Friday, 31 December 2010

Day 35, Beer 35 - Rodenbach's "Grand Cru"

Today's Beer

Name – Grand Cru

Brewer – Rodenbach

Classification – Unique... and that's about as kind as this review is going to get.

Strength – 6% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Darkest autumnal reds and copper. At the viewing stage - you'd think this was beer.

On the nose – Sweet vinegar. Burnt glacé cherries on PCP.

On the tongue – Can I skip this...please! Just read on...

On the subject – This beer is one of the great feats of all human endeavour...apparently. Why do I feel like the guy pointing at the naked Emperor?

On the market – I'm electing not to say. (I'm unwilling to actively help you to do this to yourselves.)

On the whole3.5/10  (A score of any sort is to honour the fact that it made an impact - by golly did it do that – and that's more than can be said for some mass market beverages.)

Full Review

This beer made me feel like a visitor from space.

In fact, after a single sip, I was no longer a resident of the Milky Way....I didn't know quite where I was, but I certainly wasn't in Kansas any more.

I was a cosmic pioneer in a distant galaxy, sampling the curious liquids of a semi-humanoid race who dwell on the gaseous planet of 'Sherb-hurt' – named in honour of their highly prized adult confectionery drink, which has many similar properties and a slightly similar name to a certain sweet treat back in my own world. Although, the version back in my own world was always known to bring pleasure, which this alien brew clearly was not.

Here on this strange new world, 'sherbet' really does 'hurt.'

Please forgive this unhelpful flight of fancy, but I'm having to speak figuratively to avoid any direct recollection of the experience I just endured.

I remember reading an item about this beer many moons ago, in which a fairly eminent beer expert told the reader not to be put off by their first experience of it, warning the uninitiated about the extremities of taste which lie in wait behind the glass.

Not many beers are introduced with such words of caution... and in my mind, that's a good thing.

And today, turning to the web for more information in something of a mild panic, I found various claims that the taste of this liquid is 'acquired.' Still in the unrelenting grip of the drink at this point, these claims merely brought to mind various other things which might somehow be 'acquired.'

Like rabies.

Foot and mouth.

And bad debts.

The point is, if I tried this beer a thousand times I would never like it, and what's more... along the way I would have become miserable with a wild intensity of the kind that even this drink couldn't hope to equal.

If I can briefly bring myself to recall – it essentially drinks like a fruit beer (cherry is the nearest I can get) which has been laced with peach vodka, poured into a half-full jar of Marmite and left on a jungle floor to evolve and mutate for several decades.

The reality, though, is that this is a 'combination' of a 'young beer' and another beer which has been left to 'mature for two years in oak casks'.

Left by who, I can't help but wonder? And was it left there on purpose?

Did the 'oak casks' in question have a previous role to play in the nuclear weapons industry?

They also add extra sugar at some stage (the 'ingredients' reveal this in small print) and this was probably what triggered my subsequent Sherbet-themed hallucinations – and there just has to be some other stuff in there which didn't make it onto the label.

I will refrain from guessing, if only for legal reasons.

Seriously, without any trace of irony, I take my hat off to those of you who – hand on heart – actively enjoy this drink experience.

Lord knows the evidence suggests there are many of you out there.

However, I also feel partly inclined to ask all of you a very simple question...

How often do you get to visit your home planet?

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Day 34, Beer 34 - Anchor's "Porter"

Today's Beer

Name – Anchor Porter

Brewer – Well... Anchor, naturally.

Classification – Oh, now come on!

Strength – 5.6% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Even an MRI scan would reveal only black.

On the nose – Dark berries and brandy-soaked liquorice.

On the tongue – Peppery cocoa and spiced treacle. A subtle but lingering butterscotch finish.

On the subject – One of the USA's craft-brew major league players. And how this drink deftly explains this!

On the market – Ubiquitous US presence. UK and Europe buyers need to search harder and that's a pity. Got this at Selfridges (in store only.)

