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Home Brew Review: Hellsize Park Brewing Co

Most of the world’s most celebrated microbreweries in this new golden age of beer that we are now living in actually started life not as a gleaming ready made high-tech facility or even a cobbled together kit in some grimy railway arches. They began in sheds, garages, basements, and kitchens (and in the case of the Padstow Brewing Company a disused and converted surf shower). The architects were men and women passionate about beer and the art of brewing. These enterprising folks then found the courage and support to put together enough money to “scale up” in brewer speak. Many gave up steady safe jobs to try to turn their fervour for fermentation into something bigger and in doing so, not only changed their own lives but touched and awakened thousands of others.

Which got me thinking… What if instead of simply singing the praises of established breweries, I started trying to feature the work of aspiring brewers and brewsters. Perhaps a little incentive and encouragement might be just what they need to make the big leap themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.37.09I’ve just lied to you.

The inspiration didn’t come to me from out of the blue. Most ideas require a catalyst, a spark to ignite them; mine is called Jamie. A fellow tour guide at London Brewery Tours he generously gifted me this intriguing taught newspaper wrapped bottle with Evil Goat stridently written on it. The handy work was that of Josh Charig aka Hellsize Park Brewing Co.

 

The full name is actually Evil Goatmilk Saison as I later found out courtesy of Josh himself.

 

Now for those non-geeks out there, Saison (French for season) is a style of beer with its origins in Wallonia (French speaking Belgium). Brewed in farmhouses in the cooler months and stored for the summer it was a refreshing liquid form of payment for the thirsty field workers to drink. Today Saisons are a popular style amongst craft brewers who often add fruit, herbs or spices to the beers. They are often typified by their hazy appearance, spicy sometimes pronounced yeast nose, lively fruit and layered texture.

 

Here’s what Josh had to say when I asked him to tell me a little about himself, thus casting some light onto how I came to have this broadsheet bound chilli infused Saison in my possession.

 

Two and a half years ago, some friends and I decided to make a batch of our own beer and one drunken night we made one of those beer packs. I instantly fell in love with homebrewing and have been doing it ever since as a “serious hobby”. My wife is a farmer and gardener and we had an opportunity to live in Ireland for about 9 months where she could grow a range of plants and I could concentrate on brewing, and this is where we are now. I brew as much as I can here and am doing a lot of testing and experimenting, whether that’s trying a new technique which will increase my brewhouse efficiency or playing around with a recipe to create something I’ve never even heard of before. I’m using this opportunity to become a better brewer and make better beer.
Whilst in Ireland I’ve been keeping a brewing and beer blog the Honest Beer Guide. I’ve also been writing posts for a couple of other publications. My plan is to make the most out of my stay here in Ireland and learn as much as I can about my system, different ingredients and their effect on the beer, and how to craft the best brews. Back in London, I’m growing a few hop plants, and when my wife and I are settled back there I plan on planting more hops along with other herbs, flowers, and spices which I can use in brewing as I’d also like to make some gruit* ales. I’d even like to have a go at brewing using medieval methods!
As you will have guessed I thought Evil Goatsmilk was excellent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.38.01These were my notes:

A cloudy deep amber. The nose was at first farmyard, then field yeasty but that gave way to tropical flowers and fruit. Raising up the glass up I could feel my lips bracing for the promised heat… But none came. Instead, it was dense foamy, not quite creamy yet it had a touch of pina colada about it, and as I began to explore that; the warming began. A throat nibbling, dry persistent heat. In no way unpleasant, it had the effect of making me want another sip. With each one the complex web of texture, tropical fruit and prickly heat spreading out over my entire mouth and nasal system.

More kudos came in the form of Mrs Drink n Eat who thought it was fabulous. To qualify she drinks beer from time to time preferring lager and sour beers but is certainly not a huge beer drinker. I also trust her palate immensely, as she’s not jaded like me. I love getting her take on things as she often comes up with flavours or aromas that are perhaps more peripheral or off piste.

So the Evil Goatsmilk Saison was a huge success. I wish Josh very well indeed and look forward to tasting his future endeavours.


 

Postscript : For you true nerds out there here’s a link to Josh’s recipe. Though he was keen to tell me that he used this yeast instead of the Belle Saison and omitted the fresh jalapenos.

* Gruit was the common bittering, flavouring and preservative agent for ale before hops usurped it. It was made from a mixture of different herbs such as sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow and heather.

Going for an Italian

Four years ago I was just a red-toothed wine vlogger at the dawn of my foray into the wild world of beer when I attended the very first European Beer Bloggers Conference here in London.

It was an event that changed the path I was on and gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with so many wonderful folks who I call friends today (also produced this rather fun video of the 2-day event). As you might expect I tasted some mind expanding beers from the UK, US, Sweden and even an introduction to Italy’s Birra Artigianale through the excellent Toccalmatto and Birrificio.

Now since then we’ve seen a massive increase in the number UK brewers, a huge influx of US imports (even a good few from Sweden) but somehow Italian craft beer remains as elusive and exotic as it was back then.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 09.14.00Part of the problem surprisingly had nothing to do with a lack of good beer explained beer sommelier Jacopo Mazzeo last October at a lunch hosted by specialist importer Beers from Italy at Tozi restaurant in Victoria.

IMG_6564The Azuurri birra revolution can actually be traced as far back as the mid 90’s with Teo Musso’s passion for Belgian beers leading him to start Birra Balladin which many see as setting things in motion. From there beer guru and sensory analyst Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove inspired a wine-dominated culture including a teenage Jacopo, that there was more to beer than the big 2 or 3 brands. The two men also collaborated to create TeKuseen by many as the ultimate beer tasters glass. This much-heralded receptacle was what all the beers would be served in during our lunch.

At most recent count, there were more than 830 breweries stretching the length and breadth of the boot, yet those age-old barriers of high taxes and punitive duty are preventing them from finding a foothold (sorry couldn’t resist) in more shops, bars and restaurants here in the UK.

