Friday, 29 July 2011

Day 110, Beer 110 - Dorset Brewing Company's "Durdle Door"

Today's Beer

Name – Durdle Door

Classification – 'Weymouth' bitter

Strength – 5.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep, vibrant copper. A decidedly 'classic bitter' look.

On the nose – Gorgeous rich malts and a nice hop-derived citrus saltiness.

On the tongue – A robust, full bodied and creamy beer, packed with fruit-laced character.

On the subject – Dorset Brewing Company continue to impress me with this 'Weymouth' bitter, so called due to the locally sourced ingredients which remain a key element of this brewery's ethos.

On the market – A healthy localised presence continues to extend beyond borders, but online (at the brewery's own web store for instance) is the best bet for those further afield.

On the

Full Review

I haven't seen one for a while, but to the best of my knowledge the UK confectioner Cadbury still produces a chocolate bar called 'Fruit And Nut.'

Those of you who aren't familiar with the product should be able to work out the basics from the name itself.

Now, summoning up all the powers of your imagination, I'm asking you to imagine a version of this chocolate bar which features no chocolate whatsoever, and which also comes in liquid form.

Now imagine that this copper coloured free flowing liquid has a fairly strong alcohol content.

Are you picturing it?

If so, what you're looking at is Durdle Door.

It's the non-chocolate, non-solid, Cadbury's Fruit And Nut of the beer world.

Sort of.

And let me swiftly add that this effectively makes this ale a very delicious, 'special treat' kind of drink, and one which (in fairness) has a great deal more of a salty, high-citrus dryness than my rather crude analogy might suggest.

But there's no doubt that 'nutty fruitiness' is the main feature of this brew, and those two elements have been pitched perfectly against each other in a way that really does evoke the feel of the aforementioned bar of cocoa loveliness.

In fact, this taste test made me aware of a huge inconsistency which is currently at work in our world. You can find chocolate flavoured beers all over the place these days, but I've yet to come across any beer flavoured chocolate.

Surely this represents a gigantic gap in the market... (Consider it copyrighted from this moment on!)

Anyway, I digress. You'll search long and hard before finding any chocolate flavours in Durdle Door, though there are faint traces of toffee and treacle to detect if you can ever manage to pull your focus away from those unstoppable nuts and fruits, which are forever shape-shifting between delightful hints of orange peel and pecan pie, to sumptuous swathes of cooking apple and roasted almond.

It's good stuff.

It's not the weakest bitter in terms of its ABV, and there is a sense that more than a couple of these might liven up your evening in all manner of interesting ways (or leave you slumped in a sorry heap). Add to this the robustness and the immediacy of the flavours and the proud fullness of the body – and you've got yourselves a pretty mighty drink experience.

This is the last of the Dorset Brewing Company beers I've had to sample, and I've been very impressed by the sense of freshness and the skilful composition of their range.

If you don't know this brewery yet, you might want to add it to your 'to drink' list without further delay.

These are very fine beers indeed.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Day 109, Beer 109 - Purity's "Pure Gold"

Today's Beer

Name – Pure Gold

Brewer – Purity

Classification – Golden ale

Strength – 4.3% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – 'MOR' gold. (Confused? Then read on...)

On the nose – Perfectly pleasant in a 'MOR' kind of way. (Still confused? Then, just keep reading...)

On the tongue – Well balanced, fruity and dry, with a decent malt presence. All very nice, easy drinking and generally 'MOR.' (Dum de dum...)

On the subject – This is the last of the Purity ales I've sampled here, and a pretty impressive (if rather small) range it has proved to be too. Popularity is growing at quite a pace, and I can see why.

On the market – I've seen these in Tesco and I reckon they'll be found in all kinds of 'MOR' places like that. (If you are now officially sick and tired with all this bewildering 'MOR' business, I guarantee to provide an explanation very soon indeed...) Try an online order here.

On the

Full Review

Well, there's not a lot wrong with this one.

Not at all.

Nothing 'wrong' that I could detect.

It was all just fine and dandy.



But, as you can probably tell – I wasn't exactly reaching for the thesaurus to find entirely new words to describe entirely new thoughts and feelings beyond the reach of my tiny, mortal mind.

I was merely drinking a very pleasant ale which was very easy-drinking, very well brewed and largely unremarkable.

I was drinking beer that could well be described as 'MOR'.

'Middle Of The Road'.

Not too this, and not too that.

