Thursday, 31 March 2011

Day 76, Beer 76 - Meantime's "London Lager"

Today's Beer

Name - London Lager

Brewer – Meantime

Classification – Lager....wouldn't you know!

Strength – 4.5% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Exuberant orange gold.

On the nose - Bread dough malts and an almost tangible sense of a verdant summer meadow. Pretty astounding.

On the tongue - What all lagers should aspire to.

On the subject - Greenwich based Meantime have a strong range of beers and a strong reputation. This brew is their way of gently reminding the beer loving community that even lager can be finely crafted.

On the market - By no means as easily available as it merits. But then again, it's a tricky beer to market, what with it's junior-sized bottle visibly yearning for a multipack and looking too insubstantial on it's own. There goes my old bugbear issue again...

On the whole - 8/10 (after points dropped - see below)

Full Review


I begin with that exclamation simply because this beer is pretty darn terrific, and there's every reason why established devotees of (for lack of a better word) 'normal' lagers should grab hold of this beverage and take a giant step forward toward (for lack of a better word) 'proper' lager.

This is an exquisitely crafted flavour experience - but it's done on a scale that won't scare those who usually flee in terror at the mere mention of 'taste.'

The body of the drink feels very much like a premium continental lager, with a faint syrupy richness and a vivacity in the oxygenation which invigorates without terrorising the mouth like some ('normal') lagers can.

But the fact is that this doesn't just feel like a lager - it really does taste like one too. This is no reinvention of the style, it's just a skilfully pitched and elegantly assembled reworking of it. This is 'lager-plus', if you will. An essentially classic rendition - but with delicate additional twangs and zings that lift it out of the ordinary into the realms of something very special.

Butterscotch, lime zest, pomegranate, light-sponge fruit cake - and an even more ultra-subtle suggestion of green fig, which binds these other themes together like the most glorious boozy glue.

It really is properly excellent.

The children's-sized bottle, however, quickly becomes a right old pain in the proverbial, especially when you realise that the happy event is pretty much over after around three average mouthfuls. If this were an act of love making, it would trigger a very awkward argument. No question about it.

This beer is sold in individual bottles, it is absolutely delicious, and it ultimately lets you down by being too small. That's basically the sequence.

In the US, the idea of selling small-sized adult drinks is not new, but that's because they traditionally sell their beer in multipacks, whereas over here in the UK - ales such as this one are usually purchased in-store one bottle at a time. One at a time is absolutely fine if you're buying a standard (though increasingly less 'trendy') 500ml bottle, but it suddenly becomes frustrating and, frankly, embarrassing when you're having to deal with these teeny weeny 330ml test tubes.

I'm in no hurry to embrace the idea of the craft ale six pack, but I'd much prefer that to the developing situation here in the UK. If we must drink beer in these annoyingly small doses, we might as well buy a few at once - because goodness knows we're going to need them.

Either that, or can some brewery with a very high 'cool factor' such as Meantime please redress the balance by making proper, adult-sized beer bottles fashionable again.

I was so miserable when this drink so rapidly disappeared that it directly impacted on my overall enjoyment of the drink. Therefore, partly due to this and partly to make a noisy protest, I'm going to mark this beer down a half point from a score of 8.5/10 to a mere 8/10.


Well, I'm so sick of this gradual slide into silly bottle sizes, that I can see myself actively avoiding these beers in future to spare myself both that sense of disappointment as well as the suspicion that I'm paying more money for less beer and therefore being ripped off.

Which, if proved correct, certainly wouldn't be 'fair.'

Anyway, to sum up...

Meantime's London Lager is an exceptionally good beer which is needlessly undermined by minuscule, trendy packaging.

And that's a problem a single board meeting could solve.

A transfer into a suitable vessel would instantly raise this beer's appeal to it's rightful level.

I live in hope...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Day 75, Beer 75 - Otley's "Colombo"

Today's Beer

Name - Colombo

Brewer – Otley

Classification – Golden ale

Strength – 4% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - A Champagne-resemblant pale gold translucency.

