Thursday, April 28, 2011

Durham Something Blue

Ok, it's a little early for a 'Royal Wedding' beer review, but given that I'm going to be in Liverpool on a stag do all weekend, I may indeed miss the chance. Although I'm not interested at all in 'Royal Wedding Specials', Durham's caught the eye for a number of reasons.
Firstly; a 10%abv Barley Wine is not your average re-badged, pun-titled offering. Neither does it have an awful label (I'm looking at you, Castle Rock). In fact, you wouldn't even know it's a 'Royal Wedding Beer' unless you bought it and read the tiny note on the label. So - What's it like? Well, if I had to boil it down to one word it's this: Powerful. Hopped entirely with Fuggles - which is interesting enough - this is an absolute bruiser. Dark Amber in colour, there's a massive alcohol nose, some faint citrus, and a little spice; more akin to a Christmas cake cinnamon/clove sort of vibe than serious heat. On the sip, it's tongue-coating and sweet; rounded enough but quite heavy. There's more of that cakiness, but the finish has a strong undercurrent of Orange and Tangerine. Finally, that alcohol smacks you in the mouth at the end.
It's not a bad beer at all; but it's big, big, big and one for sipping, for sure. However, I take my hat off to Durham for not cashing in using all the typical hooks, and brewing a beer that would sit alongside their core range to celebrate the nuptuals.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Bang For Your Buxton: Buxton Brewery Pt2

Ok, ok, enough with the puns. Time to crack on with more Buxton appreciation. Axe Edge (6.8%abv) is now an award winner - it picked up 'Best Strong Ale' in this years Bradford Beer Festival, which goes some in way in boosting the image of tastes of us Northern Folk. To be honest, it would only have been a matter of time before it did scoop a plaudit, simply because it's a great beer. The hop profile tells you all you need to know; it's like a great big tropical fruit juice party in the top of the glass courtesy of loads of Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. Lychee, Mango, Strawberry, Grapefruit and sweet Orange dominate the nose, and yet despite it's heft in terms of abv, the sip is deceptively light, with only a slight warming alchohol note coming through late on. It's well balanced and fruity, refreshing and substantial; a great beer simply. The bottle I tried contained some really fresh beer too - the best aroma on a beer I've tried since these.

Axe Edge's little brother, Moor Top (3.6%abv) is a corker too. Again, the boundaries of 'Pale Ale' lead you to believe you've tried them all, but along comes another one that just knocks you over and makes you appreciate simple, yet tasty beers. Straw pale in colour, the nose is pure Grapefruit, as you'd expect for a Chinook-hopped beer. The body is smooth and light, although it finishes crisp and with a surprisingly high, late, Grapefruit/Lemon bitterness. As with the other pales, Moor Top is a long, long beer and I could happily drink about 6 of them in the sun. Gimme More.

This is my first set of Buxton Ales, and they've really been a pleasure to drink. As a person, I like the juxtapostition of complex flavours, but carried out well so that each element stands out; Buxton certainly tick that box. Easy drinking, light beers with complex noses are the way to go with Pale Ale, and Axe Edge and Moor Top will probably go on to do great things. Buxton's latest Beer, Black Rocks, is garnering interest too (as you can see from the comments in Part 1 below), and the lads are brewing at full capacity, which is always good to see. Keep an eye out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Buxton Stops Here: Buxton Brewery

This weekend I've been enjoying beers from Buxton Brewery. Although still a relatively young outfit, they are brewing at capacity and quickly collecting plaudits and awards as they go. Head Brewer James Kemp used to brew for Thornbridge, and he's clearly shown himself as a brewer with one eye on tradition, and the other on progression. What you end up with is a really strong core range of beers, with some gentle twists along the way. That's a quality I really like in brewing.

First up was Kinder Sunset (5.0% abv), named after the Kinder area of the Peaks. Red-Mahogany in colour, there's a complex aroma going on; slight hints of almond-cakiness topped off with a note of Pine. That Pine aspect carries on to the taste - Kinder Sunset has a digestive-biscuit body that suggests sweetness but actually finishes grassy, Piney and with an almost minty, herbal note. There's a tart, sour-cherry notes just running under everything that makes Kinder Sunset a much more complex, refreshing beer than the 'Traditional ale' tag it has on the label. Lovely.

