Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout

At the instigation of Phil of Beersay fame, and because I don't have any Temptation for Friday's Durham Brewery promoted '#impoff' (Imperial Stout Twitter tasting) I ended up drinking a Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout yesterday evening.

It pours with a gorgeous deep tan head which retained well as I drank the beer. There's dark chocolate, a faint soapiness and a slight lactic/milky coffee note to the nose. On the palate it's both dry and rich, with lots more coffee, bitter cherry and pine hop flavour. It holds the alcohol well, not spirity. (Possibly dangerous that!) Good balance with the chocolate & touch of vanilla. Coffee keeps coming as you drink it, along with more spicy notes. On the whole a fine beer. It's not overly exciting, but certainly impeccably made. Sometimes it's easy to get carried away with the power of some modern beers when you're tasting them but for me they have to have a corresponding amount of character to back up high abv. I'm just not sure this needed to be 9%.

A Duvel glass came out due to discussion
centred on a previous blog post!
On poking round the website it was interesting to see that Nøgne Ø don't appear to brew a 'non-imperial' stout and I wonder if they could get a similar amount of character into one without the abv. It was a flippant comment at the time but I mentioned to a couple of people on Twitter that it could maybe have done with some time in an old PX sherry/whisky butt to add character, and given the guys at Nøgne Ø have aged a similar beer in Cognac barrels, it suggests I might not be alone in that thought - this I'd love to have tried.

£4.75 (50cl) from York Beer & Wine Shop.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Thornbridge 'Raven' Black IPA

Every now and again a beer leaves you reaching for Roget and looking for more superlatives to throw at it. At times like these I generally feel like a review can never quite do it justice. I'm sure I'm not the first person to be blown away by how great Thornbridge's Raven is. Simon over at CAMRGB seemed pretty keen and if you didn't check his review out, you should.

I got lots of berry fruit and dark cherry on the nose, along with hints of chocolate and orange. Bags of rich fruit on the palate; cherry again and some dried fruit balancing well with the coffee and roasted malt flavours. The slightly grainy texture sets it up well too. A genuinely intriguing beer, big enough without being excessive. The bitterness of the finish seemed to move around to the mid-palate and almost dance with the lemon and orange hoppy fruit. Highly recommended.

6.6% abv £3.05 (50cl) from Hops in a Bottle.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Glass Envy

It was my fault for not ordering it in something else, but I was sat in the pub the other afternoon with a certain amount of jealousy directed towards my two mates' tall, elegant Pilsner Urquell glasses. Nothing wrong with the beer, although it was nothing spectacular, but served as it was it just looked... dull.

Suitability aside -it just looks thirst-inducingly great!
I'm hoping that the message gets through to pubs that good beer deserves good presentation, and a glass-washer-scratched nonic simply doesn't do any beer justice. I'm not saying that every brewery should go so far as Sam Adams did with their 'scientifically developed' glassware, especially since the bit about tasting sweetness at the front of your tongue is not so much a disproved theory as a never was theory. It'd be impractical for every beer in a pub to be served in its own glass, and I'd rather a pub rotated beers for interest than kept the same lines for presentation's sake, but decent glassware is important. I'd be interested to hear people's preferences.

Personal favourites for draught beer by the pint? Just on aesthetics rather than bringing flavours out I liked to use tall, straight sided glasses like the Senator when I was a bar manager, but I also have a fondness for handled mugs like this Haworth, and I'd be happy to be offered the choice of one of those two in a pub.

Ben McFarland wrote an interesting piece on the Guardian: Calling Time on the Pint Glass, and even calling time on the measure, back in January if you missed it.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Thwaites Co-Operative 'Strong Brown Ale'

I thought I'd check this one out since the beer selection in my local Co-Op is rather lame but I'm a fan of Thwaites beers.

It's all treacly malt, almost molasses like in weight and texture. Great body and mouth feel and a rich, dense, satisfying umami, almost broth-like palate. Lots of flavours of Marmite and Chinese black-bean sauce mixed in with that sweetness. It's not a style of beer I often enjoy (time and a place!) but this wasn't half bad, certainly a meal-in-a-glass sort of beer, and I'd recommend it if you're a fan of heavier brown ales - Newcastle Brown it ain't.

5.0% abv £1.90 (ish) from the Co-Op

Friday, 23 March 2012

Hops In A Bottle

I took a mate up to Mansfield the other day for a visit to a beer shop I'd not been to before. I first heard about it on Twitter just before Christmas, which I think was not long after it opened.