On the nose - Very special. Hyper-zingy grapefruit dominates the gloriously intoxicating vapour, these intense high notes hover above a firm but subtle biscuity malt base.

On the tongue - A veritable kaleidoscope of a summer beer. Complex, vibrant and moreish.

On the subject - Otley may still be a fairly young outfit, but many agree that they already hold a strong claim to the venerated status of 'Pride Of Wales'. This remarkable, ultra-pale golden beer does much to explain why.

On the market - Maintaining the mystique of Otley is all very well, but I do often wish their beer was a bit easier to come by. However, Otley may have recently cottoned on to this wish - because they've now launched the fabulous online store Real Beer Box, which stocks a wide variety of the very best beers around as well as their own.

On the whole - 8.5/10

Full Review

Otley - a relatively new brewery with a relatively small output - are a massively hyped firm.

Put another way - they are currently pretty damn 'cool'.

Personally, I'm one of those wary types who are naturally predisposed to approach the twin concepts of hype and coolness with extreme caution - perhaps even with a trace of scepticism, but I've learned over time that amid the throng of charlatans, pretenders and wannabes, there can be found certain brands which are considered cool and are being hyped because they actually happen to merit it.

Otley is one of those brands.

For those in any doubt about this claim - I strongly suggest you get a jar of Colombo down your proverbial neck with all possible haste. I can guarantee that all trace of doubt will be washed deliciously away.

This is a triumph of a brew. Nuanced, elegant and almost criminally tasty - this is probably the best 'summertime' beer I've so far encountered here on The Year.

It's perfectly possible that - if high pitched citrus sharpness ain't usually your bag - you might find yourself taking slightly longer pauses in between mouthfuls, but your mouth will be filled repeatedly all the same, because this ale is just too powerfully enticing to be left sat on the table for very long.

Sure, there is a dominant grapefruit theme, but dancing in circles around that resonant central core are a plethora of dynamic and delightful complementary flavour notes which combine to wind this brew into an exquisite frenzy of a drink experience.

This is one of those ales that makes your mind race with questions after every additional sip. Questions like - "What was that floral hint I just detected?" or "How did they get that twang in the finish?" and of course the inevitable "Why do I only have one of these bottles in the house?"

This beer teases, toys and tantalises you with playful suggestions of all kinds of wonderful. I got zapped with watermelon, dry sherry, ginger, lime zest, basil, gooseberry, celery, wheat husks, popcorn - all of which never become too bold or aggressive, they just join together in that spiralling dance and generally whip up that frenzy.

Like the previous example I featured from the Otley range - Darko - there is a 'natural' feel to this beer which also helps to set it apart. It feels vital and fresh, but also (and rather mysteriously) it feels unique - even though you know full well that, ultimately, it really isn't. I find that to be a quite dazzling characteristic of Otley's creations.

These Welsh wizards are working wonders, and if that amounts to me merely adding further to all the hype, then so be it.

Like I said before - sometimes the hype is right.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful - 1, 2, 3!

Good old Gary!

Gary Gooch, that is, Sales Chief at Oldershaw.

Not only has he popped over to drop off the very latest creation from his own stable, but he's also left me with a couple of delights from two other equally exciting craft brew firms - Vale and Tring.

The trio of ales are (as pictured from left to right) -

"V.P.A" (from Vale) - Golden ale. 4.2% ABV

"Blonde Volupta" (from Oldershaw) - Premium blonde ale. 5.0% ABV

"Side Pocket For A Toad" (from Tring) - Premium golden ale. 4.5% ABV

Each one will be sampled and featured here on The Year very soon.

On paper, they aren't a million miles apart in terms of their classification and strength, but I've a pretty big hunch that 'on paper' is where those similarities will end...

Stay tuned.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Day 74, Beer 74 - Badger's "Fursty Ferret"

Today's Beer

Name - Fursty Ferret

Brewer - Badger

Classification - Amber ale

Strength - 4.4% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Bronze meets copper in a dark alley for a fistfight which, mercifully, ends in a draw.

