Saturday, 31 August 2013

Quite the Wit

There are some beers I have no real thoughts on before I try them. Take the Helles in the last blog; I'm not generally a fan of pale lagers and therefore wasn't expecting much. When a decent little beer came along I was nicely surprised and perhaps it scored a wee bit higher because it exceeded my expectations. Again I had no great preconceptions about the next beer :

Beer 168 from “1001 Beers...”
  • Hitachino Nest White Ale. Style: Witbier, ABV: 5.5%. Purchased: LightHouse Wines
    Description: Light yellow and hazy. No head to speak of. Lemon aroma, with a hint of coriander and honey suckle. Slightly sweet tasting, with a nice spicyness (maybe some cloves) and wheat flavours. Light bodied with a little fizz.
    Thoughts: Lovely little witbier. Light, yet refreshing and the little bit of spicyness keeps it interesting. Perfect for a summer night, I could see me enjoying a few of these at a BBQ!
    Score: 7.5

Sometimes expectations are a bitch. There are some beers that you buy, and before even popping the cap you think “this is going to be great”...

Beer 74 outside the list
  • Founders Pale Ale. Style: American Pale Ale, ABV: 5.5%. Purchased: LightHouse Wines

    Description: Dirty Yellow and Hazy. Next to no head. Not much aroma, some hoppy citrus notes. Light malt flavour, a little bitterness, mild floral touches. Light mouth feel, not very fizzy.
    Thoughts: And this is where expectation kicked in because (a) I really enjoyed their All Day IPA, and (b) it says Dry Hopped in the middle of the label. When I see Dry Hopped, I tend to read it as DRY HOPPED and expect a big hoppy bitter hit. And this beer just didn't deliver that. It is probably a fine beer, it just couldn't match up to what I was expecting...
    Score: 6

Beer 75 outside the list
  • Founders Centennial IPA. Style: IPA, ABV: 7.2%. Purchased: LightHouse Wines

    Description: Light honey in colour and slightly hazy. Thin Head. Lovely IPA aroma, grapefruit, piney, and lots of hops. A little caramel and biscuit malts, but the main show is a big hop piney bitterness, with some citrus fruit. Mid bodied, a little bit resin like, and a long bitter finish.
    Thoughts: Expectation duly dampened, I opened this. This is also dry hopped (though it's not so obvious on the bottle) and this time it really is DRY HOPPED. Lovely beer for the hop heads out there. If you see it, buy some!
    Score: 8


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

One helles of a beer

Beer and Footy
Bank holiday weekends are great. The Hilden Beer fest on Friday night was followed by lots of footy on Saturday and Sunday. It's great to have the football back. This summer has been a real pain in the ass, with transfer deals that challenge the ending of “Return of the King” as the most drawn out sage of all time. As a Liverpool fan, the brilliant Tomkins Times website has been keeping sane (well maybe not sane... saner?). Despite a good result on Saturday, and ultimately on Tuesday, watching Liverpool often drives me to drink, and with the deep defending in the second half – and the injuries – I certainly needed something to settle my nerves! At least the fridge is full of interesting beers these days...

Beer 167 from “1001 Beers...”
  • Edelstoff. Style: Helles, ABV: 5.6%. Purchased: The Vineyard

    Description: Poured very light yellow/straw coloured. Decent white head. Actually not much aroma (though that might be the slight cold I have). A little sweetness but refreshing and tasty. Light bodied with decent fizz.
    Thoughts: I almost didn't find this in the book – so a big thanks to Abs other wise this one would have slipped by. Not generally a fan of pale lagers but not sure I've knowingly had a Helles before. This was good. A perfect light, yet tasty, lager for watching the football, with a little sweetness and a decent fizz. Must try more Helles.
    Score: 7.5

Beer 72 outside the list
  • Partizan Saison Grisette Sage. Style: Flavoured Saison?, ABV: 5.6%. Purchased: The Vineyard