The focus of the lunch was on food and beer matching and starred Abruzzo’s Microbirrificio Opperbacco whose wide range of styles gave my palate a real run for its money. Run by Luigi Recchiuti who turned his back on a degree in agricultural science, to brew beers from converted stable on his father’s farmland amidst the olives, grapes and grains of Casarino di Notaresco (love the olives from there!).

IMG_6567IMG_6566After an introduction from our generous benefactors and some very informative background information from Jacopo, we started things off with 4 punto 7 (4.7% abv. 4 point 7 get it?) a fruity golden ale that exuded a dry floral perfume from the glass. Quite tart and dry to begin but mid palate it shone with pithy citrus, honeycomb and dry flowers. It was paired with a double-barreled aperitivo of delicious and unusual roast fennel, carrot, bean and spelt salad as well as deep fried calamari with lemon. The four point seven worked reasonably well with the salad though I felt it wasn’t the ideal match. It fared somewhat better with the calamari as the dryness cut through the oily crunchy batter.

IMG_6570IMG_6571The second course of crab ravioli with tomato and basil partnered a golden Saison that paid homage to the hippy 60’s. Tripping Flowers (6.3%) despite its name gave little way on the nose. I noted some dry hay and honey but it seemed a touch closed. My first sip was bracingly dry and herbal though finished fresh and clean. Going back, I noted sunflower seed, dried rose petal, wild turnip and some almond. I may have been a bit harsh but didn’t feel the match worked. Independently they were both tasty, but together?

IMG_6576IMG_6574Next was the cleverly named Eipiei (6.3%) which sang of orange zest, pine, caramel sponge and gingerbread. I enjoyed the wild Mediterranean herbs, bold resin etched flavours of roasted red pepper and the biting bitterness, and it had a beautiful balance to boot! As a retired sommelier, I was doubtful that an IPA could stand up to that most classic of Italian dishes, aubergine parmigiana. But the match was inspired. The bitterness coping with the acidic richness of the tomato sauce, the red pepper dancing along with the meaty aubergine and the savoury aspects of the beer going toe to toe with that most umami of foods; parmesan cheese. Going out on a bit of a limb it was probably my favourite, most memorable beer and food match in 2015.

It was around this point that starting to feel a little warm and fuzzy (those last two beers being up over 6%) and this being an Italian lunch we were only halfway into it. I must admit as a direct result, my note taking became mush more abstract.

IMG_6580Secondo was yet another two-pronged gastronomic gambit consisting of pork cheeks, cavolo nero and mash potato and a buffalo ricotta ravioli with fresh black truffle (spoiled!). Taking them on was L’una Rossa (6.4%), a red rye Saison with orange peel and coriander. Now on paper things looked good, certainly with the pork cheeks. The beer possessed tart red fruit, caramelised sugars and good full body. But what works in theory, doesn’t always in practice. L’una seemed to lack the depth to marry well with the pork and the earthiness to harmonise with the ravioli. Not a bad match but just not what I was hoping for. Sadly it worked even less well with the ricotta ravioli with the tangy flavours tussling quietly on my tongue. Oh well…

IMG_6583The main courses out of the way we were now on the home stretch with fromaggio up next and the creative naming from Opperbacco continued with an abbey style triple called Triplipa (7.8% Tripel IPA anyone?). Testun al Barolo is semi-hard pasteurised cheese made from alpine cow’s milk. Testun means hard headed and the Barolo refers that most famous Piedmont wine region and the dried Nebbiolo grapes that the cheese is crusted in. Triplipa on its own showed nice stone fruit aromas and was uber dry, yeasty yet refreshing on the palate. However, the highly complex Testun was too much for it. I felt a creamier soft cheese (minus the tannic grape crust) would have been a better option.

IMG_6591 IMG_6587Finalmente, it was dolce time and we were served a Tozi speciality of coffee and amaretto bonet; a dense delicious wintry treat, which is essentially a Piedmontese creme caramel. This was paired with Dieci e Lode, a dark strong (10% enough for you) Belgian-style Trappist ale. Looking like glorious mahogany tar as it was poured and forming a tight bundle of thick foam this beer offered much to the eye as it promised on the palate. Humming in the glass was the intoxicating scent of ripe fig, moist liquorice and winter spice. Then rich cocoa, espresso hints of black peppercorn and rum-soaked Christmas pudding fruits. It is beer truly worthy of its name (Full marks and honour). I loved the bonet and thought the match was good, but would have been very content with the Dieci all on its own.

And rest…

Three hours had passed since we sat down, but it had flown by. It was a great crowd (that included award-winning beer pals Des de Moor and Sophie Atherton) with lively debate and conversation whisking back and forth across the big table.

IMG_6575It may not have been a total success with a few of the pairings not quite working, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational afternoon. It is only in experimentation that we are able to make incredible discoveries and there was one at the very least with the Eipiei and aubergine parmigiana.

Saluti to Tozi for providing brilliant service and lovely food, the superb beers of Opperbacco, Jacopo for playing host and educator and of course, Beers from Italy for the invite and picking up the tab.

Here’s hoping that in time, Birra Artigianale is a language that we all speak a little better.

*Image of Jacopo Mazzeo courtesy of Arsenio M. Navarra

Finding a new Vocation

Curiosity killed the cat they say and though I’ve never actually died as the result of trying out a “new to me” brewery, there have been a few occasions where the beer tasted as if some element of it may have passed away or at the very least been stricken by a debilitating illness.

Now you would think with so many great suds on offer these days that I would learn to just go back in for those trusted pumps, cans and bottles. But nay, like some kind of promiscuous malt munching member of the Lepidoptera family, I continue to be drawn to the mysterious flickering flame of the unknown.

In fairness to date, I’ve tasted a lot more average beers than bad ones. But every so often my penchant for rolling the dice pays off and did so with aplomb when I plucked up that textured trio cans from Vocation Brewery. For some reason, three seems to be the magic number when I am testing out a new brewery, feels as though I’m getting a good overall impression of what they are capable of. (There could may well be some kind of subconscious biblical undercurrent as well.)