On the nose - Granary loaf oats and seeds. Faint straw. Rather yummy.

On the tongue - Traditional malt-led ale, elegantly executed.

On the subject - A seasonal beer in cask form, Badger have taken this ale from very humble beginnings in a tiny brew pub and made it one of the best selling bottled beers in Britain.

On the market - Very well stocked nationally in the UK. Supermarkets have long since signed up to this beer's considerable fan club. Badger's online store is there for those so inclined.

On the whole - 8/10

Full Review

For the first time (or should that be the 'furst' time?) here on The Bottled Beer Year, I have just reviewed two beers back-to-back which share an overwhelming array of similar qualities.

In fact, I've little doubt that an absolute newcomer to the gloriously nuanced world of ale would name them as the same drink in a blind tasting.

But even I (who now barely recalls ever being a newcomer) find myself having to admit that my most recently reviewed brew prior to this - Belhaven's Robert Burns - and today's beer - Badger's Fursty Ferret - really are quite alarmingly similar drink experiences.

But therein lies a lesson to any folk who might still be subscribing to the unfortunate preconception that 'all ales taste the same'. After featuring nearly 80 brews during this project - for two similar beers to crop up on only one consecutive occasion must say something about the sheer variety on offer in the modern world of finely crafted ale.

And a 'finely crafted ale' is certainly what Badger have here with their delightful Fursty Ferret.

But for all it's similarity to Belhaven's previously mentioned Scottish interpretation, there are just enough subtle differences at work here to set this drink apart.

The sweet malts are in excellent form, but there's a shade more bitterness in this recipe, resulting in an overall experience which feels a shade more mindful of balance and flavour-contrast than many of the other 'big malt' ales.

Badger - being the great lovers of floral and fruit themes that they always have been - have integrated soft twangs of rosewater, apricot and orange into the mix which, again, add a certain sharpness to delicately counter that sweetness which might otherwise be too syrupy and rich.

This is a full bodied ale - not in the same way that many of the new wave beers are full bodied, with their hyper-dense, velvet textures - but in the classic sense, that feels substantial in the mouth whilst still feeling more like a liquid than a solid.

And perhaps that's the trick of this beer - it wears tradition like a badge of pride, and no brewery could be more proud of a traditional beer created with this degree of skill and care.

It might not be massively 'trendy' in the current beer climate - which is in danger of becoming nothing more than a high-jump contest for ever more exotic hops, who compete purely and simply to induce our tongues to protrude ever further outward from our skulls - but I'm deeply grateful for beers like this which quietly continue to do their own thing, in spite of the clamour of the crowd.

This is a pretty damn tasty ale.

Let that be enough.

Launching "Project Venus"

The message is loud and clear..."Watch out boys, the girls are here - and they're in no mood for small talk!"

For those of you who don't yet have Project Venus on their radar - take a look here for a good introduction to the concept.

Several big industry players on the female side of the infamous divide, have joined forces to help promote and evolve the various issues that women want brought into the world of beer - a planet still largely under the control of the hairier variety of human.

However, rather interestingly, instead of using debate and argument to highlight what women really want from a glass of beer - they've decided to let their very own ales do the talking for them. This is a bunch of pro-active women answering the thorny question of 'what would you like to drink?' in the most effective way imaginable - by brewing the solution themselves.

I think this is a fantastic move, and I only wish I could take a night off from my ultra-manly job in the theatre (stop giggling!) to attend their inaugural event at The Rake Bar in Borough Market - at which they will launch the project's first collaboratively created brew entitled "Venus Jade".

The event is on April 4th and it looks set to be a pretty significant occasion on this year's beer calendar.

I wish Project Venus all the very best - I sense this is going to make a lasting impression on the industry.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Day 73, Beer 73 - Belhaven's "Robert Burns"

Today's Beer

Name - Robert Burns

Brewer – Belhaven

Classification – Scottish Ale

Strength – 4.2% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Regal, elegant, deep walnut.

On the nose - Malt bonanza. Nutty. Nice.

