Friday, 14 August 2015 07:16

Toasting the Mancunian summer

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Fourpure summer beers

By now I'm sure you're aware it's grim oop north.

When we're not cowering beneath a leaden sky or sheltering from the persistent drizzle, we're usually complaining about something trivial.

But a strange thing happened over the past week. An unusual golden circle emerged from between the clouds and it suddenly became very warm - apparently this phenomenon is called summer.

So, I took the whippet down to the local park and toasted this strange occurrence with a couple of beers designed especially for the occasion. Given we struggle with the concept of summer, I looked to London for inspiration and found two perfect candidates from Fourpure. How's that for collaboration across the north/south divide?

In the early days, I'll admit I found their beers uninspiring and sometimes bland but I get the feeling they have spent the time since honing recipes and perfecting process - to the point where they are producing some of the most reliable beer in the capital.

There might not be anything remarkable about their range but, equally, they don't ever seem produce the kind of murky, muddy beers that have become a blight on London brewing.

 

Fourpure Dry Hop Pils, 4.7% ABV

The Dry Hop Pils is a great example of what they do well. It's clean, crisp and bright and delivers outstanding clarity of flavour.

On the nose, it's a typical German pils, spicy, grassy Saaz hops launching from a dusty cereal base but the taste provides another dimension.

Although it starts with a hit of floral hops, crispness slices cuts quickly from one corner of the mouth to the other, allowing a grassy, herbal bitterness to emerge. This bitterness is then kept in check by a glow of ripe fruit, peach, apricot and tangerine softening any jagged edges.

A dash of lime juice precedes a bone dry finish containing lingering flavours of orange zest and faint cereal, alongside the returning herbal bitterness.

 

Skyliner Wheat, 4.8% ABV

The Skyliner Wheat is perhaps less sophisticated than the Dry Hop Pils but just screams summer. It's the kind of beer you could happily knock back all afternoon while piling cheap meat on the barbecue and cultivating a lobster tan.

Also unlike the Pils, it doesn't doff its cap to German tradition despite the suggestion in the name, falling into the white IPA category rather than a typical hefeweizen.

The aroma isn't far off stuffing your snout into a bag of Haribo, in that the fruity smells seem unnaturally vivid and sweet, ringing clear as a bell. It starts with potent double act of mango and orange, but waves of peach, passion fruit and orange zest follow, underpinned by creamy cookie dough.

The taste follows suit - smooth, creamy mango and peach slathering the palate like an indulgent fromage frais. But this initial sweet creaminess is counteracted by a dry, airy finish with just a lick of zesty bitterness, helping it to slip down with consummate ease. A stab of sharp lime and liberal helpings of lemon zest are followed by a lasting floral character, sprinkled with pepper.

The balance of fruity and creamy with bitter and dry makes it perfect for those hot days when perpetual thirst takes hold. In fact, I could have summed all this up by saying when the sun's out you'll want to drink this by the bucketload.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 11:57

BrewDog Born to Die 04.07.2015

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Brewdog Born To DieBrewDog Born to Die 04.07.2015, 8.5% ABV

Myself and BrewDog enjoy what might best be described as an uneasy relationship.

At their worst, their antics bring me out in hives. The incessant agitation, ham-fisted hoopla and silly stunts - all of it might make good PR but so often feels totally unnecessary.

Yet when they let the beer do the talking, as is the case with Dead Pony Club, I'm left utterly captivated by their epicurean oratory.

Born To Die has a foot in each camp. It's definitely a neat marketing trick, modelled on Stone's Enjoy By IPA, but is also executed with the kind of skill only harnessed by a master of their craft.

That inherent BrewDog-ness is stamped all over it - a distinctive, punchy character that runs through all their pales.

In the aroma, it's a big smack of tropical fruit jellied sweets, a smell that seems artificial - only in the sense it feels far too vivid, too vibrant to be natural.

That aroma of jellied pineapple and passion fruit hangs heavily in the background, while pungent pine punches through the nostrils and orange zest slashes with the sharpness of a cutthroat razor.

The beer is wonderfully clear and golden, dazzling like a chunk of quartz when it catches the light, and this clarity carries through into the taste. Despite being 8.5% ABV, Born To Die is stunningly clean, crisp and dry, drinking like a beer of half its strength and delivering a satisfying "ahhh" with every gulp.

Rather than relying on caramel to provide sweetness, it instead draws it from juicy tropical fruits - pineapple cubes, green mango and the tang of passion fruit, buzzing with energetic piquancy.

Before long an arid dryness plants itself on the palate, punctuated by biting orange pith, pine and the kind of bitterness that might come from chewing a good handful of parsley.

This finish reignites a thirst previously quenched, while a little residual mango provides a tantalising reminder of the juicy satisfaction supplied in that initial hit.

You can't give it any greater praise than it leaves you feeling like you've never had your fill. It's one of the most easily enjoyable IPAs in recent memory and a beer that doesn't disappoint, even in this era of the ever-increasing lupulin threshold.

But, at the back of my mind, there's still that nagging thought that it's good marketing first and good beer second.

The promotional blurb claimed Born To Die prefers 'to check out in its prime and flavoursome best, rather than to live an induced, bland and tasteless life.' So, is that mundane existence the inevitable destiny of any beer without an expiration date? And, by extension, shouldn't Dead Pony Club, Punk IPA or Jackhammer also be born to die?

I know I'm being slightly facetious but it does raise a few questions, possibly more around supply chain and retail standards than about BrewDog themselves.

If all IPAs are supposed to be enjoyed like Born To Die, then shouldn't breweries be doing more to ensure the beer reaches the consumer within the required time period or else pull back on the amount of hop-forward pales they produce?

Freshness is one of the big advantages British-produced beer has over imports from the US and elsewhere, so it frustrating to find so many beers still reaching the consumer in less than optimum condition.

It would be refreshing if brewers gave greater prominence to the suggested 'drink by' date for their products and, more pressingly, retailers paid heed to their own responsibilities within this process.

Until that happens, at least Born To Die takes its place among the better examples of what can be done.

Saturday, 16 May 2015 10:25

Manchester's brewing worlds collide

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Green Quarter collab brew 2What is the consequence when two worlds collide?

A 5.5% IPA made with a blend of English and American hops, apparently.

At least, that was the outcome when three distinct generations of Manchester brewers came together earlier this week.

It's rare that a traditional family brewer should cross paths with one of the modern movement's young upstarts - and even rarer they should brew together - which makes this experiment all the more intriguing.

Joseph Holt represented Manchester's old guard at the special brewday, Marble flew the flag for the first generation of modern 'craft' breweries, while Blackjack and Runaway signified the new wave of bold micros.

All four breweries are based in Manchester's Green Quarter - an area to the north of the city centre and south of Cheetham Hill - and the idea for collaboration emerged as a result of the upcoming MCR Brew Expo.

One commemorative brew had already been created for the event by the nine organising new school brewers but, in the spirit of true collaboration, the three from the Green Quarter believed it only right they extend the hand of friendship to their vaunted neighbours.

Mark Welsby, head brewer at Runaway said: "We had been talking about a Green Quarter brew for a while but it dawned on me that, if we were going to do a collaboration, why wouldn't we invite Holt's?

"They're established and have the tradition around here so it would seem wrong to leave them out. We thought it would be a nice way to introduce ourselves, as much as anything else.

"Although MCR Brew Expo is about celebrating the growth of the scene in this city, we thought it was important to celebrate Manchester's heritage too."

Although the idea seemed slightly pie in the sky at first, it very quickly gathered momentum.

"We had already done an Expo beer but none of the big brewers got invited to that, which I thought was a shame," said Matt Howgate, head brewer for Marble, who hosted the brew.

"I knew Phil (Parkinson, head brewer at Joseph Holt) because I'd met him at a couple of IBD dinners and we've also visited Holt's before and they were very welcoming with us.

"So I thought this was the perfect time to do a beer with them, especially because the MCR Brew Expo is being split by geography - the Piccadilly brewers and then us in the Green Quarter.

"I wasn't confident Phil would do it but when I approached him, he was really keen. It doesn't matter whether you're a big brewer or a small brewer, it's the type of industry where most people are happy to share secrets."

The resulting beer, named Green Quarter, will be available in cask and keg and the recipe was developed with a nod to Manchester's brewing history.

Green Quarter collab brew 1

Its hopping schedule mirrors the timeline for when each of the collaborating brewers was established. Joseph Holt chose the bittering hop, traditional English variety Goldings, while Marble and Blackjack selected Amarillo and Summit respectively to go in at the back end of the boil.

Runaway will then add Mosaic to the fermenter, in greater volume than the dry hop for each of Marble's existing hop-forward beers, Dobber, Earl Grey and Lagonda.

For Phil Parkinson of Holt's, it represents a significant departure from the usual routine but one he would be happy to repeat.

He said: "I've been at Holt's for seven months so it's definitely the first collaboration of this kind we've done in that time.

"It's great to be invited. Everyone's got an opinion on it on what craft beer is but, to us, it's craft beer as long as care has gone into it and we would consider that we fall under that.

"There's a lot of people that would disagree but it's nice to be invited to be a part of this, so we can say 'we're all craft'.

"There is room for both, particularly because we both serve different markets. Hopefully this won't be the last time we do something like this."

Green Quarter will debut at next weekend's MCR Brew Expo, which runs on Saturday, May 23 and Sunday, May 24 at venues across the city. Visit the MCR Brew Expo website for more information.

Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:05

The pride of Manchester: Runaway Brewery

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Runaway IPAIn Manchester, we like to do things at our own pace.

A new brewery has opened every three minutes for the past five years in London (*this figure may be statistically inaccurate) but only now has Manchester decided to hop on the bandwagon.

Maybe we didn't want to seem too keen - after all, it would have been proper sad to rush straight in after those Cockney hipsters - maybe we wanted to arrive fashionably late, or maybe we just couldn't be arsed, in true Mancunian fashion.

No matter the whats and wherefores, a string of new breweries have either opened or announced their intention to open over the past year.

Possibly the best of the bunch is Runaway.

There's nothing especially unique or innovative about the beers this city centre brewery is churning out but there is a strong sense of reliability running throughout their range.

And this kind of consistency goes a long way in a market that has become characterised by wild inconsistency and untamed experimentation.

It's not that there's anything at all wrong with craft brewers raising a middle finger to convention, it's just that sometimes I want to know exactly what I'm getting.

That doesn't mean Runaway's beers are bland or middle of the road, just that each one seems to be an accomplished interpretation of the intended style.

 

Runaway IPA, 5.5%

The IPA, in particular, has the potential to be Manchester's Gamma Ray - that faithful fridge-filler which never fails to offer easy refreshment without making any compromises on taste.

It bursts with aroma and taste, zinging the senses with a killer combination of citrus, sweet tropical fruit and floral perfume.

As you dip your nose into the glass for the first time, you're dragged in deeper by welcoming smells of soft, ripe peach and passion fruit before experiencing a slightly surprising tickle of floral blossom. Grapefruit and orange zest round off the nose, hinting at the supreme refreshment to follow.

And that refreshment hits like a wake-up call from a bucket of water to the face.

It starts with the pop of pink grapefruit and lime, so vivid you'd swear you were bursting ripe, juicy segments between the teeth one-by-one. There follows a burst of effervescent sweetness, reminiscent of the moment you've sucked your way to the centre of a lemon sherbet, before it fades to leave the fragrant tropical flavour of lychee, alongside pine and floral hops.

It finishes with the metallic twang of watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a dry finish characterised by a light, pithy bitterness and the zing of orange and grapefruit peel. All of that is underpinned by a grainy, airy cereal base that makes this less hefty than a lot of IPAs and perhaps more easily enjoyable as a result.

Runaway Pale Ale 4.7%

The pale isn't quite as distinctive as the IPA but is tasty enough, yet unchallenging enough, to be guzzled by the bucket-load without having to decipher every single taste that hits the palate. On which note, I can supply the bucket if Runaway are happy to provide the beer.

In the nose, flashes of tinned pineapple and mango are soon overtaken by a rush of fresh pink grapefruit and yellow grapefruit rind.

The first mouthful provides a rush of grapefruit juice that leaves you licking the insides of your mouth like a dog that's gorged itself on sticky malt loaf.

Light caramel provides the glue that holds everything together as tart citrus makes way for pine and a firm zesty bitterness, combining tangerine and grapefruit peel. The finish is so clean and crisp it leaves you dreaming of summer days that will never come amid the persistent rain of beautiful Mancunia.

 

Runaway American Brown Ale

Runaway American Brown Ale, 5.7%

The American Brown Ale retains the easy drinkability of Runaway's two pales and offers a welcome take on a style.

As you'd expect, there's a good malt presence but not one that runs roughshod over all the other flavours, allowing the beer to stay fairly fresh and airy.

Sherbet orange and zest are prominent on the nose, jumping above a general waft of brown toast, pine and the odd twang of roast cacao nibs.

Juicy orange and grapefruit lend tartness to the taste without any of the usual accompanying bitterness, playing alongside more earthy flavours and firm, nutty malt.
Although it starts reasonably dry, it becomes even drier in the lead up to the finish, brown toast, bitter chocolate and light charcoal only accentuating that arid, ashy mouthfeel.

Grapefruit and pine rear their heads again in the finish to leave a pleasant mix of contrasting flavours to linger in the aftertaste.