Going by what I supped, Vocation are truly a brewery at the top of their game.

Opened in a Hebdon Bridge (I actually went through there on the train recently and felt a strong urge to leap from the carriage despite it not being my stop. Now I know why.) business park in 2015 by former Blue Monkey Brewery co-frontman John Hickling after he decided to go out on his own. In a short time, this West Yorkshire brewery seems to have impressed its fair share of punters. Well, that’s if you put any stock in Untapped’s ratings, as at the time of writing Vocation currently find themselves number four in England. Impressive.

Enough grandstanding, on to the beers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.19Heart & Soul Session IPA 4.4%

For me, the ultimate litmus test for a brewery is its pale ale or a sessionable IPA. Vocation hit it out of the park with this pithy, punchy breakfast juice of a beer. Loads of tangerine, so crisp you could snap it in half, subtle floral notes and the happiest juiciest mango you’ve ever tasted. The finish was firm, held together with hoppy bite and lemon boiled sweets. Super duper! 

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.33Divide & Conquer Black IPA 6.5%

A style that was very popular a few years ago, and if done well still one of my favourites. The nose had some nice milk chocolatey and roasted coffee bean elements plus hints of fresh peach. Flavours of burnt toffee, savoury marmite yet the texture was quite lush without feeling heavy. There was a blood pudding  iron element to the finish that I found quite agreeable as well. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.03Naughty & Nice Chocolate Stout 7.5%

Poured a bit like melted chocolate with aromas of rich beef stew, cold espresso and dry cocoa. Now I’ve become quite picky when it comes to Stout these days. It has to deliver on texture and man oh man did this deliver! Luxurious fine dark chocolate velvet caressed my tongue and cheeks. Rich to be sure, but perfectly balanced and held together. There were some mature meaty undertones and a touch of chilli, but honestly, I was enjoying it so much I stopped taking notes. We had ordered an Indian takeaway and I was blown away with how brilliantly the N&N stout coped with the varied spices, sauces and heat. I kept oohing and ahhing as it soothed, lifted and cleansed. Easily one of the best beer and food pairings I have ever experienced. Stellar. Note: This is a limited edition release and am not sure who currently stocks it.  

I can’t commend John and his Vocation Brewery team enough. You can buy online from Eebria or Beer Ritz but I picked mine up from my local beer shop Fresh Fields Market in Croydon (Yes you heard right. Check out my blog here), who continue to discover and stock new and wonderful beers for me to try.

As for me, I’m keen to try the rest of their range. Providing of course something new and shiny doesn’t catch my eye first.

Smokehouse Islington

You wouldn’t believe it but when it comes to eating out I can be somewhat hard to please. Really do wish I wasn’t, as it can make me a serious pain in the ass to be around.

But is it such a crime to expect good food and drink served in a setting that make time stand still? Service that is attentive but not overt, warm but not gooey, knowledgeable but not snobby? And ending with a tab that doesn’t feel like you’ve been mugged?

Since I fell for well-made “craft” beer on a bicycle brewery tour of Norfolk and Suffolk four summers ago it’s been my mission to find a restaurant/pub/bar/bunker that brings together that holy quinquennial of fabulous food, wonderful wines, brilliant beers, stellar service and sumptuous surroundings.

It’s been an almighty challenge really, as most places that focus on food and service have been slow to catch on or flat out refused to acknowledge (due to old school snobbery) that quality beer is amazing with things edible.

On the other side of the coin the venues that herald the mighty ale as the king seem to place less emphasis on those customers who may prefer a goblet of good wine and can eschew more creative food offerings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.36That has all changed with Smokehouse in Islington.

First off the interior is cozy, spacious and inviting without being too overdone or twee. Love their little wood fires dotted about and the pretty beer garden will be packed in warm weather. The loos were obviously not updated with the rest of the building and are in need of a bit of a facelift. Not dire, just incongruous with the rest of the surroundings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.36.46The selection of beers in bottle, can and keg (only a couple cask options) is pretty wide ranging but with an eye on the London. Expect the Kernel, “The Towns” Camden & Beaver and Fourpure with solid imports from Germany, Belgium and the US. Though they would do well to add a few more 75cl to the line-up as they work well as an alternative to a bottle of wine with dinner.

Despite cider being on the up it barely just gets a look in with only a quintet available in bottle and 3 are from Cornish Orchards. Shame.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.48Looking at the eclectic wine list may disappoint those on a budget with only one offering of red and white under £20 and more grumbling from those wanting anything from the “New World” as it focuses exclusively on France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

However, they are flying the St George flag in the rather small fizz section with three out four options coming from England, which is good… and expensive. Their “house” Prosecco is an eye-watering £28.50 which I think is just too much, even for Islington. Surely they can get something under £25?

On a positive note if you are comfortable dropping £22-30 on a bottle then you there’s plenty to choose from in all three shades.

The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and were very helpful when it came to choosing what to eat. Which is where Smokehouse does itself proud indeed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.07For starters, I tried the deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast, smoked bone marrow which tasted as good as it sounds. Succulent, salty, rich and crunchy. A special dish and worth making the trip to Smokehouse just to try. Also gracing our lips and belly was a very inventive squid pad thai (not currently on the menu). Instead of rice noodles the squid was the “noodles”. Reminded me a bit of udon but with more bite. The flavours and textures were exquisite.

For main I went with the signature short rib bourguignon and wallowed in its smoky, sticky animal goodness. It’s the sort of dish that after you have eaten it makes feel as though you’ve rescued a cat from a tree or held a bus door open for a trapped pram. Satis-Fied.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.29.01Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.19Beverage wise I stuck with beer working my way through the Bearhug “Hibernation” White IPA and Fourpure “Session” IPA on keg before a run of receptacles in the form of Beavertown “8 Ball” Red Rye IPA, Rogue “Hazelnut” Brown Ale to pair with the short rib. Neither of which blew my socks off, so ending with a Weird Beard “Black Perle” Coffee Milk Stout seemed the only decent thing to do.

