292 & 293. Brewdog’s India Pale Weizen and This. Is. Lager

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This is an interesting collaboration between one of the worlds oldest breweries - Weihenstephan - and Brewdog to create a mix between hefeweisse beer and Brewdog’s trademark IPA. It manages it quite well, with the expected light and fruity sweet flavours, grainy mouthfeel and cloudy appearance you expect of a weisse, but with a big IPA hoppy kick in the finish. It works quite well, the hops not over the top like some Brewdog concoctions.

three star

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This. Is. Lager is a typical overstatement from Brewdog and in my opinion a backward step from the Fake Lager, which was their “proper” Czech pilsner. It’s thin in the middle and the end while hoppy as you would expect is unpleasantly bitter. It really is no better than the stuff they claim to hate so much.

1 star

(If I’m honest, I can’t remember which picture is which – I think I have them the right way round!)

290. Bateman’s Mocha

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Mmmm… the nights are drawing in, the frost is forming on the windows. Perfect conditions for a dark and sickly and fairly boozy beer.

Mocha is a beer by Lincolnshire family brewer Bateman’s, and unlike many of these coffee/chocolate style beers, which use a clever combination of malts to recreate the flavour of your favourite hot beverage, this beauty actually contains Belgian Chocolate and Aricba coffee!

I’ve had a porter brewed with coffee beans before and really didn’t get on with it, but this is just lovely. Not terribly sophisticated but damn tasty. Soft and sweet, the chocolate and particularly the coffee flavours are subtle, and there’s still some beery grainy taste in there. The fizz works really well considering it is almost creamy in places, and overall the flavours do well to disguise the 6% booze!

Yummy.

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289. Schlosser Alt

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Enjoyed at the rather excellent Cherry Red’s in Brum, this is another “Old Ale”, brewed in Düsseldorf in the west of Germany. The brewery was founded by a baker turned brewer by the name of Locksmith (Schlosser) and the family still own the brewery today. The current brewery is just a short distance from where they first started brewing in 1873.

The beer itself is fairly dark as you would expect, but soft, sweet and fruity, reminding me a little of lemon sweets, but not sharp citrus, more of a mellow sugary flavour. Very little bitterness. Certainly goes down easily, which I reckon would make for a good session beer.

three star

287 & 288. Black Sheep’s Velo & Imperial Russian

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My final two from Black Sheep – I must have had all of their by now. Velo is another Yorkshire beer brewed in tribute to “Le grand depart” which included Masham, home of Black Sheep on its route. The beer itself is made with coriander and orange peel, which suits the crisp pale style I suppose, but I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan. The beer has a clean and very dry hoppy flavour, little sweetness and a herby edge thanks to the coriander. The orange peel bitterness is lost in the hops.

two star

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Imperial Russian by comparison is a stonking porter, dark and richly sweet with a cocoa bitterness and dark chocolate sickliness, with almost a fruity tang. There’s a little smoky porter flavour at the end but no hoppiness. Pretty potent at 8.5% but a lovely tasty beer.

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286. Black Sheep’s All Creatures Bright and Beautiful

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Yet more misnumbering shenanigans (sorry!) means this is my 286th beer of the year. All Creatures’ rather wonderful name is a tribute to Yorkshire writer and vet Alf Wight, better known by his pen name James Herriot, who wrote a series of books which also got turned into a TV series called All Creatures Great and Small.

The beer itself is a darkish pale ale, which begins with a little honey and caramel sweetness, with a vaguely lemony but otherwise quite empty middle. The finish is good and hoppy, fairly tart and bitter. The early sweetness almost evaporates into the top of the mouth which is just lovely, but the lack of body is disappointing. Still a worthwhile drop.

three star

282 & 283. Black Sheep’s Yorkshire Square and Holy (Gr)ail

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Thanks to my lovely missus and my pal Alex, I’m the proud owner of five bottled beers by North Yorkshire brewer Black Sheep. Bought direct from the brewery no less, so there’s an interesting selection with some I’ve never seen before. I’ve decided to review these two together because they are rather similar. Both amber ales, one is very much a milder version of the other, but they’re both rather nice.

Yorkshire Square is named for a brewing method that traditionally used a shallow sandstone or slate vessel in the shape of the square in which to brew the beer. Black Sheep now use “round squares” made from stainless steel, which is easier to clean, but the method remains the same.

