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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…

 

Coral Beer and Matu Mix

While on honeymoon in Madeira I drank some the local Coral lager. It happened to go very well with Matu mix snacky stuff.

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Lake Brews: Coniston and Stringers

It was upon a birthday trip so fine that I made my way to the wilds of Cumbria and a walking I did go with my good lady upon my arm. Over hill, dale and even across the glittering water of Windermere did we travel in search of adventure and nourishment for our minds and bodies; the smog of London gently being lifted from our hair (and our souls) by the lake breeze.

Many miles did we wander, beautiful sights did we see, good food and drink did we imbibe, but night’s dark cloak drew in and nearing the station I was drawn to the warming lights of Booths.

I know not what called me to the beer aisle like a clarion call, but as I stood staring and blinking in the bright artificial lights my eyes settled upon a few labels. One of the names inscribed was familiar to me so I reached out and took two of its kind.

As I turned to go something stopped me; a ringing in my ears, and lo I knew my mistress waited near the magazines tapping a muddy hiking shoe, that ringing turned to words that shouted  “two is not enough!!”. It echoed around my mind and I tried to shake it knowing there may be consequences if I tarried but a moment more. Yea, before I knew it I was turning back to the glassy glow.

Hungrily I hunted the rows, there must be a reason for my return, where was it to be found? As if a curtain was suddenly lifted I spied the bold packaging, how could have I missed it before? Just gazing upon those brown bottles in their resplendent robes of blue and black edged in white; I knew one thing, I must posses them.

All four little gems travelled tucked in my case back to London town, arriving safely. It twas high time I drank the buggers…

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.28My previous knowledge of Coniston Brewery related solely to an evening tasting Britain’s Champion Beers at which I sampled their extraordinary No. 9 Barley Wine. Champ in 2012 and my favourite beer from the 2000-13 CAMRA winners. It was on that strength that I procured their Bluebird Bitter and charmingly named Old Man Ale. 

The BB at 4.2% had the look of warm amber, giving off aromas of wet fall leaves, burnt caramel and horse blanket. Sipping revealed some woodiness, iron filings, dry earth, a touch meaty, some resin but cleansing, fresh, easy drinking with a tart floral finish.

Though the name suggested it be best supped by those with more hair in their ears than on their heads; Consiton’s Old Man Ale was anything but.Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.17

In the glass it looked to me like melted brown sugar with a rich thick shaving foam head. Sniff sniff: lovely floral complexity (owing to the Challenger and Mount Hood hops), warm rye bread, hints of gingerbread spices, fruits of white peach and sweet plum with the vaguest whiff of caramel coated hazelnut.

Let me at it! A balanced 4.8%, creamy rum raisin, air dried beef, dandelion and burdock, with a clean, dry woody mushroom and sage leaf finish. Very very good and not a whisper of the war.

Completely new to me were Stringers Brewery, however their brewy base in the market town Ulverston is a place close to my heart. Some years ago, for about three weeks yours truly nested at the grade II listed Friends Meeting House while I rehearsed a play in the less memorable Barrow-in-Furness.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.43They have stopped brewing their XB (4.2%) since I drank it, apparently due to lack of traction in an otherwise overcrowded best bitter market. Which is a shame as my notes will show…

It had a rich Demerara sugar hue with a happy soapy head, then sticking my nose where it did belong my brain did the deciphering: newly cut hay, runny golden syrup, creamy banoffie pie and fresh baked pear tatin. To my lips and then… sharp clean crisp, dry mushroom, round malt and finishing in lemon pith.

Solid and tres drinkable. Bring it back.

Mercifully their Dry Stout (4.5%) is still available and damn is it good!Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.31

Staring into the abyss of my glass, a dense moonless midnight winter black topped with thin charcoal fluffy clouds. Wonderful full bodied aromas of iron rich earth, liquorice, jäger herbs, fresh espresso and baked black plums battered my nostrils. Gulp: cold coffee evolving into tiramisu, some savoriness giving way to Jerusalem artichoke and finishing in dry cocoa. Concentrated and textured yet remains very fresh.

Truly as good a stout as I’ve ever had (won a few awards as well).

And that was that, was that then.

