Thursday, 20 February 2014

Brewdog 5am Saint at the Beer House, Waterloo

I've always found Brewdog's "punk brewers" schtick a bit annoying to be honest - I don't doubt that the world of ale needs livening up, but their crass publicity campaigns and "gritty urban" approach just gets my goat. This has always led to an unnatural bias against their products - I don't like the company, I steadfastly refuse to like their product. Silly, I know.

Yesterday I was facing a train delay at Waterloo and took the opportunity to pop into the Beer House, the new underground pub on the revamped station concourse. It claimed a broad range of beers - in truth, I saw Abbott on the pumps and shivered with fear - but then noticed 5am Saint on the tap and thought I'd give it a go.

Well. I'm an idiot. This is one of the best pints I've ever had. Hoppy, bitter, citrus with caramel undertones - tasty in ways my limited vocabulary cannot quite describe - it was unbelievably good. This is the best pint I've had this year and quite frankly I think I'll struggle to challenge that in the next 10 months. Tonight I walked past the bar on my way home from work - as I do every night - and had to focus really, really hard not to go and have another one. As I will every night from now on.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Little homebrew improvements

This is just a quick post to record a few small but important upgrades I made recently to my brew equipment.

The first was a temperature controller I made a few weeks ago. It's absolutely critical to producing good beer, to maintain the temperature at the right level throughout fermentation. Yeast hates variations in temperature.

Up until now, I'd been putting the fermentation vessels into a small room and relying on keeping the air temperature as constant as possible. I'd done this by turning fan heaters on and off and opening and closing doors and windows. It was as hit-and-miss as it sounds.

I decided to sort it out and made an electronic temperature control unit, copying this design. The unit is based around this little device, which I bought off Ebay:

The screen displays the temperature of the fermenting beer, via a temperature probe mounted in the wall of the tank. You simply set the desired temperature and when it gets too cold it switches on a heating circuit and when it gets too hot it switches on a cooling circuit. It's currently cool enough to operate only the heating circuit and rely on the ambient room temperature to do the cooling.

This is my current fermentation set-up, with the FV on the left. It's wrapped in a foam jacket, to regulate the temperature losses and is sat on a 40W electric heating mat. The heat mat is plugged into the heating circuit on the controller, which is the grey box to the right. The clear vessel in the middle is being purged with CO2, ready for use as a conditioning tank later on.

I also came to the conclusion that my boiler wasn't quite getting hot enough to produce a proper rolling boil. It was always a bit weedy really, so I wrapped a bit of foam around it to reduce heat loss through the sides. This worked brilliantly and meant that I had a nice vigorous boil.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Beavertown - Black Betty

I do like a nice black IPA and that's exactly what this is. It was quite light on the carbonation though. There was just enough but if I was being super-critical, I'd have liked a touch more. The aroma was delicious, with citra leading the way. It's probably the nicest nose I've come across in a black IPA.

The taste was delicious too. I'd say liquorice was quite a predominant flavour but to be fair, it was quite complex and there was plenty going on, with a nice, balanced amount of everything.

One thing I noticed was how smooth it was, with really fine bubbles like you get in cask beer. I'm not sure how they get that to happen in bottled beer but it was very nice.

This made me want to brew another batch of black IPA. Black Betty is an extremely good example of the style and I'll keep it in mind during my next brew.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Northern Monk - Strannik

At the moment, Mrs Nelly and I are renovating a house. This is great, except for the regular visits to furniture shops. Last weekend saw a visit to Arighi Bianchi in Macclesfield, to look at sofas we can't afford. This had two main redeeming features - firstly, it's better than going to Ikea and secondly, it was only a short walk to Brewtique, a specialist beer shop which opened last year.

Brewtique was quite posh really, with a stone floor and nice shelving. Some considerable effort had clearly gone into fitting it out. The selection was just right too, with a wide range of craft beers available to suit every pocket. I picked out one I'd been wanting to try for a while - Strannik by Northern Monk.

At 9%, Strannik is a mighty, robust imperial stout. It's made with various types of roasted malt and brown sugar, to ramp up the ABV. I'll be quite honest and admit that my knowledge of stouts isn't particularly extensive. I'd certainly never had one quite like this before.

The taste is a full-on assault, with the rich roasted flavours leaping out at you. It seemed that if you thought about it enough, just about every flavour was there. Coffee, chocolate and liquorice all made an appearance, I'm sure.

