Friday, 15 January 2016

Happy New Beers

Hello again, beer fans. I hope you entered the new year with nothing more than a mild hangover? On the ale front, I'm glad we've moved on. Like the tacky songs, Christmas ales tend to be bad for the mental and physical health. Rich and oversweet, so many taste like they've been filtered through a Christmas pudding, when what an IPA addict really wants is sharpness.

So is there anything good kicking round the supermarkets this year, or is it just bottled real ale or eighty cans of Carling for a tenner? Well, some good stuff has been sneaking through, and for me the absolute recent standout has to be Meantime Brewery's India Pale Ale (ABV 7.4%).

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At 7.4% it should be brute, but it's actually deceptively drinkable. It has a zesty, lime nose. Malty caramel in the middle and a juicy, tangerine like sweetness in the mix (yes, I know that sounds odd, but just try it). And like all good IPAs it just keeps working on you with a mouthwatering, bitter finish. This is bold, satisfying stuff.
SUMMARY: Bold, zesty, complex and beautifully balanced.

The trouble with so many IPAs is that they cost so much in comparison to canned beer. But some of the bigger stores are now addressing the niche with their own label craft beers. The evil empire of Tesco now have their tentacles in the brewing vat and nowproduce several own brand IPAs, such as the imaginatively named Tesco India Pale Ale (ABV 4.7%). But is it the real deal?

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Well, it's sort of light and fresh, like the dumb blonde friend of a real IPA at a staff party. Plenty of zest there, clean and bitter but just not quite enough of a punch. But it's still a passable session pale ale for the price
SUMMARY: Affordable IPA that will appeal to most beer drinkers, just nothing exceptional.

If porter is more your thing, however, there are now many more available, just like with the IPAs. Cutthroat Porter will win fans among the angling fraternity just for the bottle. But this American brewed special is more than just a pretty label. It's malty and dead smooth, but with a twist you just don't expect- a sort of ripe, sour, hoppy edge at the end that contrasts beautifully and quite unexpectedly

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SUMMARY: Refreshingly different, this is a real curve ball of a porter.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

An Awesome Foursome

Hello again, beer fans. Another month has flown by, hence it's high time I looked at some more premium neck oils for your drinking pleasure. I don't deliberately only review really good IPAs on this blog, but it just so happens that the last few I've tasted have been of unerringly good -or at least interesting- quality.

I always try to provide a mixture of readily available beers with more far flung choices, because the idea is not to tempt you with stuff that is impossible to buy. Anyway, without further ado, here are four more beers sipped and evaluated:

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We start with a fairly readily available beer this time. On first inspection, I wasn't sure about this one. After all, there are so many old school ales these days, it can be almost impossible to pick that outstanding one off from flat bitters that are as dull as being stuck in a lift with Nigel Mansell. This fits the former category though, it’s fine stuff. Like a solid pub ale, but with a lovely peachy taste, punchy bitterness and just the right balance of sweetness and kick. A meaty finish, but at no point do you hit any rough edges. Really tantalising. Too many real ales have a flat, wooden ending that just sits there. Not the Macaw- this is moreish, tantalising stuff that does more on your tongue.
SUMMARY: Quality pub ale meets top notch fruity IPA. Potent but silly-easy to drink. Delicious.

 photo IPA_NOV15_3_zps9nt0vhjm.jpgAt the rarer, more extreme end of the IPA scale, this one was brought back from a pal travelling in the States. And no, there is no mistake, it really is ten percent proof! But is it drinkable? Let's face it, beers this strength are either really well crafted, or tramp piss.
This is bold, daring and super bitter, with a meaty hoppiness. Big sharpness with a grapefruit edge, but with that crazy strength it also has a home-wrecking, almost whisky-ish dryness at the end. Made for sipping, this one, not session drinking, that's for bloody sure.
SUMMARY: Bold flavours and sharpness, but just too thick and spirit-like at the back for my tastes.

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Sweet as bubble gum, but sharp as glass this stuff. A superbly juicy, fruity tasting middle. Prickly-fizzy too, unlike many ales, but the whole thing hangs together perfectly with a ripe, bitter finish. This is a superb IPA, with that definite something different in the mix. I could drink this stuff all day long.
SUMMARY: Ripe, well carbonated and beautifully balanced. A superb IPA.