There's definitely something to be said for steady reliability and Runaway are making that case well.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014 11:14

Rooster's High Tea

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Roosters High TeaRooster's High Tea, 6.2% ABV

Bottle from the House of Trembling Madness, York

I spend the majority of my working week knocking back cups of tea and the majority of my weekend chucking beer down my throat.

Dark and strong tends to be my modus operandi in both cases and I'm rarely the first up to get the drinks in for everyone else.

But despite any similarities, it's always been a case of never the twain shall meet.

Tea is a pick me up at that time of the day when it's impossible to countenance a beer, while beer is for every other occasion.

At least that was the status quo until Rooster's threw everything into disarray by doing something stupid like putting tea into beer. And green tea at that. The type of tea people only drink because they're told it's good for them, right?

Bizarrely, it works a treat, blowing away my initial cynicism with its first jasmine-scented gust, the soft, sweet floral aroma knitting well with grapefruit, orange rind and damson.

The slick, oily body is firm enough to ensure the different flavours remain balanced, yet soft enough to allow the delicate perfumes to sing.

An initial, light sweetness of meadow honey accentuates notes of juicy tangerine until jasmine and rose emerge, skipping playfully across the palate. These floral notes probably come from the fact it wasn't any old tea they threw into the beer but rather jasmine green tea from the renowned Taylors of Harrogate.

Assertove orange and grapefruit rind bully their way into the equation before a wash of tart lemon paves the way for an astringent finish laced with the tannic bitterness of green tea.

In terms of showcasing the flavours of the tea, it does a better job than Marble's Earl Grey IPA without overdoing the experiment. A pint of char anyone?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 11:14

Magic Rock x Lervig Farmhouse IPA

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Magic Rock Lervig Farmhouse IPAMagic Rock and Lervig Farmhouse IPA, 6% ABV

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield

Orval is irreplaceable.

It's a classic, an institution, a monumental beer that looms majestically large above the large majority of others.

But it's also 83 years old and isn't it reasonable to expect your granddad to replace the flat cap, cardigan and brown corduroys with a set of new threads at some point?

Even the most revered and celebrated works of Shakespeare can stand an update now and then, so perhaps nothing is sacred. Just ask Baz Luhrmann.

OK, bad example. Maybe Orval doesn't need modernising but without even trying to do so, Magic Rock and Lervig appear to have created a beer that feels very much like a contemporary take on this classic.

It's similarly complex yet drinkable, unfussy yet indulgent and builds on the key elements that make Orval stand out - hop character and Brett conditioning.

Where it differs is that it's heavily informed by modern methods and appears to be an IPA at core, using heaps of Citra and Centennial hops to achieve the desired flavour profile.

But, although it's called a Farmhouse IPA, much like Orval it doesn't slot neatly into a strict style definition. It's neither IPA nor saison, it just is what it is.

The Brettanomyces yeast lands an extra dimension on top of the hop-forward IPA base that makes it feel somehow timeless - an element that will only be accentuated if given time to age.

It's a hazy, light golden beer with an aroma that reminded me of childhood Saturdays spent on a football field, segments of juicy half-time orange combining with the kind of fruit jellies I'd get from the tuck shop in a white paper bag to soften the disappointment of inevitable defeat.

These notes pop out of the glass followed by a clean breeze of clove, white pepper and rough earthiness.

It's light and airy in the mouth, aided by a thin, lively carbonation that really helps to bring out the best in the different flavours.

The initial fruitiness lands like a slap to the face, causing you to stop instantly and take notice. Sharp orange and grapefruit skewer the palate, leaving a tingling tartness on the side of the tongue.

A clean, zesty bitterness arrives quickly, accentuating the crisp flavours and travels nimbly across the palate, as if carried on the back of a firm spring breeze.

In the middle of the tongue, tinned mango and tamarind momentarily add a sweeter touch before the door is slammed shut by a swiftly descending dryness.

Spice tangles with pithy bitterness throughout the long finish, which leaves you perpetually wanting - no, needing - more.

It's not Orval but I like it. A lot.

Thursday, 15 May 2014 11:54

Wiper and True Amber Ale (Red Orange)

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Wiper and True Amber Ale Red OrangeWiper and True Amber Ale (Red Orange), 5.1% ABV

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield

People are often puzzled why I spend so much time discussing, drinking and thinking about beer.

General consensus seems to be that a simple drink shouldn't have so much bearing on life in general.

But beer is more than just beverage.

Given our senses are capable of provoking a powerful emotional response, the best beers can transport us to different times and places - in the mind, at least.

An otherwise dull night on the sofa can be transformed into a flood of memories, dreams and fairytales when a beer is at hand, especially by the time you've sunk several.

My first taste of Wiper and True was a perfect example of this phenomenon and the new Bristol brewery has quickly demonstrated an impressive understanding of the drinking experience by creating a well-judged concept and absolutely nailing the execution.

The first sniff and sip of this instantly whisked me to a lush Italian orange grove, helping me to believe, for just one minute, that I was basking in the Mediterranean sun rather than soaking in the Manchester rain.

It pours a heavy, burnt amber, the colour of a deep, foreboding sunset across a clear night sky, with a persistent off-white head that hangs on to the bitter end.

The aroma is wonderfully dank, fuzzy orange, the sweetness of tangerine and sharpness of zest mingling above a heavy bed of pine and grass.

In the mouth, light caramel and dusty cereal provide the base, which is non-obtrusive but still firm enough to allow the other flavours to sing.

A squeeze of tangy, tart blood orange washes over the front of the tongue, providing a soft juiciness that quickly becomes more sweet and compact, like biting into segments of tangerine and satsuma.

Earthy, rustic flavours of pine and hay build alongside a pithy bitterness before a zesty flourish bursts through the dry finish, leaving a cluster of prickling peppery spice.

The flavours are so vivid and expressive that it's impossible not to let your mind wander and, even now, I can still see the over-burdened orange trees, lush greenery and rugged mountainous scenery.

I'm expecting every Wiper and True beer to help me realise a similar level of transcendence.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 10:38

A weird beard means weird beer

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Weird Beard Dark HopflerWeird Beard Dark Hopfler, 2.5% ABV

Something Something Dark Side, 9% ABV

Bottles from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield

When your name's weird and your beard's weird, there's a fair chance your beers will be too.

But when I say weird, I mean it in the nicest possible sense of the word. Boldly unique rather than unnervingly creepy.

This pair are two dark beers that don't really taste like typical dark beers. In fact, it's very difficult to put your finger on what the hell either of them actually are - an ambiguity captured perfectly in the name of Something Something Dark Side.

Forget neatly boxed stouts and porters that play by the rules, these two are rabble rousers that clearly favour anarchy over structure and style guidelines.

To underline this point, Dark Hopfler is billed as the 'bastard son' of Weird Beard's Sadako imperial stout, a bizarre small beer created from its daddy's second runnings. It's ostensibly a dark milk ale - with lactose added to accentuate the various flavours -  but why put a label on something created without regard for the usual 'rules'.

It looks like a glass of black coffee, dense and dark, although capped with a soft, fluffy brown head.

The aroma is pretty unusual, a real shock to the system, with skunky citrus hops slashing in from one side and bitter roasted malt from the other. Those hops are vivid too, full of orange, pine, grass, nettle and light, playful floral notes.

Given the prominence of hops in the aroma, there's another surprise when malt instantly announces itself on the palate, the astringent bitterness of roasted malt and burnt toast standing alongside chalky cocoa and black coffee.

But a tug of war then commences between these flavours and those pesky hops, which are equal parts earthy, tart and tangy, blackcurrant tangled among wild flowers and herbs.

The lactose addition smoothes off any rough edges, preventing the bitterness from taking control and helping to extend the fruity sweetness into the finish.

Grass and nettle emerge as the palate dries but charcoal builds as the arid finish really sets in and cocoa throbs strongly while a peppery spice tingles. It's a beer that really has to be tasted to be believed and an early contender for my beer of the year.

Weird Beard Something Something Dark Side

Something Something Dark Side is similarly schizophrenic, stuck somewhere between and indulgent black IPA and an imperial stout that went a bit crazy with the hops.

Ripe plum, cherry and cranberry burst in the aroma but the strength soon becomes apparent through a whiff of rum and demerara sugar, while the faint hint of grass and freshly-cut onion also hangs in the background.

Toffee and liquorice drop an instant sweetness on the front of the tongue but this is cut by sharp, tart fruit - a clash of citrus and dark berries - which slowly morph into a sticky resinous character.

The finish is an intriguing mix of sweet and salty, coconut seeming to tussle with the tang of Worcester sauce before ending dry and bittersweet, those hops still buzzing throughout the mouth.

Both beers might be something of an acquired taste but highlight exactly where Weird Beard's strengths lie. Technical excellence aligned with playfulness and an experimental edge means every beer the brewery releases is on my wanted list.

Friday, 11 April 2014 11:10

Buxton Imperial Black and Stronge Extra Stout

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Buxton Imperial BlackBuxton Imperial Black

Bottle from Buxton Tap House, 7.5% ABV

The pale ale demands huge respect in Buxton.

After all, the estimable Axe Edge - the destroyer of many a brave drinker - looms large in these parts, casting a menacing shadow far and wide.

Even those able to escape Axe Edge's clutches will likely succumb to the powers of Moor Top, SPA, Jaw Gate or Wyoming Sheep Ranch. If anyone knows how to make a devastatingly good pale, it's Buxton Brewery.

But what of the dark side? Is it altogether more bleak over there?

Seemingly not. Even though you could be forgiven for thinking pales were Buxton's speciality, this supernatural ability to create dangerously addictive beer stretches across the board.

To prove that particular point, Imperial Black and Stronge Extra Stout are two of the best in their respective categories currently being brewed in Britain.

The former represented a turning point in my own personal appreciation of the black IPA, destroying any initial cynicism surrounding the necessity of the style.

Some might call it a paradox and others an 'insult to history' but, in this form, it's also a phenomenally enjoyable beer.

It has the looks of a catalogue model, appearing almost too perfect with its jet black body and big, frothy light brown head. There's no Photoshop needed to get this one ready for promotional shots.

The smell is even better. A thick, intoxicating mix of pine, grapefruit, orange and old school lemon sherbets quickly rising from the glass, providing the kind of hit hop junkies crave. Roasted malt and faint chocolate hang steadily in the background, allowing the hops to do their thing.

All that promise is then emphatically fulfilled in the taste.

The soft, silky liquid slinks across the tongue, leaving an initial residue of treacle and liquorice.

Quickly, the hop bombs explode, bags of orange, lemon and grapefruit causing a wash of freshness that leaves the sides of the tongue tingling. Pine resin and a light woodiness are less well pronounced yet still linger throughout.

Chocolate provides a calming influence, rounding off the flavours and bringing a smoothness to the back of the mouth before the bitterness hits.

This bitterness is a mix of fuzzy, resinous hops and clear, assertive roasted malt but it's the malt that lasts longest, holding on throughout the dry, slightly astringent finish.

The result is an impressively harmonious balance between big hops and bold malt, neither left to run riot or the slightest bit restrained.

 

Buxton Stronge Extra StoutBuxton Stronge Extra Stout

Bottle from Buxton Tap House, 7.4% ABV

The Stronge Extra Stout is a different story entirely.

Originally brewed to mark Colin Stronge's appointment as head brewer last year, it's a brawny malt monster that throws its huge arms around you and attempts to engulf you in rich, heavy flavours of coffee, chocolate, toffee and dark fruit. All the good stuff, basically.

The aroma is dense and luxuriant - a thick fog of treacle toffee, espresso, burnt cocoa beans and charcoal, which is briefly perforated by a waft of sweet plum and raisin.

It's viscous, full-bodied and lightly carbonated, meaning it crawls slowly across the tongue, leaving a sticky residue as it goes.

Initially, the taste is full of coffee - in a manner similar to knocking back a swift, intense shot of espresso in a Milanese street-side cafe before getting on with the rest of your day or, at least, getting on with the rest of your beer.

Toffee and liquorice add a sweetness beneath before a drying wave of dark chocolate moves through, leaving a chalky bitterness to hang around the edges of the palate.

A touch of tartness is added by plum and damson but the mouth is dried once more by a finish full of roasted malt and dull oak.

It's the kind of stout which walks up to you, punches you in the face and walks out, happy in the knowledge you won't enjoy another beer all night. Not one to start a session with, more a late-night indulgence to be enjoyed while reclining in a comfy chair, with slippers on and lights down low.

Friday, 04 April 2014 13:50

Thornbridge Otto

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Thornbridge OttoThornbridge Otto

Bottle from the brewery, 8% ABV

It's clear why Thornbridge has been one of the front-runners in the British beer boom.

The Bakewell brewery has successfully combined innovation and consistency with a healthy respect for tradition in a sublime marriage few others could even contemplate.

As much as I'm wowed by bold, brassy, boundary-pushing beers - and Thornbridge has produced its fair share - it is the flair for unerring execution of historical styles that has recently set them apart from the crowd.

The likes of Double Scotch, Bayern and now Otto all doff their cap to their brewing forefathers but somehow feel fresh and contemporary - a dichotomy that is difficult to achieve.

Otto, the youngest of the litter, is a weizen doppelbock made in the Bavarian tradition and a match for any other in the category. Yes, even Schneider Weisse Aventinus...