The tab was a bit on the high side but considering how many beers my pal Scanners and I tried it wasn’t too bad.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.34.23If you want to please a group of meat-eating friends some of whom drink wine while others favour beer then Smokehouse Islington is a must try.

Luckily for you West Londoners there’s a second Smokehouse now in Chiswick.

 

An Ode to Antwerp

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.20.35As the colder darker weather closes in I am reminded of my first evening in that oh so much more than a diamond den of Antwerp. A beautiful medieval city full of things to see and having done some homework its share of fine ale houses too. Making my way down the quiet cobbled streets towards ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske I wondered what sort of place I would find.Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.40.09 Cozy, friendly and stocked with fine malted libations I hoped. As it turned out I was more than right. It was as though a calm comfort enveloped me as I wandered inside. The warmth of the place, the artefacts, the joyful reverence and wisdom with which the bar woman spoke of and carefully poured each beer into its intended individual receptacle. It felt like a place of worship, someplace sacred.   

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.12.05I began my meditations with the “beer of the moment”, a Bastogne Pale Ale from Brasserie de Bastogne in the French-speaking south of the country. Vibrant, tangy white grapefruit, wild yeasty, with complex lemon oil, and dry bay leaf finish. A real palate waker-upper. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.40.44Then I made a choir boy error; I decided to order their house sampler of four draft beers. Now Belgian beer is notoriously high in alcohol and blending a quartet of them on an empty stomach is a risky venture. I calmed myself somewhat by nibbling on some local cheese, but less than halfway through I was pretty tiddly. However, there was more, I felt something… else. It was if some unseen banished cleric had slipped a few magic mushrooms or some other such hallucinogen into one of my beers. I wasn’t hallucinating as such and it was not an altogether unpleasant feeling, but twere as if the top of my head had slipped over into another dimension. I’m not ashamed to say it; I was high on Belgian (& Dutch) beer. 

Despite feeling a touch other-worldly, I managed to make a few notes about the beers while I hoped that consuming the aforementioned dairy product would stem a complete mental slide resulting in me singing hymns with the urinal.  

Classic Rodenbach Foederbier showed its oak ageing through sour cherry, woody mushroom, lactic black cherry and smooth easy drinking texture. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.10I most enjoyed Maximus Brutus, an amber/Vienna lager from new Dutch kids on the block Maximus Brouwerij. It had burnt sugar, some piney resin, pithy citrus, a lovely rich yet clean feel and quite complex. Very very good.

I never found out exactly what Struise Brouwers beer I drank as it changed regularly. What I got was all Fernet Branca and boozy molasses. A truly mystical pagan herbaceous brew with tea tannins on the finish. It scared me a little.  

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.24Last but not least was Lupulus “Dark”, a brown ale from Brasserie Les 3 Fourquets. It picked up the narcotic theme of the evening smelling heavily of “special tobacco” as my father used to call it. My unedited word for word note at the time read “Like drinking BC bud smoothie with essence of pineapple, passion fruit, camp coffee, hint of pine resin”. Nuff said. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.35With no more substantial fare than cheese, I was forced to exit stage left for something to sustain me. The place I found was quite inviting, decent food and judging by this photo I thoroughly enjoyed the bread and butter. I managed a couple more beers: La Chouffe Soleil & Patrasche Nello’s but forgotten the name of the restaurant. How odd…

The next night like a good parishioner I returned to ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske and having tried all the keg beers the previous evening I endeavoured to find a bottle or two that might be a rare sight in the UK.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.42.08My friendly barkeep suggested Westmalle Extra and at 4.8% was a welcome break from the high-octane brews. A good clean mouthfeel held half ripe banana, white pepper, lemon zest, razor sharp acids, faintly grassy, super refreshing and very drinkable. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.42.24The final beer of my pilgrimage was the excellent Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge by Brouwerij BockorLovely tart cranberry, underpinned by some oaky grip, fleshy red fermenting fruits, slightly iron rich and a sanguine finish. I really took my time over this beer, it really asked for your attention. Not in a bullish manner but in a silent focused way that made me appreciate drinking it all the more. A Flanders sour red ale of the highest order. 

And just like that my fleeting communion in Antwerp was over.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.01.56I have been to many cities and drunk plenty of beer, but my time in ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske ranks right up there with the very best.

Don’t Blanc Bordeaux Whites

I’m by far not the first and most definitely will not be the last bacchanalian commentator to rail at wine consumers for their ignorance of the glories to be found in a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc.

Just picture the hordes of dry white junkies up and down the country pulling corks and wrenching screw caps, then guzzling the contents as they squint down at labels smeared with names like Marlborough or Sancerre. All the while totally oblivious that of Bordeaux’s two heavyweight white grapes Sauvignon Blanc is one.

Yes, there’s plenty of Semillon about (less Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris) and some producers like to chuck it in oak to add body, texture and depth. But that formula of razor sharp acidity, cracking citrus, crunchy minerality and fabulous food friendliness apply to so many.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.39.01I first came to love BB about 3.5 years ago while celebrating with my girlfriend (now Mrs DnE) at the Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair. On the recommendation of the sommelier, I ordered a glass of Clos Floridene 2008 from Graves to pair with my haut cuisine chicken dish. The match was tremendous and the wine? Near perfect. So smitten with it, I marched straight out and bought six bottles of the 2010, of which I still possess two (Berry Brothers & Rudd are currently stocking the 2011).

As if being wonderfully complex and a superb food wine wasn’t enough, good Bordeaux Blanc can also age incredibly well. Yet another reason to discover some for yourself.

Good BB is also exactly the kind of wine you want to bring along to your wine geek friends dinner parties. Makes you look like you very much are in the know.