    Description: Poured hazy light yellow. Unfiltered. Smells of lemongrass, with a hint of sage. Next to no head. Lemon and sage flavours, no real beeryness (pretty sure that’s not a word but what the hell) about it.
    Thoughts: There's no doubt I enjoy a weird beer or two, but this just wasn't for me. It rates quite well on some sites, so may be its a marmite sort of thing. It'll not put me off this brewery as I loved their stout, maybe just a case of picking the wrong one this time! And if you've had it and liked it let me know, but I wouldn't buy again (though I did finish it, which probably says more about me than the beer...).
    Score: 4
Beer 73 outside the list
  • Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA. Style: IPA, ABV: 7%. Purchased: LightHouse Wines

    Description: Caramel colour with a small white head. Strong grassy/piney hop aromas, with maybe a little honeysuckle/foral hint. Good strong hop bitterness. Some caramel and honey malts on the palette. Slightly oily/resiny finish. Medium body with decent carbonisation.
    Thoughts: One for the Hop Heads – and that’s a group which definitely includes me. Much more a strong bitter IPA, with decent caramel malts, rather than something lighter (see Founders All Day IPA). Very drinkable, but a sipper rather than a gulper. I’m not sure you could have more than one in a session (the 7% ABV gives it a kick too!). Very, very nice - would love to try more in the range.
    Score: 8 (revised upwards)

With the footy back there may be a few posts that are put up following supping a beer or two. This may make them more incoherent, rambling, and typo filled than usual! (“They can get worse...” I hear you cry).

Anyway, more reviews - including the very interesting Hitachino White Ale - to come soon!


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Hilden Beer and Music Festival

So last night I headed up to Hilden Beer and Music Festival. It was a great night's crack. Lovely setting, good music, tasty food,and, most importantly, good beer! Even the rainy weather couldn't put a dampener on the event. I even got to tick another beer off the list (forgot my phone so no pics!).

Beer 166 from “1001 Beers...”
  • Exmoor Gold. Style: Golden Ale, ABV: 4.5%.
    My drinking buddy (hello abs!) described the beer as smelling “like a piss stained porta-cabin”. Not sure I would agree with this very specific description... Either way it tasted just fine but nothing too exciting
    Score: 5.5

Beer 57 outside the list
  • Hilden's Twisted Hop. Style: Golden Ale, ABV: 4%
    Lovely on cask from the brewery. See my review here.

Beer 68 outside the list
  • Thornbridge Lord Marples. Style: Bitter, ABV: 4%
    I'm a fan of Thornbridge. Despite this being the first pour out of the cask, it wasn't bad at all. Bitters don't do that much for me but this was quite drinkable.
    Score: 6

    Beer 69 outside the list
  • BG Sips (Blue Monkey). Style: Golden Ale, ABV: 4%
    Hoppy and fruity. Really enjoyed this.
    Score: 7

    Beer 70 outside the list
  • Barney's Beer Red Rye. Style: Rye Beer, ABV: 4.8%
    The use of rye made this a bit of a change for the taste buds. Started well but not a great finish.
    Score: 5.5

    Beer 71 outside the list
  • Hilden's Barney's Brew. Style: Wheat, ABV: 5%
    Description here. Light, peppery and spicy. A great way to finish my tasting at the festival.
    Score: 7

Things got busy as the night when on, a few more taps (may be a few more choices) would have eased the queues. But service was quick and friendly and the atmosphere great. Still two days to go. If you've no plans get yourself up to Hilden for a great day's crack. If you have plans, change them and support a local brewer!


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Sourly does it

Weird, wacky, and yet wonderful
Long day at work saw me looking into the fridge to see what interesting thing could help get me through to the weekend. Rather than something... normal, I thought lets try something a bit different!

Beer 125 from “1001 Beers...”
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru. Style: Flanders Red Ale, ABV: 6%.
    Description: Poured almost burgundy in colour with a beige head. What a smell - dark cherries and tart fruit, almost marzipan like at times. I little vinegar and sour mustiness. Sweet flavours, again under ripe fruits (especially cherry), oaky and spicy (from the mix of new and aged beers) with a sour, dry, crisp finish. Mid bodied with a little fizz that lasted well.
    Thoughts: I had this awhile ago (thus number 125) but was keen to re-try. This is one of those beers that is likely to split opinion. The guy in the vineyard who sold it to me isn't a fan. I can see why, but I completely disagreed. This is weird, wacky, and yet wonderful. I just love sour beers, and this is a great example. Try it, it might not be for everyone one but those who like sour beers are likely to love it.
    Score: 8.5