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Peckham Burger @ Anderson & Co

Some years ago (like 2008/2009) the grand trendsetter looked upon the great city with its many diverse eateries and despite the health warnings said ” Let there be meat… Shit loads of it… Oh and pop-ups. Pop-ups are like the shizzle”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.24And the people rejoiced for more meat and a multitude pop-ups seemed to be what their lives were missing. But not in the tired boiled/fried or the random installation art way of the past oh no, this was a new dawn, mashing up: craft beer, kimchi, live music, funky art and antiques, hotdogs, DJ’s, lobster and those revered culinary techniques perfected by our rebellious cousins across the great sea. Carnivorous creations of: ribs sticky and sweet, chicken wings made of hellfire with blue cheese dip, slow cooked pork spiced and pulled to the point of no return, steak so big and bloody young children hid their faces at sight of it and last but surely not least that flagship of Americana, the mighty Hamburger.

Last Friday I met up with an old friend who lives Peckham Rye (my old hood) and he suggested Peckham Burger chez Anderson & Co. Chilled hand crafted food cafe by day and by night (Weds-Sat) it morphs into aScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.23 slick patty and bun operation kicking out simply: beef, chicken, veggie (mushroom) and skinny (bun-less) burgers to which you can add bacon, cheese, etc… Sides were equally minimal: bloody mary salt fries, mac n cheese and coleslaw. There’s a few puddings as well; the specialty being ice cream sundaes with Jude’s the star of the show. It’s not a huge place; room for about 40 covers (give or take) if you include the handful of tables out front and the nice fairy garden in the back where we sat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.41.44The drinks list is slightly more filled out with a good selection on non alcoholic options featuring Luscombe Drinks and Owlet Juices. Wine is simple and straightforward with a choice of one red (very solid Chateau La Bastide/Corbières) and one white (Inzolia from Sicily). Quite pleased to see a couple of very local beers in Peckham Pils/Brick BreweryRed Ale/Brockley Brewing and the only slightly further afield Kernel IPA/The Kernel Brewery (who have become a deserved regular on some of the UK’s best eateries). There were some more mainstream lagers as well but didn’t take much notice of them.

By way of aperitif I had a Peckham Pils (I’d tried to drink it on two previous occasions but both bottles were flat/faulty). Clear, bright with decent head retention and a touch lager stinky. The palate was alright, crisp and pretty clean, but they’ve still not got it quite right for me. Though I do like their Archway Steam.

Still thirsty I ordered another beer along with the Chicken Burger (au natural) and some of the cocktail seasoned fries. First to arrive was the Brockley Red Ale and I was much pleased. Rich rusty tone and nutty, earthy, red berry nose. Impressive texture to it, nice balance of sweet malt and savory hops. Yum I say!

My CB and fries landed and I tucked right in. Suffolk chicken thigh marinated in tomorrosso (tomato), garlic, basil, oregano, chilli with lettuce, tomato and our aioli on a cholla bun was how the menu described itScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.01. My tastebuds went with “Oh my flippin gawdness!!”. Gonna out on a limb and say it’s the best chicken burger I have had in years. A real masterpiece; from the cooking of that juicy tender Suffolk clucker, to the tangy vibrant marinade, which balanced just right against the mellow garlic mayo and the sweet soft as a pillow cholla. Senfrigginsational! The fries kept the standard high. Skinny frites with a perfect crunch to them, not greasy and I must say the addition of Bloody Mary salt was inspired. Raised the chip up to someplace special. Oh and their homemade tommy k was awesome! Had just the right amount of sweet, sour and spice.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.01To top it all off that red ale was the perfect match, it’s weight and feel beautifully complimenting my heavenly bird in a bun.

Service was spot on; relaxed, friendly and efficient.

Perhaps the bill was a bit more than you might expect to pay for 2 burgers, 2 fries and 4 beers, but we are in London after all. I was more than happy to shell out; hell it’s not every day you eat a chicken burger that might just Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.12change your life (ok didn’t change my life, but it certainly made my week).

Oh lo the grand trendsetter said unto them  “Some pop up burger joints are created better than others.”

Amen to that.

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Seven Springs Wines

Sat in the sun sampling un-oaked Chardonnay, Chardonnay & Syrah from the Seven Springs Vineyard in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Website http://7springs.co.za/

Stockist http://7springs.co.za/stockists/

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Ska Euphoria & Dale’s Pale Ale Cans

The beer bloggeratti are abuzz with pretty universal praise of our favourite breweries putting their fine liquids into cans. It does tick a lot of boxes in terms of: cost efficiency, environmental impact and freshness retention. That final consideration is especially important when we are talking about the best brewskis making the long journey from the US of A to her Majesty’s golden shores.

