Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Day Four, Beer Four - Wold Top's "Wolds Way".

Today's Beer

Name – Wolds Way

Brewer – Wold Top

Classification – Pale Ale

Strength – 3.6% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Harvest promise. You can sense the spirit of swaying crops haunting the glass. No kidding!

On the nose – Wow! A far stronger impact than you might expect. White wine vinegar with a yeasty kick.

On the tongue – Like a glass of cool squash used to feel after an evening playing out with your mates after school.

On the subject – Yorkshire based Wold Top have locally sourced ingredients to thank for their hat-full of awards.

On the market – A growing supermarket presence (I got mine in ASDA) but buying direct is still the best bet nationally.

On the whole8.5/10

Full Review

Every once in a while, and I do mean rarely, a beer comes along and properly surprises you.

The best examples of these beers are those that you think you've worked out after a glance at the label and a couple of sips, but they then somehow proceed to charm the pants off you by the time your glass is empty.

Wold's Way” – the folks at Wold Top Brewery claim – is intended as the sort of drink that might be perfect for refreshing the arid palates of ramblers as they reach the end of a particular 70 mile trail across the Yorkshire Wolds from which the beer takes its name.

I have no qualms about that claim. On the contrary, I found my experience of this drink to be almost like that of consuming an area of unspoilt English landscape, it is a bottle full of meadow flowers, wild-grasses and honeyed tree sap.

But without doubt, the thing that this beer achieves like almost no other ale I can yet recall – is to properly quench the thirst. In fact, it managed to fully satisfy a thirst I didn't even have, so powerful was the sense that it was ready to obliterate any dry mouth this side of the sun.

The answer to alcohol's ultimate 'quench question'... has been found.

Which is pretty much what the brewery suggests.

However, they also suggest that this beer is 'uncomplicated.'

Well, they may be right. But this pale ale has made me realise something. Just because a beer is 'uncomplicated', that doesn't mean that it isn't 'clever'. The reality is that there are evidently some very bright brewing minds at work over at Wold Top, and purely on the merits of their excellent 'Wolds Way' – I'd say their domination of the wider market is only a matter of time.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Day Three, Beer Three - Davenport's "Original Bitter."

Today's Beer

Name – Original Bitter

Brewer – Davenport's

Classification – Amber Ale

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Golden. 'Summery' even. Surprisingly light and lustrous for an in-house standard bitter.

On the nose – Subtle, earthy notes, with steamed date and walnut pudding lurking beneath.

On the tongue – Well balanced citrus hops, and an absence of gas which should get many other brewers worried.

On the subject – Davenport's long established home-drinking ethos – literally contained in a bottle.

On the market – Say no more! This brewer's considerable reputation is largely based on the concept of delivering straight to your door. The milkmen of the beer world. Their beers are also increasingly found in supermarkets and off licences.

On the

Full Review

Well, it's already day three, and the bottom line is this...

Any fledgling bottled beer website which dares to run longer than a week without making mention of Davenport's Brewery should, at the very least, be considered morally unsound.

And for those who don't know – here's why...

From it's inception just after the turn of the last century, this Birmingham company, under the inspired guidance of it's founder John Davenport, developed it's venerable reputation by actively encouraging people to consume their beer in the comfort of their own homes.

Bottled beer, therefore, is what Davenport's has always been about.

Even today, most brewers will draw attention to their bottled beers only after they have satisfied themselves that their principle brews (those available in pubs) have been satisfactorily showcased. But, after a hundred years, Davenport's are still more than happy to buck this trend with very same enthusiasm that they always have. To this day, their company slogan remains simply “Beer at Home.”

“That's all very well”, I hear you cry, “But what does it taste like?”

Well, my first foray into the considerable Davenport's roster seemed the obvious choice. Their “Original Bitter” is a surprisingly golden brew with an honest, earthy appeal. The first notable thing to catch my eye (after the colour) was the very welcome absence of bubbles – an attribute more brewers should be attempting to master. The glorious lack of effervescence allows the beer's muted citric theme to break through on the very first taste which, along with the finely pitched hops and malts, sets the tone for an overall drink experience which feels more dependable, trustworthy and reliable than either complex, challenging or aloof.

But then, I think that might be the 'other' secret of this greatly admired brewery. Not only do they have a history of bringing the good stuff to the doorsteps of the thirsty masses – but they also provide those masses with a drink that says “I'll never let you down.”

I ask you, what greater quality could an ale possibly have?


