Sunday, 22 December 2013

Brewday number ten

To mark an occasion as special as my tenth homebrew, I decided to take a risk and make something a bit different. I enjoyed making the Black IPA and it's fair to say it's probably been my most successful brew so far so I decided to do another black beer.

With a rush of blood to the head, I came up with the idea of trying to make a fruit-infused black beer and settled on mango, based on my immense enjoyment of Magic Rock's The Great Alphonso. I have no idea whether it's possible to get the subtle mango taste to stand out against a dark malt background but I figured that if it worked, it would probably be quite nice.

I reduced the ABV from last time, to 5% from the grains plus whatever the sugar from the mangos adds. I currently have no idea what this figure might be nor how to measure it. A bit of googling is probably required.

I kept the grain bill percentages fairly similar to the Black IPA, with 6% Light Crystal, 5% Torrified Wheat, 5% Carafa Special III and 2% Chocolate Malt complimenting a base of Maris Otter. Propaganda had so much dark malt, it easily went black but with the volumes of malt being lower, I was a bit worried about this one ending up dark brown at one point. I needn't have worried though and the final result looks to have scraped in as black by the skin of its teeth, which is just what I wanted.

I wanted the finished product to be much less bitter than a Black IPA, to let the fruit character come through and I designed the hop additions to hit 35 IBU, using Centennial and Nelson Sauvin. Mrs Nelly very kindly got 12 juicy mangos for me (have you seen the price of mangos?) and I put the flesh of five of them in the boil. Adding fruit to the boil can cause haziness but with a black beer, this doesn't really matter, of course.

I'm going to put the rest into a secondary ferment, once the initial fermentation is largely complete after 5 days or so. To avoid oxidation, I rigged up a neat system (pictured below) which uses the CO2 from the primary ferment to purge the air out of the secondary fermentation vessel. I drilled an extra bung hole into the lid and dropped a tube from it down into the vessel. This can be used for the CO2 and also to feed in the beer when I do the transfer. I'll dry hop at the same time as adding the mangos.

It's always good to take a risk and try something a little out of the ordinary once in a while. This may not work but if it does come off, I'll be very happy.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Rudolph's Reward, Shepherd Neame

Regular readers (if there are such a thing) may remember how my delight at picking up a bottle of Adnams Sole Star in Budgens for the princely sum of a pound quickly turned to disappointment on tasting the damn stuff. 

But I can't resist a bargain. Stepping into that quality establishment I noted another offer from a reputable brewery - a bottle of Rudolph's Reward from Sheherd's Neame for, yes, a pound. 

As you can see, it's very well carbonated, with little head. Nelly asked who was buying these things - me, for a pound. 

To the lips, it's actually fruity, with bits of caramel and toffee, and a gentle whiff of hop. 

Sadly this is marred by a minging long bitter aftertaste, which leaves one thinking, "ah! That's why it's a pound". 

Meantime at The Hermitage, Hitching

It's testament to the educational power of this blog that three short months ago I would not have DREAMT of looking on the keg taps for a decent beer. Little did I know that all the trendy breweries these days had long since eschewed the traditional big hand pump draughty thing (I know eff all about beer) and were cool with kegs now. 

And so it was with a little burst of joy I saw Meantime on a keg at the marvellous Hermitage restaurant and bar in Hitchin. 

(Not my pics - I'd forgotten my phone. If you're the copyright owner, let me know etc). 

The lovely lovely beer was sold in special glasses too:

Mmmm it was lovely. Really lovely. We've reviewed Meantime a lot so if you've not realised how much we like it, then read more. 

As for The Hermitage, it's fabulous - a converted theatre with a bar much hipper than you might expect from Hitchin, and I had six delicious oysters, an amazing ribeye steak, and a cracking bottle of Malbec for just £40. Highly recommended. 

Whapweasel at a The Thatched

I've been drinking at the Thatched House, Poulton-le-Fylde, for over 20 years now. My father calls it his "office", and it's always had the reputation - amongst a small town with a disproportionate number of pubs - as being the only one properly serious about beer. 

It basically is in a permanent state of beer festival - there's rarely the chance to drink the same pint twice, unless you're in there every day (er, which a lot of people seem to be). Hence why they feel the need to give a hint as to what the beer within is like, as per the massive GOLD sign on the pump below:

I'm not entirely sure what "GOLD" really means; however, I'd guess it signifies those Northern beers with a creamy taste and, er, a golden colour (most beer's golden, surely?) - a bit like Boddingtons when I was a kid *sniffs*. 

And yes - Whapweasel is all of those things. It's a decent Northern session ale, and I could barely drag my father away from it. 

The Thatched is a bit tatty round the edges, slightly marred by four giant tellies, and with a snug you're only allowed in if you've been drinking there since 1962. Still, whenever I'm back, it's the first port of call.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Weird Beard - Little Things That Kill

It seems like many microbreweries offer a low ABV beer these days, which is no bad thing. Big IPAs are all very well but there's definitely room in the stable for a beer you can drink several of without being completely out of action the following day.

At 3%, Simpleton by Magic Rock is my favourite of these. Making a low-strength beer that's still full of flavour and body is technically quite difficult but MR pull it off brilliantly. When I saw Little Things That Kill, from Weird Beard (my second-favourite brewery!), I had to grab a bottle.