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Born in Belgium

Generic heading with a beer pun or possibly a double entendre
I'm still new to this blogging lark, and I'm wary of my reviews sounding a bit too... pretentious. I mean at the end of the day, beer, is beer, is beer. It tends to smell like beer and taste like beer. But there are subtle differences that I’m keen to highlight without verging into total wine snob territory – i.e. “it smells of Christmas and bouncy balls” when actually it smells of wine (and in some case vinegar). I know at times I probably do head down that road (and please feel free to pull me up on it). It's a bad habit and one I'm fighting, as beer shouldn't be elitist. The best thing about beer is that everyone can find, buy, and enjoy good beer without spending a fortune or talking too much bollocks about it.

And now more pretentious beer bollocks from me...

Going though “1001 Beers...” has really made me see how brilliant many Belgian beers are. No one does it quite like the Belgian's, well almost no-one...

Beer 91
  • Goose Island Matilda. Style: Belgian Strong Ale, ABV: 7%.

    Description: Amber with a small white head that disappeared quickly. Lovely sour aroma from the brett yeast. Great sweet/sour taste with some spice and fruit banana like fruits – more fruit came though as it warmed up. Mid mouth feel, with a little fizz.
    Thoughts: I had this one ages ago (thus number 91) in the states, but thought it was worth revisiting. This is the yanks showing they can do a Belgian ale, and it's brilliant. Complex, yet refreshing and drinkable. Available at Light House Wines – go get some!
    Score: 8.5 (Apparently it ages well, though who could keep it in their fridge long enough to find out?)

An actual Belgian this time and Beer 67 not from “1001 Beers...”
  • Staffe Hendrik Quad. Style: Belgian Quad, ABV: 11%.
    Description: Pours dark brown with a small tan head. Smells like rocket fuel and I'm pretty sure it is. Very syrupy with a slightly sour finish. A little dark fruit, sort of fig roll like (man, I haven't had a fig roll in years...). A little fizz.
    Thoughts: This beer rates very highly on a number of tasting websites. I kinda see why. It's big, it's complex, and it's got an ABV that could fuel your car. However, while most Belgian beers tend to disguise their ABV, I can taste every bit of this. For me, its just a wee bit too much and I didn't actually finish it as I didn’t want to be blocked for the next week...
    Score: 6.5

Now a move to England and beer 66 not from “1001 Beers”
  • Partizan Brewing Foreign Export Stout. Style: Stout/Foreign Stout, ABV: 8.7%.
    Description: Jet black with a decent tan head. Toasted malt and chocolate aromas. Lots of coffee, dark chocolate, and almost burnt malt flavours. Thick with a little fizz.
    Thoughts: Jesus, you couldn't accuse this beer of being bland, weak or tasteless. A really nice stout. You can taste the ABV but it makes it a warming experience. First I’ve had to challenge Brooklyn's Chocolate Stout and Ola Dubh – its not quite that good but it gives it a real go. Looking forward to trying more Partizan Brewing beers
    Score: 8.

I also had a Menabrea Biere. I'm not a fan of Pale lagers generally, and this did nothing further to convince me. Not a bad pale lager if you’re into them, finishes with some hops and a wee bit of bitterness, but overall its just meh. Score: 5

Hilden Beer Festival
Just one more thing, the 2013 Hilden Beer and Music Festival takes place this coming weekend from 23rd to 25th August. I've never been before (to my shame), but I heard great things and I really hope to get up there this weekend. Come support a local brewer!


Thursday, 15 August 2013

In the pink...

Thursday Night Beer

I wasn't going to have a beer until the weekend; then work happened. So screw it I opened my fridge to see what was cold and interesting. Step forward beer 165 from the list...

  • Roisin. Style: Fruit Beer, ABV: 4.2%.

