388. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

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California brewsters Sierra Nevada are one of the more widely known American brewers in this country, so it’s a bit of a surprise that I’ve never had this before. I’ve had Anchor Steam, a special edition beer, but not this, their best seller and the US’s second favourite craft beer (after Sam Adams).

A pale ale is of course the linchpin of any US craft brewery, because they love their hops, but this was actually more balanced than I was expecting. Quite thin and fairly fizzy, it had a fairly nuanced grainy sweetness mixing with a little citrus fruitiness in the start and middle. The end, as I would expect, was all hops, green and punchy, lingering long at the back of the tongue. However, this was better than most and clearly brewed to appeal to wider range of tastes than the usual hop-crazed craft enthusiasts.

Decent stuff.

three star

387. McEwan’s Signature

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Out for the missus’ birthday, we decided to try a new pub somewhere in the great city of Birmingham, and settled on the Red Lion in Kings Heath. We used to live not far from here, but the bright lights of Moseley always drew us in, so I’m glad we got round to giving it a go. A really pretty old building nestled in somewhat more modern 70’s surroundings, the food was really excellent and very reasonable.

The beers were a more interesting selection. On the web the pub was described as a “real ale pub” and they did have a number of offer, although they were fresh out of UBU. With one of the other options being Brew XI (I can’t believe I’ve found somewhere else that sells it) I settled on an offering from Scottish stalwarts McEwan’s. Their “Signature” is meant to do what is says on the tin and lead the way amongst a range of new family of beers. They want it to be an instant classic, but I’m afraid it misses the mark.

A brown ale, it is mild and creamy to start, with a very smooth texture. There is some roasty malt flavours and a dry, biscuit quality, but overall a very underwhelming beer. The texture is very much of the John Smiths Creamflow style, which is just not my thing at all.

1 star

386. Hobsons’ Postman’s Knock

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My second beer from Hobsons in as many weeks, Postman’s Knock is a rather darker affair, described as a “ruby porter”, it was certainly more brown that read, pouring with a good fluffy head. it is named for a WWI veteran and short story writer who settled in the Shropshire town where Hobsons is brewed and became the postman, the fresh air and long walks helping him to recuperate from injuries inflicted by mustard gas.

The flavour is mild and milky, with a subtle flavour and thin texture I wouldn’t expect from a porter so dark. A malted biscuit sweetness gives way to some raisiny tang and a fairly dry, rather than burnt finish. Tasty enough, if rather unspectacular. At 4.8% a decent session porter, if you don’t like paler stuff.

three star

385. Kocour Weizen

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A German style wheat beer produced in Varnsdorf in the Czech Republic, this rather yummy beer was sampled in the Euston Tap while waiting for my train. Kocour are actually known as an innovative Czech Pivovar (brewery) as one of the first to start brewing ales, rather than the more well know Pilsners and Lagers for which the Czech Republic is known.

As you would expect from a Weize beer, this is thick, cloudy and a little fluffy on the tongue, with plenty of tangy citrus fruitiness. The sweetness follows, smooth and a little darker than I would expect, before an earthy, rather than crisp bitterness – certainly hoppier than I was expecting. Full of flavour and well worth a try.

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384. Bathams Best Bitter

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Bathams are a Black Country institution, brewing in Brierly Hill since 1877 and their Best is a beer that locals have encouraged me to try on numerous occasions. In fact, Bathams’ beers have taken on a slightly mythic status, partly because they’re meant to be pretty good (Champion Beer of Britain 1991), and partly because they’re a bugger to find. This is a fact acknowledged by my favourite beer writer, Pete Brown, who admits he’d written two of his books on beer before he had even heard of them. They mainly sell them in their own pubs, but you can occasionally find them bottled (good old Cotteridge Wines).

So, I can probably be forgiven for not getting round to drinking one until now, even if I have lived in the West Mids for five years. I was a little concerned that the hyped build up and the fact that it is described as a “Best” would mean my first taste of such a legendary ale would be a major let down.

