Saturday, 31 August 2013

Thwaites - Old Dan

After an afternoon spent at the Crewe Beer Festival, I stopped off at Waitrose for a couple of bottles on the way home.
I'm not sure why but I got an Old Dan from Thwaites. It's strong at 7.4% and came in a dinky bottle. I normally steer clear of beers from large UK regionals but this just took my fancy for some reason.

It was certainly strong but didn't taste like it was 7.4%. It was quite sticky and claggy and although not unpleasant, it was quite hard-going. There was a malty aftertaste and although this is not the best beer I've ever had, nor is it the worst.

Home brew three

I was very disappointed with my first effort at a full mash home brew. It had a weird taste, sort of a metallic bitterness. I reviewed what I'd done and tried to figure out what I should be doing differently as honestly as I could.

After some soul-searching, I came up with the following:
  • The mash was sub-standard. I had mashed a little too cold and also didn't sparge properly. I reckon I'd left a ton of sugars in the mash tun and ended topping up the boil with water to make 23 litres. The OG was 1032, which is quite weedy.
  • I didn't filter properly. I ended up transferring a right load of trub and shit into the FV, including bits of hop stalks.
  • I didn't aerate the wort. 
  • I pitched the yeast in too hot. My cooling coil got the wort down from 100C to about 40C very quickly but then further reductions in temperature were getting exponentially harder. I lost patience and pitched the yeast in while the wort was probably still 35-40C.
Today, I set about making brew number three. I didn't follow a recipe but used what ingredients I had. I used more malt. 3kg Maris Otter, 1.8kg Lager malt, 450g Light Crystal and 250g Carapils. I had swapped the supplied filter in the mash tun for a homemade one I assembled, which had more surface area. I also made a sparging tool which sprinkled liquor into the tun for me while I was drawing off from underneath. It all worked very well and I filtered the runnings through a little sieve before they reached the boiler.

After the boil, I cooled the wort with the cooling coil right down to 30C, which took some time. I then transferred to the FV via a fine sieve and allowed the liquid to drop down, splashing in and aerating itself.

I then left the wort to cool while I cleaned the equipment up, which took an hour. I pitched in at about 25C and popped the FV in my lovely brew kitchen. (see below).

Considering that on my last attempt it had taken two days for the yeast to show any signs of activity, I was surprised to find this batch bubbling away after five minutes. The OG was 1052 and I am very confident that I have cut out loads of technique errors from last time.

Home brew one and two

Recently, I have decided to start brewing my own beers, rather than just criticising other people's brews. It's not as easy as you might think.

Effort number one was from a kit. Woodforde's Nelson's Revenge. Two tins of malty gloop went into a fermenting vessel, watered down to make the required amount. I added the yeast, waited a week, then transferred it into a cask for a secondary ferment. After a week in the cask, it settled down nice and clear and I nervously poured out a pint.

Holy crapping monkey balls, it was shite. Just a sweet malty mess, worse even than Tetleys Original. I tried to bring it back from the brink and bought a packet of hops from Brew2Bottle in Northwich and made a hop tea. I added the bitter hop juice and left it a further week. After this time it was a little less awful but still not good.

I resolved at this point that I would persevere but upped my game and bought all the equipment needed to do a full mash brew. A mash tun, a boiler, a cooling coil, a new fermenter, a capper and a bunch of malt and hops. £300. No excuses.

Brew 2 was my first attempt at a full  mash. I found a recipe for an American Pale Ale and went for it. 3.8kg of lager malt and 450g of Light Crystal malt and loads of Amarillo and Cascade hops later, I had my brew in the Fermenting Vessel. I added the WYeast yeast and waited....

Two days later, some bubbles started to appear. Another day in and the thing was a broiling mayhem, swirling and whirling as the yeast did its stuff. I transferred to 23 bottles and a 10L cask after 11 days and had high hopes.

Unfortunately, after 5 days of secondary, this tastes worse than the kit beer. I had a few days of soul-searching, trying to figure out why.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Black Sheep -Golden Sheep

Black Sheep -so named because the brewery founder left the Theakston's empire to set up on his own, hence is the "Black Sheep" of the family. His beers are extremely popular in the north - my Dad calls Black Sheep his favourite ale.

Golden Sheep is the pale ale, premium version of Black Sheep - so must be good.

It's quite ruby for a pale ale, but is it any good?

First sniffs aren't too promising - there's no big whiff - and the taste is, well...beery.

I know that's a crap description, and maybe I'm not really cut out to be a beer writer, but on smell and taste I got, well, nothing. No citrus, no fruits, not even a goddamn lychee. 