On the tongue - A rich, sweet and refined malty treat.

On the subject - Established in 1719, and now under the watchful eye of the increasingly persuasive Greene King, this brand is likely to become more widely known now than ever before. After nearly three hundred years - that's not before time.

On the market - Speaking as a resident on the English side of the Scottish border, beers wearing the Belhaven name can prove shockingly hard to locate. Options are far greater on home turf. But fear not, for the brewery's online store is more than able to supply your needs.

On the whole - 8/10

Full Review

This is not for the faint hearted.

Those with a tendency to flee in terror at the sight of a full bodied, malt-rich ale should seek shelter without delay.

Seriously, if dominant malt sweetness ain't your bag, you should run to the nearest cave right now.

For the rest of you who remain - an absolute treat awaits you.

This, my malt-savouring comrades, is a veritable marvel of a brew, which will have no problem injecting some extra delight into an evening of your choice.

'Choice', though, is a pretty key word here - because for all it's character, and for all the appeal that stems from that character - I do doubt that this beer would remain a favourite if it were to be consumed with any great regularity. This is not the kind of brew you settle with for a whole season.

That sweetness, raised to intensely rich heights from a sumptuous malt base of wonderfully aggressive potency, would surely become overwhelming to the palate if taken in too enthusiastically, and too often.

But as a, for instance, twice weekly autumnal indulgence - there can be few better candidates in the world of British beer.

Dark berries and honey swirl and interweave, with the subtlest of dry assistance from the muted hops, and the almost macho consistency of the walnut coloured fluid - all make for a taste event to better any dessert course after a hearty Sunday roast.

In actual fact, the twang of spiced Bramley's and the deep red hue make this a viable alternative to a Christmas pudding, or a formidable rival for a freshly baked blackberry and apple pie.

There really is a sense of the old 'naughty but nice' after-dinner appeal to this beer.

Though, personally, I wouldn't want to wait around even for my starter to arrive before tucking into this liquid feast.

Without doubt, one glass of this would be not enough.

However, three glasses would probably prove difficult, and might even trigger a bout of mild regret.

But a couple of these beauties I can enthusiastically recommend to those who still retain (quite against the run of current fashion) a fondness for robustly malty ales.

Personally, I certainly do retain such a fondness, and beers like this remind me why.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Day 72, Beer 72 - Woodforde's "Wherry"

Today's Beer

Name - Wherry

Brewer – Woodforde's

Classification – Session Bitter

Strength – 3.8% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Golden, early summer promise.

On the nose - Fulsome, syrupy cereals.

On the tongue - A sharper, punchier version of their wonderful cask version.

On the subject - Norfolk based Woodforde's are spreading their message with increasing rapidity, and in terms of winning hearts and minds - none of their titles are having greater success than this particular ale.

On the market - Still frustratingly elusive in bottled form in spite of a greater general awareness. Try the brewery's online shop.

On the whole - 8.5/10

Full Review

This is a tricky one.

To begin with, I might as well confess that the cask version of Woodforde's Wherry is among my most fondly regarded beers in the world.

In a sense, I discovered the cask version at home. It's home.

To be precise, my first experience of Wherry was at the ludicrously lovely Hunny Bell pub in the small North Norfolk village of Hunworth. I'd been on a different beer for a couple of previous nights (I was in the area on an extended stay) until a knowledgable local discretely ushered me in the direction of a neighbouring hand-pump, and a love affair began a few sips hence.

What we have here though, is Woodforde's bottled version of this cherished favourite, and I don't mind admitting to being a little bit anxious about how this transition was going to effect this delicate and unassuming delight.

Well, before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. Be under no illusion - the transition absolutely does effect things.

Many in the beer loving community argue that ales below a certain alcoholic strength simply cannot cope with the perilous metamorphosis into bottled form without the aid of extra, character altering amendments (usually involving greater use of either hops, booze or both).

To a large degree, this widely held view is essentially correct. It really has to be correct based on the number of times these tweaks of recipe are found to have occurred, which strongly implies that the breweries have discovered and acknowledged certain transfer problems, and established various methods of countering them.