Not one to be left behind I picked up a couple tinnies from two Colorado heavyweights Ska and Oscar Blues at the tres swish The Beer Boutique in Putney.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.18My first taste of Ska Brewing came at the now extinct My Brewery Tap in Brighton. I visited soon after their opening a few years back and had a whale of a time trying a range of keg beers that included that beast of an IPA that is Modus Hoperandi. Euphoria Pale Ale, now in its 10th year is a collaboration with their pals at Venture Snowboards and is a celebration of all the outdoor activities that winter brings and that craftsman spirit that embody them both.

First thing I noticed about this 6.2% abv seasonal “Ska/Venture Venture” was that it was past drink by date by nearly a month, undeterred (I’ve eaten IKEA mustard that was years past its expiry) I poured it out. A promising rich mocha head frothed up showing a deep clear brown undercarriage. The aromas stomped all over my nasal receptors with a complexity that showed passion fruit, marmite, Rollo chocolates and dense ginger cake. With a nose like that I wasted no time supping back a big gulp of it. I was struck immediately by the fabulous rounded mouthfeel, but then subtle malty peach joined the party, with hop resin poking through, his lady friend ripe cantaloupe came bouncing in, bringing the whole mouth fiesta into superb balance. Utterly delicious.

Having heard a lot of good things about Oscar Blues Brewingtheir flagship Dale’s Pale Ale seemed as good a place to start as any.Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.41

Bright amber in the glass with a thin layer of head, it gave off whiffs of earthy mushroom, pine resin, lemon peel and roast chicken (maybe I was hungry). First sip was zippy and fresh. The texture was nice and creamy, with hints of dry pineapple and mango, razor sharp hops, some stony minerals and a slightly floral finish. If you are a bit of a hopmonster this solid 6.5% abv-er is the benchmark for great USA inspired pale ale. Killer pairing with cheddar cheese as well.

Based on this very limited but highly successful tasting I will be lending my voice to those around me shouting at the top of our lungs. “Bring us more cans!”

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East Anglian Wines

Ah East Anglia, ancient home of Boudica; the warrior queen of the Roman routing Iceni tribe folk. Though the centurions eventually got their own back and as a result grapevines were planted en masse in what is the modern day Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. EA once produced 40% of the grapes in Britannia due to it’s fabulous terroir; particularly chalky limestone soils and low rainfall. However since its heyday a thousand or so years ago it has been eclipsed by Kent and Sussex as England’s premiere wine regions. But East Anglia’s vinous traditions live on ; as I found out on a dark autumn evening of tasting at the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall, Essex.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.04.44There was a handful of wineries present, but I kicked off with New Hall Vineyards and their decent Bacchus 2012. The UK’s premiere white grape showed itself as fresh grapefruit, medium dryness and fragrant subtle green menthol smoke. Signature 2012 is a blend of the little known German varietal Siegegrubbe and better known Pinot Gris. I enjoyed the harmony of white flowers and spicy apricot. It was a good weight, had nice freshness nice body and a zesty kiwi finish. Even better was the Signature Reserve 2009 with its rich ripe muscat nose, clinging acidity, dry green apple and fresh pineapple. The Pinot Noir Rose 2012 had smoky strawberry, flinty stone on the nose and on the palate zippy cranberry was rich long and classy. Most impressive was their Brut Rose 2010 which was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir & Blanc. It was lean, a bit green but very fine fizz with a real classy rich biscuit tone that finished with a touch raspberry. Very good indeed.

New Hall is headed up by the UK Vineyards Association Winemaker of the Year 2013 and East Anglia winemaking royalty Piers Greenwood. Piers has a deep knowledge and wise warm wisdom when talks about his wines. But it was the regard with which other winemakers spoke about him that told the real story. Piers has an incredible passion for raising the wine profile of the area and does this by consulting at a number of  other wineries in the region.

Set up “Essexites” the Mohan family in 2009 West Street Vineyard does more than it says on the tin. As well as being a micro vineyard (5.5Acres) actually in the village of Coggeshall, its home to “The Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.15Wine Barn”; a modern cafe restaurant complete with wine wall that boasts the best wines the UK has to offer. Tastings, tours and more are available at this Anglian wine hub, but I digress… First up was their White 2011 (Faber and Bacchus) which showed pretty well with it’s flinty fresh acidity, super tangy lemon pith and clean finish. Their Rose 2011 (Faber and Pinot Noir) really impressed; smoky earthy red berries, tart cranberry and a pleasingly high acids. Their good run continued with a fine Brut 2010; a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing ripe white melon, “prosecco” pear and rich brioche. Very nice indeed. I wasn’t familiar with the German Faber variety (Pinot Blanc/Müller-Thurgau cross) to which the site was originally planted, but Stephen and Jane have put a rather dull grape to good use by blending it newer plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