If you are a regular reader/watcher of my blogs/vlogs then you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Wine Society and they deserve much applause for stocking a stellar range of BBs.

I recently tasted a few and here’s a run down.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.36Bel Air Perponcher Reserve Bordeaux Blanc 2014

Fresh tart lime, crunchy green apple, bold acids. Some creamy apricot on the finish. Tart green machine. 86/100 – £8.50

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.27Chateau Martinon Entre-de-Mers 2014 

Jazzy lime, firecracker smoke, fresh gooseberry, gum clenching acidity, fine green apple. Very classy and super value. 89/100 – £7.50, but sadly at writing was out of stock.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.47Chateau Reynon 2013 

Viscous yellow, nose of flint, yellow melon, grassy herbs and waxy pear. Quite smoky, raw Bramley apple, chewy acids, electric acidity, searing lime juice, vibrant, pure, focused mineral and long razor sharp finish. Just got better and better in the glass. Scrumptious. 91/100 – £10.50 ps Same owners as Clos Floridene but almost a 1/3 of the price of CF. 

To avoid showing too much favoritism or if you don’t do the Wine Society then here’s some other options to consider.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Bordeaux Blanc  – Medal winning on currently on offer at £6.00

Aldi’s Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc – Another medal winner and a snip at £4.99

Dourthe Reserve & La Grande Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc –  A bigger brand but both are well regarded. Reserve from Majestic £7.49 (buy six mix) and GC from Waitrose £8.99

M&S Bordeaux AC Sauvignon Blanc £8.50

Despite the winter coming on, it’s a dynamite wine for the festive period. As an aperitif, seafood platters, tangy cheeses, and the Chateau Reynon killed with Mrs. DnE’s roast chicken last weekend.

So what are you waiting for? Till some pillar of the wine writing establishment cracks under the strain of trying to turn the general public onto this most underrated yet splendid value fine white wine and chains themselves to a stand of NZ Sauvignon Blanc at your local Waitrose? Spare them from such a shameful fall from grace and pick up a bottle or two.

It’s a win win win. You’ll be expanding your wine horizons, supporting the underappreciated producers of white Bordeaux and maybe just maybe saving someone’s career.

Croydon Craft Beer Festival

 

Well, Croydon had its first craft beer festival last weekend and I went along late Saturday afternoon to check it out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.48Braithwaite Hall is a very impressive venue and had the feel of a grand old university library with its stained glass and towering rows books. However unlike the ales on show, there were some doubts as to the books authenticity.

The room was full and buzzing, a nice mixed crowd of friendly looking beer enthusiasts. Good start.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.37The first thing that struck me as approached the tables behind which stood the casks of beer I hoped to try was the alarming amount of them that held signs that said “Sorry this cask is unavailable”. Of the 31 the beers they started with on Friday night more than half were off.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.20Undaunted I ordered a couple halves of The Cronx Kotchin Nektar. They weren’t bad, Nektar just edging Kotchin, they were session-able, but nothing to write home about. Bexley’s Kent Green Hop was my beer of the session, showing some nice bite and tropical fruit. Yet it didn’t particularly excite me.

What followed was an average Peckham Coal Line Porter from Brick, an undrinkable acrid Entire from Cronx, which I traded for limp but inoffensive Oatmeal Stout from Hop Stuff and ended with a tepid ok-ish Red Ale by Bexley. Now temperature isn’t as big an issue with cask beer as keg, but my feeling was all the beers could have been a shade cooler.

What bugged me the most was the beers in the main lacked vibrancy and vitality. Real ale is a living beverage, and the best stuff expresses charm, character and most importantly it has to make me want another sip. Most of the beers I tasted failed to do that.

Now I know I may be harder to please, but seems the organisers fell victim to first beer fest folly; not ordering enough beer. Of course, they didn’t want to lose money so playing it safe seemed to make sense but with so many beers off for such a short festival. Disappointing.

I got chatting to some other punters and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The lack of beers didn’t appear to be a problem though they weren’t ooing and ahhing over anything either.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.00Speaking to one of the organisers he admitted they could have done better, but overall the event was a huge success with plans already in the works for more events next year.

The bottle/can bar had some good stuff and was doing a decent trade, but I had come for the cask and as another beer ran out I decided to call time. A good thing too because as I later found out they had run dry by 7pm. Three hours before the fest ended!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.28.06Luckily BRGR & Beer @ Matthew’s Yard were hosting Fourpure and Gypsy Hill pop-up stylee to celebrate CCBF. It’s an idea they should consider making a permanent fixture. There’s plenty of space and how cool would it be for a rotating residency of London’s best and brightest brewers supporting the solid line of bottles by BRGR & Beer?

I had really nice chats with Neil at Fourpure (am loving their Amercian Brown) and Mike at Gypsy Hill, the latter being in my opinion the most improved brewery in London at the moment (and one of my favorites along with Beavertown).

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.10

In rather reserved style after halves of Fourpure’s decent Red Rye IPA and GH’s sublime Hepcat Session IPA, I called it a night.

Now if I’d been there on the opening night of Croydon’s first craft beer festival it may have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

However, I get the feeling that this experiment wasn’t geared for geeks like me. Perhaps it was more about giving the people of Croydon (& Southest London) a taste of something new. Engaging a fledgling audience of curious imbibers who had tired of the same old same old and were simply seeking better beer.

Despite running out of the aforementioned ales (a cardinal sin to some) the organisers can feel confident that they probably achieved that.

Craft Comes to Croydon

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.19.05Roll up roll up! This Friday and Saturday (Oct 16 &17th) Croydon (yes Croydon!) will be holding its very first Craft Beer Festival.

But why do I suddenly care about the beer scene in Croydon? What could posses me to encourage people to travel to a beer festival in this much-maligned borough?