On the whole8.5/10

Full Review

Depth and anchors have a great deal in common.


But there is a point at which this common ground becomes stretched beyond capacity. Any seafarer will tell you that certain depths lie below of the reach of any anchor known to man.

This claim, however, is false. Because a certain brewery in San Francisco has comprehensively re-written that very maritime rule, with truly startling results.

There is no depth which this beer does not reach.

At play within this beer, there is deepness of flavour and of texture which is so unfathomable – that it simply astounds. It is a rich, creamy, bitter-sweet assault on the mouth, and it has been crafted with textbook precision to simultaneously soothe, excite and satisfy.

I've often marvelled at why anyone would ever choose a porter or a stout (for the difference between these two see here) in place of a dark premium or strong ale.

This little US gem is the explanation I have long awaited.

Perhaps my new source of bemusement should be – why would anyone follow a cool winter stroll with a black coffee, a chunk or two of dark chocolate and a brandy, when they could round it off infinitely better with a single jar of this exquisite brew?

Answers on a postcard please....

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Day 33, Beer 33 - Hawkshead's "Lakeland Gold"

Today's Beer

Name – Lakeland Gold

Brewer – Hawkshead

Classification – Golden Ale. (Well, I ain't so sure about that. Read on...)

Strength – 4.4% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Brown challenges yellow in a fight to the death. Yellow lies bleeding.

On the nose – Metallic fruits. A nostril-tingling treat.

On the tongue – Strong, well selected hops win through, but fine malts do get their moment.

On the subject – Started in 2006, and having long since outgrown their first home, Hawkshead's unbridled success has already left them looking at further expansion.

On the market – Spreading availability, but local is still best. Try the brewery online.

On the whole7/10

Full Review

For those who like their beer to be fiendishly bitter – this is lovely stuff.

It's got a no-nonsense sharp bitterness which literally demands your attention from the off.

It's got bags of hop-led character, and for a golden ale it has a surprising and lovely full bodied feel. Though, I do wonder how 'golden' this beer really is, when it looks to me more like a deep amber than a gold. In fact, if I'm to be slightly less diplomatic – its a heck of a closer to a shade of brown than a shade of yellow, and I think these things matter to the average punters stood scratching their heads at the pumps.

Anyway, whatever it is – its pretty darn good.

It is hop heavy, which is to be expected from a golden ale (even golden ales which aren't golden at all) but the precision engineered blend of hops is nothing short of magnificent, and there's enough of a malt presence to leave those who prefer the deeper flavour themes more than satisfied.

I'd reckon that more than two glasses of this might leave you reaching for the nearest desert menu or bag of sweets – so relentlessly sharp and intense is the bitterness at work here. It really is quite merciless.

But believe me, those two glasses would be among the best back-to-back beers you could ever hope to endure.

For us bitterness-junkies – that's exactly the kind of relentless punishment we live for.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Day 32, Beer 32 - Butcombe Brewery's "Blond"

Today's Beer

Name – Blond

Brewer – Butcombe Brewery

Classification – Premium beer.

Strength – 4.5% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – No prizes for guessing... but yes – you guessed. It's blond.

On the nose – Dominant hops, but with a definite and very distinguished malt base.

On the tongue – Very much like a recently decommissioned iconic aircraft. (Read on...)

On the subject – Butcombe's Bristol base-camp sends the good stuff over to to Fullers for bottling. This in spite of their own premises being among the largest modern plants in the entire UK sector. Go figure!

On the market – West Country outlets dominate output, but on-line options are many. Beer Ritz did me proud this time.

On the whole7.5/10

Full Review

This might not be the most complex beer in the cosmos, but what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up with its awesome capacity to 'zing' you into submission.

For those of you without a dictionary to hand... to 'zing' means to 'aggressively refresh beer lovers with a wonderfully zesty charm.'

Or at least – that will be its definition for the next few moments.