Not so. This isn’t quite Landlord territory, but it’s pretty bloody good. Fizzy and juicy with a decent citrus flavour to start, the middle is a fairly deep, dark caramel before a crisp but short lived bitter burst of hops to finish. Nothing spectacular, but very well balanced and hugely drinkable. If you can find some, definitely worth a try.

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383. Hobsons’ Old Henry

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I have to admit I’m a bit surprised I’ve never tried a Hobsons beer before. The Shropshire based brewery is from the wonderfully monikered Cleobury Mortimer and is quite local to me. I’ve seen their bottles in the shops but never picked one up before.

Old Henry is one of their stronger drops, a rich red-brown beer with plenty of malty flavours. Bittersweet probably sums it up best – a nice mix of fudgy malt, burnt sugar and a vegetable hop bitterness. Like sprouts perhaps, but in a good way. Tasty and warming, well suited to the cold weather we’re having!

three star

378-382. Manchester Part II

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After a pretty weak start in all honesty, things improved in the latter half of the Manchester festival. How much did this have to do with my increasing drunkeness? Not a great deal I think as I was pacing myself pretty well. I think it just took me a couple of hours to seek out the best stuff.

First up was Algorithm by Anarchy Brewing, a strong Belgian Wheat beer. According to the finely tuned nose of my drinking partner Charlie, it “smelled like rain” but tasted a whole lot nicer. Cloudy, pale and heavy, it has a sweet caramel flavour mixed with the grainy taste you expect from these thick Belgians. It reveals a little of its potency in the finish, rich and pleasant. Really drinkable.

With my next I managed another good’un, Alchemy’s Daylight Strobbery, brewed in Northumberland. This was a hugely fruity milk stout, mixing a thick, smooth silkiness with plenty of strawberry and raspberry flavouring. Sweet and sickly, you probably wouldn’t want more than a pint but it’ll be a proper lovely pint.

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Okell’s MPA (Manx Pale Ale) is my first ever beer from the little island in the Irish Sea, and unfortunately it wasn’t much to get excited about. Very pale, it has a weak lemon rind flavour with a fairly mild hoppiness and some caramel sweetness. Still, it was cool to try something a little more exotic.

Peerless’ Oatmeal Stout was a lazy choice, just going for another dark beer after the disappointment of the MPA, but this was not a great deal better. There’s some cocoa bitterness and a decent mild malt sweetness, but it was rather too mild for my liking. The grainy, wholeheartedness I expect from an oatmeal stout was missing.

 

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Lastly but by no means leastly came my favourite beer of them all. Not the best, but certainly the most original. Also the only foreign brewed beer I sampled, Het Uiltje (top name that) have created a proper beast of a strong stout. Not content with making it a woozy, boozy 9.6%, it’s also full of chilli, hence “Flaming Ass Owl”, which makes little sense but I just don’t care. Probably not the beer to end the day on, but we are all prone to unwise decisions after a few.

The flavour was like a Mexican party in my mouth, a heady mix of thick and grainy roast malts, fudgy sweetness, plenty of booze and an unavoidable helping of properly spicy chilli. This beer is actually very hot – not just a bit. I couldn’t manage more than a third, but then I imagine you’re not meant to. Kudos to Het Uiltje (still a top name) for creating such a bat-shit insane beer.

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Flaming Ass Owl:three star

Oatmeal and MPA: two star

 

373-377. Manchester Beer Festival: Part I

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So! My first big beer fest of the year and we’re not even out of January. This bodes well for another boozy and varied 12 months. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival is a CAMRA event and certainly one of the biggest I’ve attended. I can class myself as a fairly experienced beer festival goer – I managed to fit in five proper ones last year – and this is probably also the most unique venue, being held in Manchester’s National Cycling Centre. When I say “in” I mean it literally; most of the bars were in the middle of the track where they hosted the Commonwealth Games, and there were plenty of athletes circling the track while we sipped our pints. It was enough to make you fell slightly dizzy and very guilty about being fat and out of shape. Quite an experience.