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Day Two, Beer Two - Belvoir Brewery's "Melton Red"

Today's Beer

Name – Melton Red

Brewer – Belvoir Brewery  

Classification – 'Best' bitter - (In spite of Belvoir's claim of 'Premium' status.)

Strength – 4.3% - (And that's not really 'Premium' strength, I'd say.)

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Red? Well, perhaps. But 'bronze' is probably the closest. Like a jar of very embarrassed Maple Syrup.

On the nose – Gorgeous. Ginger cake and liquorice, with all the malty goodness of your aunties Brandy snaps.

On the tongue – The ginger cake smell turns to fruit cake. A welcome tartness to the finish.

On the subject – Formerly at Shipstones and Theakstons, Belvoir's Colin Brown continues to build on his successes whilst always applying meticulous attention to traditional detail. It shows!

On the marketMy Brewery Tap, Oxford Bottled Beer Database, or direct from the brewery.

On the whole8/10

Full Review

Having kicked the year off in some style yesterday with a fine beer brewed not a million miles from my Lincolnshire home, I thought it might seem reckless to begin straying too much further afield just yet, so I elected to sample another brew from the East Midlands region.

A pretty decent decision that proved to be, too.

Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, is most commonly associated with it's world-renowned Pork Pies, but I'd say the town certainly has something else to shout about in the form of Belvoir Brewery's devilishly delightful 'Melton Red.'

As I hinted in the 'At A Glance' section, I do have some misgivings about the brewery's claim that this is a 'premium' ale. The general consensus on the low-marker-point for a premium beer is around 4.8% ABV, give or take the odd fraction, but it is seldom found near the 4.3% of this brew. Not that this should worry those who prefer their ales to grab them firmly by the throat, as Melton Red has clearly mastered the dark art of punching above it's weight. It's as though this beer had been properly concussed and has subsequently woken up believing itself to be a much stronger drink, and it's even started hanging out with the 'tough crowd' – none of whom would ever detect that they had an imposter in their midsts.

This beer reminded me of one of the great ironies about enjoying a beer at home:- that fact the best bottled beers are nearly always the one's which make you feel like you're in a pub! They make you wonder why you didn't bother to take that short walk up the road tonight. This is one of those beers. I could almost feel the landlord's dog rubbing against my shins on it's way back over to the crackling open fire.


Anyway, here's a big thumbs up to Belvoir. They've created a superbly autumnal, rich, subtlety malted, zesty delight, and I'll be sure to return my attention to this brewery later in the year.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Day One, Review One - Oldershaw's "Old Boy"

Today's Beer

Name - Old Boy

Brewer - Oldershaw   -  http://www.oldershawbrewery.com/

Classification - Premium Ale

Strength – 4.8% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep oak, with a bronze translucence.

On the nose – Delightful! Old coins and leather with a hint of treacle.

On the tongue – More of the same! Bitter sharpness underscored with rewarding warmth.

On the subject – A young, ambitious Grantham based brewery with an ever extending list of award winning ales. A fine example of what a dream and a well used redundancy pay-off can ultimately achieve.

On the market – Gonalston Farm ShopHallam's Delicatessen, or buy direct from the brewery.

On the whole – 7/10

Full Review

Let's start with the positives.

Now, you all know what that opening remark implies and yes - I do have a gripe - but the fact of the matter is that this ale simply demands that I deliver the good news up front.

The good news is – he might be an Old Boy, but he's also a Very Good Boy.

Oldershaw's brewery was established in the Grantham area of Lincolnshire in 1998, shortly after founder Gary Oldershaw lost his job at BT. In short, Gary risked his redundancy packet by spending most of it on a dream - and the rest is history.

Since it's inception, the small outfit has gone from strength to strength, winning numerous awards from both CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale) and SIBA (The Society of Independent Brewers).

The reason for it's success was in evidence in my bottle of Old Boy. It's a perfect name for this drink. This is an evocative ale, which plays tricks on your memory banks, conjuring up images of memories too far distant to be your own. After a couple of sips, I felt like I'd slid effortlessly back to at least the Edwardian or Victorian era. The coins in my pocket were now farthings, my v-neck sweater was now a smoky tweed jacket, and the kids playing in the street were all foundlings I'd recently rescued from the local workhouse.

It seems that the very concept of Nicely Old Fashioned can be bottled, and I've just savoured every last drop of one the results.

To say that I recommend it would be an understatement, but, as I mentioned earlier, this was not a wholly satisfying experience. The issue I need to raise takes me back to my previous entry on this blog, when I referred to the ongoing debate surrounding 'bottle-conditioned' beers.

Let me introduce three facts into that debate.