At 3.4% it's a little stronger though, and those few tenths of a percent will make the brewing process much easier. It's easy to forget that this sort of strength is fairly normal for most beer. As with all Weird Beard beer, it was well-carbonated, which I really like.

The Centennial, Nelson Sauvin and Cascade hops provided a lovely aroma. Grapefruit citrus was the main taste and it felt like drinking a 4-5% ABV beer, which is a compliment.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Anchor Steam Beer

Anchor Steam Beer wasn't what I was expecting. Being from the US west coast, I was ready for this beer to deliver a big hop aroma but this isn't what it's about.

The malt is the star of the show here, in a good way, with a really strong carbonation helping to deliver the robust caramel flavours.

It's probably not a beer I'd choose to drink very regularly but was very pleasant and makes an interesting change from hop-forward beers.

Blakemere - Navajo

A trip to a kids' birthday party at Blakemere Craft Centre led to the chance discovery of a little microbrewery and beer shop, just round the corner from the play centre. Obviously, I snuck out while Gangnam Style was on, and had a nosey round.

The brewery was closed, which I would expect on a Saturday, but the attached shop was open. It was called "Beers 'o' the World". I went in, looking forward to perusing the American craft ales, drooling over the Belgian beers and perhaps buying a nice Pilsner or two.

No. It turns out that "Beers 'o' the World" only stocks beer made next door, with a range of what looked to be about ten different ales. The range was really traditional, with a mild, a stout, a fruit beer and of course the obligatory Christmas novelty beer. Who buys those anyway?

One thing that immediately struck me when choosing a bottle was that a lot of the crown caps seemed to be barely on, with the bottoms still splayed out a bit. If they were on, it was only just. The bottles also mostly had sticky beer stains around the necks from the bottling process. Not a good first impression.

I didn't find the range very inspiring but I got a Navajo (pale golden ale with hoppy citrus notes) and a Jewel (light-golden, well-hopped IPA). They sounded like the pick of the bunch.

Once home, the 3.9% Navajo was first up. The cap kind of limply fell off when I wielded a bottle opener at it, with a very small release of pressure. I started pouring quite slowly, with a tilted glass like always, but quickly realised it was going to be pretty flat and moved the glass upright in an attempt to get a head to form. No chance. It was completely flat and also rather cloudy.

A quick sniff revealed a significant tangy fruit smell, with no hop aroma at all. I had a swig and it was drinkable. It was quite bitter but pretty nondescript apart from that and I found it hard to concentrate on any other flavours because of the off-putting fruit tang that never went away.

I may well be wrong, but it tasted like it wasn't ready yet - like it had not had chance to condition properly. Whatever the reason though, I spent my hard-earned cash on this beer and was left very disappointed.

Upgraded brew kit

After the last brew, I had decided that some of the kit I was using needed a bit of an upgrade. The main thing that needed sorting was the filter at the bottom of the mash tun. There is a tap fitted to the bottom of the mash tun, for draining out the wort. This needs a filter fitted to the inside, to stop the grains clogging up the tap. The filter should have some substantial surface area to it, as it helps when the sparge water is flowing down through the grain bed during sparging.

The mash tun I bought was supplied with this filter:

It was okay but doesn't have much surface area and was a bit wobbly and delicate. I had previously tried to make my own replacement, out of a length of stainless steel braided hose reinforcement from a plumbers' merchant:

This worked pretty well, and covered more of the bottom of the tun. I hadn't bought stainless jubilee clips though, and these started to get corroded. The braiding was also very hard to keep clean and had a tendency to trap bits of grain.

I bit the bullet and bought a proper false bottom from the homebrew shop in Stockport. This is made from a sheet of stainless steel, perforated with small holes to let the wort through. It's got a domed shape and the fluid actually flows back up through a fitting in the centre and exits the mash tun through a short hose going to the usual tap. 

The false bottom came as a full circle, designed to fit bigger mash tuns. I had to cut slices off the edges and make a few tweaks to get it to fit, as the pictures show.

I also bought another coolbox, to use as a hot liquor tank (HLT). I'm going to fill it with 75C water to use during the sparge. Previously, I'd been heating water up to the required temperature in pans on the hob but this was really hit and miss. Hopefully these two upgrades will help out a bit.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Redemption Trinity at the Euston Tap

Following an excellent meal at The Fellow in King's Cross, my lovely friend Bella and I decamped to the legendary Euston Tap for a post-prandial beverage. For provincial readers, this former wing of the Euston Arch is one of London's premier beer locations; no messing around here, just pure dedication to ale.

Sadly - unbelievably - I was driving, so Bells was supping the majority of the booze. She could see the sadness in my eyes so restricted herself to just a cheeky half of Redemption Trinity. 

It was an excellent choice, but given the superlative choice on offer they could barely fail. Trinity is a 3.0% pale ale, and - at the risk of repeating myself - it's fruity, hoppy, with citrus overtones etc. the three sips I had I really enjoyed. 

What I've learned over this beer odyssey is that I really, really like pale ale, but it's a pain to find new ways to describe it. 