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On to the beers. There were some 500 to choose from, from all over the UK and abroad, but with a fairly heavy focus on the North West as you might expect. First up was Black Edge’s Blonde, which, in the fine tradition of all my festival experiences, was a bit of a dud. I never start well. Very pale and even more hoppy, it had an oily texture, with little sweetness as you might expect from a blonde, and a strong, dry then very green hopped bitterness. It probably needed to be a bit colder, but even then it was just a very brutal, mono-tone beer.

Dent Station Porter was slightly better fare. Hailing from Cumbria, this fairly thin and fruity black beverage had a pleasant mix of cocoa tang and dark fruit sweetness, with little creaminess or smoke in the finish. Any charcoal flavour was very subtle. Perhaps a little weak and watery but a decent and drinkable drop.

I tried to play it safe with number three, going for Brightside’s Winter Solstice, which was described as a winter ruby. The colour was much more of a dark brown than a true red tinted chestnut, and the flavour was rather nutty, with a toffee malt sweetness. The dry and balanced hop finish blurred with the earlier flavours to leave me thinking of walnuts. I was expecting a bit more fruit if I’m honest, but certainly an interesting tipple.

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Back to the black stuff for number four, with Black Band Porter from Yorkshire Brewery Kirkstall. Brave chaps to adventure this side of the Pennines, this was a proper porter, thick, oily with some subtle dark fruits before a roasted coffee middle and smoky charcoal to finish. A fairly bitter rather than sweet porter, punchy and full-bodied. Nothing special but very drinkable.

Last of the first selection was the brilliantly named Dis Functional Functional IPA from those nutters at Offbeat Brewing. I’ve had their Way Out Wheat before, but this was a rather different proposition. A dark pale beer, it has some gentle caramel sweetness to start before a prolonged, strong and almost spicy hop taste. The mild start belies the (for me) surprisingly pleasant strength of flavour to follow. Quite refreshing if unbalanced, it isn’t so strong that it wouldn’t work as a session ale.

Black Band and DFIPA: three star

Winter Solstice and Dent:two star

Blonde: 1 star

372. Affligem Blonde

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Apologies dear readers for getting so far behind on my beer blogging. It really is important that I try and keep some rhythm, because it’d be so easy to give up on it now the challenge is completed!

Anyway, my next beer is Affligem, a Belgian Abbey Ale, which is the proper name for Trappist inspired beers that can’t qualify as Trappist. There are pretty strict rules on what can be classified as Trappist, and one of them is that monks have to be involved in the process. As Affligem is owned by pan-global giga-brewers Heineken, I think it’s fairly unlikely that any holy blokes are involved. The beer and brewery are named for the town in Belgium from which it originated, but it is currently produced in nearby Opwijk, which is just a brilliant name.

The beer is a blonde, dry and fizzy with plenty of flavour, pouring a full and fluffy head. The taste is almost peppery in places, with a fair amount of crisp hops to match the expected grainy, caramel sweetness. Decent enough stuff that goes down pretty easy despite being over 6%. Then again those Belgians have made an art form of the unexpectedly boozy beverage.

Reviews from the rather fab Manchester Beer and Cider festival – held in the National Cycling Centre no less – will be up soon. This will include a guest post from my chum Charlie Vowden, who is actually a proper journalist and everything. Expect good things!

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371. Jarrow’s Rivet Catcher

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I seem to have slipped into a comfortable rhythm of Wednesday and Saturday postings, which is no bad thing. Will undoubtedly have to mix it up soon however, as I’m visiting the Manchester Ale Festival next week. Very excited.

Until then, another guest ale in our – sadly now former – quizzing pub. Rivet Catcher is a golden ale produced by the Jarrow Brewery, who take great pride in their connection to the town made famous by the long march made by unemployed people from the town in the Great Depression. Many of their beers, including this one, are in some way connected to the ship building industry on which the town so depended. They also feature a beer named Red Ellen, named for the communist Labour Party MP Ellen Wilkinson who served the town before and during the World War and led the Jarrow March.

A soft and nutty golden ale, it has some subtle biscuity sweetness but is mostly dominated by first a dry bitterness, before a much greener hop kick in the finish. Fairly thick in texture it’s not exactly a refreshing beer but certainly a pleasant and substantial mouthful.

three star

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