It pours a heavy, murky, deep brown colour, a bit like water dredged from the depths of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Granted, that might not sound particularly appealing but, in this case, the coarse appearance is a strangely reassuring indicator of big, robust flavours - especially when topped by such a pretty, creamy beige head.

Immediately upon pouring, aroma bursts out of the bottle, lively bubblegum and banana shooting straight up the nose. Closer examination also reveals a creamy, banana milkshake-style character and a pinch of nutmeg, while a spicy, clove heat tingles around the edges.

A little Dr Pepper flows underneath, occasionally punctured by the irregular throb of white bread, and each inhalation reveals new layers.

The taste reflects this complexity, although it's a complexity that's honest, accessible and uncomplicated, subtle yet blunt.

An initial ooze of treacle toffee is punctuated by dashes of sweet liquorice before a flash of slightly tart cherry and plum adds a fresh, fruity counterpoint.

Then the yeast esters kick in and boy, do they kick! After overripe banana has been rubbed firmly across the middle of the tongue, a blast of aniseed and clove melds fragrant, sweet and spicy.

These esters persist through the finish, where they're joined by a sharp metallic flavour - perhaps the only unwanted aspect of this beer - and a wash of root beer.

Once these notes have cleared, bread and biscuit hang in the aftertaste, bringing a high-powered ride to a soft, comforting end.

Thursday, 27 March 2014 12:40

Marston's Revisionist range

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Marstons Revisionist rangeMarston's Revisionist range

Oh dear, that word again.

That most divisive and least descriptive of adjectives, which has nevertheless become common parlance in the world of beer.

Of course, I'm talking about 'craft'.

Made popular in America - where a wave of new microbreweries identified a pressing need to distinguish their products from those of the dominant lager breweries in an uneducated market - it has since embarked on a programme of world domination.

In fairly loose terms, it's intended to describe beer made in small batches, where a commitment to quality, proper process and, perhaps, innovation are all central to the producer's ethos.

Does Marston's Revisionist range fit these criteria? It could probably be argued that it does, yet use of the word 'craft' on the bottles still feels jarring.

The difficulty in this country is that, unlike America, we have a strong, unbroken brewing tradition spanning hundreds of centuries.

In the States, a whole host of long-standing breweries were wiped out by Prohibition but here, there are a number of traditional brewers who may, at one point or another, have justifiably claimed to be craft.

Marston's fall into that category - even if the company is now a plc and the largest producer of cask ale in the world - but their use of the word still seems like a cynical attempt to cash in on a market trend.

The fact the Revisionist range has been produced exclusively for Tesco appears to support that argument.

But, all that aside, this development could still be viewed positively as a chance to introduce a range of bold, modern styles to the masses at an affordable price (four for £6 at the time of writing). Craft lite, if you will.

The range includes a dry-hopped lager, a US rye beer, a Pacific red ale, a saison, a steam beer, a wheat beer and a black IPA, most of which will be fairly unfamiliar to your average supermarket drinker.

Each includes a description of the process surrounding its creation from the viewpoint of the respective brewmaster and a prominent neck label boasts of the strains it is dry-hopped with.

Choosing a beer based on the hops used is another concept that will likely be foreign to your typical supermarket drinker, so allowing these new customers to understand the flavours provided by different varieties should be a good thing.

The problem is, however, the 'craft lite' tag fits these beers so well, they aren't exactly a powerful - or, indeed, accurate - showcase for the styles they're supposed to represent.

 

Marstons Revisionist RyeRye Pale Ale, 4.3% ABV

The rye ale is a microcosm of this problem.

I got pretty excited about the prospect of buying a rye beer hopped with Citra and Amarillo from my local supermarket for just £1.50 but quickly realised the error of my ways.

Instead of rye's peppery spice or brassy citrus from the hops, I was greeted by an aroma and taste that seemed strangely familiar, yet utterly incongruous.

I sniffed and sipped until it finally hit me. "It's... no, it can't be... no, it is... it's Pedigree."

That might be a slight exaggeration but I do reckon I would have been able to identify the brewery in a blind tasting.

The aroma is almost non-existent, nuttiness masking a slight whiff of orange hidden well underneath, and the taste isn't much better.

The merest hint of spice, a touch of almond and vague orange notes hanging in the finish are all obscured by the domineering nutty, caramel malt. It's dry, astringent and fairly unpleasant, deserving to be poured down the drain simply for getting the style so wrong.

Where was the Citra? Where was the Amarillo? Why did I fool myself into expecting different?

 

Red Ale, 4.2% ABVMarstons Revisionist Red

The red ale was similarly underwhelming, if not as outwardly undrinkable.

Malt once more dominates the aroma, this time a heavy biscuity cloud threatening to drown out the citrus notes that face a desperate struggle for survival.

There is, at least, more joy to be found in the taste, which leads off with thick caramel that gradually morphs into a ever-so-slightly sticky, resinous hop character.

A musty, blueberry-like fruitiness mingles with nutty malt until a squeeze of tangerine adds a much-needed dose of fresh juiciness.

This develops into a sharp zestiness that runs throughout a mildly bitter finish, with lingering biscuity notes hanging in the background.

But the vivid citrus and tropical fruit flavours you might expect from New World hops are nowhere to be seen, causing me to lose interest by the time I'd sunk half a pint.

It's fairly inoffensive but, at the same time, pretty hard going.

 

Marstons Revisionist LagerLager, 5% ABV

The two beers I expected to enjoy the least were the two that confounded expectations, starting with the lager, which has been dry-hopped with Admiral and Bodicea.

Unsurprisingly, it pales in comparison to some of the better British lagers produced in recent years, Thornbridge's Bayern being a particularly good example.

But it's clean and drinkable, packing in plenty more flavour than your typical supermarket shelf-fillers.

The aroma is fresh and bright, lemon, orange and light floral notes skipping across a solid grain base.

It's a similar story in the taste, a glob of orange marmalade rolling quickly across the front of the tongue and elderflower tingling delicately before it cuts crisp across the palate.

The dry finish delivers a dose of zesty bitterness and leaves a pleasant, biscuity aftertaste hanging in the back of the mouth.

It's unspectacular and did seem to take on a unappealing acetaldehyde, green apple taste the warmer it got but remains a solid option for a reasonably cheap mainstream lager.

 

Saison, 5% ABVMarstons Revisionist Saison

The saison was the other that exceeded my admittedly low expectations and proved to be the most enjoyable of the bunch I tried.

Still, it suffers from the same problem as the rest in that it's far too meek and mild, like a saison at about 60% strength rather than a typical showcase of the style.

The aroma is dominated by the expected yeast esters, although they're particularly soft, faint banana and clove mingling with candied orange while fresh dough hovers in the background.

After taking a sip, a drizzling of herbal honey coats the front of the tongue and there's a squeeze of tart citrus fruit before light notes of banana and spice begin to come through.

A soft peppery buzz tickles the tongue but its spread is halted by the dry finish, which contains a lingering citrus bitterness and a throbbing bready sweetness.

It becomes too sweet throughout the course of a whole 500ml bottle but at least gives casual drinkers an introduction to a style which is underrepresented on supermarket shelves.

Ultimately, I wouldn't make an effort to drink any of the Revisionist range regularly and I doubt I'll even buy them again.

I'd be delighted if the range helped to wean drinkers away from bland lager towards the new wave of microbrewed British beer but I just can't escape the thought this is more cynical ploy than genuine attempt to educate.

As a side note, I'd recommend leaving these beers to warm slightly before drinking, as the already muted flavours are even more subdued when drunk straight from the fridge.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 13:10

Quantum & Elixir Brew Co Elixium

Written by

Quantum Elixir ElixiumQuantum & Elixir Brew Co Elixium

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield, 5.9% ABV

I'll own up now. When I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to support Elixir Brew Co in their recent trademark tussle with Everards, I hadn't even tried their beer.

For all I knew, I could've been supporting a producer of brown, twiggy blandness or murky, bitter foulness. How did I know their beer was worth saving?

Ultimately, we were all motivated by the desire to see a small business survive in the face of heavy-handed corporate tactics from a larger organisation, regardless of anything else. It's just a happy coincidence that Elixir does indeed appear to produce excellent beer too.

My first experience of the Scottish nano - a collaboration with the ever-reliable Quantum Brewing Company - came just days after it had all kicked off online and far exceeded any expectations I might have harboured.

Elixium is a smoked porter with a twist, namely that the hops, rather than the malt, provide the smokiness.

Now, I've discussed the possibility of smoked hops in the past but only when a 'chilled out' friend of mine regaled me with excited chatter about their similarity to a particular illegal plant.

What I don't recall is coming across a beer where one of the hop additions has been wood-smoked prior to use.

In this case, they have been smoked with Beechwood and added at the dry hop stage, giving this beer a lovely clean, soft smokiness that doesn't overwhelm the other flavours.

I'd had a bottle of Beavertown's Smog Rocket - possibly Britain's most lauded modern smoked porter - just a week prior and Elixium easily matched up. In fact, I'd say it is better, such is the cleanness and clarity of the different flavours, distinct yet still dovetailing perfectly.

It pours black as night with a thick, murky brown head. A truly menacing dark destroyer that weaves together an intoxicating mix of complementary and conflicting aromas.

Rich malt initially hangs heavy in the nose, chocolate, coffee and roasted malt combining richness with a crisp bitterness.

This, in itself, would be enough but you're taken by surprise when a hoppy, citrus breeze drifts through before fresh tobacco leaf and smoked cheese tickle lightly at the tail-end.

The taste combines similar elements and remains extremely well-defined and balanced throughout.

It's bitter and slightly tannic throughout, with notes of chalky, dark chocolate particularly well pronounced at first and a good amount of roasted malt thrown in too.

These flavours aren't allowed to linger too long before a superb citrus tang swipes straight across the palate, momentarily cleaning it before a glob of melted dark chocolate slowly settles in the mouth.

The smoke comes through late, a light tickle of heated wood chips drifting through the back of the mouth to leave a peppery buzz and a dry, bitter finish.

Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:01

Celt Ogham Willow

Written by

Celt Ogham WillowCelt Ogham Willow

Bottle from Beer Hawk, 8.8% ABV

Celt seems to have come out of nowhere.

Although the brewery has been in operation since 2007, I hadn't even set eyes on any of their beers before receiving a bottle of Bronze in my Beer Hawk beer club last year.

That tasty bitter piqued my interest but the lack of ready suppliers up north meant I had to wait several months before expanding my knowledge of this intriguing Welsh brewery.

When I finally got hold of a bottle of Ogham Willow I didn't know what to expect and it damn near blew my head clean off.

This is a beast of a beer. A big, hefty IPA that simply does not fuck around.

It delivers all the flavours you'd expect from the style and then goes one step further, offering the richness, complexity and opulence of a barley wine.

As such, its uniqueness is its main strength, making this an experience you won't quickly forget.

Clear golden with a tight white head, it gives off strong, skunky aromas of resin, pine and citrus, with a thick vein of caramel running through the middle. More layers are revealed the longer you inhale, sticky pineapple boiled sweets, apricot and dull notes of cedar and oak hanging heavily at the back of the nose.

The taste is led by thick toffee, which oozes slowly across the palate to create a solid base for the assertive hop flavours that follow.

A quick squeeze of lemon cuts through the sweetness but juicy citrus mutates into bold, resinous hops that are so chewy and glutinous you'd swear there were bits stuck between your teeth. Simultaneously, herbs, mango and pink grapefruit skip lightly across the tongue before the domineering finish begins to set in.

The sweetness of vanilla and honey segues into a powerful, pithy bitterness, while the chest and throat are warmed by a growing alcohol heat.

It's an indulgence worthy of your complete, undivided attention. So light some candles, dim the lights and put on some Barry White, you're going to be there for a while.

Friday, 14 March 2014 09:55

Redwell India Pale Ale

Written by

Redwell IPARedwell IPA

Keg at The Font, Chorlton, 6% ABV

This stuff might not give you wings but have a few and you'll feel like you're flying.

It's an uplifting IPA that lands a hefty hop punch without once falling off balance or letting its drinkability suffer.

As such, it's not necessarily unique but a strong, enjoyable representation of the style and one I would have no problem returning to time and again.

Before I could appreciate it, however, I was forced to fight off the strong urge to drop a shot of Jagermeister in the glass. My subconscious also seemed to suggest mixing the beer with a double vodka, which was more than a little odd but perhaps just stemmed from confusion about what I had ordered.

Once this minor crisis had been averted, frisky, fresh aromas of grapefruit, orange and mango greeted me as I lifted the glass towards my mouth. A hint of pine also crept through, all underpinned by assertive cereal malt.

Soft toffee holds the taste together, flowing steadily beneath a series of refreshing hop bursts, pink grapefruit and navel orange providing a tart, juicy sweetness.

Resin and pine also loiter, swirling with the toffee to form a thick, sticky mixture, until biting orange rind swipes clean the heavier flavours.

The finish is bittersweet, combining pithy bitterness and lingering notes of citric juiciness with toffee and the background throb of biscuity malt to maintain an easy-drinking balance right until the end.

It's fair to say, I'm glad a certain energy drink manufacturer failed in its nefarious plot to have this beer banished from the face of the earth.

