustre, poorly executed or just plain faulty.Rather than name and shame them, here are my tasting notes, with beers 1 and 2 being from the same brewery and so on.

Beer 1 – Hazy brown, fluffy head. Fragrant mango and pineapple, subtle pine. Brown bread, creamy yeast, savoury, pithy, ultra dry, iodine, some clean lines, nice texture, complex. Decent.

Beer 2 – Volcano, lava head, just pouring out, lively deep muscovado. Green mango, hints burnt sugar, faint watermelon, killer dry, woody tannins, bit sharp. Ok.

Beer 3 – Flat. Hazy. Cardboard. Faulty.

Beer 4 – No head, no fizz. Deep mahogany brown. Copper filings, metallic, burnt coffee, nutty, sweaty. Faulty.

Beer 5 – Golden fizzy but no head. Old fashioned sweets, cloying butterscotch. Woody, tannic, burnt sugar, flat, medicinal, vegetal. Faulty.

Beer 6 – Deep chestnut, fine foam. Nutella, intense Reese’s peanut butter cup. Sour, slightly sickly chestnut. Tastes fake. Drinkable, but not enjoyable. Poor.

Now I feel it’s worth giving fledgeling breweries a chance to bed in and find their feet. With any new operation, you expect some teething issues. So I am all for second chances.

But what needs to happen fairly quickly is to establish two or three core beers that can be counted on regardless of how (cask, keg, bottle or can) or where they’re served. Nothing is more galling to a commentator than to share their excitement about a great new beer only to have a colleague try it and say it was shite. The amount of inconsistency out there is truly worrying. Now admittedly there be a will few cases that the venues are to blame for a piss poor pint (too old, wrong temperature, improper handling/storage or inadequate rest after delivery), but I would argue that below average or faulty beers often arrive that way.

Even some of the more successful craft brewers get it wrong sometimes. I tasted a pumpkin ale from an established player a few months back and it was so awful I nearly spat it back in the glass. Arguably, people are experimenting and trying to break new ground with their beers, which is to be applauded. But why put out a sub-standard beer? Are some microbrewers under such intense financial pressure that pouring a flawed or substandard brew down the drain is simply not an option?

Now not liking what’s on offer from some breweries isn’t down to “bad beers”, it’s personal taste and I totally respect that. Sometimes…

“There has never been a more exciting time to be a beer drinker” was the chanted mantra at the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards last December (see the video produced by yours truly here), it was the same the year before, and ditto the year before that.

It’s true, but there’s also never been a more hit and miss time for adventurous beer drinkers.

My issue? Craft has become some kind of byword for quality, which ironically in some cases can be quite the opposite. I’ve certainly had my fair share of dull, faulty or undrinkable craft beers. What’s more, if you hit a bad run, one could quite easily develop a “fear of faults”. A creeping dread that begins to take the place of that childlike excitement.

And it’s not just me that’s getting wary. Airing my concerns over beers with two esteemed industry compadres, I was surprised to hear them passionately echoing my feelings of reserve when it came to trying “the new beer”. Often preferring to stick to the craft they knew rather than risk shelling out good money for a crap or faulty beer from an operation they were unfamiliar with.

In September 2014, according to CAMRA there were 1285 breweries in the UK, with 170 born in the previous 12 months. Now it’s the pessimist in me but how long can this upward trend be sustained? Speaking to an established London brewer about a year ago, he confided in me that he already thought there were too many breweries in the capital. Perhaps feeling the heat a bit, but I thought it was very telling.

Despite all the collaborations and questionable bonhomie craft beer is becoming an intensely competitive market in the UK with it only set to get more challenging with new breweries literally springing up underfoot on this wee island. Not even mentioning imports from powerhouse US, Belgian, Czech and German outfits.

The sad reality is that the many who simply aren’t good enough, sufficiently financed, or properly marketed will die off. Over time, fewer and fewer will take their place while the stronger established craft breweries mop up more of the market.

But I must end on a more positive note as it’s far from doom and gloom.