That theme of diversification is taken to a new level by Suffolk’s Lavenham Brook who in addition to their award winning wines they rear Red Poll Beef, Suffolk Lamb and produce single varietal heritage apple juice. The Bacchus 2012 dripped delightful peach, white melon, vibrant lime moving into dry tingling apricot  finish. Soft red berries, nice texture and a touch leathery were the notes I made about their solid Pinot Noir Rosé 2012. There was a real class to both wines which came as no surprise when I found out that Herr Greenwood is the winemaker there as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.45Shawsgate is one of East Anglia’s oldest commercial vineyards which may explain their rather dated website homepage. I did however like their wines and the smart clean packaging as well. Bacchus 2011 showed lime, white flower, soapstone, pine needles and a super dry green apple finish. Pandora 2011; a blend of Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau was off dry with vague citrus and ok weight. Spanish Rosado in style their Rosé 2010 (Rondo; a red cross of Czech origins popular here in the UK for making good Rose, though I have yet to have a very good red made from it) tasted ripe and gamey, had generous strawberry, was long, full-bodied and very drinkable. The hits kept coming as I moved to their bubbles. The 2004 Brut made from Seyval Blanc seduced with exotic Asian (apple) pear, rich cashew nut and was all over me with dense lime cheesecake yet zesty yummy freshness. Superb stuff.  2008 Rosé (Rondo and Acalon:another German red import) was meaty, with hints of lovely Brazil nut, strawberries and cream. Really liked the wild raspberry finish.

Much decorated family run Giffords Hall for me produced the best Bacchus (Defacto white grape of England, producing some of the countries most consistent white wines. Its a Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.04saucy threeway cross of Silvaner, Riesling with good old Müller-Thurgau) of the day. Their 2012 held my attention with its bracing sea salt, fresh melon, stinging nettle and lovely lively finish. GH’s award-winning Rose 2012 made from a blend of Rondo and the promising Madeline Angevin (white Loire variety) showed off hints of smoke, fine red flinty greenish berries and a subtle meaty edge. Classy.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.28I was able to sample some very niche liqueurs from DJ’s Wines who are so boutique they don’t even have a website. My quote about their Bramble Whisky was concise and to the point “I could lose a few days on that, but I wouldn’t mind”. While I was more measured when describing Monks Mead, the product of hard working bees that was fresh, fruity and light with notes of aged honey, heather and citrus zest.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.06I found time before dinner to move from the grape to the grain with samples from the English Spirit Distillery who are making some sensational spirits including the masterful Old Salt Rum. I found myself softly singing old sea shanties as I sipped this international gold medal winning rum. If you love rum or know someone who does then you must seek out this wonder, that uses traditions centuries old to distill this treacle laden, salted caramel, bananalicious beauty.

I had a chance to chat with Piers Greenwood during dinner and mightly enjoyed hearing his stories. His ethos, how he fell in love with wine and winemaking left an impression on me. With a guardian like him overseeing this reinvigoration of East Anglia vineyards then these smattering of awards and accolades I feel will only increase. The result being hopefully more bottles from this ancient and noble English wine region being enjoyed by the descendants of the Romans who first planted those vines. Oh and Boudica’s as well…

Postscript: I had a look at the websites and other social media for these producers and (with the exception of Lavenham Brook and to a lesser extent Giffords Hall) felt most of them really needed to update and expand their online reach. A twitter account, facebook page and attractive easy to use website are must haves in this modern world of marketing. Ignore them at your peril.

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Brixton Brewery

I love supporting local businesses in my hood of SE London. I also love good beer so you can imagine my delight as I gazed upon the chilling bottles of Brixton Brewery in the beer fridge at that cave of drinky delights Market Row Wines.

I snapped four bottles to try. The names were proudly Brixtonian, but did the beer behind those dazzling labels express the vibrant complex nature of this most iconic London neighbourhood?

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.25I kicked off with Windrush Stout (5%) and found the nose of this dense black ale quite intoxicating. Freshly roasted coffee, ripe blackberries, toasted chestnut, rich in iron with a savoury meatiness. It slipped down very nicely and I loved the fresh clean quality it had in my mouth. As well as some of the notes from the nose there was bubble coffee, earthy minerals and a beautifully balanced lean bitter finish. Very easy drinking, yet fine. Quite delicious.