Perfectly decent.



Beer to tap your toes to.

Beer to enjoy whilst you're busy doing something else.

In the world of popular music the phrase 'MOR' has really taken off. It provides a home for acts such as ABBA, The Carpenters, and The Bachelors, as well as solo artists like Michael Bublé, Mat Munro and Dido.

Nobody will ever try start a fight whilst songs by these artistes are playing, and there are plenty who might try to start a family. But these tunes are unlikely to make the world shift on its axis either.

But do not, I urge you, misunderstand my point here.

Songs by such indisputable greats as Elvis Presley and The Beatles might feature in many people's MOR collections, and the reason for that is simple. These acts have a hugely broad appeal, and beer is the same as music in so far as 'broad appeal' means 'more sales.' Tesco don't stock this beer by accident. They know that the greater number of people are going to agree that this beer is perfectly fine, whilst very few will find reason to hate it.

Talk about 'ker-ching'!

It's got just the amount of dryness for the dryness-lovers, just the right fruit for the citrus-lovers, and there's even a nice 'medium' body to save all from harm. Even the colour of this brew is every bit as 'MOR' as everything else.

I like this beer. I really do. And I'd buy it again in preference to a great many other beers. It's just that I'd probably never go out of my way to seek it out.

But then, the ever-clever Tesco have made it so that I'll never need to go out of my way.

And perhaps therein lies the secret to all things 'MOR'.

Not only are they well-intentioned, easy-going, and very hard not to like - but they're always close by whenever you need them.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day 108, Beer 108 - Liverpool Organic's "Joseph Williamson"

Today's Beer

Name – Joseph Williamson

Brewer – Liverpool Organic

Classification – Bitter

Strength – 4.1% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Lustrous deep red chestnut. Stunning.

On the nose – Solid tantalising malts and vivid spiced-citrus hops.

On the tongue – The most complete bitter I've yet discovered. Nothing less than a religious experience.

On the subject – If a sense of this brewery is what you're looking for, I think it's probably better to read on...

On the market – I could summon thunder with indignation! What I mean is, this beer is way too hard to come by as things stand. If you're outside of Liverpool, try the brewery's own online store.

On the

Full Review

It would be extremely reckless and hotheaded for me to begin this review by blurting out an insanely sweeping statement along the lines of “this brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain” – so I'm going to take whatever steps necessary to avoid saying that, or anything else remotely along those lines.

I'm going to avoid it so determinedly because such a statement would be a dangerous combination of unscientific (I haven't tried bottled beers from every other brewery in Britain), sensationalist (there are ways of praising a company's efforts without singling them out so dramatically), and most crucially – it would be downright risky (my already questionable reputation would be in danger of total collapse if I were to go so far out on a limb for just one relatively small firm.)

I mean – let's just be perfectly honest here. There's little doubt that any writer who opened with such a bold claim as 'this brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain' – would clearly have little interest in journalistic values or the search for ultimate truth, they would quite obviously be far more interested in attention-grabbing sound bites and the sort of smutty, reductive titillation that appeals only to the most spineless and amoral demographic.

There really is no question about any of that.

In this particular case, however, my chief obstacle when trying to avoid use of such sweeping statements happens to be a very significant obstacle, and that obstacle comes in the shape of the following fact...

This brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain.

You see my dilemma.

Like I say, there was very little left of my reputation anyway – so what the hell.

One way or another, this is how I see it. The extensive range of bottled beers that Liverpool Organic are churning out at this point in time are – without doubt – the freshest, most vivid, most immediate and ultimately the most impressive brews on the open market.

Other beers may match the quality of these ales, but it would be a rare beer indeed which bettered them.

I've sampled around half of the full spread of ales that they have to offer so far (with some reviews already out and more to follow), but that's enough for me to get to the point where I simply cannot contain myself any longer. There are literally a small a handful of trend-setting breweries in this country at present, whom all other breweries (micro sized and larger) look to for inspiration and ideas, and it can sometimes seem that those 'hot' breweries are simply those with the greatest number of Tweets and Facebook updates. (Run the numbers on this theory if you have time, you'll be amazed at the link between 'social networking', 'influence' and ultimately 'sales'. I've long argued that the wireless hub has now become the most important tool in the brewhouse.)

Imagine a world where beer, and beer alone, builds reputations. In that world, I believe Liverpool Organic would currently wear the bottled crown.