Rumour also has it Redwell recently struck a distribution deal to send more of their beer up north, so it will be interesting to see what the rest of their range has to offer.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:13

Bad Seed & Northern Monk Salted Lemon Wit

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Bad Seed Northern Monk Salted Lemon WitBad Seed & Northern Monk Salted Lemon Wit

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield, 7.4% ABV

This is one of those beers I hate to love.

Once the monthly beer ration has been acquired, sorted and catalogued, the allocated funds completely exhausted, there's always one special that threatens to push me into the red. Not to mention pushing me into a downward spiral of debate and discord with my long-suffering partner.

Once Raj at Whitefield's beer tardis, the Liquor Shop, told me about this collaboration from Bad Seed and Northern Monk, my fragile will power was instantly eroded.
The need to experience a salted lemon wit just seemed far more pressing than the need to balance the books.

And, to be honest, financial instability has never tasted so good. Plus, it paired beautifully with the Super Noodle butties I was forced to eat seven days straight.
It's just such an easy beer to drink. Totally unique yet outwardly enjoyable, soft and agreeable rather than dense and complicated.

All of this is expressed through its appearance, an inviting, slightly hazy golden amber liquid topped by a fluffy, persistent white head.

The aroma is dominated by a heavy cloud of fresh dough and buttered brioche, which hangs tantalisingly in the nostrils, followed by fragrant lemongrass and topped with a sprinkling of salt.

The taste combines sweet, salty and doughy with the aplomb of a chocolate-covered pretzel. Your brain's telling you it shouldn't work but your tastebuds are telling you something entirely different.

Upfront breadiness fades to leave a mouthful of sweet, juicy candied lemon peel. After chewing on this for a couple of seconds, sweet becomes tart and the salt adds a prickly edge.

That breadiness continues to throb away, however, notes of cookie dough, ginger snaps and spice building into a long, dry finished that finds terrific balance between sweet and salty.

Well worth the money, whatever the consequences, and another feather in the cap for both Bad Seed and Northern Monk. These Yorkshire rascals are ones to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 12:11

Fourpure IPA and Oatmeal Stout

Written by

Fourpure IPAFourpure IPA, 6.5% ABV

Fourpure Oatmeal Stout, 5.1% ABV

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Prestwich

You can't move for breweries in Bermondsey these days.

Kernel, Partizan and Brew By Numbers have all successfully strolled the well-trodden path that's now being followed by Fourpure.

However, based on this initial evidence, the youngest of the bunch still hasn't hit its stride as it attempts to keep up with the neighbours.

Set up by brothers Dan and Tom Lowe late last year, Fourpure boasts an attractively-branded core range inspired by the team's travels around the world.

The IPA is influenced by Oregon - that hop head's paradise where the streets are lined with lupulin - yet wasn't able to deliver a high enough dosage of dank, resinous hops to calm my rampant craving.

They're in there somewhere, I'm sure of it. They were just far too muted for the style.

It's a shame because this beer certainly looked the part, pouring a deep, brownish amber that's dazzlingly clear and topped by just a slither of off-white foam.

The aroma completely escaped the clutches of those hop overlords Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, instead providing a faint whiff of malt, chestnut, cedar and marzipan.

And instead of sticking tongue to the roof of the mouth like a dog eating toffee, it feels too light bodied on first sip.

It's initially crisp and slightly watery, although the malt character quickly builds, providing a base of toffee, chestnut and crunchy biscuit.

The hops arrive late to the party but only deliver a light coating of sticky pine and spruce without any of the chewiness. All too soon, they're gone, replaced by a dry finish that holds a light bitterness and crisp grassiness.

Freshness appears to be the major problem. As with any microbrewed IPA, it is essential the brewer ensures the product will be consumed by the customer as fresh as it needs to be but the weak hop character suggests that wasn't the case here.

The London-inspired Oatmeal Stout was better but still failed to properly capture my imagination. It did all the right things but didn't do any of them with quite enough oomph for my liking.

A burnt edge of roasted malt dominates the aroma, with smooth milk chocolate and coffee mingling underneath and the odd whiff of tobacco occasionally grasping for attention.

So far, so good yet the taste never quite gets where it wants to go, no matter how hard it tries.

Over-caramelised sugar and wholemeal toast meld in a pleasing combination of sweet, bitter and grainy flavours before tobacco, dark chocolate and black coffee begin to creep across the palate.

But the body is too light to carry the different elements and there's not enough of the creaminess you'd expect from a proper indulgent oatmeal stout.

The late onset of earthy, spicy, almost resinous hops is a neat counterpoint to the dominant malt character but the finish lacks richness to round off the bitterness.

Both beers have characteristics I really enjoyed, there was just a feeling that neither is quite there yet.

Friday, 28 February 2014 14:58

Moor Hoppiness

Written by

OurBeersHoppinessMoor Hoppiness

Keg at Font, Chorlton, 6.7% ABV

Is this the UK's best IPA?

If it's not, I challenge you to find one that's consistently better.

Axe Edge is ruinously brilliant too and Cannonball ranks among my favourite beers in any style but Hoppiness is the one I keep coming back to.

I'm not usually one for drinking the same beer time and time again, partly because I get bored easily but mainly because my limited funds are best invested in exploring the vast swathes of beers I still haven't tried yet.

But, from the first time I tried a bottle of Hoppiness, I knew this would be no fleeting love affair, no meaningless flirtation on a boozy night out. Three years later we're still going strong, even if we don't see anywhere near enough of each other.

When our paths do cross, time stops. Nothing else really seems to matter when you've got Hoppiness in your hand and your stomach, so you can imagine how happy it's made me to see it pop up semi-regularly in Chorlton's excellent Font Bar.

Moor Hoppiness

It pours an almost luminescent golden orange, which is clouded by that reassuring Moor haze. There's been a lot of chatter about clear beer of late but a translucent glass of Hoppiness would be as off-putting as a can of pop without any fizz - in this case the haze is synonymous with taste.

The aroma immediately sparks vivid memories of the little, white paper bags I would pick up from the corner shop as a kid, full of pineapple cubes and toffee bonbons. It's thick and heavy, delivering waves of grapefruit and passion fruit after the initial sweetness, followed by a waft of pine.

Each of these elements follows through into the taste, measured with unerring precision to ensure tremendous balance throughout.

Sweet caramel rolls across the front of the tongue before clusters of fuzzy tropical fruit explode in sequence, pineapple, passion fruit and mango letting you know you're onto a very good thing.

Lively sherbet tickles the tongue until the bold citrus of grapefruit and blood orange slices right across the palate, leading to a dry finish that's full of pithy bitterness and lingering notes of resin.

It's at the kind of strength that allows it to be both drinkable and full in the mouth. In short, it's bloody incredible.

Thursday, 27 February 2014 12:37

Mallinsons Nelson Sauvin

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Mallinsons Nelson SauvinMallinsons Nelson Sauvin

Bottle from High Peak Beer, Stockport, 3.8% ABV

So you think you know your hops? Not like this you don't.

Mallinsons have long made it their mission to help drinkers get familiar with each separate strain one at a time and are doing a mighty fine job of it.

Forget for one second the calling card of the modern craft obsessive. Why would you necessarily need more hops when one can do the job just as well?

From Ahtanum to Willamette, the Huddersfield brewery's single-hop series has showcased the individual characteristics inherent in each different variety without needing to smack you around the chops.

There's nothing too fussy about the beers, just a solid malt base and some well-judged hop additions, giving the flavours opportunity to shine.

As such, Mallinsons are performing a valuable service. Given the fact many modern brews are loaded with a potent combination of various hops, it can often be difficult for drinkers to break down the flavours and better understand their own tastes.

Single-hop beers make it much easier to distinguish the different hop properties and understand the nuances of each, allowing less experienced drinkers to make more informed decisions about what they are likely to enjoy in the future and why.

Mallinsons' Nelson Sauvin is a particularly good example of how this can work.

There's a lot more grain on the nose than expected and this leads to a surprisingly light aroma where white wine, peach and grapefruit are somewhat suppressed by the lingering bready malt.

But there's no ambiguity in the taste. This is all about the Nelson Sauvin.

A light, crisp body and soft breadiness are quickly overpowered by an assertive fruitiness, gooseberry and crushed white grapes gently caressing the palate before a huge lump of tart grapefruit thuds against the back of the tongue.

That grapefruit loiters with intent through a crisp, bitter finish, stripping the mouth of any remaining moisture.

Detractors may claim it lacks complexity but they'd be missing the point. It does its job perfectly.

Thursday, 13 February 2014 12:31

Ilkley Speyside Siberia

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Ilkley Speyside SiberiaIlkley Speyside Siberia

Bottle from Carrington's, Didsbury, 8.8% ABV

Siberia conjures images of stark desolation. Of cold, barren emptiness and rugged menace - nature at its most uncomplicated and least forgiving.

Given that uncompromising reputation, this beer risks bringing shame to the name.

It's neither frosty nor forbidding, rather warm, complex and inviting. More rhubarb crumble in a cosy Yorkshire farmhouse than shot of vodka in a barren wasteland.

The standard version of this particular beer failed to rouse those emotions in me but this particular batch has returned from its own, self-imposed Siberia (six months in oak whisky casks) to prove absence does make the heart grow fonder.

It's returned stronger (at 8.8% ABV compared to 5.9%) and more enigmatic, although the effects of the whisky aren't immediately evident.

It pours a hazy, golden peach with a small crackly head that disappears almost as soon as it has formed.

The aroma's instantly reassuring - indulgent and elegant yet earthy and honest. Stewed rhubarb throbs gently, at once soft and hearty, while smooth strokes of vanilla are interrupted by the odd jab of sharp citrus.

Sweet and sour mingle on the palate like yin and yang, forming an invigorating alliance that rolls across the tongue tingling and caressing as it goes.

Rhubarb stewed with honey gives way to sharper notes of gooseberry and sour apricot before a cloud of spice descends somewhere in the middle of the tongue.

This quickly lifts to reveal a long, dry finish which sweeps aside everything in its path bar the dull ache of oak and a lingering sourness.

It's a shame they only made 700 bottles of this collaboration with renowned sommALEier Melissa Cole but lucky I got one of them, so I couldn't care less about you lot.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 13:10

Beavertown Quelle Saison

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Beavertown Quelle SaisonBeavertown Quelle Saison

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Prestwich, 4.1% ABV

Ah, the saison. A staple of the craft world for what's seemed like an eternity.

Just when you thought you'd seen them all, another pops up demanding attention. You'd have more chance keeping tabs on a litter of rabbits.

That aside, it also seems a little strange that Beavertown would choose this time of year to give birth to their latest baby. After all, the saison is more typically a child of the summer.

In fact, if it had been cracking flags when I cracked this open, it might have put an entirely different emphasis on the occasion.

Heavily hopped, with Simcoe taking a lead role, and light in the body, this would make an ideal companion for a sunny afternoon spent doing little else than lounging in the garden.

Instead, it's a little lost at the height of the British winter and failed to properly hit the spot at a time when I'm more accustomed to drinking big, brassy stouts.

It pours pale golden yellow, with a heavy haze and a thin, crackling head that recedes to leave the slightest halo of foam around the top of the beer.

The aroma is loaded full of the aforementioned Simcoe, that domineering brute of the hop world, packing in plenty of apricot, pineapple and lemon. Lurking somewhere in the background are subtle notes of spice, pepper and yeasty funk but it's clear the hops, rather than the yeast, are the stars here.

That trend continues in the tasting. The body is light and slightly watery but doesn't lack flavour and a wave of juicy tropical fruit immediately slaps against the front of the tongue.

Pineapple and ripe peach lead towards a more robust citrus character, dominated by lemon and orange peel, with a mild zesty bitterness that lasts throughout the dry finish.

But if you're waiting for the yeast to make its mark, you might end up perpetually twiddling your thumbs.

The merest hint of funk suggests this is a saison but, otherwise, it seems more like a light-bodied, hoppy pale ale, maybe unsurprising given the strength.

It's not a bad beer, just not what might be expected.

Thursday, 16 January 2014 13:16

Thornbridge Chiron

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Thornbridge Chiron bottleThornbridge Chiron

Keg at Old Court House, Buxton, 5% ABV

What can you say about Thornbidge that hasn't already been said?

Stalwarts of British microbrewing, perennial award-winners and drinkers' favourites - their reputation for excellence has long been established, to the point where this review might be regarded as somewhat futile.

Particularly impressive is the ability to constantly innovate while simultaneously showing respect and deference to the origins and traditions of the art. That and the sheer unerring consistency of their beers, whether bottled or draught .

Put simply, whenever you spend money on a product bearing the Thornbridge logo, you're virtually guaranteed it'll be a sound investment.

So, the point of this review is less to provide another judgement and more to shine the spotlight on an unsung hero.

Jaipur and Kipling are often the names that roll off the tongue, particularly among casual drinkers, whenever Thornbidge is mentioned and Halcyon too has cultivated a fearsome reputation.

In such assertive company, it's easy to get shunted into the background and, while well-loved, Chiron isn't as loudly heralded.

Thornbridge Chiron kegClean, fresh and thirst-quenching, it is eminently sessionable, even at a reasonably potent 5% ABV, making it one of my 'go-to' drinks during Britain's notoriously long, hot summers. But no matter what time of the year you drink it, it's just so openly enjoyable.

There's no pomp or pretence, just pleasure. The pleasure that comes from an uncomplicated, well-constructed guzzler of a beer that offers the perfect counterpoint to many of the more challenging hop monsters we're inundated with these days.