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More of these beers are emerging, that take a crowd pleaser like a solid pilsner and whack a twist or two and extra hops into the bargain. A good thing too; these beers are like gateway drugs for those not sure about IPAs and hardcore craft beers.
This has a clean, crisp if unremarkable start, just like a quality lager- but then rather than fizzling out like a pint of pissy Carling, it just grows on you. The middle is punchy and spicy, a hint of apricot and a tang of lime, followed by a tantalizing spiciness and plenty of dry-hopped bitterness to finish. And this is what it has that no lager ever will- a few seconds later, you’re still getting hints of different flavour on your tongue, rather than watery, chemical nothingness.
I polished off some curry with a glass of this and it went absolutely perfectly. It's also a beer you could drink either well chilled or room temperature- bringing out either the fresher pilsner qualities, or warmer for all the spicy, hoppy depth.

SUMMARY: This meaty, fulfilling beer has several layers of interest. About as interesting as pilsner gets- and would appeal to lager heads as well as real ale twats.

TIP: Next time you grab a quality beer straight from the fridge, pour a serving, but leave a portion in the container- or in a smaller glass- and forget about it for half an hour or so. What do you notice about the taste? Quality IPAs and traditional ales can become a totally different beast, gaining new depths. Are craft beers or classic ale best drunk warm or at room temperature? I'm no scientist, but the darker and less fizzy the beer is, the more I'd be inclined to try it a little warmer.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sunday Drinking

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately. Having been on overload lately with the new book and other bits, it's been enough of a challenge just to drink some of the stuff, never mind get more beers reviewed. But today I intend to wind down with a boozy end to the weekend. Yes, I know, it’s not always a great idea. You should be keeping semi sober for the working week ahead. But sometimes you need that last little bite of the weekend- and sometimes the best drop is that cheeky last pint that you shouldn’t have had.

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My first drop is St Peter’s India Pale Ale, anyway. An interesting company this one- organic hops and ingredients, yadda yadda. The bottles themselves look like they could have been designed by a druid. Not that you have to buy it off a druid, because this is a brew you can find in several of the bigger supermarkets. Their organic ale is decent, but I reckoned this might be a bit old school for my tastes (although bonus points for the little history lesson on the bottle, rather than the usual “aren’t we edgy” branding).

Actually, this is good. Quite a zesty nose, and a nice rich ale middle. Quite floral, and nothing like as bold as a new world IPA, but still pleasantly hoppy and with a reasonable hit of bitterness. This has depth, balance and plenty of flavour.

SUMMARY: Nothing crazily daring, but a lovely, balanced flavour to this aromatic, old school IPA.

As for that final Sunday bottle (oh, go on then), I also had my eye on a last little bottle of suspiciously dark character. Nightmare on Bold Street is a milk stout from the Mad Hatter Brewery in Liverpool. In collaboration with Bold Street Coffee, they mix fresh beans into this dark beer.

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It’s more interesting than it sounds too. You can taste that obvious hint of coffee, but there are other layers too- an earthy, sort of licorice quality to it. Other bits you can’t quite place. Beautifully malty too. As a devout IPA fan, I realise that I might be straying from the path, but this is great stuff.

SUMMARY: A really fine alternative stout, with bitter, spicy depth.

Ok, that is probably last orders. Or time for just one more?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Tinnies and a Trojan Horse at Arctangent Festival 2015

Ah, British summer time. The season when it pisses it down, but we still decide to go camping out at festivals and drinking. This year it was Arctangent Festival for me and the other half. What is Arctangent? Basically, it is a loud and refreshingly different celebration of prog rock, post rock and metal. The only hitch is that glass is banned on site. Allegedly for safety reasons, I half suspect that bands such as the Dillinger Escape Plan have a sound that is capable not only of making children cry, but shattering bottled beers. Evil bastards.

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But where does this leave the beer fanatic? Well, with tinnies, obviously. But are they as good as bottled beers? Glass might be my usual choice, but cans are no longer the domain of pissingly average lagers. So what could I get hold of to fill the gap?