Hops in a Bottle's focus is very much on local beers. There's a small selection of Wychwood and the like from outside of the surrounding area, but they seem to be more to provide something familiar for the less adventurous than a core of what the shop is about. Similarly don't go in expecting a selection of trendy American craft beers, or indeed anything foreign, or you'll be disappointed. That is in no way a criticism, the shop seems proudly local, and the beer range simply reflects that. The policy seems to be to stock as much of the range as possible from the breweries too. Welbeck Abbey Brewery (who also have a blog) is the closest to the shop, with breweries such as Blue Monkey, Nottingham Brewery, Flipside and Castle Rock from down here in Nottingham. Derbyshire's represented by BramptonBuxton, SpirePeak Ales and Thornbridge. Lincolnshire and Yorkshire in the form of Sleaford, Springhead, Wold Top and Kelham Island. I also caught sight of Newark's Milestone brewery. I apologise for any I missed, no notebooks were harmed in the writing of this blog post. I think that's a pretty extensive range when you factor in how many lines each brewery provides, and all of this traditional beer is set out in a very modern way. It was refreshing to see the temptation for decking the shop out in all sorts of mock 'Olde Worlde' rubbish was resisted. As you might be able to see from the photos, when we have our scorching summer (surely we're due one?) they might need to protect some of those precious bottles from the sun, but it's nothing a blind won't sort out.

Here's a brief tasting note for a couple of the beers I picked up:

Welbeck Abbey Brewery Ayrshire Amber Ale 4.6%. £2.70 (50cl)
Seasonal amber ale. Really fruity - hint of crushed raspberries and red/white currants. A great spring beer.

Flipside Clippings IPA 6.5%. £2.70 (50cl)
Lively IPA with good bitterness. Less overt tropical fruit than most modern IPAs, more vinous white fruit. Lovely smokiness on the finish.

Hops in a Bottle's website is still under construction, but you can say hello on Twitter, or even better, go and have a chat in person - allow some of that enthusiasm for a locally produced product to inspire you!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Hiatus and Return

I've had a brief break from blogging, mainly because I've had a lot on, and much of my time has been spent reading about spirits - not something I'd imagine most readers of beer blogs are interested in.

Today, it's budget day. Tax on beer will go up. A tiny number of people have signed the petition against beer duty escalation, and Camra have come under criticism for not urging their members to sign it. In a way this is understandable - their members, I think, should be urged to sign it. In the end though it's a large and (as far as I can see) democratic organisation, and by its very nature is therefore unlikely to do something quickly enough to be effective. Still, maybe a pointer towards the fact that it is there, suggesting to members that they make up their own mind about whether the government should be supported in doing this? I'd suggest silence from beer's largest consumer group on the issue could be construed as tacit consent.

Locally, BrewDog Nottingham seem to be going strong, presumably because it is 'The only destination for real beer in Nottingham!' which means the pint I had in the Lincolnshire Poacher the other night must have been a figment of my imagination. Bastards. £2.60 for a glorified dream. BrewDog are going ahead with Totem 'Red Indian' Pale Ale. I was rather surprised a company who go so far as to use 'flavor' on their website and 'draft' on their chalkboards are so clueless about culture across the pond that they don't know 'Red Indian' isn't exactly politically correct. Maybe we should be glad it's not a dark beer they're releasing with an accompanying racial slur as a name. Nottingham's criminal reputation doesn't need any enhancement from scenester-induced race rioting after all.

Anyway, proper blog to return very soon. I'm off to check out Hops in a Bottle in Mansfield today before the prices go up, and hopefully get to write about some nice beer!

* Website not up and running yet but they're on Twitter.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Good News?

News from Christopher Leslie, my MP, 3/4/12:


As we approach the Chancellor’s Budget on 21st March, the eyes of many in the brewing trade will be focused on what happens to beer duty. We are fortunate to have a very successful regional brewery at Castle Rock near the station, which I took the opportunity to visit this week (see picture below with Managing Director Colin Wilde looking at their ‘copper’ boiler). They produce a fine range of regular beers, from dark to pale and at different strengths – and it was fascinating to see the process from start to finish. The beer trade has evolved enormously in recent decades, and there is now a growing market for high quality local beers, although the supermarket cheap end still undercuts on the basis of price and quantity. We need to keep an eye on how the beer duty system is structured, so that it does not advantage the mass production end over the bespoke and higher quality smaller brewers who we need to support as much as possible.

All sounds like good news, although at time of writing he has yet to sign the Early Day Motion that Andrew Griffiths has put forward. Have a look at it, and have a look if your MP has signed. If they haven't, drop them an email or a letter. In my experience MPs are usually happy to hear from constituents, and for the sake of a few minutes of your time, you can get them to make a difference. If you, or anyone else you know, needs more convincing, you should read Pete Brown's blog post on the subject. Signing the e-petition is a good thing, but I think letting your MP know about how you feel on this is a lot more powerful.