But, as we are all obliged to live in this world, I can only suggest that L.O. get themselves a Twitter account as rapidly as possible and start sending out a semi-constant barrage of meaningless drivel.

Because it works.

Sales will triple in eighteen months, and I'll be able to stop putting my reputation on the line with sweeping statements about how superior their beers are – because everyone will already know.

This particular beer of theirs, 'Joseph Williamson' (part of their 'Heroes Of Liverpool' range) has a somewhat unfortunate title. Joseph Williamson himself was a real-life champion of the working people of Liverpool, and as such he has every right to have things named after him, such as libraries, museums, social clubs, roads, leisure centres, a bridge, a stadium or anything with an important public profile. But not a beer. And certainly not the finest craft bitter in the nation. The problem with the title Joseph Williamson that is 'says', or 'suggests', or 'conjures up a sense of' absolutely nothing to most people in the world. Consequently, most people will have no idea about what to expect from this beer, and most consumers would be put off by that.

This problem is elevated from nuisance level to far greater severity by the fact that it's not even called a 'bitter' on the label. It's called 'TunnAle.' This, basically, is a private joke between the brewers and any people in Liverpool who have an above-average knowledge of local history. Anyone outside of Liverpool is left to wonder what a strange and curious thing a 'tunnale' might be, before deciding not to risk any money on it and buying themselves a bitter instead.

Now, I wouldn't normally bother with such trivialities as branding (the bottle does actually look lovely, and there's no problem at all with the general styling of the brewery's 'image') but when the beer in question is as good as this, I feel duty bound to get it poured down the necks of as many people as possible – and that (sadly, but truly) is often the point where branding becomes every bit as important as the product. A name or a bit of bad design can so easily prove a hindrance to an excellent beer. In this case, I just wish they'd found a more creative way to 'honour' this man without simply using his name. Did he not have a nickname, or an unusual hobby? Or why not just call the beer 'TunnAle', keep the gentleman's very nice portrait on the front, and tell us all about the link on the back? It would still be in his honour, and we'd all know what we were buying. Or if it absolutely has to be called Joseph Williamson, it should at least say 'bitter' somewhere to help us out, instead of a 'joke' beer variety, which is guaranteed to amuse far fewer people than it will bewilder.

Anyway, enough of all this.

I suppose I'd better say a little something about what this beer is actually like.

Don't think I can't hear those groans of relief!

Well, believe me, this is no easy task. Focussing on a single beer in Liverpool Organic's range is like trying to focus on a single star in the clearest of night skies. However, the one advantage that Joseph Williamson has over all the other liquid miracles on the list – is that this is perhaps the most magnificent.

As I've already suggested above, this is the most complete bitter I've yet to find during this project, and easily as good as any I'd found in all the years before.

A dry, crisp, lightly smoked and spiced, sharply citrus, richly nutty, medium bodied, easy drinking festival of a beer. There's nothing remotely 'old school' about it, and yet there is an instant sense of familiarity, and I find this element alone to be an essential part of any favourite beer.

It's an enigmatic ale, but it's no show off. It is refined and elegant, but it feels 'inclusive', like a drink which wishes to be enjoyed rather than admired.

But admire it you just do. It leaves you with no choice.

The hops are dynamic and vivid, but they merely co-exist with the sumptuous malts, which themselves never stray into outright sweetness – but tantalize you with the feeling that they might.

The true highlight, though – as with all of this brewery's offerings – is the exceptional freshness of the drink. The sense of 'nature alive' (probably stemming from the all-organic ingredients and the very well executed bottle-conditioning) is as stunning and as vibrant as ever here. Beer can seldom taste more fresh, in bottled form or any other.

Rounding things off is the gentlest and most mesmerising 'finish', which floats airily around in the mouth like the kindly ghosts of all cherished beers past, present and future. I did try to explain it with less whimsy, but this really is the closest description I can provide.

All in all, I was genuinely moved by this drink.

It was only a glass a beer, so that really shouldn't have been possible.

But it's all very true, and I suspect that only by drinking this ale could you ever properly understand.

I urge you to go and do so.

(UPDATE - 08/11 - Six days after this was posted, Liverpool Organic were up and running on Twitter. Would I be so deluded and egocentric to imagine this post was responsible? You bet I would! Either way - it's a great development! Find them at @LivOrganicBrew)


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 107, Beer 107 - Thornbridge's "Jaipur"

Today's Beer





Name – Jaipur

Brewer – Thornbridge

Classification – IPA (Which means it is now official - 'IPA' has no meaning to me any more. Read on...)