SPA (Special Pale Ale) features hop du jour Citra entirely; and in many ways you know what you're going to get. Perfect for this kind of weather, SPA (4.1%abv) is uber-pale, with a much thinner mouthfeel that the Kinder Sunset. All that Citra gives you sharp, pithy tartness with a strong Lemon and Tangerine aroma and taste. It's surprisingly bitter for it's strength, too - the high bitterness hits the back of the tongue and and makes you want another sip. A long, long pale ale that hit the spot perfectly as we ate in the sun this weekend.

Stay tuned for some more Buxton madness over the next couple of days. If you want to keep up to date, you can follow Buxton on Twitter and Facebook; jump over to their blog for more details.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ossett Treacle Stout

I love this stuff, I really do. It's got tonnes of latte-like coffee creaminess on the nose, which is followed by a more intense coffee hit. Within the deceptively rounded body there's that sweet milk-chocolate note, which ends up super-sweet, courtesy of the treacle -and a slight hint of liquourice lurking in the background. You really can taste the bonfire-toffee treacle in there, but the red-fruity, slightly dry finish stops it being too cloying. If you're after a fantastic stout - one that packs a lot of flavour into a modest 5.0% abv, this beer is for you. Lovely.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Say Goodbye To Tetley's With Leeds

Leeds Brewery will be saying goodbye to Tetley's by holding a Festival at their flagship pub, The Midnight Bell, on the 10th-12th of June. As well as food and music, Leeds will be brewing some one-off beers for the event -including one that can be named by you before the festival. Not only that, but Leeds will be holding a beer trail through the city on the 3rd-10th June where you can pick up a card, wind your way through the pubs of Leeds drinking their wares, and enter into a prize draw.

You can keep updated with Leeds's plans as they prepare for life after Tetley's (big plans, I'm sure) here. Tickets for the festival will be available from the Brewery's pubs (The Bell, PIN, The Garden Gate & The Brewery Tap). Whilst on Leeds, the kit at The Brewery Tap seems to be firing up again, and there are currently a range of single-hopped beers coming through for your tasting pleasure at the aforementioned bar. Do try.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Smutty Saturday

I had a Smutty saturday yesterday. I've been curious about Smuttynose for ages - ever since I saw their label in 'Beer' by Michael Jackson years ago. There's something quintessentially American about that cute little Seal-and-Mountain device that just makes me smile. So, imagine my joy when their wares showed up on these shores. I think the labels are brilliant - simple to the point of absurdity, and almost Lynchian in the way they depict small-town Americana.

The Beer? Oh yeah. The Beer. Well, first up was their famous Old Brown Dog (6.5%abv). It pours a lovely shade of Auburn, and there's a familiar plummy aroma that turns out to be the first thing you taste on the sip. The body is full and rounded, with some cinnamon-cakiness (yes, that's an official term), raisin, and an ever-so-slight touch of smoke hanging around in the background. The hop attack is only gentle and noble at that, which is good because OBD has a light, lovely balance between sweet and dry. It's a lovely, lovely beer and fans of sweeter English browns such as Worthington's Celebration or Theakston's Old Peculiar should give this a go.

South Island Single (5.8%) really hit the spot with the sun streaming down as it did yesterday. Belgian - Pale Hybrids are an idea that I really like, and this one is different to the sweeter ones I've had in the past, but successful. There's distinctly Hefe notes on the nose; coriander seed, lemon zest and an estery note that you'd want to be there. The aroma actually builds the beer up to much more complex than it actually is; what you get on the sip is a refreshing blonde with a dry finish and that lightness that seems to be a Smutty trademark. Good job too; I could probably drink quite a few of these.

The Final beer in this trio is pure and simple IPA (6.9%abv). Light amber in colour, there's lemon and lychee on the nose, finishing with a hit of Pine - as you'd expect from a Simcoe-hopped beer. The body is certainly big and sweet; juicy malt to balance the hops. Again, even a little Pine comes through in the taste, as the bitterness builds up to a fresh, clean, citrus finish. In many ways the IPA is personification of what I perceive the Smutty style to be - big on flavour but surprisingly light and drinkable on the sip. The two guys on the label, chilling on their lawn with some beer, is an apt image to use.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Crack Out The Pales!

I've been decorating during the last few weeks; a truly, truly heinous job that I genuinely loathe. Even worse is when the sun decides to come out as it has done in the last few weeks. The only thing that gets me through evenings of painting ceilings and glossing skirting is the thought of a throat-cooling Pale Ale chilling in the fridge to revive a flagging soul. Here's the pick of a bunch that I've been enjoying.