And as for the Euston Tap, it's worth adding an hour on to your journey to the north west to have a couple of the superb selections on offer. Don't expect a seat, though. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Black IPA taste test

Well, the time has come. The mighty Propaganda has been bottled for two weeks and is ready to drink. Instead of the usual simple tasting, I decided that Mrs Nelly and I should do a "Black IPA comparative blind taste test". I bought a bottle of Thornbridge Raven (which used to be called Wild Raven) and a Buxton Imperial Black IPA (7.5%).

In the brief period of time between our child going to bed and tea being ready, we did an "in-depth" taste test.

Drink A (Thornbridge) was hoppy-ish, with a head that stuck around. It had a medium body and a slight caramel/toffee taste. It also pulled off the clever trick of managing to have a fairly white head on a black drink.

Drink B (Buxton) had the least aroma and had a head which subsided the quickest with the least carbonation. We noticed a distinct liquorice flavour which, while not unpleasant was different to the other two.

Drink C (Nelly Brewery) was the darkest in colour and had a slightly brown foamy head. It had more carbonation than the other two and more mouthfeel.

Mrs Nelly, the Father-in-law and I agreed that we liked Beer A the best, Beer C second and Beer B third. I felt that the Buxton was too flat and became a bit chewy and hard-going as a result, which I think can happen easily with very strong, dark ales and was something I had consciously been trying to avoid. The Thornbridge beer definitely had more flavour, with a lovely complex roasted, caramel taste and was really nice, as you'd expect, having recently been voted best Black IPA in the World.

I think that next time, I would slightly reduce the amount of dark malts used, as there was more than enough to make it go black. And it needs more hops. When I tried a few bottles in the first week, the hop aroma was still there but after two weeks in the bottle, it's all but gone. You have to put a stupid amount into these beers, to get the delicate hop aromas to stand out against the strong roasted malt background. I reckon about 400g in late and dry-hopping would be okay for the next batch.


I had another three bottles of Propaganda and can now report that the hangovers you get from homebrew are very similar to the ones you get from shop-bought ale. Urgh!

Monday, 11 November 2013

More home brewing

Well, I've been quite please with myself lately, having finally made a homebrew which isn't minging!

Propaganda, my first attempt at a Black IPA, was quite fun to make and the results are really promising. It's only been bottled for a little over a week as a write, but of course I've had a few "sneak previews" already and it's really nice, even if I do say so myself!

I've added a homebrew page to the blog, which I'll keep updated as a log of my brews. It's actually quite a useful exercise for me to write down the recipe and my thoughts for each brew.

This Sunday morning was another brew day and I went for a single hop US Pale Ale, with Cascade hops. This one was intended to provide a bit of a learning opportunity more than anything.

My brewing kit is starting to need upgrading, with a proper false bottom for the mash tun and another coolbox for use as a Hot Liquor Tank top of the list. I'll try to get these bits and pieces sorted out over the next couple of weeks before setting about the next one. Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Nelly Brewery - Hedgehog Down (2)

Well, I'm now down to my last bottle of Hedgehog Down, having variously drunk, given away and thrown away the rest. I decided I'd better do a review!

Well, despite what the last review said, I was really impressed with the clarity of the beer. It's really, really clear - crystal clear one might say, as the photos show. That's where the good points end though, I'm afraid to say. 

The top came off the bottle with a nice pop and a decent head formed upon pouring. However, there just wasn't much body - the beer was rather thin and the head dissipated pretty quickly. The colour was too dark for a pale ale, being a mid-amber hue more than anything. 

There was a strong fruity smell, which I think was estery. I'll readily admit that I'm not experienced enough to be 100% certain but from the various guides to beer off-flavours that are available online (like this one), estery smells and flavours are my best bet for what was going on. Beyond the fruity tastes, there wasn't really much else going on, with no discernible hop character at all.

Looking back at my notes for this one, I don't think the fermenting temperature was too high, being 18-19C all the way through. I'm more inclined to think that the fruity taste was both an inherent product of the English yeast used and also due to the long ferment time. I racked this on day 19, after a really slow ferment. 

My latest thinking is to use cleaner-tasting American yeast and more of it. I used 2 packets of US-05 for the latest batch and it was finished in about 5 days, with really encouraging results so far. I talked to a pro brewer about this last week and his beers stay in the FV for 7 days before racking so I hope I'm on the right lines here.

I'm currently planning to use 2 packs of US-05 for my next 2 brews, to keep this variable the same, before moving to reused or harvested yeast from then on.

So to sum up, Hedgehog Down wasn't great but it was another step along the learning curve.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hedgehog Down, Nelly Brewery

In a slight shift from the usual format, I will be sharing this review with another beer enthusiast - in this case my Dad - who was desperate to sample the latest offering from the Pride of Holmes Chapel, the Nelly Brewery - hence the two glasses below. 

It's an English Pale Ale hoping by the name of Hedgehog Down - read the story to see why - although it doesn't look particularly pale, as you can see; it was also rather cloudy. 

I might have expected a hoppy boutique, but instead it was rather more yeasty. That said, first taste was meaty and full frontal, with the taste sitting on the front of the tongue. "Needs more hop", said Dad, and I was inclined to agree. 

A note about my Dad

Dad likes to think he knows about beer, as he's been drinking it since the early 60s. He doesn't. I'm not saying I do either, but bear that in mind for the rest of the post. 

Back to the beer...