Here’s a soothing soundbite from that rogue of a scribe, entertainer and thrice Beer Writer of the Year Ben McFarland who quoth “The fact that we in the midst of a beer renaissance…”.

Renaissance,  a rebirth. Because the glory days of beer are indeed back again. There’s more than enough talented, passionate brewers brewing excellent beer out there to keep us all happy for a very long time.

It is my sincere belief that beer lovers will remain spoiled for choice in terms of the diversity, high quality and complexity of flavour we have come to expect, never returning to those dark days of the 80’s and 90’s.

At least hopefully, not in my lifetime…

*Artwork by Mr DnE

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Barre Pilsner and Weizen

Now when I say Lübbecke what comes to mind?

Perhaps a small child trying to say Rebecca for the first time?  An extremely drunken American sportscaster referring to a ferocious sack made by SF 49ers star linebacker NaVorro Bowman?

Though vaguely humourous both would be incorrect.

Now I imagine a fair few of you sharper tacks, those of you familiar with European languages would deduce that it might be a place or an attraction; owing to its giveaway pünctuation.

You of course would be right. Lübbecke is a village in northern Germany (population just shy of 26,000) nestled in the Wiehe Mountains, about an hour and a half drive west of Hanover. A small modern town centre surrounded by hills on which sit some stunningly grand squat sturdy houses. It’s not exactly mobbed with tourists, I however found myself there on a work trip last October.

For you WW2 buffs, the area was quite important for the occupying British forces after 1945. It served as an administrative hub for the British Occupation Zone authorities who worked out of the municipal buildings and were housed in the local homes.

We actually stayed and worked out of what was an old Hitler Youth training camp. A scary prospect, but long gone were any vestiges of its darker past. Run by British Army Chaplains since the early ’80’s Chruch House had a very welcoming and serene feel. Not surprising as it serves as a home of respite and sensitivity training facility for UK service personnel.

Much to my delight, the mess bar was well stocked with the local beer. Brewed by the privately owned Barre Brewery, which was a stone’s throw from where I was stood. It was a good sign. Very. Fresh. Beer. And a bargain @ €1 for a bottle.IMG_4922

With a not quite properly translated claim to fame like “city of beer fountain” being attributed to the area, the bar (sorry I couldn’t help myself) was set quite high. I ordered a bottle of “Pilsener” from the less than effusive barman and poured into my mini stein. I loved everything about that glass. Sandblasted smooth, perfectly weighted and fitting so well in my hand that it could have been made for me. Damn I miss it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.54Now in my opinion there is something universal about great Pilsner; the first one does a Nick Cage. It’s gone in 60 seconds. Barre Pils was most certainly in that class.  

Pale yellow and a lively soapy head. The nose was classic Pils and popped with crispness, golden grain and a touch of resinous hop. Surgically precise, clean and utterly delicious.

I brought a bottle home and had it with a daunting cabbage, apple and beetroot soup. Cut through it like a razor. Ironic as that’s what that soup did to my insides. Yikes. Open a window would you dear.

I also brought home a bottle of their Weizen (wheat). Looking at it in the glass reminded me of swimming in a muddy river as a kid, an earthy brown haze cut through with shafts of dappled sunlight.

A balanced 5.4% abv with a dense milk shake foam head it pulsed with aromas of clove oil, wet banana skin and dried coriander seed. What I got on the nose replayed on my palate but as a luxurious velvet wheat whirlpool. Stuff is dangerously drinkable. I think it lasted about 8 minutes. Very tasty. Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.44

In addition to the Pils and Weizen, Barre brew a Dark, Alcohol-Free, Festbier, Maibock and an Alt. So if you ever happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Lübbecke for whatever reason, then Barre is a must try.

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Leithaberg Wines Austria at its best

Leithaberg meant absolutely nothing to me a few months ago. No idea what/where/who it was. Never heard of it.

That was until an email invitation dropped into my inbox courtesy of Dillon Morall PR. Thanks Victoria and Allison!