    Description: Poured rose/pink and hazy. Big pink head that stayed for ages. Strong berry aromas. Not as much fruit on the palette as on the nose. Quite a lot of hops and malt in the taste, despite the fruit content. Bitter-sweet berries. Light mouth feel, but slightly syrupy.
    Thoughts:  I have enjoyed all the Williams Bros Beers have had to date, this was... not bad. A slightly different take on a fruit beer from Belgian examples, given the malts. Personally I prefer a sour finsh on a fruit beer. Being colder might have helped
    Score: 6.5

And dammit one beer became two, this one recommended by Light House Wines and is Beer 65 not from the list

  • Maredsous 6. Style: Golden Ale, ABV: 6%.
    Description: Poured light golden with a wispy blond head. Grapefruit and sour yeasty/bready aromas. Light fruit flavours, again grapefruit and citrus tastes. Slightly sour finish. Started light body but with decent carbonisation, though it became slightly flat before I finished it.
    Thoughts: Nice solid Belgian blond. This would have been my favourite of the maredsous range if it hadn't been for how flat it went at the end. May that was my fault (badly poured maybe?) but it brought down the score a wee bit. Very refreshing beer though, you'd never guess it was 6%!
    Score: 7


Saturday, 10 August 2013

A beer for keeping...

I sometimes wonder why I'm trying to drink my way through “1001 Beers...”. Most of the beers are grand, but it feels like I'm always trying something new for the sake of it. There are loads of beers I already know I love but I don't buy as often as I should in my, probably ultimately fruitless quest, to try all the beers in the book.

Then I try something, basically just because it's in the book, that makes it all worthwhile...

From “1001 Beers...”

Beer 164
  • 3 Monts. Style: Biere De Garde, ABV: 8.5%.
    Description: First beer I've had to open with a cork screw! Poured straw colour with nice white head, with lingering lacing. Smells a wee bit funky. Initially tastes like a pilsner but then opens up into a complex sweet/sour beer, with grassy hops. Refreshing yet interesting. You would never know this was 8.5%. Quite fizzy with a mid body.
    Thoughts: Loved it, simple as that. Very different, but not unnecessarily whacky (I’m looking at you timmermans peche). Go try some, I'll be buying more, and looking out for more Biere De Garde's (though I believe this might not be an archetypical example of the style).
    Score: 8.5

Not from “1001 Beers..."

Number 64
  • Dark Lord. Style: Porter, ABV: 5%.

    Description: Opaque Black. Chocolate and toasted malt aromas. Slightly light mouth feel. Subtle coffee and toasted caramel flavours.
    Thoughts: I love a good porter. This shows a lot of promise, but doesn't quite deliver. Needs more flavour and a thicker body.
    Score: 6


Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Slieve Donard and more

I promised a rant at the end of my last post. Well, this isn't really a rant more a... helpful suggestion. I was lucky enough to be treated by my wife and toddler to a night in the Slieve Donard Hotel. I love the Slieve. It's one of my favourite places in NI to go to get away from it all. The rooms are lovely, the views spectacular, the Spa reinvigorating, and the food is mouth watering.

It's great that they make a big deal of all the local produce they use, from sausages, to beef, to bread. They also have a great (if expensive) wine list. They have spent time devising menu's and picking the accompanying wines. Yet when it comes to beer, the choices are the usual mediocre selection of international lagers and a token stout.

The closest thing to a local beer is Murphy's Irish Stout. I mean how hard would it be to sell Harp... just joking! The Slieve, and all Hastings hotels, are among our premier tourist hotels, and this extends beyond the Slieve to all our hotels, restaurants, and bars. They have a prefect opportunity to promote the best beers we have locally – seriously even 1 or 2 beers from Whitewater, Hilden, Clanconnell, etc, would do. When I'm a tourist, even before I was a beer geek, I always tried the local brew – there must be more people out there like me! Seriously, any Americans who are into craft beer would lap up HoppelHammer, or Twisted Hop, or McGrath's Irish Black, or – well you get the idea by now.

There might be good reasons why its not done, may be they tried before but there wasn't the demand. If so, given the explosion in the craft beer scene, may be now might be a good time to try again.

This isn't a serious gripe, I love the Slieve and I'll be back either way, I just think there is an opportunity here for everyone.

Anyway, back to the beers.

From “1001 Beers...”

Number 162
  • Maredsous 10. Style: Tripel, ABV: 10%.