Next was Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) which smelled of tropical fruit sweets, white melon and toast. My first sip I found to twang of TCP, it was tart with a sharp malt bite and finished dry pithy grapefruit. Very medicinal and not quite to my taste.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.46

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.37But they were back on song again with their flagship session Effra Ale (4.5%). Mouth watering peach, caramel and rich malty bread invaded my nostrils. Tasting it, what really impressed me was its rich texture of toasted cornmeal but there were also some Jäger herbs with a firm dry mango finish. Very tasty.

To round off the quartet was Electric IPA (6.5%) whose nose sang to me of bright sweet pineapple, candied grapefruit and pasties fresh from the oven. The mouthful was creamy sweet papaya, pithy pink grapefruit with a dry peppery rocket finish. Quite good indeed.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.54

Brixton Brewery began to ferment 3 years ago as an idea in the hop addled minds of neighbours and passionate homebrewers Jez and Mike as they drank in the previous incarnation of The Craft Beer Co SW4. Putting their plan into action took about two years and saw them team up with head brewer Dominic whose CV boasts names like Brewdog, Kelham Island and Sierra Nevada. Despite not being wild about the Reliance Pale Ale I felt each beer possessed its own distinct personality and expressed some of that joie de vivre that makes Brixton such a vibrant and engaging place. Here’s hoping that Jez, Mike and Dominic can maintain their solid start and build on some very well brewed beers.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger Leigh Linely’s writing (I also like that his initials repeat, like mine) and regularly read his  The Good Stuff” blog. Here’s a link to his recent Brixton Brewery Review.

Great minds Leigh; I thought the Windrush Stout was the pick of the bunch as well.

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Fatourada fi Greek Liqueur

The manner in which this artesian Greek liqueur actually came into my possession sounded a bit like a dodgy first draft of an espionage/crime short story. It would be called:

Mr Drink ‘N’ Eat and the mysterious Greek Fatourada

My name is Mister, Mr Drink n Eat. I am a private palate for hire. It was August 2013 and I was minding my own business when I was got message (via Facebook) from a woman named Vicky Peristanoglou (sounded Greek) to see if I was interested in trying Fatourada fi. I had never heard of it. But it was unusual stuff, exotic; my interest was peaked. It all seemed pretty innocent so far, but the wrinkle came when I asked how she would get it to me. I was told mailing it was complicated and dangerous. I wondered why? She had valid reasons, but it could have been a smokescreen.

A few months later I got word that it finally had arrived in the UK, and I would be contacted with more information. One afternoon my phone buzzed with a text from someone named Eric who claimed to have the Fatourada in his possession. He wanted to meet. Who was this ‘Eric’? What did he have to do with Vicky P and the Fatourada? Over the coming months as it seemed difficult to arrange a suitable meeting time with him in London. Why couldn’t I tie this guy down? What was his game?

Finally, the big day arrived with the swap due to go down at 14:30 GMT at Cabin wine bar, Waterloo station. It needed to be someplace public; I had made that mistake before. I decided to arrive early to get the drop on him. Taking a seat at a high bar table gave me a full view of the whole station. Ordering a glass of wine and a bite to eat I scanned the crowd, my senses alert. My courier arrived some minutes later in the form of a Greek economics student named Eric (spooky). Early twenties, well groomed, intelligent and from a good family as far as I could tell. He sat and handed over the package, but then asked me to choose him a glass of wine (was this a test?), so I did. He seemed happy with it and we exchanged pleasantries for a half hour or so, then he said goodbye and left disappearing into the crowded station. I wondered if I would see him again. I guess it didn’t matter because when I opened the bag, it contained a rather fetching looking bottle with a liquid inside the colour of melted amber. I couldn’t help noticing cinnamon stick tied to the neck. Could it be a message? But there was more… A plain envelope with Mr Nathan Nolan (an alias of mine) written in black ink. Inside was a single sheet of paper, a printed message from the producers Yiannis Koulelis and Maria Copsachilis thanking me for my interest in their product and being honored to hear my feedback. But was there’s more to it.

