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.