Well, there’s a story behind that and if you’ll indulge me it goes a little something like this…

When my Mrs. Drink n Eat and I began our search for a first rung on the property ladder, South Norwood was nowhere on our radar. We longed for a cozy bolthole in Crystal Palace or Forest Gate urged on by friends who had bought in those areas before they became the unaffordable meccas that they are today. It actually took what appeared to be a knock-back on a dingy flat in Canning Town for us to totally reset our priorities and lo, we now find ourselves in leafy SE25.

Though it’s a London postcode we are served by London’s largest borough, incidentally an area we had at the outset said we would avoid. But here we were in “The Mighty Croydon” (as my pal Dan used to call it when he lived here), a place that has had a bad rap for as long as I have lived in the nation’s capital (which is a few years now). But as seems the norm across all of London, the ground continues to shift both physically (being built on clay) and socially (gentrification) under our feet.

Now the shopping isn’t as bad as you would think in Croydon centre and that’s even before you take into account the newly green-lit cathedral to consumerism Westfield and the Boxpark hoardings heralding the arrival of those containers of cool, those popped-up shops at East Croydon station. The transport links are excellent with trains, trams and buses shooting out to all points on the compass.

But for a gastronomic ghoul l like myself, C-Ville still seemed to have a big problem; no quality pubs, wine bars, restaurants or speciality drink shops. The new Aldi at Norwood Junction isn’t bad for wine (check out my first & follow up blogs). Then there’s Waitrose on George Street and at the Chruch Street Lidl wines are fast improving courtesy of my pal, Matt Walls (and a certain Richard Bamfield MW). But they are supermarkets and to be honest, the Waitrose beer selection doesn’t set my pulse racing (notice I don’t mention Aldi or Lidl’s beer options. There’s reason for that).

I was feeling no more confident about my imbibing opportunities after an evening out with local beer blogger and pal Sam Hill where he took me to the “two best pubs in Croydon”. Now I don’t want to besmirch the Glamorgan who do very good burgers and the Oval Tavern which is a friendly lively boozer indeed but the beverage offerings weren’t great, typified by the fact that we drank bottled Guinness West Indies Porter (which is rather good) in the former and St. Austell’s Tribute in the latter.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom with South Croydon boasting a few good restaurants including Albert’s Table, but greedy me I wanted something whack bang in the centre. Why couldn’t I have it?!

Little did I know that was all about to change last week after meeting up with award-winning, esteemed beer writer friend, that man of many facets Des de Moor (he’s worth a Google). Des had recently published the newly updated and revised The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer Pubs and Bars (buy it here from the CAMRA Shop) so he is the man in the know when it comes to brewy goings on in the capital.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.19.52Supping an out of date but still characterful Brabo (Belgian inspired Pale Ale of Des’s creation in collaboration with Brains Brewery) and standing in the warm glow of that finest of beer/hot sauce/wine shops Hop Burns and Black in East Dulwich, I bemoaned in true 1st world problem style the dearth of good beer places in my area. As we both waxed lyrical about The Hope in Carshalton (a must go to Pub) Des picked up the store copy of his aforementioned book and poked to the cork coloured topped pages of Outer South London first pointing to The Green Dragon and then to the Wine Cellar which boasts over 1200 wines it was worth a visit but they also did beer. “They have a decent beer range as well as cask beers to take away, and I think they’ve opened another shop in central Croydon as well.” Des said in his musical lilting Tractor Boy twang. This was worth investigating.

So Friday I set about hunting around the tinternet and within minutes by a combination of Twitter and Google maps found the location of Fresh Fields Market/Wine Cellar.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.26.01Thrilled with the prospect of checking out these places practically on my (distant) doorstep I tweeted and texted Sam to enlist his company. Of course, he was in. So it was set.

Later that evening I jumped on the trusty tram and rode the 6 or so stops and as I passed the Lidl (which I knew) I wondered where this Fresh Fields could be? Then lo and behold the tram pulls right up to it and stops. It’s literally right there at Church Street tram stop and if it wasn’t for the annoying safety barriers you could literally walk off the tram right through the doors.

Unassuming as you enter, organic fruit and veg to your left and a drinks case containing the usual suspects of the soft drink world albeit with healthier more exotic leaning. Looking past the tills with same old spirits and smokes behind on the right, all the rest of store stretches out and it appears at first glance to be an off-licence of the normal ilk. A shelf of Echo Falls “wine”, rows of tinned food, pasta, bleach, biscuits etc.

I glance along to some tall wooden wine racks beyond the registers, my hoppy sense starts to tingle at the sight what looks like the chunky forms of German bottles and approaching I can see a decent array. A few of the great S’s are there; Schlenkerla Märzen, Weizen and Helles but so too is Spaten Oktoberfest, a gaggle of Schneider Weisse and the very good Jever Pils.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.30.26Along that wall, there are more wooden racks with an assortment of wines, but tonight was not a night for wine (I did have a peek at the wines and despite a couple interesting bottles the focus here is most definitely beer). Perhaps this Teutonic front was the extent of their beers? My heart began to sink… but as I turned to my left where on a tall metal table sat a stout cask of ale with some tasting glasses (a good sign indeed) there appeared a sliver of an oasis or was it a mirage of glittering glass?

Turning so my angle of view became more direct my breath caught in my throat, it took a few seconds, but finally my brain caught up with what eyes were struggling to take in. Not simply a wall, it was a 7-8 foot wave of beer that even curled at the end to include a glowing chiller fridge as well.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.23.59

Dumbfounded and giddy I grappled with myself to keep from crying out like a lunatic. The selection was immense, especially in terms of London & UK Breweries, and not just a bottle of this or a can of that. Some breweries had more than half a dozen offerings on show. There was stuff I had never seen before from breweries I knew and others who I had been meaning to try. It was Alladin’s friggin cave!

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.30.59Belgium and the US were well represented with all the Flemish classics on show, and more beers from Brooklyn and Anchor than I had ever seen. Speaking of Anchor, their collaboration with Brotherhood Brewing Brotherhood Steam is a revelation and perhaps the best beer I have had this year. Heaven in a can.