I was given a timely reminder of this fact at the Old Court House in Buxton, a cosy little pub next door to the Buxton Brewery Tap House that now carries a solid range of Thornbridge beers, making it well worth a visit after you've finished gorging yourself on Axe Edge.

During my recent visit, Bavarian pilsner Bayern was on excellent form but Chiron remained the clear stand-out.

As usual, its looks matched its taste - the crystal-clear golden liquid topped by a neat, frothy white head, which sticks around right till the death.

Floral and citrus notes intertwine in the nose to create a sensation not dissimilar to a lungful of fresh country breeze. Lemongrass, grapefruit and orange zest forge a clear path through the sinuses, while fuzzy peach and summer flowers tickle lightly.

Unsurprisingly for a Thornbridge beer, the malting is spot on, honey biscuit and fluffy brioche providing a springboard for the hops to hit impressive heights.

Piquant lemon and grapefruit mingle with apricot and peach, while sherbet fizzes on the tongue, ultimately giving way to the developing presence of tangerine zest and a crisp, bitter finish. That bitterness is far from overpowering, however, helped along by lingering floral hops, subtle yet aromatic in the aftertaste.

I've occasionally heard critics complain that Chiron lacks complexity. If that's true then I'm more than happy to forfeit complexity for something this damn drinkable.

Saturday, 11 January 2014 11:47

Mallinsons Chocolate Stout float

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Mallinsons Chocolate StoutMallinsons Chocolate Stout

Bottle, 4.2% ABV

+ Madagascan vanilla ice cream

When I was still but knee high to a grasshopper, coke floats seemed like the ultimate indulgence.

They were saved for the odd Sunday when my parents would give in to the chorus of wails from myself and my brother and take us to Pizzaland in Altrincham.

I wasn't really arsed about the pizza itself but more excited about the prospect of being able to put a dollop of dessert in my drink.

Being eight years old, it never dawned on me that the same possibility was available at home, if only I'd combined that tub of vanilla in the freezer with that pottle of pop in the fridge.

To me, this seemed a revolutionary concept and one my mum would never allow under normal circumstances - as if a different set of rules applied within the walls of the chain pizza establishment.

Luckily, my tastes have since matured. That disgusting, sugary brown liquid has been banished from my life and Pizzaland no longer exists.

But I still like ice cream and stout is the new dark beverage in my life, so I recently decided to combine the two. Apparently, my tastes haven't matured that much after all.

A bottle of Mallinsons Chocolate Stout seemed to offer the perfect opportunity for this abomination.

On its own it's tasty enough. The aroma is full of bitter, roasted cocoa beans and charcoal, with mellower notes of dark chocolate and vanilla creeping through later.
It's drier than expected in the mouth, like a gob-full of chewed-up, chalky dark chocolate followed by a slice of brown toast.

Mallinsons Chocolate Stout float

But, like the aroma, the taste also mellows, becoming softer and sweeter as it progresses, with silky milk chocolate and lactose sugar soothing the taste buds. The dry, bitter finish is sprinkled with a judicious amount of autumnal hops and coffee beans, leaving a stubborn aftertaste.

After enjoying half a pint of the stuff, perhaps I should have just finished the glass but out came the Madagascan vanilla ice cream and in went two big scoops.

At first, it looked like a pint of Guinness when the nitrogen is settling - cascading light brown bubbles sat beneath a big creamy glob on top of the pitch-black stout.
Despite the creamy brown no man's land, at first light and dark refused to mix, creating an unusual taste in the mouth.

Every sip revealed sweet vanilla ice cream followed by a jarring bitterness, the flavours of the two different components failing to mesh at all.

But all it needed was time.

Once the ice cream started to melt, filtering down to the rest of the beer, it created a different drink altogether.

It smelled like hot chocolate and tasted like iced mocha, full of sweet milk chocolate to start, followed by a little bitter roasted malt, espresso coffee and finishing with creamy vanilla.

I probably went about it all a pretty cack-handed way (there's got to be a classier method than two scoops in a pint glass) but I'd definitely do it again.

Just you wait world. Soon, I'll have my way and the stout float will be a fixture in every good drinking establishment. Cue evil laughter...

Friday, 10 January 2014 13:40

Bow down to the Burning Sky

Written by

Burning Sky Saison a la ProvisionBurning Sky Saison à la Provision

Keg, 6.5% ABV

Burning Sky Devil's Rest

Keg, 7% ABV

Both at Red Willow, Macclesfield

And you're just a dreamer if you don't realize

And the sooner you do will be the better for you

Then we'll all be happy, and we'll all be wise

And all bow down to the burning sky

Now, I can't be completely sure but I don't think Paul Weller had beer on his mind when he wrote those particular lyrics.

In fact, I'm pretty sure the 'burning sky' in the old Jam classic was more of a malevolent presence than a force for good down the pub.

But, given the unbridled excitement that greeted Burning Sky's recent arrival, the final two lines quoted above appear particularly prophetic.

Its establishment marked the return of a well-known and well-respected face in British beer, Mark Tranter, the former head brewer at well-established Sussex brewery Dark Star.

But this new venture represents something of a departure from his previous role. The commitment to a strong cask core remains - Devil's Rest joined by pales Plateau and Aurora at the heart of the brewery's range - but has been supplemented by a focus on innovation through adherence to tradition.

It's an intriguing paradox but by drawing on long-standing Belgian methods, Burning Sky could create a variety of fresh and interesting new British beers.

Burning Sky Devils Rest

Barrel-ageing, wild yeast cultures and blending will be key to this, as will the saison, a style that has been done to death over the past two years.

A common complaint is that many of these saisons have not exactly been faithful to the origins, more IPAs fermented using saison yeast than faithful representations of the style.

But any saison fatigue I might have been suffering was quickly washed away by my first gulp of the Saison à la Provision. It does exactly what this beer was supposed to do when it was first conceived by the farmers of Wallonia by combining taste with the refreshment of an arctic waterfall.

After undergoing primary fermentation with saison yeast, it's spiked with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces during secondary to create a delightful depth of aroma and flavour.

Pouring cloudy peach with a small white head, it immediately releases smells of the barnyard, hay, earthy funk and firm spice filling the nostrils. Sharp lemon lingers in the background without ever cutting through the other aromas and, oddly, there's even the merest hint of banana milkshake.

The taste is sweet and soft at first, like a spoonful of caramel swirled in a huge pot of stewed apple, but quickly begins to firm up.

A squirt of lemon and sprinkle of orange zest tangles with firm red apple and young peach, while a tanginess tickles the corners of the mouth. Clove and spice build in the lead-up to the finish, which is long and arid, with just a slight tingling sourness sticking around throughout.

Devil's Rest might sit on more well-established ground as a 7% IPA but it shows similar promise and felt like a real decadent treat.

Deep and hazy burnt orange in colour and topped by a thin white halo, it exuded thick aromas of pine, passion fruit, lychee and tangerine, with caramel and heavy cedar hanging in the back of the nostrils.

The taste is lush sticky caramel and sherbet followed by a huge rush of powerful hops that seem to shoot on a main line to the pleasure receptors in the brain.

Big resinous notes pound away while delicate spice, pineapple, passion fruit and lime fizz in the foreground and a maturing malt character provides a solid nutty backbone.

It finishes bitter yet pleasantly piquant; dry yet leaving the slightest sticky residue in the mouth. It ticks most of the boxes for a big IPA, although I'm not sure how well it will translate to cask.

Regardless, both beers suggest Burning Sky will have some treats in store during 2014.

Tuesday, 07 January 2014 10:21

Quantum - Barleywine USA

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Quantum Barleywine USAQuantum Barleywine USA

Bottle, 8.8% ABV

Quantum head brewer Jay Krause never ceases to amaze.

I mean, the man must be bloody knackered running a brewery entirely on his tod yet still manages to conceive and create a wonderfully unique and varied range of beers.

From his 2.7% ABV Small Beer to the monstrous Imperial Treacle Stout, every angle seems to have been covered with consideration given to the entire spectrum of tastes.

But, to my mind at least, one particular concoction stood out in 2013, ranking among my absolute favourites for the year.

The Barleywine USA is a real wolf in sheep's clothing - the kind of beer that lulls you into a false sense of security before dealing the unexpected killer blow.

It certainly looks like it means business, pouring hazy, deep amber with a menacing brown tinge and tight, off-white head.

But although there's nothing soft about its appearance, there's a lighter touch in the aroma, which thrusts a huge bouquet of freshly-picked flowers under your nose.

Grass and pine also come through strongly, almost totally disguising the more subtle notes of sweet brown sugar and tart, zesty lemon juice. Strangely, it hints at the presence of Brett too, such is the waft of earthy must that lingers behind the stronger floral perfumes.

A delicate nature persists in the initial taste. Soft honey and fizzy sherbet offer the kind of innocent indulgence that used to come from sucking the coating off a full packet of lemon bonbons one by one, each time tossing the toffee centre.

There's little hint of the devastation in store and, without warning, the palate is overwhelmed by a bold bitterness, which quickly establishes an iron grip and refuses to let go.

It could easily get out of control but is tempered by beautiful resinous hop flavours, pine and orange boiled sweets. A sticky sweet mouthfeel enhances the balance and leaves a soothing residue on the palate long after the bottle has been finished, joined by the slightest warming alcohol heat.

Let's hope fatigue doesn't have too much of an effect on Mr Krause. Much is expected of him in 2014.

Friday, 03 January 2014 15:56

Cromarty Brewing Co - Atlantic Drift

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Cromarty Atlantic DriftCromarty Atlantic Drift

Cask at The Beagle, 3.5% ABV

I've never really understood the 'session' obsession among some drinkers.

Look, I enjoy a good pint of bitter or session pale as much as the next man - in fact, I was raised on those styles - but at the expense of everything else?

To me, it seems odd you might want to sit in the pub and drink pint after pint of the same beer all day long. After a while, doesn't it become a bit too much like a hotdog eating contest?

That being said, a good pint of session pale is one of life's simple pleasures. The combination of the right pint, at the right time, in the right place is pretty much unbeatable.

This year, Cromarty's Atlantic Drift was responsible for that perfect storm.

It came at the height of the Mancunian summer, on the terrace at the Beagle in Chorlton, with a number of my closest friends.

That night, nothing proved more satisfying than Atlantic Drift, the combination of huge flavour and low ABV allowing it to tickle the taste buds at the same time as slaking my gargantuan thirst.

Cromarty Atlantic Drift pint

It's pretty as a picture too, a perfect slab of thick, white head perched proudly atop the clear, golden amber liquid.

Even on cask, the aroma is far from muted, as the mixture of Amarillo, Cascade, Calypso and Mt Hood hops quickly announce their presence. Bright orange and grapefruit mingle with crisp grass and earthy floral notes like a lungful of air from a lush citrus grove.

The taste opens with bags of mandarin orange sat on top of crisp pale malt, offering just a touch of grainy sweetness. A whizz of grapefruit fires across the top, almost as a warning shot for the big pine punch that follows, launching you into a long, dry finish full of pithy bitterness.

Amazingly, this doesn't scrimp on juicy fruit flavours or in-your-face earthiness but never seems to fall out of balance. The finishing bitterness is powerful yet zesty and pleasant, helping to clear the palate in anticipation of the next mouthful.

Some might consider the body a little light but it's right for the strength and there's just enough sweetness to carry the bold flavours without detracting from the beer's thirst-quenching nature.

It's almost enough to make you move to Scotland. Either that or wait in hope that more of this finds its way south of the border next summer.

Kernel Export Stout London 1890Kernel Export Stout London 1890

Bottle, 7.2% ABV

I'm a man of extremes.

Moderation has never been my strong point, so if I end up doing something, you can be guaranteed I'll take it to the extreme.

I can't buy a bike without also kitting myself head to toe in lycra (sorry for the mental image), I can't appreciate cinema without amassing a giant collection of classics on DVD and I can't enjoy beer without feeling the need to dissect every aspect of it on an internet blog.

My tastes are similar.

When it comes to beer, ask me what I drink most and it's one of two extremes. Either the deepest, darkest, dirtiest stouts or light, refreshing, well-hopped pale ales.

So, from the moment I was introduced to the Kernel a few years back, it became clear we would have a pretty harmonious relationship.

The sheer variety and quality of their pale ales is unrivalled. Granted, there have been a few missteps and occasionally I'd like a little less sediment in my bottle but Kernel's pales have assumed almost iconic significance when it comes to modern British brewing.

Still, however, it's the brewery's dark beers that continue to excite and amaze me - particularly the Export Stout London 1890.

Maybe it's because I was weened onto 'proper' beer using bottles of Guiness Foreign Extra but this just seems to resonate with me. It's such a stunningly well conceived and composed beer, grounded in tradition yet enhanced by innovation.

Sometimes appearances can be deceptive but not with this beast. It pours deep, oily black with a small mocha head that quickly dissipates, leaving a glass full of beautiful glossy, jet black liquid.

The nose is extremely well layered, with bags of dried fruit - predominantly raisins, cherries and figs - sat on top of a hunk of toasted bakery bread. Dull chocolate and coffee pulsate in the background, while the growing alcohol presence provides a rum-like character.

Similarly, there's a lot to work through in the taste.

Medium body and light carbonation allow a rich fruitiness to ease its way across the front of the tongue. Raisins, dates and cherries mingle with light toffee in a start that's both sweet and ever-so-slightly tart, while chalky dark chocolate lingers in the shadows.