Mrs Nelly had a sip and said, "It's like Marmite." "Oh, you mean you either love it or hate it?" I replied. "No, I mean it's actually like Marmite", she said. I took another sip and could see what she meant.

Overall, I did love it, although Strannik is a beer you'd keep on the top shelf and treat yourself to on special occasions. I may well get another few bottles and do just that.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Pressure Drop - Bosko IPA

This had a really nice aroma, which I had as Amarillo, although I may be wrong. It was a very nice 6.5% ale and the carbonation was just right. The main thing that struck me though, was that the colour was too dark for an IPA, which is what it is described as. As far as I'm concerned an IPA should be fairly pale but this was a kind of dark amber colour. Still, it was very nice.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Brewdog - Hardcore Imperial IPA

The loudmouthed Scots do cop a bit of flack in craft brewing circles. Some criticism is deserved but some is rather unfairly directed, in my opinion. Frankly, I'm not too interested in the politics but one thing's for sure, Brewdog still know how to make cracking beer.

Hardcore IPA is proof of that and at 9.2%, it's a bloody brilliant. It's the kind of beer that makes you go "oof!" when you take the first gulp. It's big all round. A monster IPA with a great hop profile and that lovely, warming alcohol feeling that only comes from high ABV beers.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Kernel - Amarillo Pale Ale

This was really good. Not an in-your-face hop bomb or anything, but well-made and balanced. I love Amarillo and with this 5.6% pale, The Kernel have showcased the hop in a subtle way.

A Dent in a beery universe

The end of January saw our annual beer-tasting/fell-walking trip to the sweet village of Dent, confusingly in Cumbria despite being in the Yorkshire Dales, and home to at least two breweries (and, perhaps more importantly, our friend's mum's spare house).

For me, it's a long old journey up there on the train, although a spectacular one on the Settle-Carlisle railway. I stopped off at Leeds for an hour en route and thought I should take my first pint of the weekend at the legendary Scarborough Hotel at the station. I chose a Huna Red from the Stubby Republic brewery in Dorset - thought it sounded interesting.

And you know what? Interesting it was. Fruity and flowery - I've written "hibiscus" here, which sounds remarkably poncey - but sweet and hoppy, albeit a little flat and with a short ending. The Scarborough Hotel is a Victorian style traditional boozer - all wood carvings and ornate decoration - and on a Friday afternoon full of the 50+ ale drinking clientele, many sporting superb beards.

I got back on the train and headed for Dent. A couple of hours later I was sat in the George and Dragon awaiting my first sip of Dent Aviator, the local brew.
Well. "Yuck" was my first reaction. I've had Aviator regularly and it's generally been ok, but this was absolutely vile. Horrendously malty with a sour, ropey aftertaste; I could barely finish it (I did, obvs). Not sure whether it's the brewery at fault or the pub, which with every passing year seems to diminish. Next I tried a Dent Porter, just to see if I'd been unlucky. Now I like a good porter but this was not a good porter - my tasting notes say "sour, minging, I feel ill".

At this point we sacked off the George and Dragon as a bad lot and headed across the road to the Sun Inn. What a revelation! The pub looks unchanged since about 1880 (this is a good thing, of course) with a roaring fire and people with beards (that was just the women, etc) - and a range of ales. First up was Kirby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold. Maybe it was just the bad beer in the G&D, but this was superb - blonde, hoppy, tonnes of lemon zest and grapefruit - delicious. Let's be honest here - it was a summer ale and we were quaffing it in a storm in January, but what the hell - it was lovely.

After a few pints of that we headed home and Nelly cracked out a crate of his homebrew. First up for me was Mandrake. It's a black ale with, um, a mango flavour. Now I like mango and I like ale, so this seemed a good combination - but perhaps on the back of six pints previously and a long day I just found this hard work. It was good, sure, but personally I found it hard going.

However, I'm no quitter, and so I headed back to the box and pulled out a Kiwi, a 5.4% New Zealand Pale Ale. Now we're talking! This is the real deal - a fruity, hoppy, well carbonated pale ale. I really enjoyed this one and not only stuck to it for the rest of the night (until I hit the Glenmorangie) but a couple of bottles even found their way up the mountain the next day. 
This was one of Nelly's entries in the Craft Beer Co Homebrew awards. It didn't win, but I'm intrigued to see what the feedback is. It's superb, and you'd be delighted if you were served this in a pub.