Punk IPA is an obvious source of canned goodness. This particular brew is now so popular I've almost been reluctant to review it. But perhaps it's time. I usually get it bottled, and yes I am a fan. A bit like a band that suddenly got too big to be cool though, there has been a bit of backlash among beer snobs who will tell you it's overhopped and overrated.
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I have to say I totally disagree. Today's Punk IPA is allegedly a little less spiky than the original, but this is still up there with the very best of them. And it is no less excellent in a tin. The smell of the stuff alone is intoxicating- sharp, fruity and loaded with flavour. It is beautifully hoppy and fruity, with more than a hint of grapefruit and pineapple. It's like UmBongo for alcoholics. Behind the ripeness though, there is a subtler, malty balance in the middle and a punchy, bitter ad moreish finish. But hey, you knew that already, right?

SUMMARY: This pace setter of IPAs is still one of the best. Twenty cans and a tin of baked beans should provide a male with full nutrition for a three day festival.

Also becoming a conspicuous presence in the craft beer world are Beavertown Brewery. I've tried a few of their brews at Exeter's Beer Cellar and can't remember having a bad one (actually, I can't remember much at all). So how does Gamma Ray IPA from a tin taste?
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The can alone is pretty cool (quite what gun battles and sinister aliens have to do with beer is beyond me), but this is no cleverly packaged mouthful of nothing. This is a cloudy, ginger-gold beer with stacks of flavour. Slightly smoky, nutty and an almost peachy hoppiness to it. Pleasantly unrefined too, like a good farmhouse grog with the punchy, fresh qualities of a good IPA. The only drawback is that it is fairly bloody expensive at over £3 a can.
SUMMARY: Cloudy, punchy, uncompromising beer with a potent mix of flavours.

The third tinned beer of our roundup, All Day IPA from Founders Brewery, is one I hadn't seen before. This is one of a rising number of brews pitched as "session" ales, a bit lighter than the hardcore IPAs. Not bad either. Slightly cloudy, with a rich sort of roasted taste from the off. It also has a pleasant graininess and a hint of apricot in the mix.
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It's fresh tasting and not as insanely spiky or wayward like some of the new craft ales, but has a lingering bitterness and a good bit of punch for a drop that measures in at under 5% proof. You could indeed drink a few of these without falling asleep or getting lairy, which is probably a good thing. Again, quite expensive though at over £3 a can.
SUMMARY: Easy drinking, fresh and flavoursome, this isn't the wildest IPA ever, but extremely palatable and minimal risk of brain damage even after several.

So was the addition of beer necessary to enjoy a rain soaked festival? Bands and musical are a bit like beers: there are plenty that are bland and safe, whose outrageous popularity can largely be put down to marketing. But Arctangent is about those headier acts that dare to do something a bit different. Lots of insane prog rock riffs. Lots of bands who eschew singers in favour of big, fascinating soundscapes. And also some ridiculously grunty metal.

I am not as obsessed with music as I once was, but it was an encouraging event with lots of acts proving that the talent and originality are still out there- it's just that the mainstream isn't listening. Here were my favourite three acts of Arctangent Festival 2015 anyway:
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Trojan Horse (pictured) It is a bit of a travesty I had never heard of this Manchester band. A perfect blend of unpredictable, prog rock riffs along with the sort of melodies that stick in your head like a pleasant hangover. And also a commendably haywire end to the set, with clanging guitars and prone band members. Bands who are this entertaining and funny without being crap are rare and these guys should be much bigger. "Paper Bells" was definitely my track of the festival. "Meat Eater" is even catchier. You can hear both on their website:

65 Days of Static I've seen these chaps several times, and while post-rock isn't always my cuppa, a 65 gig is always a moving, intoxicating experience. For me, they are one of those rare acts who can successfully combine frenetic drum loops and tech wizardy with the urgency and authenticity of a live band. Find out more on their site:

Lite A crap name for a band (sorry), but a really fascinating, experimental and distinctive math rock act. Totally instrumental, with frenetic timing changes, wonderful interplay between band members rather than any egos, and bags of ideas. You can buy their latest album here for 1300 Japanese Yen. I have no idea what this means in pounds- but if you're intrigued do give them a search on YouTube for something refreshingly different.