Here’s what I learned…

Leithaberg is one of Austria’s eight DAC’s (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) basically the equivalent to France’s AOC status.  It’s located in the east of the country getting its name from the “Leithagebirge” or the Laitha mountains that separate Burgenland and Lower Austria.  The soils are considered quite unique (mix of gneiss, mica-slate, shell/limestone, marl and crystalline), and the winemakers feel that it gives their wines that certain je ne sais what.

Austria is famed for their native Grüner Veltliner; a white grape that in the right hands can produce wines of complexity, purity and power that rival the very best Chardonnays and Rieslings. They age well to boot.

To bear the name Leithaberg on the label, the whites (most are bottled as single varietals) must be made from the aforementioned Grüner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay or Neuberger. Red can only be made from Blaufränkish and must be aged in oak barrels.

Despite the renown of “GV” only one of the Weingut’s (Wine Estate) had one to show, with the rest preferring Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc. Vineyards are quite diverse with other varietals such as: Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Zweigelt (a spicy red of Austrian extraction), St Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

I recognised the wacky labels of one producer from a visit to Linz last year, but the rest were brand new to me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.46.33Probably my favorite wines were from Wagentristl, run by the family of the same name since 1888, in the minute village of Grosshöflein. Fifth-generation winemaker Rudi Wagentristl runs every aspect of their ecological 12ha vineyard pretty much by himself. No small feat.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.49.26They had six wines on show all which showed tremendous balance, purity, character and shone with happiness.

Their Leithaberg Chardonnay ’13 had all the hallmarks of good southern white Burgundy; rounded tropical fruit, touch saline, fleshy fresh and clean. Entry level Blaufränkisch ’12 was very generous, fleshy dark fruit, with a spicy finish. Blau Leithaberg ’12 was more of the same but was more muscular, concentrated and flecked with graphite.

Loved Föllikberg ’12; a blend of Blau and Zweigelt. Inky ripe, luscious dark berry, rounded, full with sparks of woody spice. Dyno-Mite!

Was even more impressed with Pinot Noir Kreideberg ’12. If I had tasted it blind I would have said it was Cotes de Nuits or even a Volnay. Beautiful red fruit nose tinged with game. The palate; fresh mineral, grippy tannins, seductive spice with a sublime long and complex finish. A real show stopper.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.45They have the right conditions in Leithaberg to produce botrytis or noble rot dessert wines and Wagentristl Trockenbeerenauslese ’13 was a beauty. Piercing pineapple, creamy stone fruit, supremely balanced sugars with a complex feel and texture.

Rudi was a lovely guy as well which makes me all the more sad that they did not have an importer here in the UK.  Hope someone snaps them up!

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.47The very memorably labelled Weingut Esterházy produce a very solid range. I was particularly fond of Estoras Grüner Veltliner ’12; an exploding melon and lime firecracker of a wine and available here for £11.95. Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch ’11 was an iron-rich, sanguine meaty beast.

They have Bourgogne nailed with a flinty buttery smoky Leithaberg DAC Chardonnay ’12 and Pinot Noir Classic ’12 complete with ripe sour cherry and liquorice.

Leithaberg by this tasting is not a region that can produce sub £10 bottles, so Weingut Nehrer should be applauded for a few potentially good value wines. Their Blaufränkisch ’13 was like a Rubenesque showgirl; full of warm plum, cigar, winter spice, fleshy, forward and fun. Leithaberg Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) ’12; approachable, easy drinking with gentle golden fruit and creamy apple. Rounding out the trio was Leithaberg rot Blaufränkisch ’11. Plummy, inky, yet super fresh and underpinned by that complex mineral cocktail of slate, limestone and co that I had come to expect of Leithaberg “Blau”. At the time of writing Nehrer like Wagentristl, are seeking a UK Importer. Hope they find one.

Anita and Hans Nittnaus is worth a mention for Heideboden Pinot Blanc ’13; good value, bright lemony, rich melon, pure and clean. As well as an intense, focused marmalade beauty of a 60% Chardonnay/40% Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese 2006 (available @ Lea & Sandeman £19.95).