First up, Theakston's Lightfoot. Named after a Brewery in Masham that the family took over in 1919 (rather than Gordon), Lightfoot (4.1%abv) is sunshine in a bottle. Straw in colour and pleasingly smooth due to a good dollop of wheat in the Grain Bill, this Blonde has cereal and digestive biscuits in the body before mellowing out to a sweet, lemon-tinged finish. Lightfoot is stupidly easy drinking and a welcome departure for Theakston's. It's good to see one of Yorkshire's larger breweries bringing out new wares (it should start appearing on bars fairly soon, I am told) and I start the vote now for Lightfoot to remain a permanent brew. Try it.

Plumbing similar furrows is Wye Valley's HPA (Hereford Pale Ale). At 4%abv this is even easier-going that the Theakston's, and uses only Styrian Goldings. Lemon sherbert and a touch of tangerine round off the nose, but the body is as light as a feather. I really rued not saving this one for some Calamari or Barbecued Chicken - this is a perfect pale for subtle, sunshiny foods.

Titanic's Iceberg (4.1%abv) is advertised as a Wheat beer; although as with the other two, it's not Wheat as you'd expect. Pale Ale with a hefty touch of Wheat is much more accurate, but what sets Iceberg apart is the hoppiness - it's a bitter beer, no doubt about it. A smooth, vaguely almond-laced body just rises and rises with citrussy bitterness that gives it a long finish. It actually seems a great deal more aggressive than it's draught counterpart - but that could just be me. Clear glass being used in bottles is not something I like to see, though.

It's not all bottled action, though. Last week I got to try a good few of Liverpool Organic's beers. Again, perfect for this time of year, Rakau displayed a clean, firm body and a sweet, graperfuit/melon finish. Shipwreck IPA (6.5%abv) was golden in colour, with a lasting head, and masses of sweet malt in the body which offset the generous hop attack at the end of the sip - slightly peppery, slightly spicy, then finishing off with the familiar tropical fruit flavours. I really enjoyed this, and highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Don't Fear The Smoke

The Fear. We all have it; we all get it - something, often nondescript, that just sets our arm-hairs on edge. Spiders. Fox News. Grant Holt. Yes, they all rank up there, but for me, Smoked Beer was the daddy.

When 2011 came to be, I decided that this was all utter nonsense - some beers I'm capable of just not getting, of course, but there's all the signs were that I should love Smoked Beer. I love smoke; mostly on meat, or cheese - and especially fish - I'll take it, please. There's something about the depth of flavour that smoke adds that has always appealed. So I bit the bullet: bought one of the big daddies -Schlenkerla Rauchbier - and got stuck in.

Ok, I cheated. I bought it to use in a recipe, some Smoked Pulled Pork, but I couldn't let it pass me by. My palate has changed since that ill-fated day circa 2005 when I tried a swig of a friend's pint and declared it 'tasted like bacon.' So I used the beer in the recipe, and drank the other half of it whilst cooking. Guess what? I liked it. Really, I did.

Schlenkerla Rauchbier (5.1%abv) has got a whole lot more going on that that lovely, familiar Gothic label. It pours a lush, deep amber with a majestic Tan-hued head. Obviously the nose is powerful - layers upon layers of woodsmoke; underpinned by a sweet-oak sort of note that gives you a clue as to what the body of the beer will taste like. The beer itself is as sweet a Marzen as you're likely to taste, but flipped round so that heavy smokiness sits under the grain, rather than on top of it. For a 5.1% abv beer it drinks nowhere near, and I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal. I've drunk a couple more since, and I can't beleive I've let it go so long ruled by past prejudices.

Of course, this led me to trying to get my hands on more Smoked Beers. Bierbrouwerij Grand-Café Emelisse Rauchbier is a whole different beast to Schlenkerla. Where Schlenkerla is muscled and powerful, Emelisse Rauch is sinewy and lean. At 6.5%abv it's stronger, yet again hides that abv below loads of flavour. That familiar, sweet smoke is there on the nose, but this time there's a hint of wildness, of almost sour malt. The taste is again unexpectedly light, and with an unusual int of pine on the finish. There's a slight echo of Goudenband in the Flemish, rangy sourness that runs through the beer, but the smokiness really works and you end with an interesting beer.

I really wish I'd not been so slavishly following my previous prejudices all these years. Palates evolve, and if I have one moral to this story it's this; try everything. Again and again and again and again and...

You can see my recipe for Bamberg Pulled Pork over at Beer Reviews, curated as always by Andy Mogg. He may support a godawful football team, but he's one of the good guys and does some great things with food and beer. My recipe didn't win, but the one that did made mine look like Neanderthal fumblings; so it's all good. Please do hop on over there, forthwith.