Righty ho, I'd better get all those empties to the green bins.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

For Bitter or Worse

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Some more interesting brews to pop the cap off this month, after a bit of a break. Apologies for this- but I can assure you it hasn't been for a lack of trying beers. I've been to some more rugged bits of the Jurassic Coast, but also sampled some Polish craft beers along the way, but I'm going to start with a bit of a crowd pleaser.
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Sharp's Atlantic Pale Ale is not a hardcore IPA, but a decent detour from their usual ales, such as the crazily popular Doombar (now probably brewed in China). First impressions are good- it has that fresh, citrus smell and taste. It's got a more hoppy, interesting kick than your typical pub ale too- although the flavour isn't super punchy or out. Balanced, very tasty and not especially bitter, this is an ideal summer ale I would say.

SUMMARY: This is a good, smooth and hoppy summer pale ale. Nothing too risky and not much "edge", but highly drinkable.

A but stingy with my marks? Perhaps, but if you love your craft beers you become just a little bit picky and bloody minded. I object to mainstream beer in the same way I reject to mainstream music. I dislike mass marketed, bland products; I want something more distinctive and original. I don't care if it's not to everyone's taste or even if 90% of people have never heard of it.
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Talking of distinctive, our next beer is just that. Gyle 59 IPA is smaller batch ale from the Jurassic Coast (you'll find it in places like Lyme Regis and, appropriately, Beer). For some reason the bottle and name remind me of a science text book. But taste the stuff and it really gets educational. This has a sharp nose and a really cutting flavour- lime at the back and an intense, piny hoppiness. This is no beer for lager bores or lovers of mild ales. The bitterness is really dry and sharp at the end.
SUMMARY: Sharp, complex and uncompromisingly bitter, this is a treat for the serious IPA drinker.

My other discovery this month has been a revisit to Polish brewing. I had a great time in Wroclaw, looking for breweries and things to sample in the old town, which has gothic spires and Germanic looking beer signs galore. I also noticed the logo of the Spiz Brewery (below). Look carefully at the sign and yes, the logo is a bit bizarre: it is heraldic eagle getting pissed on a tankard of beer.
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They served good, strong lager and dark beers, and also free food with pints- no doubt to pad out the alcohol intake of the stag parties that stagger around these bars. Craft beer brewing in Poland isn't so huge just yet, but I did also find some interesting stuff. Most Brits will have seen the beer Zwiec, for example, but I'd never seen bottles of "APA" before:

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It was a baking hot summer day anyway (around 30 degrees) and the beer was warmish by the time it was imbibed. Proper knock out juice this, too. Beer always has an even more intoxicating affect when you're thirsty and hot. This beer has a sweet first taste, and there's honey somewhere in the middle too (fans of Waggle Dance or any honey ales will know what I mean). It's bitter but not too dry at the end, and spiky enough really linger in the mouth and not to be boring.
IPA Monster Rating: 8/10
SUMMARY: A sweet, spiky ale with more than a hint of honey (at least when drank at "street" temperature).

What else can I say? I tasted a crazy "Valkyrie" craft beer too, which was like a Belgian beer with a weirdly delicious aftertaste of bubble gum. I also had a treat with a homebrew from my girlfriend Paulina's old school friend "Jabba" (meaning "froggy" in Polish). Using smoked rye, this illicit substance was conceived in his very back yard. It was only around 3%, intended for long summer sessions, but very tasty indeed. A very happy trip overall- and even the General got a taste for beer (you can catch his latest bits of nonsense at "Fishing with the General":
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Until next time, keep cool by drinking beer!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Charles Wells DNA New World IPA (and why Norwegian beers kick Aass)

One of the joys of being a craft beer fan is that you can drink your way around the world. For cultural purposes, you know, not just to get pissed. It’s just a shame that even as a bit of an ale freak, you only tend to get a small fraction of the beers out there in your local places. Norway is probably about as famous for beer as England is for wine. But perhaps that’s unfair, because it is probably high Scandinavian taxes rather any lack of quality that prevents some brilliant Viking brews from arriving over here.

I was on a fishing trip with my friends and fellow anglers Geir Sivertzen and Julian Lewis Jones anyway, who know my feelings about beer. The local fishing club introduced us not only to a cabin full of fishing treasures and big mounted pike, but to smoked trout and some good brews.