Now I am pretty sure that I have never highlighted what was served for lunch at a tasting of this sort. So this is a first. But so astonishing delicious and diverse was the spread from head chef Will Robertson that I must mention it. The fact that Will had spent some time living and working in Austria shone through in most certainly the best food I have ever had at a tasting.

I am drooling as I type the following: Slow roast duck with pickled cabbage on rye, pork schnitzel mustard and pickles, potato dumplings, herring with soft boiled egg on pumpernickel, smoked trout and cucumber cream on a buckwheat pancake and finally speck noodle dumpling and sauerkraut. Bravo Will, Vinoteca Soho is lucky to have you. Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.56Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.08

The only downside to this being a tasting and not a lunch per say meant that my professionalism kept me from just grabbing a few bottles and plonking myself down at the table. Oh, to have spent the rest of that grey and rainy afternoon gobbling up even more of those heavenly little morsels washed down with numerous glasses of those sublime wines.

It really was a fabulous tasting. Not only did I learn about a new region whose wines are so deserving of a wider audience but I was treated to a smorgasbord of Oesterreich delicacies. For that reason, it will go down as my most memorable tasting of 2014.

If Will ever does an Austrian dinner sign up right away and put my name down too!

Red Vinho Verde, Sweet Potato Bread & Sheep’s Cheese

Here’s a little video my missus shot of me sampling Portuguese Red Vinho Verde, sweet potato bread, sheep’s cheese and tomato chutney on sunny Madeira.

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Israeli Craft Beer

My rather euphoric discovery of the Israeli craft beer scene was on a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in 2013. I spent several hours, chatting, eating and drinking microbrews at Beer Market in Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv.

I snagged a few local bottles to sample back in the UK and tasted them at the Stormbird with a few good beer pals. They included: Des de Moor, Richard Warmsley, Sam Hill, Mark Charlwood and the infamous Glynn Roberts.

We started things off with Shapiro Pale Ale which had been a brewery I had liked in TA. Their Pale at 5% abv was hazy and full of yeast. There was some peach, tin corn and mint with a creamy bitter texture. Just ok.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.29.52Next was HaDubim Kiwi (5.3%). I had met Dagan their brewer while I was at the Beer Market in Jaffa, very nice guy. His Kiwi poured hazy golden with aromas of zesty gooseberry jam. Ultra dry with tart citrus and a kiwi skin finish. Pretty good.

Numero three was from family run brewery Taybeh actually based in the West Bank. Their Amber (5.5%) despite being brewed according to the German purity laws whiffed of brewed tea and sour Gueze. We established without tasting it that it was infected. A real shame as it had travelled so far.

Our bad run continued with Alexander and their Green (6%). An IPA with an “Israeli twist” that smelt of soapy cotton wool was also infected.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.30.30We were due some luck and it came in the lusciously dense molasses black form of Alon Porter (5%) from Negev. Metalic aromas of copper, Lebanese spices, cayenne pepper and baked black plum. The texture of velvet, pure earthy mineral expression, roasted coffee with a long dry finish. Very very good.

Maibeerovicz was last up and their Doppelbock (7.5%) was a hazy muck brown with a Kirsh nail polish remover nose. Oh no… Sour cherry, liquorice root and peach on the palate but like all three blended up and left out on a window sill for a few days in summer. Yep it was infected with something nasty.

Perhaps I fell victim to those “Holiday Booze Blues”? Where one is sorely underwhelmed or even downright disappointed with a tipple that filled you with such pleasure in a foreign land.

That said the beers I drank in Tel Aviv were quite fresh and one cannot account for randomising factors that may haunt novice brewers in a fledgling brew scene.

Besides the superb Negev and solid Hadubim here’s hoping the next time I am able to try the rest that their beers are in better shape…

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The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut & Cucumber Salmon Can-Apes

Now most of you are probably familiar with Cava, but what is it exactly?

Cava is in essence Spain’s answer to champagne. A sparkling wine made by Método Tradicional aka the Traditional (Champagne) Method.

Why can’t they call it champagne then, if it’s made in the same way?