    Description: Poured golden/honey with a decent head. Lacing stayed throughout. Slight yeasty/bready small with a citrus little fruit. Quite a sweet taste, but with a little spicy/tart (may be a little vanilla?) but not much sourness. Syrupy but light mouth feel.
    Thoughts: I really enjoy a Belgian tripel. This was a nice beer – but not as good as Tripel Karmeliet. Most tripels hide their ABV well, this one was slightly less subtle and came across slightly too boozy to me. A bit more fruit and a sour finish would have lifted a level. Solid beer though.
    Score: 7

Number 163
  • Maredsous 8. Style: Dubbel / Belgian Brown, ABV: 8%.
    Description: Poured dark honey in colour with beige head that lasted. Smells of biscuit malts and brown sugar. Mid mouth feel, slightly syrupy. Toasted caramel and spice tastes, with some dark fruit and nuttiness. A little bitterness on the finish.

    Thoughts: Quite light for a dubbeI, started by hiding the ABV well but got slight thicker and boozier as it warmed up. This improved the overall finish of the beer. Very nice (if strong) beer.
    Score: 7.5

Not from "1001 Beers"

Number 62
  • Schlosser Alt. Style: Alt Bier, ABV: 4.8%.

    Description: Poured light brown, with a decent white head that dissipated quickly. Biscuit malt aromas. Slight burnt caramel tastes, a little hops, and quite a light mouth feel.
    Thoughts: Another new beer style. This hybrid beer is slightly lagerery with plenty of dark malt (a wee bit like anchor steam). Decent but not spectacular. Interested in trying more Alts.
    Score: 6.5

Number 63
  • Skimshander. Style IPA, ABV: 4.5%.

    Description: Poured amber with with a small head that completely disappeared. Slightly bitter taste, with some light floral flavours and a little bit of grapefruit. Mid mouth feel.

    Thoughts: To me this came across more like an English pale ale, than an IPA. When I see IPA on a label I expect more hops, this was a wee bit too subtle for me.
    Score: 6


Monday, 5 August 2013

Local Retailers

So anyone who has been reading the last few blogs will see I've been slowly ticking off one or two beers off from “1001 Beers...” at a time. Having now racked up 160 beers from the list, it's starting to get a bit more difficult.

However, a few days off gave me the chance to get in trips to the Vineyard and Lighthouse Wines. It's good that they both have a slightly different selection of beers, and that gives us beer geeks a chance to sample many more beers. Importantly, both have friendly and knowledgeable staff. If you're into beer or just want to try something new or interesting give either (or both) a try!

A sample haul from the Lighthouse

So here comes the beers.

From "1001 Beers..."

Number 161
  • Batemans Victory Ale. Style: Premium Bitter, ABV: 6%.

    Description: Poured dark copper. Dark fruit aromas, heavy and malty. Biscuit malts, toasted flavour, with a slight sweetness. Medium body, on slight fizz.
    Thoughts: I have said before bitter (even a premium bitter or ESB) isn't my favourite style. But this was pretty solid and drinkable. The 6% ABV added a nice boozy heat that carried the sweet, caramel malts quite well. One of my favourites of the style.
    Score: 6.5

Number 52
  • Timmermans Framboise Lambic. Style: Fruit Beer, ABV: 4%.
    Description: Poured dark red with no head. Strong raspberry smell (well what else would you expect?). Fruit raspberry taste, but a sour finish thanks to wild yeast. Light mouth feel, not too fizzy.
    Thoughts: This technically isn't a new beer to tick off as I've had it before (thus why it's number 52), but I fancied a fruit beer and hadn't blogged about this one before.
    I guess fruit beers can be a bit of an acquired taste. Done badly they can be an overly sweet mess (see the next beer in this blog!); done well they can be a delight. This one is a middling example, strong raspberry flavours, but as it's a lambic (wild yeast) – there is a yeasty sourness to the finish that keeps it dry, balanced, and refreshing. Nice wee beer that’s not too high in alcohol.
    Score: 6.5
Number 59
  • Timmermans Peche Lambic. Style: Fruit Beer, ABV: 4%.
    Description: Slightly golden more than pure peach in colour. Strong fruit aroma (a bit like peach snapps). Strong fruit flavour, lots of sweetness. Light carbonisation.
    Thoughts: A saw this when buying the raspberry beer above and thought, “what the hell – lets give this a go”. To my palette, peach and beer is probably not a great combination, far too sweet, and no real sourness to make it balanced. Not undrinkable (clearly, as I still managed to finished it...) but not something I’ll be buying again.
    Score: 4

Number 60
  • Flying Dog Woody Creek Belgian Style White. Style: Wheat Beer Ale, ABV: 4.7%.