"It's almost the same on the front of the mouth as Jaipur," claimed Dad, extravagantly. "But it doesn't linger". Let's not be too harsh here - Jaipur is utterly amazing. I was struggling to identify a decent aftertaste, although noted that "the meatiness is accompanied by some fruits". Maybe like a lamb curry with raisins?

Dad held the empty bottle up to the light, to reveal a huge lump of brewer's yeast. He then regaled me for the fifteenth time of the tale of the Sixties home brewers who would scoot round the back of Liverpool pubs for the yeast remaining in the bottom of Whitbread bottles - "worth it's weight in gold couldn't buy brewer's yeast as an amateur in them days". Rightio. He may, however, have had a point when he noted, "you shouldn't be leaving yeast in the bottom like that...that's why it's so cloudy. Perhaps it was racked off too early?"

Now I know little about the brewing process, but last time I heard the phrase "rack off " it was going shouted at Bouncer as he stole a cricket ball on Ramsey Street. The flamin' galah. I assume in this context it refers to the point on time at which a beer is bottled - but I'd be interested to know if this us a real phrase or just a Dadism. 

I asked Dad for his final thoughts. "As a homebrew, it's excellent" he declaimed, as he chewed the last of the yeast thoughtfully. Would you drink another bottle, old man?

"Christ, no."

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Old Crusty Bishop - Nelly Brewery

It's with a mixture if honour and some trepidation I approached this - being the first beer writer to review an ale from the new powerhouse of independent Cheshire breweries, the House of Nelly in Holmes Chapel. Mostly, I was worried it would make me sick.

I was given three bottle to try. The first is this, a 4.7% ale called Old Crusty Bishop. 

Given its progenitor, I was expecting something hoppy, but instead the first impression was of the immense cloudiness post-pour...which didn't clear. I was now worried I'd face a long night on the toilet, especially as the foamy head was a shade of yellowy brown rather than the traditional white. Still, being a brave chap I dived straight in....

It was surprisingly decent. Very fizzy, which you wouldn't expect from such a cloudy ale, but quite crisp and surprisingly drinkable. I have to say though I was struggling to identify any specific flavours - my tasting notepad just had the word "malty" written on it, and when I passed it to Mrs Woose for a taste she wrinkled her nose and said, "hmm...malty". I would also add "yeasty" to that too. 

If asked to summarise, I'd say "not minging", which is quite a compliment for (I think) only the second brew from this potentially revolutionary new brewer. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Shipyard Old Double Thumper at the Ty Coch, Porth Dinllaean.

The Ty Coch, at Porth Dinllaeaen on the Llyn Peninsula, was recently voted the third best beach bar in the world. I'm not so sure about that - the views and location are amazing, the food pretty good, but traditionally the beer has been somewhat lacking (and mega expensive); and what else is a pub for?

Anyway, I popped in yesterday for a mid-walk pint, with no great expectations. However, I was pleased to see they'd gone for something interesting on the one (one!) real ale tap present. 

I'm a fan of both American craft ales and English real ales, and this strange collaboration - between Shipyard of Maine and Ringwood of Hampshire - could feasibly have gone either way. As it was, it did pretty well - a dark ale, caramel and smoky, fruity and nutty with a long bitter finish. I have no idea what a "collaboration" of this nature entails, but the upshot is pretty good nonetheless. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Revisiting Thornbridge

My beer adventure only really began in earnest about six months ago, when after 20 years of drinking crap beer I stumbled across the world of craft beer and into the light. Thornbridge's range was first up and served to form my fledgling opinions about how beer should taste.

Although I still have a lot of learning to do, I feel like I have come a long way in those six months. I've sampled the offerings of the UK's most influential micros, I've been to beer festivals and brewed my own beer. All good stuff but I realised recently though, that I hadn't had any Thornbridge beer for ages so decided to grab a few. I thought this might be a good exercise - using Thornbridge beers as a reference point to see if my tastes have changed over the last few months.

First up was a Kipling, made exclusively with Nelson Sauvin hops. I didn't take a photo but it was really, really pale. I'd say it was just about the lightest colour I've ever seen in ale - right alongside Duvel.

It was sensational - fresh, well-carbonated and possibly the most grapefruity beer I've ever had. I seem to remember being so preoccupied with the hop aromas last time round that I must have completely missed the grapefruit taste.

Next was a Jaipur, the big daddy of UK craft brewing. It was darker than I remembered but whether I was just comparing it to the Kipling I'm not sure. I was hoping it would still be great and thankfully my expectations were exceeded. Absolutely bloody marvellous and the taste was a little bit more complex than I remembered.

Thornbridge are masters of their trade as brewing pale ales that are this clean and crisp is quite an accomplishment. Both beers had no noticeable off-tastes or those yeast-generated flavours that can often draw attention away from the hops and the malt. If I could get my homebrew to even approach this kind of standard, I'd be very happy indeed.

Meantime - London Stout

No photos of this one, I'm afraid. However, it was black and that's about all there was to the appearance. I served this at room temperature and was quite impressed at first, with it going down easily. I sometimes struggle with stouts and porters but this was okay. For the first half.

As I got into the second half of the drink, a funny taste started coming through. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know what it was, suffice to say that if this had been my own homebrew, I'd be talking about off-tastes. 