Butcombe's Blond has a much lighter feel to it than its 4.5% ABV might suggest, but then – that's all down to that 'zing', which pulls all the focus away from such trivialities as 'alcoholic content.'

Much like the majestic Concorde pictured on the label – the essence of this beer's design is narrow and to the point, but the ingredients have been skilfully chosen, and among the impressive results of this careful selection is a citrus-imbued dryness which is both surprising and delightful.

This would make an excellent option on a hot midsummer afternoon, when you're in the mood for refreshment with more than the usual 'zing'.

I'm already eager for the seasons to begin changing so I can start putting that very theory to the test. After all, the present iciness of the conditions here in the UK were never destined to do beers of this kind too many favours.

But, regardless of the changing seasons, genuine class will always show through.

And, as Concorde showed us for several glorious decades – 'narrow and to the point' can sometimes work wonders.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Day 31, Beer 31 - Cropton Brewery's "Two Pints"

Today's Beer

Name – Two Pints

Brewer – Cropton

Classification – Bitter

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – A rich and vibrant copper glow. A very fine looking ale.

On the nose – Ginger cake and hay bales.

On the tongue – The beer known as 'bitter'... perfectly defined.

On the subject – Originally formed downstairs at the New Inn, Cropton's early successes led to expansion in 1994, and the brewery has gone from strength to strength ever since. This very beer was the initial spark for their success.

On the marketPotters Yorkshire Ales, or try the brewery direct. I'm sure they'll love it!!

On the

Full Review

Simple, elegant, and quietly marvellous.

This modest little ale is a masterpiece of faithful execution.

In short – this is a bitter, it is bottle-conditioned at exactly 4% ABV, and it has a name which greatly underestimates its own appeal.

That last point is a crucial one, because a much more suitable name for this brew would have been 'Four Or Five Pints At Least' – so I'd say that's basically a huge numbers-based public relations error on the part of the brewery.

Sometimes modesty goes way too far.

The reality is that I can hardly think of a better example of a beer of this classification.

As a bitter, it's an exquisitely faithful rendition, it makes no attempt to 'jazz up' or contemporise the working model, and it chooses instead to grab the quintessential essence of this ale variety and bring that to life with the greatest possible skill and care.

On the downside, the bottled-conditioning performed its usual 'improving whilst also spoiling' routine yet again, and frankly I'm sick of bleating on about this.

There are various 'systems' of achieving the state of 'bottle-conditioning' and its fairly obvious that some of these systems clearly work better than others. I reckon this is THE aspect of production on which all brewers most need to focus and cooperate. 

Too many mililitres of fine beer are going to waste while us punters wait for an ideal delivery technique to arrive – one which adds yeast to the bottles, without that same yeast subsequently entering our glasses.

Surely that's not rocket science?

At least the Cropton Brewery folk have the guts to tell us on their labels that leaving the yeast behind is the thing to aim for. So many bottles from other brewers these days are telling us that cloudy drinks are a valid option – an absolutely fine choice for those of us who prefer to pour our beer rapidly to ensure a good head.

When was the last time you heard a landlord try that kind of line in a pub?

Why do these breweries insist on trying to put a positive spin on cloudy home-drunk beer being consumed as a lifestyle choice - purely to excuse the yeast they leave in our drinks?

Don't tell us cloudy beer is a okay. Or a cool choice for those who prefer. 

It is not okay. 

Nor was it ever okay.

Cropton Brewery know this, even if they haven't yet mastered the elusive art creating of a bottle-conditioned beer with a guarantee of clarity.

The fact is, when such a beer finally does exist, most of us will inevitably gravitate to it.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Day 30, Beer 30 - Copper Dragon's "Scotts 1816"

Today's Beer

Name – Scotts 1816

Brewer – Copper Dragon

Classification – Premium Ale. (Yet another below-strength ale claiming the title 'premium'. This phrase is beginning to lose all meaning.)