What also impressed me was the pricing. For instance, Beavertown Neck Oil is £1.99, yes you read right one ninety-nine. In addition plenty of top beers are priced at a very decent £2.49 and even 75cl bottles of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace are on at £9.99. Not satisfied with a very fair pricing policy FFM also offers a 10% discount when you buy 6 bottles (they also offer a 10% off to card carrying CAMRA members).

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.31.32Stood like some creepy beer stalker unable to even touch anything I was soon approached by a friendly smiling member of staff who asked those magical words; “Would you like to taste some beer?”. He brought me a little goblet of Triple FFF Brewing Company “Stairway” from the cask and I slurped it greedily, my mouth having gone completely dry.

My hands quivered as I texted Sam to tell him that he to see this place with his own eyes and that wasn’t a drinking venue as such, and we’d have to go elsewhere. He told me later he knew it was serious when I declined to meet him in a pub and that “I’d just wait there for him”.

While I waited on Mr. Hill that kind member of staff introduced me to the manager Ben (aka Benedict Nicholas Selvaratnam). He’s the perfect ambassador for this venture; warm, friendly, passionate about good beer and wholly committed to turning Fresh Fields Market into the beer destination for not only Croydon centre but the entire borough. He talked me through some of the recent hiccups (having to ditch the once larger selection of organic fruit and veg because it wasn’t selling) and his vision for its ambitious future.

As it stands they have to commit more of the shop to convenience store items to make up the costs in these early days, but Ben has already earmarked an entire aisle for “clearing out and just filling with good beer”. But he’s not done there. There are plans for a growler/flagon fresh beer filling station and meet the brewer events as well.

He even asked me if there were any breweries I wanted to see on the shelves! Now that’s a man who aims to please.

Eventually, Sam turned up and we began that unique ritual that such places can have on grown men. We shouted and squealed like ten-year-old boys dashing back and forth pointing to this or that on the shelf. But soon we regained our composure enough to fill our arms with those magic six then tromped to the till like conquering heroes.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.35.32Ben rang up my purchases and I couldn’t help feeling like he missed something out, or did he give me a better discount? But no, on examination it was all there with the 10% off. Bargain.

We talked some more about the market but then talk turned to the imminent Croydon Craft Beer Festival of which Fresh Fields is a major sponsor along with New Addington based Cronx Brewery. Sam and I both grabbed tickets (£3 in advance from Fresh Fields Market, The Oval Tavern, The Wine Cellar and Brgr&Beer or £3.84 through Eventbright or £4 on the door) and after heartily thanking Ben we wandered out into the night clutching our treasures.

We headed in the direction of Matthew’s Yard, an eclectic cafe, art and music warehouse space that houses BRGR & Beer. While we ordered we discovered from the very friendly staff that festival’s celebration of good beer wasn’t limited to the goings on at the Braithwaite Hall. They were hosting the folks behind Fourpure Brewing Co. and Gypsy Hill Brewery with special events also afoot at the Green Dragon, the Spread Eagle, Croydon Clocktower Cafe and much mentioned Oval Tavern.

BRGR & Beer do some mean burgers (Beef, Chicken, and Veggie) and their rosemary fries are a real coup and as it says on the tin; there’s a decent selection of bottle beers. Do check em out.

Right, I think that’s it and you are up to date.

I am now looking forward to the weekend and sampling London’s best and brightest at Braithwaite Hall along with bottles and cans from around the globe. There’s even tell that some small scale London-based cider producers will be showing their wares too, which will be music to the ears for those of you who eschew grain-based beverages. Speaking of tunes, Gastropub Live will be providing live bands and food stalls will round out what looks to be the event that puts Croydon Craft Beer on the map.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 09.43.52I hope to see you there.

 

Mr Vine Tasting 6

With the autumnal weather as unpredictable as Richard Hemming’s dress sense, we gathered for our Mr Vine’s September panel tasting at Winemakers Club near the Holborn viaduct. A somewhat revered site as was the original Oddbins in a former life. So it was under the musty moody railway arches of this new-ish wine bar/shop/events space that we set about sampling a new batch of wines. Intriguingly four out of five of the winners were Italian, this time out. But each one different and dancing to its own beat. 

First place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kratos’ Fiano 2014 (Campania, Italy; 13.0%; £14.50, WoodWinters)

Some say the white Fiano grape will be the next big thing in the UK, and classic examples like this one show why. It’s an intense and persistent wine, with no-nonsense apple, pear and apricot aromas and a herbal twang. Starts off subtle, but finishes with a fresh, dry, mineral edge and a burst of flavour. You could drink this all night and not get bored. 90 points.

NN verdict – Certainly worthy of the top spot.

Second place: Tenuta Mara ‘Maramia’ 2012 (Emilia-Romagna, Italy; 13.5%; £41, WoodWinters)

This is the first vintage from this ambitious new biodynamic estate. They only make one wine, and no expense is spared; they even serenade the Sangiovese vines with Mozart. Who knows if that makes any difference, but the care and effort the take really shows through; this is a genuinely fine wine that really speaks of its origin. Autumnal aromas like dried leaves and truffle spill from the glass, alongside red cherry and dark chocolate. It’s lively and tangy, robust yet refreshing, ethereal but long in flavour. It has a high price for sure, but this is delicious and has real substance and interest. 91 points.

 NN verdict – Was totally enamored of this bonkers despite its higher price tag.

Third place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kleos’ Aglianico 2012 (Campania, Italy; 13.5%; £14.00, WoodWinters)

Another winner from expert winemaker Luigi Maffini, this time from the robust red Aglianico grape. It has baked blackberry, blueberry and stewed plum fruits inlaid with cigar tobacco and cinnamon. In the mouth it has real presence and texture; it’s full-bodied, savoury and very dry. It’s a big black bull of a wine that needs hearty food to be best appreciated. 89 points.

 NN verdict – That Maffini was back and though not as interesting as his Fiano still a solid bronze.