Well because Champagne own the name and only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can call themselves Champagne. That said those crafty Americans found a way round it and some of the older more established CA wineries are still able to label their wines “Californian Champagne”.

Damn I said Champagne a lot it that last paragraph! Back to the Cava…

Most Cava is produced in Penedès, a Catalonian wine region outside Barcelona (North East Spain). In the main most are made from native spanish varieties such as: Macabeo, Parellada and the unpronounceable Xarello.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.05.23The Wine Society very kindly sent me a bottle of their rather long winded-ly named The Wine Society’s Cava Reserva Brut, which is made for them by family run Bodegas Sumarroca. In addition to the three varieties I mentioned above, husband and wife team Carlos and Nuria add a little chardonnay to give the wine that extra finesse.

When you see Brut on a fizz label it’s just telling you its dry in style.

Straight out of the bottle you are hit with aromas of golden apple. Pretty on the eye; lovely light gold with persistent conga line bubbles racing up the glass. More on the nose is a nuttiness and some brioche. The palate is tart and cleansing. Nice acidity and a subtle richness. It’s all topped off with a long biscuit tinged finish.

The fizz was the perfect compliment for lovely simple cucumber and salmon canapés that my sister knocked up. Just rounds of cuke, topped with smoked salmon, a little salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon. You could top them with a little mashed avocado to keep them gluten and dairy www.youtubemp3now.com/sv free or add lemon or fish roe to cream cheese for a little more richness. Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.03.59

As mentioned in a previous blog I am a member and massive fan of The Wine Society. For the £40 joining fee you pay you are rewarded with amazing value, top quality wines and great customer service. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Oh and at just £8.50 a bottle their Cava Reserva is worth stocking up on for the holidays.

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Brewdog Colabfest 2014

To collab or not to collab that is the question.

To be fair those in the to not camp seem to be becoming more and more isolated. You’ve got brewers teaming up with brewers, beer writers linking up with brewers and even beer bloggers “brewing” with well… other beer bloggers! As was the case of the Pilsner Urquell Brewoff, which was very well captured by Tandleman here in his blog.

When some of the heavy weights do come together… it can whip up the kind of frenzied anticipation that I imagine might greet a Jay-Z and Beyonce/Kanye/Justin/etc or in my case Temple of the Dog* type collaboration. Queues of fervent followers desperate to get their hands on and mouths round the liquid delights of these hash tag multiplying ones offs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.30However, I have not always been blown away by the end product of these much lauded unions. All fanfare and no show if you will.

So it was with some scepticism that I fought (literally) my way to the bar at Brewdog Shepherds Bush. It was rammed!!! Not enough staff to cope and I actually had a fierce argument with a woman who had shouldered past me and then tried to get served first. I informed here of her poor queuing practices and she claimed ignorance, which I debated. Things got a bit tense as we traded passive aggressive verbal blows; ” You go ahead and order! “ … “ No, no! You go ahead! “.

The whole thing ended with me ordering first and in true Canadian fashion feeling horribly guilty and apologising to her. To add insult to injury her chilled man friend quoted one of my favorite quotes; “Worse things happen at sea”. I tried to bond with him over it, but it ended up feeling hollow and reasonably inappropriate. Sniff.

Where was I ? Oh yes walking back to my seat in a west London craft beer bar with a couple 1/2 pints feeling like a total tosser.

Now what was different about these collaborations was that it wasn’t two or three breweries coming together. Brewdog had the genius idea to twin up each of their UK bars with shit hot brewers that were nearest to said bars (their marketing continues lead the pack here in the UK). Thus giving each beer a regional, local focal kind of feel.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.05Seeing as I hadn’t eaten dinner yet I got to work on my five a day with Lovibonds and BD Shepherd’s Bush Purple Rain; a foraged fruit sour. Was good and tangy, not too acidic. Liked the texture of it, not thin and weedy but muscular and chewy.