That's not to say it was unpleasant - it really wasn't, I necked it and kind of enjoyed it, and it wasn't hideously undrinkable like the Sole Star - it was just, well, nothingness really. I drank it, it refreshed me, but there was no complexity, no interest, nothing really to speak of. 

I've had good nights on Black Sheep - most notably quaffing mountains of the stuff after scaling Yorkshire's biggest peak with Nelly - but I guess I was too busy being thirsty and talking guff to notice that what we're drinking doesn't really have much to say for itself at all.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Tillingbourne - The Source at the Onslow Arms, Clandon

I have a theory that a pint always, always tastes better after hours of exercise and fresh air. So it was I came upon a cask of Tillingbourne's "The Source" at the Onslow Arms, Clandon, a few short miles from the brewery at Shere.

After the recent Hog's Back disappointment I wasn't really holding out much hope, especially with an ABV of just 3.3% (Friday's Sole Star low-alcohol "experience" still affecting me) , but I was delighted to be proved wrong. 

This was a  deliciously fruity, hoppy number, richly floral and, of course, with citrus notes. It's a proper summer ale, refreshing and with a long, hoppy finish; the kind of pint you could enjoy all evening after a long day in the field.

The Onslow Arms is a typical Surrey Hills pub - classy, with a wealthy clientele; fitted out smartly with friendly waiting staff. It's quite clearly about the food, but as well as the Source there was also Tribute and Young's among the hand-pulled beers available. Very nice indeed. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Fyne Ales - Jarl

Jarl recently came third in Champion Beer of Britain, winning "Best Golden Ale" so when I saw it for sale in The Beer Emporium in Sandbach, I had to have a bottle.

Jarl is extremely pale in colour, like many of the Thornbridge beers. The photo makes it look darker than it is. It has a lovely hoppy nose and pours with quite a soapy, frothy head. This would be the perfect beer for drinking on a Summer afternoon and at 3.8% you could have a few. The taste is sensational - light, refreshing and citrusy and just so well balanced.

Jarl is absolutely amazing and fully deserving of its awards. Try one as soon as you can!

Sadlers - Hop Bomb

I wasn't sure what I was expecting with this one. On one hand, the label was telling me that this was going to be incredibly hoppy but on the other hand, it was quite cheap so I was a little worried. The truth was somewhere in between. This is a perfectly nice beer. It's quite hoppy and has a long, bitter finish.

I think I would have liked it more if there hadn't been such wild claims on the label but by positioning the product in this way, it will always fall slightly short of what was promised.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sierra Nevada - Torpedo

After having recently decided that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the best beer in the world, I was more excited than is probably acceptable to find Torpedo (7.2%) for sale in Tesco.

Torpedo is so named because they make use of a hop torpedo during the brewing process. This is a device that runs the fermented beer through a filter stuffed full of aromatic American hops. Torpedo is billed as an "Extra IPA" and I had braced myself for an unrelenting onslaught of aroma hops.

I thought it poured a little flat and it wasn't quite as hoppy as I was hoping for. To be fair, it was probably a little over-chilled. My bad. Like Pale Ale though, it's wonderfully balanced, with the biscuity malt and hops making themselves known in equal measure. Make no mistake, this is a beautifully crafted strong ale but it really does taste very strong and is by no means an "easy drinker".

It's a very, very well made drink but not a killer product in the way that Pale Ale is. Talking of which, Tesco was selling those as well and I've got one in the fridge. Cheers.

Badger - Blandford Flyer

I've talked before about my love of West Country ales, and Badger is one of those favourites. That's mainly because it's a constant in the Sainsbury's beer ale and hence I've drunk a lot of their output down the years.

But this one I really like. I don't mind the odd bottle of Crabbies, but this is ginger-inflected ale rather than, er, ginger ale. This beer (5.2%) is lighter than the ABV might suggest, and sparklingly refreshing - a bit like a shandy with a big ol' lump of ginger chucked at it. Forget hops, forget citrus tones, forget lychees even - it's just a tasty ol' summer drink.

Adnams - Sole Star

My in-laws live close to Southwold, home of the Adnams Brewery, and as such they've adopted Adnams as their beer of choice (not that they know much about such things, but then neither do I really - I just drink more). Generally I'm a fan of their brews, though I find Broadside a bit much.

The local Budgens were selling Sole Star and Lighthouse for an amazing £1 a bottle each - I couldn't resist.

At 2.7% it's incredibly weak - I guess it's designed for people who want to drink a lot without speaking in tongues (or perhaps to get below a tax band?). I'm never that sure what difference the alcohol content makes, but in this instance I'd suggest it's this: utter piss.