Strength – 5.9% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Gold infused grapefruit juice.

On the nose – Sharp, vivid citrus. Like grapefruit juice.

On the tongue – Grapefruit jui... Look, I'd really better skip these bits. Just bear with me and read on...

On the subject – I sometimes wonder how 'big' the world of craft beer really is when so many people I know still haven't heard of one of the mightiest and most venerated breweries in the sector. But that's precisely what Derbyshire's Thornbridge are, and a stack of major industry awards only partly explains why.

On the market – Pretty widespread and only getting wider. If your local supermarket won't, then the Internet will at The Real Ale Store.

On the whole9.5/10* (See note above)

Full Review

And so it came to pass that I finally threw in the towel.

The 'IPA Definition Towel', that is.

Basically, if today's beer is an IPA (India Pale Ale), and yet Greene King's is also an IPA, and then Meantime's is an IPA too, and Okell's is an IPA, and Fuller's is an IPA, and Brooklyn's is an IPA (albeit an 'East' IPA) as well as many others like 'Proper Job', 'Deuchars' and 'Torpedo Extra' – then I can no longer hope to explain to the proverbial Man From Mars what an IPA actually is.

An even harder thing to explain to an alien would be what makes an ale not an IPA.

I think I'd just have to casually refer to the history of the drink, talk a little about hops and ships, before asking the alien not to ask too many questions. But even if I tried my hardest, I'm sure he'd still stare at the line-up of brews I just listed feeling far more like alien than he ever did before, and who could blame the poor guy.

Usually, when dealing with such matters, many of my fellow beer bloggers like to say – 'a beer is whatever the brewery says it is.'

And perhaps therein lies the problem. An IPA is merely any beer which a brewery has decided to call an IPA.

By that reckoning I can quickly and easily understand why this golden ale entitled 'Jaipur' is in fact an IPA.

Just like Green King's traditional bitter is an IPA.

And just like Meantime's English-brewed American-inspired 'English-style ale' is an IPA.

I'm not struggling with the science here, or with the brewing process, because levels of attenuation, alcohol content, colour, texture, taste, hop varieties, malt varieties – are simply all over the place amongst the range beers currently being sold as IPA's.

It seems to me that IPA – the term 'IPA' itself as opposed to what the term IPA might actually mean – is just plain old 'trendy' these days, and this is probably best summed-up by the upcoming global event 'IPA Day.'

Boy, would that really not be a good day for the Man From Mars to show up!

So intensely en vogue are the letters 'IPA' that every brewery needs something new and exciting called an IPA on their list in order not to look out of touch. But it really does seem that just about any new brew will fit the glass IPA slipper – regardless of what this means to the poor customer stood at the bar scratching his head clean off.

Anyway, if knocking out all manner of different beers under one increasingly meaningless umbrella results in great beer being created, then I suppose it's all well and good. I mean, who really cares what an 'IPA' really is, or what a 'bitter' really is, or what the even more indefinable 'ale' really is.

If it's a good drink, it's a good drink. Right?

Well, rather fortuitously, it has quickly become pretty clear to me that Jaipur is a 'good drink'.

It's nice to be clear about something.

But to say I was surprised by the drink that came out of a bottle marked 'IPA' is something of an understatement. If the label had read 'golden ale' or 'blonde ale' or something equally out of fashion, I might have been a little less taken aback by the faint pastel yellow, highly translucent, light bodied and rather delicious alcoholic grapefruit juice which appeared before me.

There is almost no detectable trace of malt in this drink. There is no certainly no sense of balance between malt and hops. This characteristic does of course lend itself to the name IPA, as the very first India Pale Ale's did tend to be highly hopped.

But beers like this are not simply highly hopped.

In effect – they are only hopped.

That's all.

They are just epic wide-screen battles in which vast armies of certain citrus flavours attempt to conquer vast armies of certain other citrus flavours.

In previous millennia, 'balance' used to refer to the relationship between hop and malt, whereas these days it frequently refers only to the relationship between one high pitched hop and any number of even higher pitched hops. It's basically about the balance between hop, skip and jump.

Yes, there may be microscopic hints of all kinds of further flavours, but the citrus here is so mighty that only the most pedantic and determined of taste buds are going to care about – or even notice – anything else.