The beer itself is sweet and bready to start, with a little berry fruitiness and yeasty tang. The hops in the finish are warm and toasty rather than particularly bitter. As is typical of this method, it has plenty of fizz, which adds to the warming nature of the beer when served at the right temperature.

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Holy Grail was brewed to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Monty Python in 1999 and they’ve been brewing it ever since – they even sell it at theatres where productions of Spamalot are performed.

It tastes very much like a milder version of the Square, more subtle caramel, almost honey sweetness with the same bready taste in the middle, more of a citrus than berry fruitiness. Still plenty of fizz and a slightly sharper hop finish. Very nice.

Both: three star

274-281. All the other lagers

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So it occurred to me that I should get out of the way all the mass-market lagers that I drink for one reason or another when out and about and that make up a decent chunk of all my usual drinking. I accept these are not something to get particularly excited about, but actually I don’t subscribe on the whole to the “craft and real ale are always better” position either. People often talk down these beers, particularly the sort of people that would write a blog like this, but I think that kind of snobbishness is unnecessary.

For a start, a lot of the real ale and craft beer is awful – far less drinkable that a pint of Carlsberg. I’ve had stuff that was actually worse than drinking piss, and it was brewed by a proper brewery and marketed at £4 a pint.

Conversely, these sorts of lager tend to be drinkable by design, unremarkable perhaps, but purposely made to be drinkable in quantity and to appeal to a wide range of different tastes. What is more, some of them are actually quite nice – I’m partial to Stella Artois (already reviewed) and I particularly like Grolsch on tap when watching the footy.

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Another picture of a big-brand lager, in case the Bud wasn’t enough.

Of course the craft lager market – I’ve reviewed a few – is just building on what is actually a decent style. Freedom Lager is one of my favourites, but it’s also not that different from something you get on tap in any pub in the UK.

Indeed the anti-big brand snobbishness is itself ridiculous when so many real ale companies are now making massive amounts of money and producing their beer in huge plants. Brewdog make 120,000 of beer a month. They turn over £16 million last year, and don’t think they aren’t aiming for more. Unsurprisingly they now have their detractors for being enormously successful marketing whizz kids, but it’s just beer hipsterism. As it is I don’t like some of their beers either, but that because I think they taste crap, not because I’m passing judgement on the size of the company that made it.

Anyway. I’ve given my views on some of the big brand fizzsters that I’ve had this year. And yes, I reckon I’d get most of the mixed up!:

Grolsch:three star

Carlsberg, Kronenbourg 1664, Heineken, Becks: two star

Budweiser, Oranjeboom, Red Stripe: 1 star

273. Mallard Brewery Quackpot

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This was enjoyed in the Doric Arms, Euston, thanks to a longer than expected wait for a train. Thankfully a work colleague (from Scotland no less!)  joined me quite accidentally, so I didn’t quite look like a lonely old boozer.

Very green and very hoppy, this is a mucky, dirty beer both in taste and appearance. To start with, it was a little like being made to eat your greens as a kid. However, it improves with time, a more subtle citrus fruitiness revealing itself to take the edge of the overly powerful hops. Perhaps still a little too bitter for my liking, it was definitely a grower.

Two stars (just)

272. Staropramen

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Hold on, I can hear what you’re saying; “Tom you spanner, you’ve skipped two beers”. It may seem that way. In fact, my spannerishness has taken a slightly different form. Thanks to Kirsty’s eagle eye, I have discovered that I used the numbers 227 and 228 twice, so in effect have gained two beers! Hurrah! I’m going to need it.

Those two beers now appear in their original place but out of number order, but it’s a damn sight easier than renaming every beer between 227 and 269. Another thing I noted while I fixed up my faulty numbering was that despite discussing it numerous times in the context of other beers I’ve yet to include Staropramen.

Quite the oversight. I’ve said before that I reckon this is just about my favourite of the major Czech lagers, and I stand by that summation. Flavour wise it’s like super lager, not in a Tennant’s Super, drunk on a park bench kind of way, but a pumped up lager with tonnes of flavour.

It has elements that remind me of the new style APA’s – really green, thick and hoppy, while retaining a more refreshing, drinkable lager side. It’s a tad darker than most standard lagers although at 5% no stronger. There’s some very evident caramel sweetness in the start as well, making overall for a well balanced and generally excellent beverage.

Top beer.

five star

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