Strength – 4.4% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Copper. You'd think they planned it!

On the nose – Subtle. Lots going on... subtly. Raisins and bran flakes win through.

On the tongue – An agonising inch or so from glory. (Read on...)

On the subject – Rising from the (cold) ashes of the Skipton Brewery, this mythical beast is on the march, adding pubs to it's weighty beer portfolio.

On the market – Growing local options – but the brewery's own online shop is top notch.

On the whole7/10

Full Review

I reckon this beer is just one flavour theme short of being an absolute classic.

To have got so close to true greatness is really quite pleasantly frustrating.

But what exactly is missing?

Well, that's a far harder question to answer than I first imagined.

The truth is, there's so much already going on in this brew that it's difficult to work out what could possibly be absent.

The hops are nicely robust – no problems in that department – there's a lovely bonus undercurrent of peach which flits cheekily in and out, and the malt base could hardly be described as 'lacking'.

But they've definitely missed a trick somewhere, and were I a competing brewer with years of recipe creations under my (increasingly strained) belt, I'd probably have all kinds of ideas about just exactly what that missing trick might be.

As it is, I can only guess at what it might be, but that guess would probably involve an ingredient which could offer something to counter to the slightly dominant sweet notes, and give those fruity sugars more of a run for their (admittedly delicious) money.

Otherwise though, this really is a pretty decent brew indeed.

Apart from anything else, it's got that magical 'never the same mouthful twice' appeal, which forever keeps you guessing what the next sip is going to surprise you with. But it's also a sufficiently satisfying drink to ensure that this guessing game is always a pleasure to play.

All in all, I can safely say that The Copper Dragon is now firmly on my radar.

I suggest you get it on yours.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Day 29, Beer 29 - Great Newsome's "Stoney Binks"

Today's Beer

Name – Stoney Binks

Brewer – Great Newsome

Classification – Amber "Burton Type" Ale

Strength – 4.1% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Brassy gold. A truly fine looking ale. 

On the nose – Sweet malts. A definite chip shop twang, which is often (if not always) a very good sign. In this case it really is a good sign.

On the tongue – Special. Well rounded flavours and a light but firm body.

On the subject – Great Newsome are currently based in Hull, but the whole world will soon lay claim to them.

On the market – A bit too niche for my liking. Online options are as good as buying direct.

On the whole8.5/10

Full Review

I knew almost nothing about this beer before today, but what I now know about it – is that I like it an awful lot.

It's delightfully light but substantial in consistency, skilfully balanced in flavour (with a gentle lean towards the hop side of the scale) and its just about as satisfying as an ale could ever get.

According to the label, the brewery recommends 'pork scratchings' as an ideal accompaniment. But if you really are looking for something to go with your glass of Stoney Binks, I would suggest that a 'financial advisor' would be a better option, because you'll be spending a lot of well earned cash on this beer without one.

Part of the reason for this is the fact that at 4.1% ABV – it just about squeezes into the 'session beer' category, making it acceptable to consume for long periods without any disgrace or fear of arrest.

For those of you who would claim 4.1% is simply too strong for a session ale, I reckon a quick sip will leave you eager to bend all manner of rules in order to spend a good old while sat next to repeated glasses full of this wonderful brew.

If you haven't given this one a try yet, seek it out at your earliest opportunity and discover what I've just discovered.

I'd say this beer constitutes the single nicest surprise I've had so far in The Bottled Beer Year, and for it to have happened on Christmas Day has all but restored my faith in all things holy.

That may seem like extremely high praise for a mere beverage.

Perhaps so.

But sometimes high praise is well deserved, and Stoney Binks deserves it.

On this note, to the brewery I'd like to ask this...

Do you really want this product to be among your 'occasional' range of beers?

I mean... do you really?

Let me leave that with you.

In the meantime, Merry Xmas to all at Great Newsome Brewery , and many thanks for this happy new beer.