Next was a double header, swapping between sips/gulps of Alechemy‘s liaison with BD Dundee and Buxton Brewery tangoing with BD Nottingham.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.43.55Obviously they have heritage to spare up in Dundee as Alechemy burned actual timbers from the RRS Discovery to charge this Smoked in History smoked porter. Lean texture, fresh feel with balanced cocoa and coffee. Oh and smoke of course; just the right amount. Though I doubt Captain Scott would have approved.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.28I am a real fan of Buxton and their Rough C’s brewed with the help of the merry men and women of Nottingham was a real coup. I’d never tried an oatmeal amber lager (a what?!) before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. Lovely texture and feel (oatmeal take a bow) and very easy drinking. Liked the subtle malt sugars mingling with the creaminess of the oatmeal (again), but yet left it left my palate crisp and clean. Nice work.

Ordering food seemed a good idea at this point and am glad I did because they do some mean wings at BD Shep Bush. I opted for the North Carolina variation and demolished them along with some sinfully yummy tater tots, just beer numero quatre landed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.13The Wild Beer Co are easily one of the top 5 breweries in the country and continue to evolve. Their creation in partnership with BD BristolRosa Canina Saison, which was nothing short of spectacular. The beer was delicious and balanced as it walked a tight rope of aromatic rose petal, tart rosehip and savoury rosemary. Not content with just making a fabulous beer, this colab showed some wit by in naming it. On first glance it’s simply the latin name for the shrub rose (native to Europe) that was used in flavouring the beer. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Rosa Canina’s common name is the Dog Rose. Very clever, very clever indeed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.40After my four stop tour round the UK I came back to London with The Five Points Brewing Company and BD ShoreditchSmoke and Mirrors, a well trod metaphor for deception was slightly misnamed in my opinion as it was anything but fraudulent. This smoked porter showed class in spades: lovely rich silky feel, but wasn’t cloying or boozy (7.8% ABV). It had a wonderful depth as well with hints of cinder, cocoa nibs and espresso foam.

It was time to cross the street and go to a gig (Jungle; who didn’t exactly have me crowd surfing). After the show I felt I needed one last one off, but upon arriving I was a little at a loss as what to have.

Had really wanted to taste Ilkley Brewery and BD Leeds Westwood Stout, brewed with white chocolate. But sadly they had run out.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.55I sampled a few but being a Toon supporter I settled on a Tyne Bank Brewery BD Newcastle brew called Amba Necta. It sounded like the perfect dessert beer; a honey and apricot amber ale, sadly it didn’t particularly wow me. I freely admit though that by this point my palate wasn’t at its best (I blame the bottle of plastic cider… whoops I meant plastic bottle of cider in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire).

Based on this showing? To colab is most certainly the answer.

* Temple of the Dog was a one off musical collaboration to commemorate the untimely of passing of Andrew Wood, lead singer of Seattle rock band Mother Love Bone. TotD was the coming together of Soundgarden’s front man (and close friend) Chris Cornell and MLB band members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. A certain Eddie Vedder was enlisted and with Matt Cameron (also Soundgarden) on drums they released this self titled album in 1991. Of course Gossard, Ament and Vedder went on to form Pearl Jam with their first album Ten coming out that same year. While also in ’91 Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger hit the airwaves.

Other notable 1991 releases: Nirvana – Nevermind, Pixies – Trompe le MondeMetallica – Metallica, Guns n Roses Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, U2 Achtung Baby, REM – Out of Time, The Tragically Hip - Road Apples, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik , The Smashing Pumpkins – Gish, Lenny Kravitz - Mama Said, Massive Attack - Blue Lines and Enya Shepherd Moons. 

Shit, that was a good year of music.

Loved me some Enya back in the day.

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Penpont Brewery

I am a regular visitor to the wilds of Cornwall and while down for a wedding some weeks past I grabbed a few bottles from Bodmin Moor based Penpont; a brewery I had been meaning to try.

Though a special mention must go out to the lack of functioning brain cells of the staff at the Spar in Rock.

While giving custom to the aforementioned establishment I was stood at the front of the queue (can you call it a queue when it’s only you?), my arms full of essential shopping (scones, clotted cream, etc.), waiting as two people at the tills served a customer each.