A well-judged dose of hops provides a light spicy, herbal bitterness that leads into a finish full of bold malt character. An intense shot of espresso eclipses any lasting notes of dark chocolate, leaving a dry bitterness in the mouth, which is soon joined by growing notes of burnt toast and tobacco.

Those flavours of smoke and roast set up shop in the back of the mouth, leaving a pleasant aftertaste that would last for hours if you let it.

This is what stout is all about.

Friday, 27 December 2013 21:56

#12BeersOfXmas day eight, Geipel - Zoigl

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Geipel ZoiglGeipel Zoigl

Bottle, 5.4% ABV

Of all the beers on my #12BeersOfXmas list, this had possibly the most personal resonance.

It was a recent find in a local off-licence and caught the eye because it came from a brewery that claimed to be based in Didsbury, the place I currently call home.

Now, if you know Didsbury, you'd know it's an unlikely place for a brewery.

Rents round here are sky high and there isn't exactly an abundance of vacant industrial units. It's the epitome of aspirational commuter belt Manchester.

As it turns out, Geipel is headquartered in Didsbury yet brews in Gellioedd, Wales, specialising in traditional lager.

Unfortunately, my first experience of their amber lager Zoigl was less than favourable.

Both the aroma and flavour were dominated by acetaldehyde.

It smelled strongly of bruised granny smith apples and tasted of the same, joined by redcurrants and a touch of nutty dark malt.

It was clearly not an accurate representation of how this beer should taste and I strongly hope it was a one-off.

Everything else I've seen seems to suggest Geipel is a slick, well-resourced operation and it would be quite refreshing to find a new brewery that specialises in strict adherence to a limited range of traditional styles.

Thursday, 26 December 2013 23:15

#12BeersOfXmas day seven, Magic Rock - Strongman

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Magic Rock StrongmanMagic Rock Strongman

Bottle, 12% ABV

One of my enduring childhood memmories of Christmas is World's Strongest Man.

Nothing says festive celebration quite like watching a bunch of burly Scandanavians completing a 100-metre sprint with an articulated lorry attached to them.

So Magic Rock's big barleywine seemed like the ideal Christmas treat. Put this in the final of World's Strongest Beer and I'm sure it would more than hold its own.

It's a sipper in the strictest sense of the word. Let yourself be fooled into taking a gulp by the alluring medley of tropical and citrus fruit flavours and you'll soon find out exactly how strong this circus freak is. Those muscles aren't just for show, let me assure you!

This is produced from the same brew as Magic Rock's spectacular triple IPA Un-Human Cannonball and that much becomes instantly evident. Once you've hacked through the wax-dipped top (not an easy task for an infrequent wine drinker like myself) and popped the cap, big hop aromas of tropical fruit and pine immediately escape the bottle.

Pineapple and mango lead the assault, followed by bitter orange marmalade, with a vein of floral pine running underneath. Vanilla and brown sugar also reveal themselves before boozy sherry singes the nostril hairs, providing a timely reminder of that prodigious strength.

This power is also suggested in the appearance. Although a creamy white head forms upon first pour, this quickly dissipates to leave only a syrupy, hazy golden amber liquid in the glass - something resembling a good spirit rather than beer.

It's heavy and sticky in the mouth, yet the taste is all hops up front. Hefty, resinous hops, pineapple boiled sweets, fizzy sherbet, tangerine and blood orange, with toffee malt sitting below. Everything you'd expect from a triple IPA.

But, just as you begin to enjoy those bold hop flavours, the character quickly changes and rather than a colossal IPA, you're left with something completely different.

Muscovado sugar, honey and vanilla almost verge on cloying but vinous fruit and a smooth cashew nuttiness leads into a big oaky, sherry finish, which is dry, astringent and mildly warming. This is accompanied by a medium hop bitterness, fairly well hidden by the substantial sweetness, and a little earthy spice.

It is both a triple IPA and a barleywine and, at the same time, it's neither of the above. I reckon it could probably benefit from more time in the bottle to develop a richer character but even at this early stage, it's another enjoyable sup from Magic Wine.

The Huddersfield brewmasters have had a good year.

Saturday, 21 December 2013 17:27

#12BeersOfXmas day two, Celt - Ogham Ash

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Celt Ogham AshCelt Ogham Ash

Bottle, 10.5% ABV

On the second day of Christmas, my true love brought to me...

Well, she brought me an entire delivery of Swedish flat-pack furniture so, by extension, five whole hours of swearing, shouting, assembling, dismantling, hammering and screwing (no, not that kind you dirty so and so).

After all that, I was ready to turn to the hard stuff (I warned you once already, get your mind out of the gutter).

Luckily, Celt's Ogham Ash was on hand to calm those frayed nerves. At 10.5% ABV, this Imperial Russian Porter would bring serenity to a Tasmanian devil and represents a seriously self-indulgent treat.

Black as a panther, opaque and glossy with a huge tan head, it has the dark, destructive appearance of a proper porter. You know, the type of menacing beer that coldly stares you down and threatens to cause some serious damage.

The nose is amazingly lush but perhaps not what you would expect. Rather than coffee and chocolate, you're instantly overcome by spicy hops and ripe fruit notes, as if a basket of fresh plums, cherries, blackberries and herbs had been thrust in front of your face.

Once that intial surprise passes, notes of toffee, vanilla and charcoal begin to grow and cocoa emerges from the background to play a more prominent role. The finish is port-like, as the significant alcohol presence makes its presence felt, spreading a fresh heat through the sinuses.

Befitting the appearance and aroma, it's beautifully thick and oily, coating the mouth and lips with a delicious, sticky residue.

The malts are in charge from the start, thick treacle toffee and liquorice forming a harmonious union with fruity flavours of raisin, dried cherry and damson, while chalky dark chocolate sits politely in the background.

Briefly the hops jump into the foreground, candied orange with stimulating spice providing an interesting counterpart to the rich and heavy malt flavours.

But they fade again in the finish, allowing roasted malt, bitter chocolate and coffee to leave a lasting impression in the dry, vinous finish.

If you're looking to an antidote to the drudgery of flat-pack furniture construction, this might be what you're after.

Monday, 16 December 2013 11:38

Siren Craft Brew - Limoncello IPA

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Siren Limoncello IPASiren Craft Brew Limoncello IPA

Bottle, 9.1% ABV

My first taste of Siren Craft's Limoncello IPA is one I'll never forget.

Coming during this year's excellent Birmingham Beer Bash, it provided the most memorable moment of an equally memorable event - a thrilling shot of adrenaline that kicked off an incredible evening of food, drink and revelry.

It also doubled as my formal introduction to Siren's entire range of beers and confirmed everything I'd heard about bold brewer Ryan Witter-Merithew.

Daring, outlandish and wonderfully idiosyncratic, it encapsulated the radically inventive approach of an accomplished craftsman unbridled by traditional creative boundaries.

As far as introductions go, this was less stuffy handshake and more aggressive chest bump followed by flying high-five - not everyone's going to like it but at least it doesn't feel the need to follow the crowd.

Forget, for one minute, the painful mental images of luminescent yellow goop served in bad Italian restaurants usually conjured by the word 'limoncello'.

Better representations of the zesty, refreshing sipping liqueur can be a delight and this beer is an impressive tribute to the unique Italian creation.

What's even more impressive is the amount it has improved since the first tasting. In the five months since Birmingham Beer Bash, I've had two more bottles of Limoncello IPA - originally brewed in collaboration with Mikkeller and Hill Farmstead - and each was better than the last.

Pouring a murky golden orange with a miniscule white head, its appearance probably belies the rest of the experience.

Inhale and a whoosh of fresh lemon zest and juice shoots straight up the nose, clearing out the sinuses with its cutting, clean citrus edge. Skunky, herbal notes come from the Citra and Sorachi Ace, which have clearly been added by the bucketload, and there's some biscuity malt lurking underneath.

The taste is equally invigorating, juicy lemon exploding in several bursts across the palate - at times tart, bitter and sweet.

But none of these distinctive different flavours are allowed to run riot. The sourness from the lemon juice finds its counterbalance in the sweetness from the lactose and some coconut from the Sorachi even creeps through, creating a flavour reminiscent of lemon cheesecake.

A pleasant acidity finds its home in the corners of the mouth, causing a kind of sour smile that continues throughout the tangy, tart finish.

It's an utterly bizarre, brilliant beer.

Friday, 13 December 2013 11:28

Honest Brew Smugglers Gold

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Honest Brew SmugglerHonest Brew Smugglers Golds Gold

Bottle, 7.1% ABV

Beer usually tastes better when it's free so I was particularly grateful to the guys at Honest Brew for sending this one my way.

It was perhaps made even tastier by the fact all I had to do to earn it was tell a daft joke on Twitter. Who knew my own inimitable 'comedy' stylings would begin to pay dividends at this late stage?

In all honesty though, this black beauty didn't need any help improving its taste from forces either real or imagined.

It's exactly what I look for in a black IPA - a good balance of rich malt character and bold hops rather than something akin to an IPA loaded with black food colouring.

The 'Smugglers' (which appears to be missing an apostrophe, although I'm not going to go all 'grammar pedant' on them) element apparently comes from the addition of rum to the mix and life experience has taught me that's generally not a bad thing. Well, unless it's 5am in a casino bar in Poland when you've already had six bottles of De Molen Amarillo but that's another story.

It's a wonderfully sinister-looking opaque black with a strong light tan head that leaves big globs of lacing all the way down the glass.

In this clash of the titans, round one is taken by the bold hops, which come through strongest in the aroma. Fresh pine and citrus shine like a beacon, with orange zest and grapefruit catching the attention, but dark chocolate and dull oak throb underneath.

However, the malts make their comeback immediately in the first sip, providing a rich sweetness that coats the tongue with chocolate and demerara sugar.

Roasted malt and charcoal provide a more deviant element before a wave of fresh hop flavours washes through the mouth, grapefruit and blood orange joined by more floral notes.

A slight hint of oak is present in the finish and a mild bitterness takes the edge off a good kick of alcohol heat.

A free lunch might not come without the odd catch but it appears the same does not apply to free beer. I'm open to offers if anyone fancies sending more intoxicating beverages my way.

Thursday, 12 December 2013 12:20

Wild Beer - Shnoodlepip

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Wild Beer ShnoodlepipWild Beer, Good George and Burning Sky - Shnoodlepip

Bottle, 6.5% ABV

Pink beer?

Really? Beer that's... pink?!

But beer is a man's drink is it not? It should be consumed by... well, men. And one thing's for certain, real men do NOT drink the colour pink!

Luckily, attitudes have changed since those delightful Harp ads of the 80s (or have they?) and the kooks at Wild Beer have been at it again, screwing with our perceptions of style, taste and appearance.

This time they had help from New Zealand brewers Good George and British upstarts Burning Sky, creating an astonishingly unique, eccentric brew that got beer geeks everywhere chattering excitedly following its release earlier this year.

Regardless of any troglodytic gender-based colour stereotypes, pink is still a pretty unusual colour for beer. Well, technically it is a kind of hazy blood orange hue but turns a dazzling, luminescent reddish pink in direct sunlight.

But, then, this is a pretty unusual beer.

What exactly is it? Well, for ease of classification, it has frequently been called a sour or wild ale but it defies all traditional style parameters, defining a new category inhabited only by itself.

The truly astounding thing about Shnoodlepip is that it constantly morphs and changes, providing several different types of experience during the time taken to drain a glass.

One sniff reveals layersof contrasting aroma, stewed gooseberry sat on top of white wine vinegar, spiced rhubarb and old leather.

Straight out of the bottle, the fruity flavours are fresh and vivid, starting sweet on the front of the tongue before a wave of light sourness, sharp cranberry and raspberry burrowing into the corners of the mouth.

Despite the beer's flat appearance - an initial bubbly pinkish head disappearing as if by magic - a prickly carbonation works its way across the tongue, emphasising the spiky pink pepper and tart passion fruit soon emerges, leading to an aftertaste loaded with bready malt.

The longer the experience goes on, the more the oakiness grows, providing something akin to the character of a good red wine.

Grape must and astringent tannins become more prominent, while rich, tangy hibiscus throbs in the background and Brett adds its characteristic earthy spice.
We've come a long way since the 80s.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 12:28

Partizan - 7 Grain Farmhouse Porter

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Partizan 7 Grain Farmhouse PorterPartizan Porter, 7 Grain Farmhouse

Bottle, 5.7% ABV

Partizan appear to have a bit of a thing for the saison.

The Bermondsey brewer have produced so much of the stuff this year that they might be better suited to a crumbling old farmhouse in the Belgian wilds than a railway arch in the urban sprawl of south east London.

The variously-hopped pale versions have been met with differing degrees of enthusiasm and this is another which will likely split opinion. The difference is, this one's dark. As dark as the soul of Christian Bale's Batman.

It practically gushes out of the bottle, fizzing and crackling into the glass to produce a thick, lasting beige head sat atop a jet black liquid, the colour of ink from a fresh printer cartridge.

The fluffy head and deep, glossy colour add up to an incredibly enticing beer, the kind you can imagine pouring yourself a bath of and diving in head first.

It's exactly what you'd expect from a porter until that first whiff starts screwing with your perceptions of reality.