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The Haandbrygeriet Company (“Hand-Brewed”?) make some crackers too. Their New World IPA is a belter with twelve (yes, twelve!) hops and a really complex, hard hitting bitterness. But perhaps the most refreshing was this Citra-Hop Pale Ale:

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What can I say? A spiky, lemony nose hits you first. The citrus is beautifully pared with the hops and a middle that reminds you a little of an aromatic Belgian beer. A nice bitter finish too, but not too heavy (most beers in Norway stop at 4.7 %, I’m guessing because this is a legal limit before taxes become too high). Cheekily good stuff that Citra IPA, very zesty and boundary clashing, a bit like a Viking screwing a Belgian in a vat of lemon juice.

I’m well aware a lot of you won’t get to try some- but should you get a crack at Norway and a drink or two, there are some great if expensive beers (typically a bottle in the supermarket is £3 at least, a pint in a bar more like £7!). Mack, from Tromso, also make some belters, while the cheaper and hilariously titled “Aass IPA” is also excellent.

But to more familiar territory, I also thought I’d throw you a more easily obtained beer. Dogfish Head Brewery win marks for the most eye-meltingly bright bottle with their DNA New World IPA. It’s sort of horrid and great at the same time.
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The beer is what I would call a session IPA. Nice and sweet at the start, with a hoppy but subtle edge. It’s really nutty and refreshing in the middle too. And while you get a bit of that distinct IPA bitterness at the end, it’s not overpowering. Light for this type of beer, but I can see real ale fans enjoying this one, besides the hardcore beer fans.

SUMMARY: Well hopped but not OTT, this is a light, nutty and thoroughly tasty IPA.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Harbour IPA / the "Hair of the Dog" test

Welcome to another beer blog that takes a good swig of IPA, along with a rather curious quality test you can try on your own favourite brews. More on that later, but this weekend's sample is a tipple from Cornwall's Harbour Brewing Co. Some superb drinks are coming out of Kernow at the moment, even a Devonian would have to admit, with the likes of Firebrand and Penpont Brewery producing some excellent craft beers.
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I'd spotted Harbour IPA in the local supermarket, as opposed to the local craft beer bar. No bad thing, because as well as the unusual stuff, I would like to review plenty of beers you can get hold of yourself without needing to visit some kind of ale alchemist. Having already tried Harbour Light Ale and found it to be superb, hopes were high for this stronger, bigger brother in the range.

I chilled it for a while before having a taste. It might be fussy, but this sometimes has to be done with caution because some beers lose flavour when they're too cold. Lightly chilled is a good general rule for IPA. On first impressions, this golden beer has a tangy, piny sort of nose. The flavour is robust to put it mildly- deep, nutty malts and a sort of roasted flavour. And then you get the sharp, almost sour hit at the back that reminds you of lime, along with a real assault of bitterness. This is not a beer for the casual drinker.

Even for an IPA, that bitterness is heavy and the finish is very dry. I have to say, while the taste is complex and has interest, I found the finish a bit too overpowering. Even for an IPA addict, I just didn't quite find the sweetness or malt there to balance things out. It's a subjective game this beer-tasting, but it wasn't quite for me. I don't want to knock any brewery for creating something different that wants to pick a fight with the tastebuds rather than pissing about flavourlessly. But I much prefer Harbour Light Ale to this.

SUMMARY: A bold, biting IPA with a tangy middle but a bit too overpowering in terms of dry bitterness.

The Hair of the Dog Test

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Have you ever woken up in a strange surroundings, dazed, confused and worse for wear from the night before? Sick as a dog even? After a night of one too many, the morning after can throw a whole new light on reality itself. Everything is changed. The truth creeps out and it rarely smells good. That discarded kebab is no longer a hot, delicious snack but something to make your stomach churn. Similarly, that half finished glass of beer is flat and tasteless… or is it?

The hair of the dog test cuts through a lot of the usual bullshit that hides the flaws of beers. Ok, your typical beverage might taste fine when it's ice cold, fizzy and the sixth of the evening. But what about in the cold light of the morning, at room temperature? I defy you to take a swig of any lager in this perilous state and tell me it's still palatable. Other beers, however, can be a different story. Now, you might have to take a leap of faith with me on this one, but next time you enjoy your favourite ale, pour yourself a glass of it but leave just a little in the bottle as a tester for later.

The results of this test might just surprise you. Many IPAs will retain a lot of their quality minus bubbles and any chilling. Here's something even crazier- you might find the flavour is actually a bit fuller at room temperature and flatter than Norfolk. It speaks volumes about a beer if still tastes good the day after. Some of you might not think this possible, but I dare you to try it.