One would think a simple sounding procedure and straight forward enough, ah but no. Somehow through a complex level of bumbling and mind numbing faffery I was made to wait almost 10 minutes.

Now I came very close to dumping my overpriced thimble of local strawberry jam et all and storming out in protest. But as I tried to contain my gurgling urbanite rage my eyes fell upon the booze shelves and scanning for a welcome distraction I spied the nicely packaged Cornish Arvor and Roughtor. 

Eventually, I was in fact served and left with said bottles nestled in my canvas tote.

Here’s what I thought…

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.32Cornish Arvor Amber Ale weighing in at 4% abv and getting its name from a type of boat common on the seas around north west Cornwall, is lovely bright bronze.

A thin wispy head gave off notes of kelp and sweet ripe orchard fruit.

I really enjoyed the fresh texture underlaid with stone fruit and an herbaceous finish.

Solid and very pleasant session ale which I would happily drink with roast chicken or some of Rick Stein’s (reassuringly expensive) fish and chips.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.13Taking it’s moniker from the neolithic Rough Tor a round enclosure of stones that once formed a small ancient settlement atop the 2nd tallest hill in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor.

Roughtor is classed as a well hopped amber ale and had the look of dark leather.

Lovely thick soapy head that popping with aromas of nuts, raisin loaf, blossom honey and vegetable oil.

The palate starts creamy then finishes tart. Clean, herbaceous and dry with flavours of subtle apricot and peach then ending with savoury bay leaf.

Sitting comfortably at 4.7% avb this is a tasty www.casinoscapital.com/casino-games-guide/roulette/tips beer and one I think would go superbly with roast beef and yorkshire pud or some nice nutty hard cheeses.

So two good beers from Penpont Brewery and I have bad service to thank for it.

Every cloud…

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Hawkshead Brewery and Bar

Now the reason that my lady and I were in the Lake District for my birthday at end of March this year was because I had complained to Virgin trains. The reason for a strongly worded email was the result of a crap journey to Stockport; for which I was given two first class train tickets to anywhere their trains went in the UK. Before some smart ass asks; no I wasn’t complaining about the state of Stockport.

Though I would be remiss if I didn’t give my readers a wee amuse-bouche of what one might expect to encounter at Stockport station after a shit journey on a Tuesday lunchtime. As I strolled out of the entrance in search of a cab, a bored child hurled a mostly empty coke can in my direction; it just missed me. A few feet away, oblivious, his equally disenfranchised looking pram toting mother swore loudly into her phone. Nuff said.

So after our free 1st Class journey to Oxenholme and a round the houses cab journey to Kendal we arrived at our superb B&B. Beech House does a bang up cooked breakfast and is easily one of the most cozy and inviting places I have stayed in the UK (no small feat). I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Kendal or anywhere near Kendal.

It was a short train ride from Kendal to Staveley the home of one of Cumbria’s finest; Hawkshead Brewery. There was a stack of twittersations fired back and forth as I tried to arrange a peek round the 20 barrel brewhouse. But arriving on a Friday evening the day before a big private event was inopportune to say the least. Thankfully on premises they’ve built a large, modern, spacious brewery bar that serves their beers in cask, keg and bottle as well as kicking out some good grub. Plus it was open till 11pm. Result!

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.14I was wearing a grin a mile wide as I strolled into the airy, wood bedecked barn of beeryness (which I managed not to photograph); because it’s exactly the kind of place that is transforming the culture of beer drinking in this country. There weren’t any nooks with beeping fruit machines, nor a toilet that looked like it had last seen a mop in the late eighties. Not even a bar propped up with leering untrusting locals looking to lynch a Canadian Londoner beer geek.

The Hawkshead brew hall was bright, clean, buzzing with the laughter and chatter of people of all ages. Kids dashing around as their parents caught up with friends. Couples young and old in for a meal and a few pints. The kind of place I would spend way too much time if it was my local, which must have been the case for the folk of Staveley as it the joint was packed. We managed to grab a recently vacated table and armed with the food menu and some instructions from my dear lady I waded past tourists and toddlers to the bar. Busy as it was I didn’t have to wait too long to be asked what I might like from a smiling member of staff. I ordered a couple taster sticks and an assortment of edibles.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.30

Back at the table we worked our way through Stick 1: Bitter/Windermere Pale/Red and Stick 2: Brodie’s Prime/Dry Stone Stout/The Illusionist. 