1. Nobody likes to waste beer.

2. Most people like their beer to have a decent 'head' after it has been poured.

3. Bottled conditioned beers have to be poured slowly, making the production of any 'head' unlikely, and because of the sediment you always have to let some beer remain forever in the bottle, in other words – you have to let some beer go to waste.

I wanted my Old Boy to have a nice, inviting frothy top, and I was unwilling to let much of it go down the drain. My pouring was done with reasonable care, and I'd waited several hours before even daring to pour, but the result was still a glass full of gloopy yeast which was merely accompanied by some very lovely beer.

I'd love to know what people think about this. Because, if I'm perfectly honest, I think it's beginning to get me down.

(UPDATE - August/2011 - After more than 100 further beer reviews, I reviewed Old Boy again as part of an experiment to see how much my taste in beer had evolved. Check out that new review here.)

My Pub – My Rules!

So, the choice of the début beer has been made, and I shall be popping the lid later today.

But before I launch into the first review, I thought I'd lay down some house rules and explain exactly how each taste test will be conducted.

Firstly, to the great horror of some of you, I will not be limiting the candidate beers to 'bottle-conditioned' varieties only.

I can almost hear the shrieks of mortal despair...

The heated debate rages on about the merits of bottled-conditioning (the process by which the beer is left unpasteurised, allowing it to continue to mature and ferment within the bottle with the aid of a small amount of sediment consisting mainly of yeast) and I might as well admit that I am a fan of the concept, by and large.

However, the fact remains that some of my favourite bottled delights are not produced in this way – and I'm sure that must say something about the ultimate benefits of the process. If 'integrity' is your main concern, then conditioning will always override all other consideration. But for me, if I'm brutally honest – taste is the key. Taste conquers all, and to hell with everything else!

The second house rule is that the beers I'm to be sampling will be being consumed entirely on their own, and not as accompaniments to a meal. This is another of those 'can of worms' issues in the world of beer adoration, with many aficionados insisting that beer is intended as a partner to food and not as a taste experience in its own right.

But I see all kinds of thorny branches blocking that particular pathway. For instance, if someone claims that 'Beer X' is an ideal accompaniment to a roast beef dinner – the claim makes no mention of who is cooking the dinner, the peculiar ingredients with which they make their gravy, what unusual vegetables they tend to serve with it, or whether they actually have any skills whatsoever in the culinary field.

A good beer with a bad meal – can there be a greater source of misery?

The final rule is that I'm going to be kind. Or rather, I'm certainly going to try to be kind. Anyone who ever took a punt at brewing their own beer at home will know what a truly elusive treasure a finely crafted ale really is. Many of the beers I am about to imbibe will have been produced by small, local enterprises who may merely be finding their feet, so it is my intention to be ever mindful that great pride has been taken in pursuit of these results – however unspectacular they might be.

So, there we are, I hope that's clear. I'm gazing across at the first concoction right now, and I shall be acquainting myself with its many varied mysteries in a couple of hours time...

The verdict will follow...

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Big Bottled Beer Idea.

Try one different variety of bottled beer, every day, for an entire year.

That's the plan.

Starting tomorrow, I will sample, savour and speculate on the various merits of one new bottled beer - each and every day for the next three hundred and sixty-five. On offer at the end of every quaffed brew, will be a balanced ordinary beer lover's opinion on the product, which may come from within the UK's borders or far beyond.

As a CAMRA member and long-standing member of the notoriously thirsty show-business fraternity - I certainly know my ale! I'm also an ardent fan of the lost art of no-nonsense straight talk, so I'm hoping that over the course of my potentially merry - and potentially lethal - journey I'll be able to paint a fairly useful picture of the various bottled gems on our supermarket shelves, as well as the shelves of our more specialist boutique-type establishments, and the wondrously exotic shelves of our beer-gulping global neighbours.

As you can imagine, I can hardly wait!

There's just one small ingredient missing...

I reckon I'll muddle through quite nicely for a good month or two, with a few personal favourites already in mind as well as various tipples I've been aware of but have yet to explore. But beyond that, I think I might need a few pointers as to which bottled beers out there really need my attention.

So, if anyone knows of an unsung bottled-treasure which deserves to be discovered - make me aware, and I'll get it on the list! Even if it's a widely stocked favourite - by some miracle I might have missed it - so send it in and I'll free up an evening for it!

(To get a better sense of how each review will be conducted - see here.)

Well, there you have it. Day One arrives tomorrow, and all that remains is for me to decide which bottled delight will start the year rolling.

'Where to start?', he pondered...