Meantime's IPA was okay, if not my favourite and I'm afraid I was similarly indifferent about London Stout too.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


With tickets sold out months in advance, kegs outnumbering casks, the brewers themselves serving the beer and Camra nowhere to be seen, IMBC is like a beer festival but much better. Held in the magnificent Victoria Baths, the venue itself adds greatly to the theatre of the event. If the brick exterior is spectacular then once inside, the labyrinth of tiled corridors, the stained glass windows and the wrought-iron beams are a joy to behold. IndyMan would be a great event held anywhere but by holding it at Victoria Baths, the organisers have added the magic touch.

Once in, we made a beeline for the Turkish Baths, which had been taken over for the duration of the event by Magic Rock from Huddersfield. Everything I had read on the subject suggested that Magic Rock make fantastic beer but unfortunately it's virtually impossible to get hold of. My one and only taste of their produce so far had been a Cannonball IPA at the Young Pretender in Congleton and it was bloody marvellous. Much as I'd like to buy a few bottles though, I've so far not been able to because in all my travels, I've never seen one for sale. Their website says that they make around 13,000 pints a week and I can only assume that the Yorkshire folk are so keen on it that they don't like to let it come this side of the Pennines.

And I don't blame them one little bit. Our first beer of the night was a High Wire, served by Magic Rock's Head Brewer, Stuart Ross. High Wire is a 5.5% American Pale Ale which has a light amber colour. The first thing that surprised me was just how cold it was served. I'm not quite sad enough to carry a thermometer round, but I'd say it wasn't much over 6 or 7 degrees if I had to guess. On the whole, it was cold, fizzy and utterly delicious. Just the way I like my beer. I won't attempt to describe the delicious hoppiness in any further detail because it wouldn't do the beer justice. My drinking partner Nick knows his beer and was blown away by High Wire. Just get some and see for yourself.

We stayed in the Magic Rock cave for a bit and had a Cannonball, a Great Alphonso and a Simpleton. Simpleton is a great idea - a low strength 2.6% pale ale but with loads of delicious hoppy taste. I would love to try some again, when my tastebuds haven't just been assaulted by a bunch of other, stronger beers because I suspect it's really rather good.

Eventually it was time to leave the Magic Rock grotto and have a look round. We moved on to the main room and had a Marble Farmhouse IPA, which is the only beer of the night to get an unhappy face drawn next to it on my programme. Whether it genuinely wasn't very nice or whether it just wasn't as good as High Wire I'm not sure. It's always difficult to remain objective at these events but whatever the reason, we weren't keen and unhappy face it was.

A Blackjack/Weird Beard Weird Wit was next, served by Jay Krause from Quantum Brewing. Another first for us was a dark beer from Brewdog called Dead Metaphor, which was very pleasant. We rattled through a Cromarty AKA IPA, a Cromarty Red Rooster, a Quantum NZ Light, a Thornbridge Sequoia, an Arbor Tasmanian Devil, a Buxton Dry Hopped Gold and a Buxton Axe Edge before it was time to make a move.

It would have been rude not to finish off with a bit more High Wire so we snuck back to the Turkish Baths for a couple before calling it a day. A night out in Manchester wouldn't be complete if I didn't subsequently fall asleep on the train and end up in Crewe and once again I didn't disappoint.

One thing that I took away from the night was just how good Keykegs are as a serving method. I usually like my ale a little colder and more carbonated than average and keg beer gives you exactly that. We only had one or two cask beers on the night and they were noticeably warmer and flatter than the others. To my taste, they were less enjoyable for it.

As ever, the next day I managed to read the programme in more detail and saw loads of beers I'd like to have had but didn't. The offerings from Mikkeller and Tool would probably top that list. IndyMan was so enjoyable that I can't imagine not going next year so hopefully I'll make amends then.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Querkus Smoked Porter

(Sorry - drank most of it before taking a photo)

Porter always sounds to me like something Prince Hal and Falstaff would order round Mistress Quickly's Tavern - "verily! Pints of mead, porter and sack all round, wench" - and hence not really something considering drinking. 

Then two things happened - Nelly reported going to a beer festival and opening with a porter; and Sainsbury's £1.50 deal had pretty much sold out, apart from this strange-looking Querkus porter.

Well. I don't know what porters are meant to taste like, but this is bloody lovely. It's described as "smoked porter", and I can see why - it has a complex taste of smoked malts, dark fruits, chocolate and coffee. It's absolutely delicious, and I'm very tempted to go and buy Sainsbury's remaining stock. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Golden XPA and King John at the Half Moon, Windlesham

Walked over the fields to the nearby village of Windlesham to the sprawling Half Moon pub. It's one of those places that has realised that profit lies on the plate, not the pint glass, and as such has given over a vast percentage of its public area to a restaurant, leaving the actual bar area very much secondary. 

Despite this, the Half Moon still manages to have a decent selection of ales on offer. Given my earlier pleasing experience with the Caledonian Brewery's 'Flying Scotsman', I first went for a pint of that brewery's 'Golden XPA'. 

Now I love a good IPA, and I was making the assumption that "golden" means "premium" and "XPA" is some top version of IPA. Not sure if either's true, but nonetheless the beer was pretty decent if nothing superb. It's certainly fruity and summery, and vaguely hoppy if not properly powerful like the Hawkshead or Jaipur. 

Next up was King John from the Andwell Brewery. 