Our long walk ended in the nearby (er, by car, not by foot) market town of Sedbergh. This Pennine metropolis is stuffed full of posh kids from the nearby public school stiffly entertaining visiting parents in sterile caf├ęs, but we were looking for the Perfect Post-Walk Pub - roaring fire, amazing beer, you get the picture.

We ended up in the Red Lion. Despite its age and external appearance, it certainly wasn't welcoming - we walked in, dripping wet, to be told they were shutting soon so don't get comfortable. We had some beer - it was good, but I don't know what it was (perhaps Jennings?) - then again anything would've tasted good after a 12km walk in a howling gale and driving rain. It was by the by, as they kicked us out after two 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. Why, you fools, why?? Oh, and the tacky topless postcards behind the bar need to be sent back to the 70s. Grow up.

Anyway. We were sent to find a pub called the Dalesman. This was a complete change - really stunningly decorated inside to an extreme high-quality - but they wouldn't light the wood-burning stove for us. Miserable sods. They had their own beer - cunningly named Dalesman Ale - and it was sodding awful; Dan had a sample, pulled a face, and ordered a Guinness. The landlady looked most affronted and pointed out that "it's marvellous stuff, that; bloody lovely". I felt guilty and ordered a pint. Piss. Overly malty and beyond redemption. We left. They weren't sad to see us go.

Next stop was the Bull Hotel. Sadly the bar area is done out like a hotel lobby, eg wide drafty spaces and uncomfortable tables. It's all a little tired. On the plus side - Timothy Taylor Landlord! Like an old lover it grasped me in its creamy arms and we danced away the dampness of the afternoon. I haven't had Landlord for ages and this was really, really good - sweet, golden, hoppy, silky-smooth. Finally some joy on a dismal day.

After that it was back to the house (via Cumbria's grumpiest cab driver) for curry and a big fight over the remaining bottles of Kiwi, before slumping in front of the fire and sleeping it all off. Marvellous.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Odell - St Lupulin Extra Pale

My notes are less than extensive here - "herbal, spicy hops" is all that's written in my little beer notebook. I do seem to remember though, that this 7% ale was strongly hopped but it wasn't solely floral and citrusy, there was a bit more complexity to the taste. It was quite a light colour and if my memory serves me, really nice.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Weird Beard - Amarillo Belgian IPA

Weird Beard are one of my favourite UK breweries, mainly because they make some quite unusual beers and they like a good bit of carbonation. With this 7.5% offering, they've really excelled themselves on those two counts.

First, the carbonation. Now, I like my beer to be cold and fizzy but this was way over the top. It had to be poured in a few stages, allowing the foamy head to recede between pours. When that happens, I reckon the carbonation is just too high. Rather than being a pleasure, just pouring yourself a glass of this is rather a faff. Easing off on the carbonation would be of benefit here, and I don't often find myself saying that.

That aside, this is a really interesting brew. The Belgian yeast flavours were strongly evident, sitting right alongside orangey, citrus hop notes. This made for a very unusual beer as you don't normally get big hop tastes and Belgian yeast together, but it kind of worked.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Pressure Drop - Pale Fire

This 4.8% pale ale was a good start to my Ales by Mail case. It was solid enough, with a tart hop character, if somewhat unspectacular. I really like Pressure Drop's branding, which features a different piece of artwork for each beer. The logo's pretty cool, too.

Ales by Mail

Like it or not, there's a limit to how many fancy craft beers it's possible to find by simply going to supermarkets and local bottle shops. Waitrose is okay, Booths is better but the beer selection in Tesco is mind-numbingly awful.

The fact is, there are no beers available in the nearby supermarkets that I either haven't tried yet or am remotely interested in having. The local specialist beer shops are better but even they can't stock everything.

This post is a bit late but in December, with Christmas approaching, I decided a mail-order beer delivery was the way forward.

Twelve bottles of finest craft ale arrived on my doorstep, courtesy of Ales by Mail (in conjunction with Father Christmas). The service was great and delivery fast. It's so exciting for a beer snob like me, to have these beauties lined up at home ready to be drunk. I highly recommend it.

I'll definitely be buying beer this way in the future, when finances allow! I had a very nice time indeed drinking them and will post the individual tasting notes over the next few days.