    Description: Poured blond and slightly cloudy. A little head that led to some lacing. Coriander and orange aroma. Spicy wheat flavours, slightly “chalky” sensation. Just a little fizz.
    Thoughts: May be it's because this followed the peche, but I really enjoyed this. This is what Blue Moon should be, a nice example of the style with plenty of spicy flavours, a little bit of orange zest, and a slightly dry finish. 4.7% makes it drinkable too! Another beer I like from Flying Dog.
    Score: 7.5

Number 61
  • Amacord Bruna. Style: Dubbel, ABV: 7.5%.

    Description: Poured dark brown, with a little white head. Very little lacing. Toasted malt and caramel aromas. Quite a sweet taste, that hides the 7.5% ABV. Little fizz. .
    Thoughts: The second of this range of Italian beers designed by Brooklyn Beer's Garret Oliver. I can see what they were trying to do here; a subtle malt beer that goes with food. However, while the Blonda worked quite well, I think the added brown candy sugar gave this just too much sweetness. It makes it very light for 7.5% but not that well balanced (more bitterness or toasted malt would help). Drinkable, just not great, though I’d guess this would go well with a dessert.
    Score: 6
There is more to come, from both on and off "1001 Beers...", from my recent purchases. Therefore, the second post of this series will follow soon! There will also be a little beer rant on my visit to the, otherwise wonderful, Slieve Donard Hotel.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Beer 160 and The Dirty Duck

As well as journalling my way through “1001 Beers...”, I am keen to use this blog to highlight good local beers, pubs, retailers, etc, that you should give a try (see The Craic's Good, the Beers... for starters). This week I managed a lunchtime excursion to The Dirty Duck in Holywood. The Dirty Duck has a good rotation of cask and real ales available, as one gets drunk another option comes on. If you like cask and real ale its always worth calling into see what they have. During my visit they had Dirty Duck Ale (a nice session ale produced by Hilden), Kent's Best (Shepards Neame), and Volcano IPA (Barney's Beer). I only tried the Kent's Best (quick review below) this time but will be back to see their next options soon. The great thing about the Dirty Duck is that the food is as good (if not better) than the ale!

Anyway, back to the task at hand – beer number 160 from “1001 Beers...”
  • Sneck Lifter. Style: Strong Ale, ABV: 5.1%.

    Description: Pours dark amber. Decent head. Lots of toasted malts on the nose. Strong Coffee taste, with hints of burnt toffee and caramel. Thick mouthfeel.
    Conclusion: A friend of mine tried this and told me it was awful. I would disagree but I can see it might be an acquired taste. Really strong rich malts, pure coffee taste. A little sweetness, and slightly treacle like. A really nice toasted malt beer that actually tastes more alcoholic than it is. Would be perfect for a cold winters night.
    Score: 7
  • Kent's Best. Style: Bitter, ABV: 4.1%.
    Description: Amber colour, plenty of malt, and a few hops thrown in for good measure.
    Conclusion: Shepards Neame do some great beers – I love their double stout! I'm not a huge fan of English style bitter. This as grand, but I'd prefer something hoppier and boozier.
    Score: 6

  • Amacord Blonda. Style: Golden Ale, ABV: 6%.

    Description: Poured cloudy and light amber. Nice head with plenty of lacing that stuck about. Slightly sour (bread and yeast) aroma (its bottle conditioned), with some floral tones. Sour and dry tastes, with orange twangs (the beer is flavoured with Italian Orange Blossom honey) . Mid mouth feel and decent carbonation. Brooklyn's Garret Oliver apparently helped design the beer.
    Conclusion: This is subtle and quite pleasant, a bit like a “light” version of a Belgian Tripel. Not quite boozy or sour enough to my taste – but that makes it a bit easier drinking and sessionable.
    Score: 7