The case took another 6 months to close as I tried to find the right occasion to taste it. The time finally came when I met up with a fellow private palate whose tastebuds I trust more than my own. Walls, Matt Walls is his name and we drank it with our good ladies the other week. Here’s what we thought:

The nose began with a blast of citrus orchard, then hints of marzipan, maraschino cherry and digging deeper came rich notes of warm cinnamon and cardamom. But all the while I was getting sprays of fresh Sevilla orange zest. The texture is viscous and buttery (akin to some dessert wines) with a complex flavour profile. The mulled wine spices nibbled my tongue and lounged on my palate, but there was more: brandy butter, orange studded clove, waxy lemon, Christingle and an intense Cosmopolitan brûlée finish. I really liked its layers of orange spice and it was enjoyed by all paired with a walnut and caramel tart.  Coming out at 21% AVB and being so decadent perhaps its too rich to drink more than a small glass, but a small glass was all you needed. I for one felt very lucky to have tasted such a unique and well crafted elixir. Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 12.12.12

Yiannis and Maria produce their spiced nectar by hand in small batches on the beautiful Greek island of Kythira (Kythera/Cythera). The name Fatourada itself is borrowed from a time when Venetians ruled Kythira (along with a number of other Aegean islands) with the heady libation only consumed by its wealthy elite. The base spirit made from Hamburg Muscat grapes is double distilled in their copper pot still before it is allowed to macerate with the green skins of locally hand picked oranges and cinnamon wood.

Fatourada fi is certainly the sort of thing you could imagine the Gods sipping while they lounged around Mount Olympus plotting love affairs with nymphs and battles with Hydras.

Check out their facebook page or contact them on twitter for more information.

The case of the mysterious delicious Fatourarda fi was now closed.

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Harviestoun: Òrach Slie, Ridge and Broken Dial

I have been fortunate enough to be on this bonnie Scottish brewery’s ‘good bloggers’ list for a few years now. The reason I know this, is that every now and then a package containing Harviestoun beer turns up unannounced; which is quite a nice thing. They have brewed some excellent beers since they started nigh on thirty years ago. The beer that put them on the map is Bitter & Twisted Blond Ale, but they are also responsible for Ola Dubh, probably one of the world’s best whisky barrel aged brews. Engineers Reserve ‘Old Engine Oil’; a beer so silky and voluptuous that the first time I tasted it, I actually felt as if I had been seduced. Finally, their Schiehallion has got to be one of the top 5 quality craft lagers in the country.

A few new (ish) releases turned up on my doorstep and here’s what I thought:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.33.03Òrach Slie 6% abv

A golden ale matured in Glenfarclas whisky barrel, that pours bright Irun-Bru in colour. The nose is wet moss, wool, oak infused golden syrup. I found it rich yet easy drinking with notes of wet grain, heather, honey, sunflower oil and a tart woody tannin finish. Honestly on when I first tasted it, it didn’t send my pulse racing. That said after a month or so when I came round to trying the 3rd bottle, it was much better. The texture had improved and there was a more complex mead sweetness. A good beer, just needed a bit of time to settle down. Might even be worth laying a few down for a few months to see how they develop. 7/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.52The Ridge Pale Ale 5% abv

It’s pale golden (no surprise there) with aromas of grapefruit pith, proving bread, kumquat and lime marmalade. My tastebuds picked up a veritable Aladdin’s cave of flavours: creamy citrus, wasabi, dried pineapple, sticky toffee pudding and a very dry citrus seed finish. The complexity and intensity of the hopping might be a bit much for some (it left teeth marks a couple times), but is well suited to food (spicy chinese or fish and chips) but it does what it says on the can; a pale ale that sings The Star Spangled Banner with its sporran swaying. 6.75/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.38Broken Dial Amber Ale 4.5% abv

Pale tan held up to the light and I got whiffs of sweet malt loaf, dry apricot and cocoa. Sipping it twas the tea tannins that bit first, then I got dry chocolate, orange peel, beef consume, burnt caramel, dried leather with a peach fluff finish. Do I love it? Well no. But its a perfectly decent amber ale. 6.5/10

I was sent 24 bottles of Broken Dial and The Ridge so was able to sample many bottles over a period of time. An interesting experiment (and very generous of Harviestoun), because not only was I able to sample them after some ageing, but certain flavours and aromas were more pronounced depending on when I drank them. Giving me a broader and more detailed understanding of the beers. It also meant quite a few friends got to taste them and this is by no means scientific but most preferred The Ridge.

It was Harviestoun’s special deliveries in my early days of beer blogging that gave me confidence and belief that at least someone liked what I was doing. So a big thanks to Ewan and the team for ‘loving my work’.

*Disclaimer – I receive no remuneration beyond the beers themselves from Harviestoun and produce reviews based on my honest opinion, full in the knowledge that a negative one may land me on the ‘naughty’ list.