This was described as a "pale ale", but in truth it was a chestnut ale:

It was fairly biscuity and malty, with a hint of fruit and toffee, and fairly flat on the carbonation front. It was palatable if, frankly, dull.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Out of date beer

I'd read a few articles recently (like this) that suggest that some beers can be stored for several years like wine. I'd always thought that beer should be drunk fresh so this seemed like a novel idea.

According to some, the flavours can become more intense and complex over time and actually improve the beer. It's meant to work better with certain types of ale though. Pale ales wouldn't benefit but dark, spicy bitters might. Well, that's how the theory goes.

What luck then, that I came across a little cache of beers in my Father-in-Law's utility room cupboard that were over a year out of date. "Best Before May 2012" - Yummy! I'm pretty sure that I've personally never owned a bottle of beer for longer than three days before drinking it so this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Time for a taste.

Theakston's Old Peculiar sounded like a dark, chunky real ale so I selected this first as the most likely candidate to have benefited from its time in the back of the cupboard.

There was a fairly standard amount of fizz when the cap came off and the beer poured with a reasonable head. It was very, very dark though - like tar and unfortunately I didn't know if this was normal or not. What surely wasn't normal was the rasping chemical taste that burned the back of my throat upon drinking. It smelled awful - a bit like malt and acetone mixed together.

Down the plug hole it went while I reached for the second one.

Fuller's Chiswick Bitter sounded like a fine brew. Surely the years will have added layers of complexity to this little beauty, I reasoned.

The cap popped off with quite a fizz, leading to a bit of foam splurting out of the top of the bottle and all over the kitchen worktop. I couldn't pour it into the glass slowly enough to stop an enormous head rolling up, as the picture shows. It didn't smell too unusual so I took a gulp.

For the first 2-3 seconds all seemed well but then an appalling taste came charging through, which I can only describe as being like wet leather crossed with liquorice. I spat it out and again chucked the foul brew down the drain.

A quick look through the sorry collection revealed just a few light ales were left that I now wasn't going to touch with a bargepole so I called time on my "vintage" ale experiment.

I'm sure there are probably some beers that can be cellared for a few years but it's not these ones and in all honesty, my motivation to try this again has gone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Bateson's Black Pepper Ale

I'm always a bit wary about these gimmick beers. You never quite know if the gimmick will work or not...anyway, for £1.50, it was worth the gamble. 

Essentially this is a black pepper-flavoured bitter. I quite like black pepper. I quite like bitter. Would it work?

Well, kinda. The pepper comes late to the show; it's a fairly standard bitter albeit a caramel-y one, then the pepper sneaks up on you in the aftertaste. Mrs W had a drag; "mmmm nice" she said, before pulling a lemon face. And she likes pepper more than me!

It's an interesting drink as a one off, and for £1.50. I doubt I'll bother again, though; not when Hawkshead is on the same shelf. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

MOSI beer festival

This is now the third consecutive year I've been to the MOSI festival and it never fails to impress. A magnificent setting, in the Steam Hall, you get to wander round the trains and contemplate other mysterious-looking contraptions from the industrial revolution while supping your ale.

The first time we went, they pretty much ran dry by early Saturday afternoon. It was a bit better last year but this time, we went on opening night - 5pm Thursday. Apart from having to go to work the following day, this was a good decision. There was a modest queue at the door but once in, the waiting was over and we had unfettered access to the bar all night.

I'd planned ahead by looking at the beer list and had decided to start with an Elland 1872 Porter. I'd never had a current Champion Beer of Britain before and wanted to have some before it ran out. In hindsight, this may have been a bit over-cautious because nothing runs out on Thursday night! 

It was very nice but I'm not the biggest porter fan and to be fair, didn't have much to compare it to. It was very strong and complex, with tons of roasted malt taste but the main problem was that it completely broke my taste buds, meaning I just couldn't get any meaningful taste out of the next two or three drinks. A schoolboy error.

The beer of the night for me was Weird Wit, a collaboration between Blackjack in Manchester and Weird Beard Brew Crew, who I've fawned over before in this blog. It was a wheat beer, so pale and hazy but strongly hopped as well, which is unusual for that style. It took a minute to get used to but once you were onboard with it, it was sensational. 

Another stand-out was Cumbrian Five Hop from Hawkshead, which was a lovely hoppy golden number. I think we may have had a Windermere Pale as well but it was all starting to get a bit fuzzy by that point and I can't be sure. 

I follow a lot of brewers on Twitter and there was much excitement over the annual hop harvest recently, with a rush to use this year's fresh "green" hops in a brew. With this in mind, I tried a Dunham Massey Green Hop. I had been expecting some sort of different, fresh taste but what I got was a bit odd; kind of like a grassy taste. It was difficult to describe - it did taste fresh but not in a particularly good way.

All in all, I really enjoyed MOSI and the beers were all very well served. Festivals can be awful when you have to fight to get to the bar but by going on Thursday, we avoided the queues nicely. The next one is IMBC in October. Can't wait.

Hedgehog update

Well no beating about the bush - unfortunately the little fella didn't make it. I have to say I hadn't given it much of a chance at the outset and my initial impression was right. Despite having food and water right under its nose, it just never really moved and didn't see the following day out. I returned it to the compost heap from whence it came and resolved to bury spent hops under the surface in the future.