But does that necessarily mean these beers always suffer from such tweaking, either in terms of a drop in overall appeal or via a loss of 'personality'?

Well, ask me and I'll tell you without hesitation that some beers actually taste better in bottled form (perhaps having directly benefitted from these very same compensatory techniques) and in these cases, frankly, to Hell with any gripes about shifts in character. Better beer is better beer, however and it came to be so.

But Wherry, it seems, is in something of a brand new category when it comes to the success or failure of a shift from cask to bottle.

Basically, it fails - and it succeeds. Entirely simultaneously.

Where it fails (and I doubt that 'fail' is even the right word) is in the preservation of identity. There's little point in denying that the character of the bottled Wherry is noticeably altered. It's a lot busier, with the top-end flavours reaching higher than they ever felt the need to back in the Hunny Bell. And without doubt, the body of the drink is of a lighter, less substantial consistency - probably due to the higher, more overtly 'gassy' oxygenation.

But enough of any spurious talk of failure. The most significant aspect of this bottle transfer is in the various ways that it has been successful.

In fact, this taste-test has reinforced my belief that 'different' - even in the case of a favourite - needn't necessarily mean 'disappointing'.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The real revelation at play here is that bottled Wherry, very much in it's own way, is quite inescapably delicious. It's every bit as drinkable, enjoyable and memorable as it's cask cousin.

Yes, the hops are slightly up, but in the most hypnotic and rewarding way. It makes for a more 'summertime' experience than the more obviously 'year round' cask version, but how could that be deemed a negative factor, especially when it works so wonderfully well?

It's a sharper, crisper experience, it's somehow more alert in the glass, but these are small degrees of difference and they lead the drink experience in a deliciously new direction - one that I wanted to continue travelling along far beyond the single bottle I had with me.

It's just not going to be possible to turn even the stubbornest of noses up at this highly appealing session ale.

For the cask Wherry purists out there - be warned - even though you might want to rename this drink, you must prepare yourselves for the inevitable. Sooner or later, you will set aside all trivial matters such as 'appropriate branding' and admit that - whatever it's name is - you've gone and fallen in love with this beer.

I was a cask Wherry purist - and that's exactly what happened to me.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Day 71, Beer 71 - Badger's "Blandford Fly"

Today's Beer

Name - Blandford Fly

Brewer – Badger

Classification – Premium Ale (With ginger)

Strength – 5.2% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Richly golden and inviting.

On the nose - Finest Ardennes pate. Spiced sweet potato and herbs. Ginger...? Well, maybe just a hint.

On the tongue - A classic ginger ale... but of the boozy kind.

On the subject - Badger's competitor in the war against the likes of 'Crabbies', this is one of those novel takes on the classic soft drink. In fairness, they don't pitch this product in nearly the same way, but the ultimate effect is not a zillion miles away.

On the market - Supermarkets and specialist dealers stock this one. Try the brewery's online shop.

On the whole - 7/10

Full Review

The word 'subtle' is a slippery old eel.

The claim on the label of Badger's Blandford Fly is that this beer is "subtly spiced with ginger."

This, in the nicest possible way, is utter nonsense.

The use of ginger in this ale is about as subtle as the use of the English language on match-day in the average British football stadium.

There may be people who believe that the use of ginger in a can of Canada Dry is discreet, understated or nuanced. But most people just taste ginger ale.

That's certainly the entirety of what I tasted here. Alcoholic ginger beer.

But (and it's a fairly big 'but'), now that this drink's identity has been dragged out of the closet, it's probably worth pointing out that - as a beverage of this kind - it is a very impressive example.

In fact, it really is rather delightful.

Nicely pitched towards the crisp, dry side - but without completely abandoning sweetness - the idea of cracking one of these open on a warm, sunny afternoon is enough to make me leap on the next plane heading south.

It would need to be a chilled one, though, because unlike most ales - which can usually be drunk close to room temperature without being entirely ruined - this one would surely suffer the same fate as any carbonated soft drink when served too warm.