Stick 1: was ok enough with the Red coming out top it with some nuttiness, red berry tartness and nice texture. However, I found the balance and the “feel” of the Bitter and Windermere a fraction out, in terms of what I look for in those sorts of beers.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.44Stick 2: full of dark beers was much more enjoyable. My favorite was probably the Dry Stone, I do love an oatmeal stout and this one had it all; black treacle, espresso and a texture that bordered on the sensual. Brodie’s was fresh, chocolatey with a hoppy bite. I know it’s not the done thing to say a cross word about Magic Rock, but my least favorite was probably the Illusionist. This much heralded colab with Hawkshead, though interesting lacked something for me and wasn’t up to the level of other two.

My dissection of the beers was slightly interrupted as our grub landed. Scotch egg & piccalilli: warm, eggy, tangy and piggy in all the right places. Deep fried whitebait & tartar: crisp light batter, rich mayo gherkin pickle saucy and crisp fishy yum yum. Sticky BBQ baby back ribs: stucky sweet, smoky finger sucking tasty. Homemade fish goujons with garlicky butter were a delight; crunching not too greasy batter and moist fish. The piece de resistance though was a Yorkshire pudding filled with: local beef braised in Brodie’s Prime and horseradish sauce. The missus and I were literally elbowing each other out of the way to lick the plate, it was that good. There were corn fritters and mushrooms on toast too but were less inspired. But it all got eaten, so couldn’t have been that bad.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.21Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.01Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.32Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.41

By this stage the sticks had run dry, so I opted for a half of the Lakeland Gold to wash down the remnants of our eclectic tapas feast. That familiar refrain was back though, some missing notes that left me wanting.

Deciding on whether to have dessert or not was a no brainer as they had baked Alaska a la Lakes. Brodie’s Prime made an encore soaking the chocolate brownie base, add poached damsons, ice cream all cocooned in meringue and baked. Sounded like heaven and looked a dream when it arrived, but unfortunately upon eating, it came up a little short. Certainly tasty, but not enough ice cream and the brownie could have done with another good glug of the B.P. if I’m honest. Ah well…Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.12

The evening was edging on we were running short on trains back to Kendal, but surely there was the time for a quick night cap? After a short debate with myself I decided on two halves from their speciality range: Hawkshead IPA and NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale) both on keg. Rather sadly I enjoyed neither and disliked the NZPA so much I didn’t even finish it. My issue? The hopping*. I am all for big hops in beer, but it needs to be balanced. The resin character was so astringent that simpled overpowered almost everything else going on in the beer. Which was a shame.

Despite some of their beers tasting out of tune (in my humble opinion) my visit to the Hawkshead brewery and beer hall was a very pleasant experience. It is a beautiful inviting space in which to enjoy good beer, tasty food and warm company.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.57Walking outside I was struck by the quiet and the thick darkness beyond the glow of the beer hall windows; a muffling cloak of coal, punched through in places with sparkling diamond stars. It’s easy to forget that such a world exists when we live in a big cities. The roar of jet engines and millions of lights filling up our senses. My breath came out as steam and we wandered our way to Staveley station.

*Now there will be people who disagree or call me anti-hop (love hops I do). But for me good beer (or wine or spirits or food) should have an equilibrium. I would go as far to say that balance is probably the most important factor when I am assessing a food or beverage. When it’s in perfect harmony; a drink or plate of food is lifted from the simply good into the magnificent.

Postscript: I recently came across Hawkshead Lakeland Lager in bottle at one of my local pubs and so gave it a try. I am an optimist and really wanted to be impressed so as to dispel my reservations about some of their beers.

It reminded me of Grolsch. Which sadly is not a good thing.

Won’t stop me trying their beers again though…