As for the brew it succumbed to, it's still in the fermenter after two weeks. It's still bubbling and the gravity readings are still falling slowly so I'm not going to rush it anywhere. All my previous brews had been done in a week so this one's certainly very different. I think it will finish at around 5.5% but whether it's nice or not remains to be seen.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Atlas Wayfarer IPA

After the amazing success of the Hawkshead earlier, I returned the fridge with fresh vigour and a renewed spring in me beery step. What other delights did the Sainsbury's £1.50 ales have to offer?

Next up was this, from Orkney. I do love a good IPA, so I was really looking forward to this. 

Part of the problem of having a really enjoyable beer is that the next one can seem exceedingly disappointing if it's not up to the first. This is by no means a bad beer, but my first impressions were "meh". It's not up to the Hawkshead. 

BUT - it's still pretty good. I just need to be objective about's clear, dry, less hoppy and flavoursome than the Hawkshead, easy to drink and a cut above the average...but not by much. 

Hawkshead - Windermere

At £1.50 in Sainsbury's, I didn't really have great hopes for this; but then Nelly sampled a different Hawkshead at the MOSI Beer Festival last week (I'm sure he'll blog about it soon) and was singing its praises. 

Well I'll tell you what - this is bloody marvellous. Hoppy, fruity, zingy, with a dry, bitter finish. I've had some crap beers recently and this really cheered me up. Marvellous stuff; not dissimilar to some of those American craft IPAs we've sampled recently. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Greene King IPA Gold

I have to say, at the outset, that Greene King IPA has been responsible for some of the worst pints I've ever had in a pub. Therefore I really wasn't looking forward to this - even though I'd upgraded to the Gold, which I've assumed is some kind of Taste The Difference "quality" variant on the standard. 

I cracked it upon and was hit with a surprisingly hoppy bouquet. Of course, it wasn't as powerful as a Jaipur or Sierra Nevada but it left me hopeful for the taste. 

Which, well, wasn't quite as good as I'd perhaps built myself up for. Although it starts well, with a nice hoppy, honeyed flavour, it dies on the tongue and there's really nothing of lasting interest. To be honest I'd have it again in these circumstances (on special offer), if the old cupboard was running low. 

Well done Greene King - you've actually made a pint hat doesn't make me retch. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Homebrew 4 - Hedgehog Down.

I did another brew today - my fourth overall and third using a full mash. They had been getting progressively better but I had decided to look after the yeast a bit better for this one and made a starter for the first time. I pitched a packet of Safale S-04 into 1L of weak dry malt extract solution the evening before and left it overnight.

I had been determined to not pitch too hot so cooled the starter down to 18C before popping the yeast in, to give it a nice gentle start. I included some wheat in the mash for the first time as well, because this supposedly helps with head retention. We'll see.

All went well and I cooled the wort right down to under 20C before pitching the yeast starter in. A few hours later and there was plenty of bubbling going on, all the trub had congealed into a nice krausen and the body of the liquid was looking really clear. Textbook stuff.

After everything was finished, I cleared out the copper first, putting all the spent hops onto the compost heap as it's meant to be good fertiliser. I had to go out for a bit, so filled the mash tun up with water to stop the grain drying out and left it until later to clean.

When I took the grain down to the compost heap later on, I was surprised to see a hedgehog sitting next to the pile of hops.

I'm no hedgehog expert but it didn't look very well. Naturally, I turned to Google for help and it turns out that spent hops can be really bad for dogs. I couldn't find any reference to hedgehogs but I figured that the hops seemed likely to be the cause of the little fella's current predicament.

I had no idea that hops could be so poisonous and feeling very guilty, decided that I had to try and help. I don't give the little thing much chance but it's now in a box, with plenty of warm newspaper and some food and water on hand. Come on, little dude!

Weird Beard Brew Crew - Hit The Lights

Well, I said I was going to try another Weird Beard ale before too long and in the end it took precisely 24 hrs. Was my trip to the Beer Emporium to buy a bottle of Hit The Lights worth it?  

Yes. I was a bit unsure what to expect as this was described as "a mixed-up IPA", brewed with Target and Aurora. These aren't particularly popular hops and I was interested to see how they came across. I've used Target in my first few homebrews and although it smelled nice in the packet, the dodgy results led me to ditch it for the latest batch.

As with Mariana Trench, this is a well-carbonated beer, perhaps a little too much so. Despite a slow and tilted pour, the head easily frothed up to the top of the pint glass. The aroma was a really pure and clean hop smell, just like sticking your nose into a packet of Target. The mouthfeel was really creamy and frothy, which I quite liked and the taste was very nice too.

Hit The Lights isn't fruity or citrusy and is a bit more challenging as a result. I liked it but I'd pick a Mariana Trench off the shelf if I had to choose.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Weird Beard Brew Crew - Mariana Trench

This is billed as a "Trans Pacific Pale Ale" due to being hopped with New Zealand and West Coast US varieties.

It was really well carbonated, which I tend to like in bottled beers. Upon pouring, a frothy head developed and this stayed around for quite some time. The general carbonation lasted too, giving a really nice mouthfeel and allowing the flavours out.

The aroma was great, packing a hoppy punch and the taste was spectacular - just enough biscuity malt base to carry a wonderful tropical fruit and hop flavour. Unsurprisingly, I felt it was reminiscent of the American pale ales.