PS. I should probably have mentioned Find Your MP, in case you're not sure of who to write to.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Just a thought for the day...

Ian Hutton of Liqueurs de France once said:

'Wormwood is crucial to absinthe because without it, it isn't absinthe! It anchors the flavours in the same way that hops add backbone to beer.'

...and where would we be without backbones?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Good Beer, A Valuable Thing?

Value is a tricky thing. The opening of a brand new, and relatively expensive bar in Nottingham has drawn attention to this via that medium-for-the-indignant; Twitter.

"£3.50 for a half pint?! WTF? This won't be my usual place, I guarantee!! [closely followed by, my emphasis] Gone to a real pub - picked up copy of Nottm Drinker. Article about @BrewDogNotts. Quotes from them are so pretentious!"*

c/o BrewDog Notts Twitter feed
It was only the opinion of one Camra member, and shouldn't be held up as representative of the group, but the first tweet was re-tweeted by Nottingham branch, and as far as I am concerned that represents a certain level of agreement if not outright approval of the sentiment. It's a statement that assumes all beer is equal, hardly what you'd expect to be endorsed by Camra. From the 'draft' list they put up on Twitter yesterday I'm struggling to see which one it was that was £3.50 for a half, but I'm guessing it may have been an imported beer and so not on this particular board. So why did I put the pic up? Well, it shows the paradox (pun intended). The Paradox Jura is an equivalent price of £3.50/pint for a 5% beer, but I would defy anyone to find a beer that is that complex for that kind of price. Or, drawing away from mucking around with the alcohol equivalents, how good a wine are you going to get for £3.50 in a pub? You'd be lucky to get a glass of the wine world's equivalent of Budweiser - well made, but hardly exciting.

Not for £3.50 you aren't...
I'm not a member of Camra, and from an outsider's perspective it seems there is a lot of emphasis placed on the price of a pint. Membership discounts, discounts in discount pubs, all that kind of stuff. It's all wrapped up in championing the rights of the consumer. All well and good. But is cheap beer really that good for us as beer drinkers? Campaigning for cheap beer surely plays into the hands of those who make lots of the stuff doesn't it? Those whose volume of sales makes up for lack of profit per pint. I'm not talking about allowing ourselves to be ripped off at will, or paying way over the odds, but maybe it's worth thinking about it before having a rant about prices. A pint doesn't have an intrinsic worth. In a capital based economy and society, it's worth what people are prepared to pay for it - as are most things. Once again I find myself on the side of good beer rather than cheap beer. Can I afford to drink Paradox Jura, or even any of the other great beers on that list,  all the time? No, but I'm glad it's there, and on the rare occasions I get to go out and challenge my palate it's great to think there is something different around, something that does just that. If it means that I don't get to drink as much when I'm out, then that's fine.

The competitive nature of the system has an somewhat unfortunate side-effect of encouraging lowest common denominator products. So much of 'business management' is about profit through marketing and driving costs down rather than producing something that has its own merits. Every little doesn't really help.

How can you buck this trend? Ironically enough there are brewers that have designed their beers specifically to win Camra awards, and then shoved their prices right up. I'd like to think, however, that there are people who just want to brew the best beer they can, and hope to turn a profit at the other end - almost like a horse drawing a cart, or is that too revolutionary a concept. Still, maybe there's an upside of all of this? Maybe there'll be more Hardknott beers and the like to go round for those of us who like beer as a treat? And if any of this makes me sound like a beer snob, then maybe I am. You'll certainly not see me at the bar in Wetherspoons asking for my Camra discount.

*Link to Nottingham drinker is here if you want to judge the merits of that second tweet for yourself.

Friday, 2 March 2012

What makes local beer better?

This is my contribution to The Session #61, as hosted by Hoosier Beer Geek in Indianapolis.

In the interests of doing something different (and since I've got a spirits exam coming up and so it's what I'm reading about at the moment) I though I'd take a bit of a diversion and think about the alternative to having local styles of anything.

I'd like to think that anyone who is serious about getting into beer flavours is broad minded enough to think about flavours other than beer. The exploration's the thing, and without people being resourceful enough to use what they have around them, and having the pride to say 'this is good, this is worth keeping' the world would be a very dull, homogenised place. Think about Jarzebiak Rowan berry vodka, Krupnik - flavoured with wild honey and spices, Wisniowka - flavoured with wild cherries. Whether you, personally, like them or not you have to appreciate that they are part of Polish history and culture, rooted in the Tatras where the raw materials come from.