Instead of coffee and chocolate, the dominant aroma is a funky sourness - sharp and cutting with hints of tangy berries and citrus fruit. A little roastiness and burnt cocoa creep through eventually but the saison yeast has definitely got this one.

The malts, however, bide their time and come through a lot stronger in the taste. Immediately you're greeted by sweet caramel, followed by chalky cocoa, roasted malt and grainy, chewy cereal.

But, rather than rich and lasting, the sweetness provided by the malts is clean and swift, cut off by a rush of tartness that's full of sour orchard fruits and red berries.

That tartness morphs into a mild spiciness, with notes of carraway, before coming to a halt in an arid finish that carries a good dose of bitterness.

One of Partizan's better interpretations of the style if you ask me.

Monday, 09 December 2013 12:28

Red Willow - Smokeless

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Red Willow SmokelessRed Willow Smokeless

Bottle, 5.7% ABV

Wait, is that you?

It can't be, surely. It's been so long I thought I'd lost you completely.

No... wait, it is you! But where have you been?

Actually, it's alright, you don't have to answer that. Just promise you'll never leave again.

Smokeless and myself go back a few years now. The first time we made acquaintance was, I think, at the now-defunct Altrincham Beer Festival (the glass in the picture is a reminder of this momentous occasion) but it may have been elsewhere, my memory is hazy.

It was the first Red Willow beer I had sampled and one that instantly grabbed my attention, provoking me to explore the rest of the Macclesfield microbrewer's varied range.

The problem was, after an enjoyable introduction, I struggled to regain that initial high.

A box of Smokeless bought for me as a Christmas present by my generous workmates last year turned out to be a disappointment, with most of the bottles pouring flat and lifeless.

A couple more bad experiences and I had almost lost hope until a friend kindly donated a bottle earlier this year on the promise that this batch was different.
It sat in my cupboard for months, trepidation meaning I just couldn't bring myself to open it, but when I did finally pluck up the courage to pop the top, I was really pleasantly surprised.

It slinked smoothly into the glass, a heavy dark brown liquid topped by an off-white head that crackled enthusiastically into life and remained resplendent throughout.

A quick sniff reveals coffee, roasted malt and charcoal - all the kind of dark and dangerous smells that promise a combination of delectation and ruination. You just know your palate will need some serious recovery time.

The bold taste belies the reasonably light body. Smokeless is slick and oily but packs in punnets of dark fruit, with raisins, dates and plums all getting involved up front over a base of smooth caramel.

Sweet treats out of the way, there follows a good dose of roasted malt, a mild barbecue smokiness and a growing chilli heat, which mingle to provide something that verges on peatiness.

Such dominant flavours need moderation and they get it through a well-judged addition of spicy, autumnal hops and a bitter, dry finish.

It's an experience that conjures up festive images of wolfing down mince pies in front of a raging log fire. A perfect one, perhaps, to accompany this year's Christmas pud if you'll forgive my premature reference to December 25.

Thursday, 05 December 2013 12:50

Bad Seed - India Pale Ale

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Bad Seed India Pale AleBad Seed India Pale Ale 1

Bottle, 7.3% ABV

Hopes were high before I cracked this one open.

Good reports had come in from no less than three trusted sources regarding the quality of Bad Seed's beers, so the Yorkshire brewers had long been on my 'to do' list.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the reality fell just a little bit short of expectation.

To call it a disappointment would be harsh on what is essentially still a good beer but there does appear to be a few rough edges that could still do with smoothing off.

From an outsider's perspective, Bad Seed seem to be focused on doing the basics well and that's no bad thing. Aside from the IPA, there's a South Pacific pale, a hefeweizen, a saison and a coffee stout and the labelling for each is striking in its clear simplicity. The card tag hung around each bottle requesting feedback is also a nice touch and suggests a brewery genuinely interested in the views and opinions of its customers.

Bad Seed India Pale Ale 2

However, with the IPA at least, you get the feeling this is because they haven't quite arrived at the finished product yet.

It pours hazy amber with a small white head and certainly isn't short on aroma. Chinook's funky citrus is unmistakable but there's also a strong whiff of lemon and some lighter tropical notes come through at the back end.

Initial signs on the taste are promising too. Soft toffee massages the palate, preparing it for a gush of juicy lemon, orange and pine, dashed with a pinch of spice.
So far, so good you might say.

But, unfortunately, it falls apart a little in the finish. Pungent grapefruit segues into a heavily bitter finish, which is punctuated by an abrasive alcohol heat.
It comes as a shock to the system, simply because it's so completely out of character, and is far too harsh and astringent, throwing the beer completely out of balance.

Still, it's not too far off. A few tweaks to the recipe and Bad Seed should be able to develop the cornerstone for a successful range here.

Thursday, 07 November 2013 10:32

Harviestoun - Wild Hop IPA

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Harviestoun Wild HopHarviestoun Wild Hop IPA

Bottle, 5.2% ABV

Scottish brewers Harviestoun boast a wide range of dark beers I can definitely get down with.

A couple of years ago I happened to luck into a free case of Old Engine Oil a week before Christmas. 'Perfect', I thought, 'this will go down well with the family after our turkey dinner'. Unfortunately, I hadn't reckoned for the fact I might drink all 12 in the following two days.

The various versions of Ola Dubh are similarly delicious but I had never really enjoyed any of their lighter beers until I stumbled across this.

To be honest, I didn't really expect to like this much either, particularly after a mate had told me it wasn't much cop. Thankfully, he was wrong.

It pours a lovely deep, golden amber with a decent white head that left pretty lacing all down the side of my pint glass.

The aroma is a decent showcase of different hop characteristics, with lively floral notes, grassiness and earthy spice joined by orange zest and a touch of grapefruit.

Although the mouthfeel is a little thin and the carbonation possibly a touch too high, there's plenty more hoppy goodness in the taste.

First, you're eased in by a welcoming, soft malt - something akin to caramel shortbread - before the hop characteristics really begin to sing. And once they get going, there's a full-on chorus line.

Lemon, blood orange and grapefruit all come through strongly, leading to an astringent, crisp and bitter finish, counterbalanced by a lingering drop of honey.

It might not impress the real hop heads and craft nerds but consider it more as a golden ale than an IPA and it's the kind of beer you could easily drink all night.

Wednesday, 06 November 2013 12:56

Fyne Ales/Wild Beer - Cool as a Cucumber

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Fyne and Wild CucumberFyne and Wild Cool as a Cucumber

Bottle, 2.9% ABV

Drinking this put me in mind of the old Fast Show sketch about Squeezy, Cheezy Peaz. if you have no idea what I'm on about, have a look at the video below this piece.

Granted, that may seem odd to anyone without a window into the workings of my mind. So, by way of an explanation, peas were the one thing that dominated my thoughts while drinking Fyne Ales and Wild Beer's unique collaboration, a saison brewed with cucumber and mint.

Rather than hitting me with cucumber, it made me feel as if I were demolishing a big bowl of minted peas. So think less squeezy, cheezy peaz and more 'minty, beery peas'.

It's not as absurd as the idea of putting mashed-up peas and cheese together in a tube - of course that was intended as a satirical comment on the growing availability of awful processed snacks - but your average consumer might view it in a similar light. 'Minted pea beer?! Yeah right, leave it out mate.'

It's a pretty barmy beer but, then, you'd expect nothing less from anything covered by Wild Beer's mucky fingerprints.

It's full of excitement and desperate to get out of the bottle, fizzing into life once the cap is popped and pouring a light peach colour with a huge, fluffy white head. That head quickly dissipates but the beer continues to crackle with life as a whole host of fascinating, conflicting aromas fill the nostrils.

Fresh mint, green veg and herbal notes of coriander, parsley and sage come up against a light fruitiness, yeasty funk and a tinge of sourness. Nothing you've had before smells quite like this.

The taste is equally complex and unusual, initially full of lush minted peas, coriander, cucumber, grass and pickled gherkins. The mint is strong and incredibly vivid, almost as if you've stuffed a handful of fresh mint leaves in your mouth and begun chewing. As these flavours party on the palate, a pleasant breadiness begins to build, like thick, fresh dough, that continues to lasts long after you've swallowed the stuff.

A slight sourness and peppery warmth follow the vegetal notes, leading to an extremely dry finish, somewhat astringent and full of yeasty funk.

It's not the kind of beer you could drink buckets of but it definitely has its place, particularly among the new generation of low ABV beers. Given the strength, it's extremely light in the body and a little watery but that's to be expected and none of it detracts from the fact it's a beer that just has to be sampled - whether you like beer or not!

Despite its obvious eccentricities, it is neither contrived nor a novelty product. Instead it's a powerful example of natural progression. There's only so far you can go in offsetting the lighter body of a lower ABV beer by using mountains of hops. Fyne and Wild have tackled the dilemma in a totally different way and ended up producing something that's unique, experimental and invigorating.

Yes, there may be the nay-sayers who believe a beer that tastes of minty veg is a step too far and I'll admit I approached it myself with a degree of scepticism. But the use of such interesting ingredients opens up new possibilities for the production and consumption of beer.

Given its vegetal, herbal characteristics, this is made for food. I enjoyed it with a slab of soft goat's cheese - the fresh, herbal flavours of the beer offering an ideal counterpoint to the tart, pungent, creamy cheese - but it could work with a whole host of potential partners. Fyne and Wild may just have struck upon something here.

Oh yeah, one last thing. That video...

Saturday, 14 September 2013 11:12

Kernel and Brodie's - Scanner Darkly

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Kernel Brodie's Scanner DarklyKernel and Brodie's Scanner Darkly Black IPA

Keg at Common, Manchester, 6.9% ABV

These two names, together on one label were enough to get the juices flowing.

I'm a big fan of both, so together expected them to be capable of ruling the world - at least the world as defined by the confines of my beer-obsessed brain.

In light of this, perhaps the sheer weight of expectation became too much. Perhaps the whole isn't always equal to the sum of its parts.

Either way, this was a beer that disappointed me. Not that it's a bad beer as such, just that it failed to excite my senses as much as the collaboration had aroused my interest.

I think it suffers from the same syndrome that has beset many a black IPA, in that it doesn't really do anything that an IPA wouldn't. If it smells like an IPA and tastes like an IPA, it's an IPA, right? Yet it's black - and therein lies another problem. Is a black 'pale' ale not an oxymoron?

Consequently, few black IPAs have really wowed me. Maybe that's more of a reflection on my own stubborn views than an indictment of the beers themselves but I expect a dark beer to pleasure my palate with rich, robust malt flavours. Unfortunately, they just don't come through strong enough in Scanner Darkly.

It pours a deep, muddy brown with a proud, lasting tan head and gives off strong aromas of juicy orange and pineapple, with just a whiff of roasted malt lingering underneath.

Yet that hint of malt is completely overwhelmed in the taste by the punchy hop flavours, a combination of piquant pineapple, passion fruit and orange, zesty grapefruit and bitter resinous notes.

A pleasant light caramel sweetness does manage to steal the slightest bit of limelight from those strong hop characteristics but doesn't do anywhere near enough to merit a starring role.

Still, Scanner Darkly remains a really drinkable beer and that's where the problem lies - criticism does start to seem a little futile when the beer in question is better than a large number of its contemporaries. But it's just not a dark beer dammit!

Thursday, 12 September 2013 21:25

Northern Monk - New World IPA

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Northern Monk New World IPANorthern Monk New World IPA

Bottle, 6.2%

Like when Amerigo Vespucci and chums set off to discover what became known as the new world, maybe the ship has sailed here.

This review would have been better published a month prior because, rather than talking about the opening of new frontiers, I'm left to focus on the end of one particular adventure. What I'm trying to say, rather clumsily I may add, is that Northern Monk is no more - at least not in its original incarnation.

Initially set up as a joint venture by Russell Bisset and award-winning homebrewer David Bishop, otherwise known by his online alias Broadford Brewer, the gypsy brewers enjoyed a whirlwind start to life marked by the production of three critically-acclaimed beers within a few short months.

Unfortunately, this success came at a price, with David announcing last week that the demands of a day job and family life meant he would be reluctantly leaving the brotherhood.

Northern Monk will continue on with a new hand at the tiller - and hopefully similar levels of prosperity - but their opening beery trinity will now stand as a testament to a potent partnership that ended all too soon.

The New World IPA was the first of these three - Strannik Imperial Stout and Weird Beard collab Bad Habit being the others - and a beer well worth getting your hands on.

It pours a luminescent golden orange, shining bright like a beacon yet clear as a bell with a thin white head that sits delicately on top, screaming 'drink me'.

As the name might hint, it's a beer that's all about the hops, a heady mix of American, Antipodean and English melding a variety of distinct, yet complimentary, aromas and flavours. The nose is jammed full of juicy fruits, lemon, orange, pineapple and passion fruit all desperately trying to attract your attention.

There's plenty of balance on the palate, however, a soft, sweet blob of caramel easing the path towards an outburst of hoppy goodness. Lush mango and passion fruit start the party but are soon followed by sharp lime, orange zest and a touch of earthy spice, leading to a bitter grapefruit finish.

It's incredibly drinkable, even at 6.2% so it's a shame David won't be able to provide us with a steady supply of the stuff. We can only hope Nothern Monk's new chapter follows suit.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 20:53

Quantum Brewery - CCC IPA

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Quantum CCC IPAQuantum CCC IPA

Bottle, 8.1% ABV

Oh, boy!