Hugely, unashamedly, and (as it happens) really quite hypnotically hopped is what this beer is, and I do have to say that it is among the freshest, cleanest and most dynamic taste experiences I know of within the world of alcoholic beverages. In fact, there really is something quite genuinely awe-inspiring about the impact of this drink.

But I just don't taste beer.

I certainly taste something – it's possible that I taste more than I do in most other drinks on the planet. But it's the most unceasingly delicious and exquisitely crafted alcoholic fruit drink on Earth, when what I really wanted to drink was an ale.

In the end, it's simply a personal preference thing. A straightforward 'my cup of tea' thing.

Personally, I like my 'cup of tea' to be a more well-rounded affair, and I really am growing tired of this unceasing trend toward ever more 'massive' hops.

If you are into that sort of thing, then the current beer scene must feel like the greatest thrill ride imaginable.

But for many of us, it's just kinda dull and frustrating.

My great solace is in the knowledge that fashion is fickle. I keenly await the inevitable shift away from high citrus yellow beers, and for the tide to gently roll back in favour of the nut, the biscuit, the granary loaf, and the copper hue.

Believe me, I dislike sweet, malty, soupy ales as much as anyone. These horrid beers are the very reason this hop-fuelled march began in the first place, and I thank Heaven and the likes of Thornbridge for that. But the reality is that I'm also left largely cold and unmoved by these hop-aggressive one trick ponies.

Might it not be time to start taking baby steps toward the middle ground again?

I first discovered a love of beer via the likes of Pedigree, Draught Bass and the greatly missed Museum Ale from Sam Smith.

Any brewery who reappraises, redefines and reworks these kinds of drinks would doubtless lead a whole new march of their own.

I live in hope.

In the meantime, let me end with this...

A toffee apple without toffee is not a toffee apple.

It's just an apple.

These totally hop-dominant beers nearly always bring this thought to mind.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Micro Brewery and The Bubble.

Too much...

...and too little.'s a gas thing. But it's not a straightforward thing.

A few days ago, I posted this review of Okell's very nice 'Doctor Okell's IPA', in which I expressed a certain concern that this excellent beer had been let down by a noticeable lack of carbonation.

In short, it felt a bit flat.

A couple of days later, something quite wonderful and really rather fascinating happened.

Okell's got in touch, (that's the 'wonderful' part) and they offered some insight into precisely why my beer might have been behaving that way (and this is where it started to get 'fascinating.')

Initially, they brought to my attention a certain aspect of the beer production process which is slightly different for a large number of the most exciting beer companies in our midsts, something that applies to a fair portion of those companies who are often loosely assembled under the banner - 'micro-breweries'.

Basically, Okell's - like very many other micros - don't actually bottle their own beers.

This concept of shipping out beer to a third party for the final phase of the process was already very familiar to me (although I hadn't known Okell's worked in this way) and I'd learned over time that it was a perfectly standard and accepted system within the industry. Personally, I'm all in favour of it, because bottling beer is a serious undertaking and very different from the art of brewing itself, and it can be at this very tender stage that a well crafted ale is compromised simply because the proper tools or expertise isn't in place in or around the brewhouse.

But the contact from Okell's came as something of a Eureka moment for me, because I suddenly had my grasp on a possible explanation for why certain beers are sent out either too gassy or not gassy enough, and I knew that - whatever the reason - it hadn't necessarily been the respective breweries themselves who were to blame for it.

It would in fact be this elusive 'third party' who, in spite of the high standards which these other companies doubtless apply - are never dealing with their own 'babies', but merely with the product of someone else's dedication and endeavour.

Indeed, it transpired after a bit of investigative work by Okell's themselves, that a gremlin had indeed got into the system at the bottling stage, and that some beers had been released slightly under-carbonated.

I duly informed them that I felt like some boozy version of Sherlock Holmes and was glad that the mystery had been solved. (Not least because their IPA is otherwise such a blatantly fantastic beer!)

My point, dear drinker, is that the next time you crack open a bottle that has it's carbonation all wrong, do bear in mind that the people whose name sits proudly on the label aren't necessarily the ones responsible.

In fact, it is far more likely that those people on the label would be even more annoyed than you are that the beer in front of you hasn't reached you in the way they intended.

I felt duty bound to share this adventure with you, as I am sure you would have wanted me to.

Yours with stuck out chest,

S Holmes.