Fourth place: Le Fonti Sangiovese 2012 (Tuscany, Italy; 13.0%; £9.89, Cadman Fine Wines)

There are two Sangioveses to bring to your attention this month; this one may not have the brilliance of the Tenuta Mara, but then it is less than a quarter of the price. It’s like a beginner’s guide to Italian Sangiovese – expressive cherry and herbal notes, crisp acidity and an elegant lightness of touch. Not the most concentrated, but it’s very decent for under a tenner. 87 points.

NN verdict – A bit out of balance for my palate, but the group thought it a solid showing.

Fifth place: Domaine Baron Sauvignon Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2014 (Loire, France; 12.5%; £8.99, Cadman Fine Wines)

Sauvignon Blanc can be samey, but this one from the Touraine is more luscious and interesting than the norm. It’s relatively ripe, fruity and opulent for a Loire Sauvignon – fans of New Zealand examples will get it immediately. Plenty of grapefruit and green pepper with a hint of smoke; not the most subtle, but very enjoyable. 88 points.

NN verdict – I really enjoyed this wine. Possessed character and of a sense of place.

Mr Vine is a free iPhone app that helps you discover and buy the kinds of wine you like from a marketplace consisting of over 1,000 wines across a dozen different independent UK wine shops. Each month, a panel of five drinks experts (Richard Hemming, Helena Nicklin, Matt Walls, Zeren Wilson and me) meet up to taste a selection of wines available via the app in order to sniff out some gems. We score the wines out of 100, provide a tasting note and – perhaps most importantly – pick our top five of the night. These won’t necessarily be the highest scoring, just the wines we feel most excited about bringing to your attention.

For more info on the app and how it works, check out mrvine.co.uk.

 

 

Mr Vine Tasting Number 5

Yes that totally tubular (bottle shaped) tasting team of Matt Walls, Helena Nicklin, Zeren Wilson, Richard Hemming MW (that’s right Richard Hemming is now a Master of Wine. An amazing achievement!) and yours truly were at it again. Tasting wines for the good of those independent vino-loving masses for the Mr Vine App. If you haven’t downloaded it the IOS version is available here.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.29.48First place: Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs NV (Champagne, France; 12.5%;

£26.09, Cadman Fine Wines)

This pure Chardonnay Champagne is grown on Grand Cru rated sites and the quality really

shines through: brioche-scented exuberance, full and rich on the palate with a lovely soft

fizz. Very easy drinking while keeping its class and character, this isn’t the driest Champagne,

but it’s beautifully balanced and could easily compete with many big brands. 90 points

NN verdict – Loved this stuff. Just my kind of bubbly.

 

Second place: Fattoria Le Fonti Chianti Classico 2012 (Tuscany, Italy; 14.0%;Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.33

£14.50, Cadman Fine Wines)

Mostly Sangiovese with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this Chianti is

somewhere between modern and traditional in style. It has detailed cherry, herb and leather

aromas alongside coffee bean and tobacco leaf. Bright, vibrant and expressive this wine has

a lovely sense of harmony and warmth. It engages the brain as well as the tongue. 91

points.

NN verdict – I sometimes overlook Chianti because I have had them so many times, but a good Classico (such as this is) is a thing of real beauty especially with food.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.49Third place: Auntsfield Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Marlborough, New Zealand;

13.0%; £12.15, Cadman Fine Wines)

This estate was built on the site of New Zealand’s first winery, dating back to 1873. If you’re

suffering from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc overload, this wine reminds you of what makes

the style so special. It smells of freshly cut grass, fresh gooseberry and guava but has a

sense of restraint; the flavours are pronounced by the wine remains elegant. Lovely round

texture, a long, concentrated finish and wet foliage freshness. Very well priced to boot. 90

points.

NN verdict – Hands down one of the best Malborough SB I have had in recent memory.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.16Fourth place: Château Bel-Air La Royère 2008 (Bordeaux, France; 14.0%; £19.35,

Cadman Fine Wines)

Unpretentious, old school claret with much to love: ripe and fruity, with spicy cedar, tobacco

and blackcurrant. This blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Malbec from Blaye has plenty of

stuffing and tannic heft to keep it going for another five years or so, but is at a lovely stage

to drink now – harmonious and complex but still with youthful power. Bordeaux lovers will

lap it up. 91 points.

NN – This wine really made me smile. Everything good mature Bordeaux should be.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.31.07Fifth place: La Torricella Barbera d’Alba 2011 (Piemonte, Italy; 14.0%; £15.99,

Red Squirrel Wines)

Black cherry and cola on the nose, alongside coffee and cocoa – classic Barbera. Lovely

concentration and a satin-soft, dry finish. A generous yet serious wine that’s just crying out

for rigatoni with meatballs. 89

NN verdict – I wasn’t blown away by this but a solid wine none the less.

Honourable mentions

Vinteloper ‘Odeon’ Riesling 2013 (Clare Valley, Australia; 13.0%; £24.99, Red

Squirrel Wines)

Just over a thousand bottles were made of this compellingly interesting wine. Naturally

beautiful aromas of mandarin, mirabelle plum and flowers. It’s not cheap, but this is brave

winemaking resulting in a unique style that some drinkers will adore. 90 points.

NN verdict – Really felt this wine deserved to be in the top 5. Glad it got a mention.

 

Vega Tolosa ‘Icon’ Bobal 2013 (La Mancha, Spain; 13.5%; £8.99, Red Squirrel

Wines)

Bags of intense forest fruit flavour, this is a perky, juicy red that is easy to drink but has

character and makes an impact. Fantastic value for money. 88 points.

NN verdict – Again really liked this wine. Only room for 5 though…

 

Bruna ‘Maje’ Pigato 2014 (Liguria, Italy; 12.5%; £13.50, Red Squirrel Wines)

Delicate, fresh and perfumed this is a lovely example of the rare Pigato grape. Silken in

texture and perfectly balanced, this is a great alternative to Pinot Grigio. 88 points.

NN verdict – A great wine to impress your wine geek friend with.

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