Where have we leapt to this time? And what is this bold new era?

OK, so I'm not quite Dr Sam Beckett but it does appear that we have entered an exciting age where bottles of Quantum's beers freely roam the earth, finding their way into more outlets than ever before. Forget the leap home, I'm quite happy to stay here for the foreseeable.

Readers from God's country - Manchester to the uninitiated - may already be familiar with the beers produced by this excellent microbrewery but hopefully we are entering a time when the rest of you can share in the enjoyment.

Brewer Jay Krause operates as a one-man band out of an unassuming industrial unit in Stockport, meaning regular availability of his beers has been limited to a handful of venues in the Greater Manchester area. But all signs point to wider reach in the near future and, believe me, that can only be a good thing.

The CCC IPA is one of my recent favourites produced by Quantum, although the Barleywine USA is also an absolute belter (review to follow very soon).

It pours a cloudy, burnt orange with a lively, thick white head that retreats rapidly back towards the liquid yet leaves a thin lacing clinging tentatively to the sides of the glass.

Typically for 'C' hops (Citra, Centennial and Columbus in case you were wondering), the aromas are pungent, led racing out of the glass by eager grapefruit. Pine and musty tropical notes follow closely behind but inhale really deeply and you can almost sense the heavy haze of a Grateful Dead gig, if you catch my drift.

The carbonation is firm and lasting but the mouthfeel is smooth as silk, sliding away far too easily for an 8.1% ABV beast. Beers this drinkable play a nasty game of rope-a-dope and before you know it, you're lay sparko on the canvas.

Accompanying this drinkability, there is still plenty of punch to delight the hopheads. Unsurprisingly there's more grapefruit, joined by sherbet lemon, a pinch of pineapple and sticky, orangey boiled sweets. But the more you drink, the more the resinous, spicy hop flavours come to the fore, particularly pine and sage.

It finishes with a lasting bitterness that latches on to the back of the tongue, refusing to let go until you take another gulp - and why wouldn't you when it tastes this good.

If you're interested to find out more about Quantum, keep 'em peeled for the first in my series of regular brewer features, featuring the man himself, Mr Jay Krause.

Meanwhile, for any Quantum Leap fans out there, I'll leave you with this:

Friday, 26 July 2013 14:11

Pressure Drop & Howling Hops - Wallflower

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Pressure Drop Wallflower

Pressure Drop/Howling Hops Wallflower

Bottle, 5.7% ABV

The minute I saw this on the shelf at Manchester's Beermoth, two thoughts began meandering through my mind:

1. An elderflower wit? This has the potential to be bloody awful.

2. Pressure Drop AND Howling Hops? I'll curse myself if I don't at least try it.

Subterranean brewers Howling Hops have had an impressive start to life since emerging from the depths beneath Hackney's Old Cock Tavern last year, producing an extensive array of different styles and flavours.

Meanwhile neighbours Pressure Drop, located under a railway arch just round the corner, have developed some seriously tasty beers with a small-scale operation.
Together, they form an intriguing duo and one I couldn't ignore.

This beer is a variation on Pressure Drop's own Wallbanger, a fairly typical Belgian wit, which is admittedly not a style I usually go out of my way to sample but I maintained a completely open mind (not easy for an over-opinionated so-and-so).

Wallflower is brewed with foraged elderflowers and aromatic additions of orange peel, coriander and chamomile flowers so it's name seems a bit of a misnomer. With so much going on, it's not a beer that's backward in coming forward.

That said, the nose is far from overpowering, with the elderflower occasionally elbowing its way past notes of hay, grass and doughy wheat, with the odd bit of mandarin orange thrown in for good measure.

It's easy to overdo the elderflower in experimental brews of this kind but rather than chucking up a sickly wave of sweet, perfumed effervescence, Wallflower offers a crisp, herbal grassiness.

The elderflower tastes fresh and delicate rather than sticky, a characteristic that is only enhanced by the aromatics - none of which are particularly prominent but add depth and a clean, floral property.

There's a touch of spicy yeast and cream soda, probably emphasised by the lively carbonation.

Not a beer I could drink by the bucketload but a worthwhile experiment all the same.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013 07:27

Bristol Beer Factory - Acer

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Bristol Beer Factory Acer

Bristol Beer Factory Acer

Cask at The Grain Barge, Bristol, 3.8% ABV

Up to this point, I'd heard a lot about Bristol Beer Factory without ever trying one of their beers.

Shameful, I know, but limited funds and time have curtailed travel this year so the ready availability of bottle, cask or keg up north has been one of the major factors moulding my drinking habits.

You could call me parochial I suppose - and there is an element of the inward-gazing Manc about me - but life begins to get in the way when you hit 30!

Luckily, a recent trip to Bristol gave me the ideal chance to broaden my horizons. I suggested to my girlfriend we take a walk around the harbour area and... oh, shock horror, look what we've stumbled upon, Bristol Beer Factory's impressive Grain Barge pub.

'I had no idea that was there darling but... well, it'd be rude not to.'

As far as first experiences of a beer go, this was as close to perfect as I was going to get. A beautiful sunny, summer day relaxing on the water, staring out onto Bristol's iconic harbourside and the SS Great Britain.

So I grabbed a cask pint of Acer, their low alcohol, pale session ale and slumped into a couch by the window. It turned out to be a decent accompaniment.

An attractive looking pale peach beer with a thick, lasting pearl head, it emitted smells of the summer, dominated by grassy hops but also bringing floral and citrus qualities.

The taste isn't groundbreaking but more than does its job as a session ale. As expected from the Sorachi Ace hop, there is a rush of citrus, mainly orange zest and grapefruit, making way to a clean floral hoppiness, accompanied by just enough light malt to ensure the hops don't run completely amok.

It finishes extremely crisp and dry, making it a good thirst quencher and providing that 'ahhh' factor, which is a necessity in any beer professing to be a session ale. It reminded me a bit of Hawkshead's Windermere Pale in this respect.

Overall, a solid start to my experience of Bristol Beer Factory and one that has piqued my interest in trying more. Luckily, there are already two bottles ready and waiting in the kitchen cupboard!

Tuesday, 09 July 2013 20:35

Oakham - Citra

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Oakham CitraOakham Citra

Bottle, 4.6% ABV

Oakham Ales have a lot to answer for.

As a devoted fan of the attention-grabbing Citra hop, I could reasonably cite the Peterborough brewers as the driving force behind my regular ruination.

I'm not sure they particularly have anything against me. The path to catastrophe isn't laid out with any forethought of malice but Oakham were the first brewery in the UK to use Citra back in 2009, laying the groundwork for all manner of lip-smackingly addictive brews to follow.

Citra's complex fruit profile can often mask dangerous levels of alcohol, leading me to be deceived by all manner of pale ales and IPAs on various occasions with dangerous results.

Luckily, Oakham's guilt can be slightly assuaged by the fact their own variant of the single-hop Citra is a very drinkable 4.6%. With bottles of this recently cropping up in B&M Bargains, of all places, there's no excuse not to indulge in gallons of the stuff.

The bottle's label doesn't exactly betray the joys within. I've never really been a fan of Oakham's weird hop-faced cartoon characters but I suppose they're distinctive at least. There's really no mistaking what beer you're about to receive when that bugger is staring back at you from the pump clip on the bar.

Looking beyond the branding, this is an outstanding beer and one of my favourites to waken up the palate at the end of another long week at work.

It pours straw coloured with a small white head, leaving thin, sticky lacing all the way down the glass. Although the aroma isn't as powerful as you might expect, there are hints of citrus, hay and, to a lesser extent, tropical fruits.

Yet the taste packs serious punch, hitting you with a heady combination of sweety, zesty fruit and causing your tongue to tingle with excitement. Sharp lemon, gooseberry, pineapple and grapefruit all rear their heads (although not quite like Oakham's Captain Citra) at various stages of the experience, building up to a strong, satisfying bitter finish.

It's easy to overuse Citra - and many breweries have been guilty of that - so it's all the more impressive that this manages to harness so many different flavours without giving way to the overwhelming pissyness the hop frequently provides.

Oakham may have contributed to my downfall but, for that, I congratulate them.

Saturday, 06 July 2013 09:56

Partizan - Pale Ale Wakatu

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Partizan Pale Ale Wakatu

Partizan Wakatu

Bottle, 5% ABV

Of all the new breweries who have popped up around London in the past couple of years - and they have been multiplying like rampant yeast cells - Partizan has been producing some of the most drinkable stuff.

Often there's nothing too fancy about their beers, the majority being variously hopped IPAs and pale ales, but they're just so damn enjoyable. The kind of beers you could pour down your neck for a whole evening without a care in the world.

The Wakatu variant of their pale ale is no different. It's everything you'd expect from this New Zealand hop, which seems to have enjoyed something of a revival in recent times after originally deriving from the Hallertau Aroma strain.

In fact, I'll be using Wakatu in my very own first brew, so that must be a sign of the esteemed company it is now keeping.

Anyway, back to the programme. This pours an attractive, slightly cloudy, golden peach and kicks out aromas of vibrant tropical fruit and lemongrass.

There are hints of tropical fruit in the taste as well but this is where the citrus notes really begin to take over. Grapefruit is dominant but still quite delicate, nowehere near as pronounced as in beers brewed with fellow New Zealand hop Nelson Sauvin.

Pine and zingy lime come through as well and there's just enough malt to hold it all together. It finishes dry and moderately bitter, making it very easy to put back in volume.

It's not one of Partizan's better beers (there will be more of them to come in subsequent reviews) but it's another really enjoyable effort, certainly as I look outside to see the British summer has finally arrived.

Thursday, 20 June 2013 20:27

Kernel - Double Citra

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Kernel Double Citra

kernel

Keg at Common, Manchester, 9.7% ABV

It's scary how little this drinks its strength.

I'm not talking haunted house scary either, more 'night flashing before my eyes' kind of scary. One minute, you're casually sipping this delightful beverage and the next you're lay in a ditch, wearing drag and cuddling up to an inflatable sheep.

Granted, this seems to be a theme with me. Not the drag and inflatable sheep - I'd like to make that much abundantly clear - but the fact I quite regularly put back a beer faster than the Human Torch lights a cigarette only to be floored when a mate tells me it weighs in at close to 10%.

Maybe it's the Irish blood but, then again, maybe that's a crass generalisation.

Anyway, back on topic, this is surprisingly easy drinking at a potent 9.7% and it would be easy to knock back two or three in quick succession.

It shouldn't have been too much of a surprise because all the early signs had pointed in that direction. I mean, just look at it! A beautiful, cloudy, golden peach colour and thick, pearly white head make this immediately inviting.

A lively floral, citrus hop aroma only adds to the allure - making you feel as if you are witness to some kind of beery strip tease as new wonders are revealed bit by tantalising bit.

Luckily the taste proves to be the ultimate revelation, as lemon, lychee, mango, passionfruit and pineapple all combine to explode in the mouth, zinging and fizzing off the palate like a mouthful of sherbet. It's thick, creamy and resinous with a perfectly-judged dose of bready malt providing a well-rounded flavour.

The finish may not be as bitter and dry as your typical double IPA but that's a bonus in this instance, allowing the juicy hops to take over and create a truly indulgent beer.

Kernel never usually disappoint but the keg incarnation of their Double Citra, in particular, stands out as one of the best I've tasted in 2013.

Sunday, 16 June 2013 15:21

Red Willow - Witless I and II

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Red Willow Witless I, lemongrass wheat beerRed Willow Witless II

Bottle, 3.9% ABV

Red Willow Witless II, mango wheat beer

Bottle, 4.8% ABV

I approached this pair with equal degrees of excitement and trepidation.

I'm a big fan of Red Willow brewer Toby McKenzie's frequent experiments but the only other mango beer I've tried was a foul, watery brew that attacked your palate with a near vomit-inducing sweetness.

Witless II, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

A wheat beer brewed using mango puree, it strikes the right balance between sweet, sharp and buttery to become the perfect accompaniment for a lazy Saturday afternoon in the sun. Forget the cider slush puppies - I've never understood the appeal of cheap, sugary rubbish loaded with enough ice to house 20 eskimos - and stock your fridge with this if the British weather deigns us worthy enough to enjoy enough sun for the odd summer barbecue.

This beer is one of those hallowed few that can easily straddle the line between craft and mainstream appeal. Even my girlfriend liked it and that's saying something, considering her usual reaction to the beers I drink is something akin to a dog eating a piece of lime. Have a butcher's below if you're not sure what that looks like:

Witless II is not at all sickly because the delicate sweetness of the mango is well matched by the ensuing sharpness of the hop. It goes down pleasantly smooth and creamy before finishing with strong, biscuity malt.

It's predecessor in this range of experimental wheat beers is just as good. Witless I is brewed with lemongrass, a fact that is impossible to miss after catching a first whiff of it.

The lemon flavour is delicate and sweet rather than bitter, faintly reminiscent of the lemon sherberts that were a pick 'n' mix mainstay in years gone by. That flavour soon gives way to banana-tinged wheat before leaving an enjoyable malt finish lingering in the mouth, almost like buttered shortbread or ginger biscuits.

At 3.9% it would also be ideal for a long, summer session. More so than many of its German equivalents.

Apparently there are two more beers to come in the Witless range, including a smoked version and a 'big hoppy number'. On this evidence they will be well worth looking out for.