I was seriously impressed by this offering and as Weird Beard do quite an extensive range, I'll be checking out their other beers as soon as possible.

St. Austell - Big Job

Proper Job's stablemate is big by name and big by nature. 7.2% and "massively hopped", it really does pack a punch. These high-strength "double" IPAs can sometimes be a bit claggy and hard-going but I thought Big Job avoided the pitfalls nicely. It could have used a little more carbonation but even so, it was still easy to drink given the high ABV.

The aroma was intense and in the same category as the Thornbridge brews but the taste was much more complex, with malt in evidence as well as just a faceful of hops.

Big Job isn't a regular brew for St.Austell and barely warrants a mention on their website. I have a feeling that popular demand may eventually dictate a change of policy here though.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Goose Island - IPA (2)

I had been planning to try a bottle of Goose Island IPA for a while when Chris beat me to it. He wasn't blown away so I thought a second opinion was in order.

I loved it! My bottle was plenty carbonated with a big hoppy aroma and lovely balanced biscuity malt and hoppy taste, reminiscent of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Delicious.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Homebrew 2. Down the drain.

Well, to say I'm a bit disappointed would be an understatement. I've just poured 18L of beer down the sink and need to blog about it. My first attempt at a full-grain brew had left me so full of hope and anticipation but in the end it was a right load of undrinkable piss.

I've already blogged about where I think I went wrong with this brew but it still deserves an actual review. After having conditioned for 2 weeks, I cracked open a bottle.

Oh my God, the smell was something else. A kind of metallic, soapy aroma which was very difficult to describe in any further detail. Whether this smell was diacetyl, skunking or other random off-flavours I don't know. With a bit more experience I may have been able to hazard a guess but as a newcomer to brewing, I'm afraid I didn't have a clue what the smell was.

Although I didn't fancy swallowing it, I tried holding some of the beer in my mouth and swilling it around. It had a decent amount of carbonation and a quite nice mouthfeel. However, swallowing even a little bit would have been unwise, judging by the aroma. It was so clearly undrinkable that I made the decision to chuck it. I poured all but three bottles down the sink in order to free up the bottles for my next, highly improved batch. 

Perhaps one day, those three bottles will mature and become really nice. I won't start holding my breath though. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Coach House - Cheshire Gold

Coach House is a micro-brewery based in Warrington, formed in 1991 by former Greenall Whitley career brewers who found themselves at a loose end when that company ceased its brewing operations.

The business seems fairly big for a UK micro, with 9 faces on the website. The site is so old-fashioned and badly designed though, it had me almost weeping in frustration. Search all you like for some information about the beers but you won't find any.

Mrs Nelly and I recently popped into The Hollies Farm Shop in Tarporley. This is a nice shop, packed with a choice of excellent local produce except beer. Out of two brands, Cheshire Gold seemed to be the best bet.

Upon reading the label, I was immediately whipped into an apoplectic rage by the unnecessary apostrophe on the back, in the possessive adjective "its". I'm fine with the odd grammatical error on a fruit and veg stall or in an email but they shouldn't make it as far as being printed on your packaging. A decent-sized company like this should have the judgement to get their labels proof-read properly before going to print.

Once home, I attempted to calm down in the usual manner by drinking beer. Cheshire Gold wasn't quite what I was expecting but was pleasant enough. I normally expect golden ales to be more fruity or floral but this fell a little short in that area, with a caramel maltiness being the dominant flavour. It wasn't overbearing though, and I can see why this would be a beer that would appeal to a good cross-section of drinkers.

The staff have between them probably forgotten more about brewing than most other micros will ever know. All well and good but as a paying punter I can't help thinking that this business needs to work on its presentation.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

George Wright "Cheeky Pheasant" at the Junction, Rainford

What a pleasure to go to a pub that's genuinely interested not just in real ales, but in promoting local ales too. This was the experience at The Junction, on the outskirts of Rainford, near St Helen's on Merseyside. 

I had a pint of Cheeky Pheasant (4.7%), from the George Wright brewery in that town, and was really pleased - a proper Northern bitter, all nutty maltiness and citrus hops, creamy on the tongue. I went back for seconds and would have had many more were I not on my way into Liverpool for a wedding (bitter on offer - Worthington Smoothflow. I didn't bother). 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Black Sheep - Ale

Black Sheep Brewery was founded in the early 90's, an offshoot from Theakston's, which was at the time part-owned by Scottish and Newcastle. Paul Theakston couldn't face seeing the family firm become part of a large conglomerate and decided to go it alone.

That the new venture has outlived the big multi-national is in part a testament to the changing face of British brewing. As the 90's came to an end, the move away from bland, mass-produced beer had begun to take hold and smaller breweries were once again beginning to flourish.

Black Sheep Ale has a bit of history behind it then, and is now 20 years old. I wanted to like it, given the heritage and what it stands for but although it's a well-crafted brew, it's not really to my taste, being a bit too malt-led. The taste was quite toffee-like but nicely crisp at the same time. I found it to be okay but a bit old-fashioned - just the sort of beer your dad would like.

The best bit about it was the the label was very basic and floated right off after a soak in the sink. This means no scraping was needed to clean the bottle up and it's now standing by to receive some of my next batch of amazing homebrew.