Similarly without local variation we'd have no intense, aromatic rums from Jamaica sitting on the shelves alongside light Cuban rum. Without geographical origin being important how could you differentiate between row upon row of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends.

So what makes local beer better? Well, the fact that it is local, and without local beer styles having been (however historically) important we might all have no choices to make as consumers. The fact is, an alternative to local beer being important is just far too boring to contemplate.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

BrewDog Nottingham Launch

Well, it had been open nearly a week at the time, but I suppose you don't get a chance to have an opening week more than once, so I don't blame them for making the most of it. The 'press lauch' event was Tuesday night, and it was great to meet some of the people I've been chatting to on Twitter; Simon, Matt & Rick from Notts Brew, Ian and Marverine.

BrewDog types... (Max & Johnny)
So on to the bar. Well, I'd go for the beer, ignoring all the hype and everything else surrounding it. The fact of the matter is that whatever criticisms that are levelled at BrewDog, very few of them centre on the beer they make. Yes, their PR can grate a bit, but then if you are a beer geek, it's not you the PR is aimed at, it's aimed at the yet-to-be-converted, the ones that don't spend a lot of their free time immersed in Untappd, Ratebeer and ahem... Beer blogs. I only had BrewDog draft* (sic) since that's what my wrist band got me.

Blitz, 2.8%: I kicked off with this one. Good malty/liquorice flavour but the lack of body means it came across as a bit watery as I got through it. Good for such a low strength but at £3.60/pint I can't see them shifting huge amounts!

Big Dog (Broad Street's giant)
Punk IPA, 5.4%, £2.95 for 2/3 of a pint: I've not had this since they started dry-hopping it, but it is really very good, as you'd expect from what, I suppose, is their flagship beer. Bursting with passion fruit and mango flavours and a grassy note from the Nelson Sauvin. Nicely counterpointed by a bitter finish.

5am Saint, 5%, £2.95 for 2/3 of a pint: Fruity, particularly red fruit. Raspberry notes. More bitterness than the Punk. This was the first one where I thought, 'it needs to be on cask.' Being a bit more subtle than the Punk, I thought the aromas just didn't come out at you until it had warmed up a bit.

Prototype 17.6, 4.1%, £3.95/pint: Speaking of raspberries, this ones flavoured with them. Pleasant enough, although I'd suggest it's more of a summer beer than one for February. Fresh, perfumed and clean and with a good, tart finish. Reminded me a little of Williams brothers Roisin rather than a more overt fruit beer. The 17.6 is because it's the 6th batch of prototype 17.

Hops Kill Robin Hood, 7.8&%, £2.95/half pint: The one that's definitely not a Robin Hood beer, you know, it's ironic? Moving on... It's really very good. Still got massive hop flavour, but not quite as candied as the Punk, and I think all the better for it.

Hardcore IPA 9.2%, £3.20/half pint: Pithy citrus; grapefruit and orange on the nose. Sweetness and slightly syrupy on the palate.

Alice Porter, 6.2%, £1.85/half: My friend Nik was waxing lyrical about the kerosene aromas of this one, and he was right, there's an air of jet-fuel about it. If that sounds foul, it isn't, it really works.

What event is not improved by the addition of a knitted beard?
Paradox Jura, 15%, £3.50/third of a pint: Imperial stout aged in Jura whisky barrels. Cutting to the chase, this is one of the most amazing beers I've ever tried. Lots of coffee and chocolate on the nose, the vanilla/bourbon flavours coming through on the palate giving way to a PX sherry finish. Velvet-smooth and luxuriously sweet. It's a big beer, one to dwell on. I'm sure it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea (another friend described it as being like post-mix syrup, but it didn't stop him drinking it!) but I loved it!

Are there any criticisms? Well, if it were me I'd go for a more informative bar lay out, they're trying to sell beers that many people have never heard of before, and since many people don't know what they want before they get to the bar, having labels on the fonts might help. I suppose the argument runs that the staff will keep you informed about the beer, and help you make a choice, but that can't always happen when they're busy. Other things like terrible queue management can be put down to opening week inexperience amongst the staff. If this seems a bit picky then I apologise, don't let it make you think I didn't like the bar!

It will be interesting to see how things work out once the novelty factor has worn off. Will people in Nottingham be prepared to carry on spending the kind of prices they're being asked to pay? It's not London, and you don't have to be an economic analyst to know that there's less money knocking about up here. They also need to get wi-fi in there.

Good luck to BrewDog Nottingham, and thanks for a cracking evening.

* How cool can you get? American spelling and everything, that's why they're next to a movie theater! Look at that, nearly managed to finish without taking the...