But then, I think that's really my main concern with this drink.

It's not really a beer.

It's an alcoholic soft drink.

Regardless of any technicalities that might qualify this as an ale, the overall effect of it's consumption (however tasty that experience might be) screams "boozy pop" at the top of it's voice.

It may appear that I'm being hard on this brew (especially in view of the fact that I've already stated how agreeably it tastes) but given the reality of it's overall taste, look and feel, there really seems very little point in not emphasising exactly what you should expect from it. And the dutiful public servant in me does feel inclined to redress the reality balance in response to Badger's gently misleading use of the old 'S' word.

But, I'll say it yet again, this is a pretty delicious drink regardless of it's classification, and for anyone who has yet to dip their toes into these adult ginger waters - there can be few better ways to take the plunge.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Adding themselves to The Bottled Beer Year 'Contributors' list is Belhaven Brewery via this glorious bunch of Scottish ales.

One of this firm's cask-only beers goes by the tagline - 'Scotlands Best Draught Ale', and I will shortly be discovering whether their bottled brews are equally confident in their own appeal.

On first glance - it looks like they have every right to be sure of themselves!

The beers are... (from left to right)

Fruit Beer - (Premium fruit-flavoured ale, 4.6% ABV)

80 Shilling - (Session ale, 3.9% ABV)

Robert Burns - (Scottish ale, 4.2% ABV)

St Andrew's Ale - (Premium ale, 4.6%ABV)

Twisted Thistle - (IPA, 5.3% ABV)

As for the taste-tests of these beauties, well, my patience was wearing thin long before I'd finished unpacking the box. Alas, wait I must, and so must you my dear readers, but rest assured that the full features on each of these ales will be coming your way over the next few weeks and months.

Which to plump for first, I wonder...?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Day 70, Beer 70 - Wadworth's "6X"

Today's Beer

Name – 6X

Brewer – Wadworth

Classification – Bitter

Strength – 4.3% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Brandy copper. Glows with wanton traditional abandon.

On the nose – Toffee malts and dry, straw-like acidity. Faint liquorice. Rich, potent and rather lovely.

On the tongue – Dry, nutty and full bodied. A proper 'grown up' bitter.

On the subject - One of the major players in England's South West, Wadworth's traditional style and authentic tasting ales have earned them a strong and loyal following.

On the market – Their biggest selling ale by some margin. Nationwide availability, but the brewery also has it's own online shop.

On the whole - 8/10

Full Review

This is a beer with a mighty reputation.

In the UK at least, the 6X branding has long been familiar to most beer drinkers, even those who have never tried it.

But is the quality of Wadworth's flagship product anywhere close to being as mighty as it's public image?

Well, to be frank, it's pretty damn close.

But then, the word 'mighty' does have more than one meaning.

Certainly, in terms of making an impression - this ale really knows how to push it's weight around. This is one of the most immediate flavour experiences I can recall.

The impact of that dry, sharp, nutty bitterness is nothing short of aggressive, and the subsequent complementary swathes of floral and citrus themes washes over you like repeated bouts of déjà vu.

It really is kind of dreamy.

For a beer of relatively low alcoholic strength, it storms the mouth like a marauding mob, and displays many of the characteristics of a 'strong' or at least a 'premium' ale.

In truth, I was somewhat wrong-footed by discovering that 6X is merely 4.3% ABV - I'd always assumed it was much more potent, and I give credit to the brewery for endowing this ale with such power and emphasis using (one would imagine) complexity and intensity of flavour rather than just maxing the booze.

That shows real skill.

I can certainly see why this beer is so popular. It makes a big impact without ever shouting or over pitching anything, and this means that - in spite of its undeniably 'mighty' character - you always feel inclined to reach for more.

In a sense, then, this is that strong ale you always wished you could cope with a few more jars of - repackaged in an eminently drinkable form.

Rarely is such a punchy brew found at this strength.

Without a doubt, I could spend many an evening being repeatedly whacked in the jaw by this excellent English ale.