It's really quite unpleasant. Malty in a bad way, too bitter, and with a long dry finish that just makes the off taste last far too long in the mouth.

A pound? No thanks.


Duvel is a massive 8.5% Belgian pale ale, made with Pilsner malt and dextrose. It is extremely dry to the taste, probably a result of adding fermentable sugars to the wort. It has an almost Champagne-like dryness, which, when set alongside a high alcohol content and plenty of fizz, leads to a beautiful beer.

I made a schoolboy error and didn't leave mine standing long enough, meaning the yeast was mixed in and the resulting drink was quite cloudy. I could detect the yeasty taste and I think this also resulted in an increased dryness. It was still amazing though.

Mrs Nelly thought it was fantastic and I will definitely have to have another one soon. A little more patience will be needed before pouring next time.

This week's beers

Best beer of the week was a Marble Dobber - a robust IPA and the Lagonda's big brother. As expected, it was fabulous; strong, hoppy and dangerously drinkable. Bollington Brewing Company's beers have somehow managed to escape me so far so I took the opportunity to buy a Long Hop from The Bottle Stop in Bramhall. It's described as a 3.9% Summer Beer and it fitted the description perfectly, being light, uncomplicated and very refreshing when chilled for half an hour.

I also tried a UBU from Purity in Warwickshire. This is a 4.5% Amber beer, named after the late brewery dog. Again, delicious. There are so many microbreweries producing such good, tasty beers that we really are spoilt for choice and I am aware of getting almost complacent about the choice.

This led me to start wondering just how many microbreweries there were round here, so I did a quick bit of research and so far, have identified 25 small breweries within a 25 mile radius of my house. These range from one-man bands to outfits which have probably outgrown the microbrewery tag, such as Titanic in Stoke.

Almost exactly 25 miles away, but not included in my list is Robinsons in Stockport, which would be classed as a large regional, boasting a chain of 340 pubs in their portfolio. My earlier enthusiasm for the diversity of the local brewing scene was stopped in its tracks by a visit to the George and Dragon in Holmes Chapel, a Robinsons pub, selling only Robinsons ale.

The pub is nice enough and the outside area seems to have been spruced up recently but I am always reluctant to go because of the lack of choice. I started with a Dizzy Blonde, which is described as invigorating on their website. In fairness, it is really inoffensive but I struggled to detect any aroma at all. It's pleasant enough but just doesn't really taste of much. I didn't think it was invigorating, just a bit bland.

I moved on to a Trooper in search of more flavour. This is stronger and although brewed by Robinsons, is "created" by Iron Maiden, whatever that means. This beer is starting to become a bit of a sensation and is exceeding all sorts of sales expectations in the pubs and supermarkets, according to the press releases. I expected great things then, but as usual with beers from big regionals, I just thought it was a bit disappointing. Again, there wasn't much nose but it did have a little bit more flavour than Dizzy Blonde. There was an unusual underlying taste that I couldn't quite put my finger on. "Kind of orangey" is probably as good as I can do.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Meantime - India Pale Ale

A family camping trip is on the cards in a few weeks so I put the tent up in the garden as a trial run, to make sure it was working ok. One slip of the tongue later and I had somehow agreed to spend the night in the tent with my three-year old son. Every other bloke in the land would be watching the first Match of the Day of the new season and I had volunteered to spend the evening sitting in the garden on a beanbag.

As I couldn't sleep in the house, I figured eight Ace might be an appropriate choice of drink but Waitrose don't sell it so I opted for one Meantime IPA instead.

This comes in a big 750ml bottle with a cork/wire cage. It was well over five quid and the price nearly put me off, which doesn't happen very often. It was quite highly carbonated, which I think it would have to be, as the bigger bottle will spend more time sat open. The first pour resulted in a big rolling head rising up, which I had to allow to recede before topping up. I still don't know for sure how I feel about the bigger bottle and the cork stopper. I really wanted it to not be a gimmick but I can't think of any compelling reason for it and sadly suspect it might be.

I had high hopes for this IPA but my first impression of the nose was that it was just too malt-forward for my liking. It's a very strong beer at 7.4% and although it was extremely drinkable, I just constantly wanted there to be more hops. I suspect this is a very traditional IPA though, and true to type in a way that other IPAs perhaps aren't.

This is a very fine beer indeed, just not quite what I was expecting and not to my taste. I could happily have another bottle at some point in the future but there are just so many other beers I want to try first.

Bath Ales - Gem

I've talked before about my love of West Country beers, the city of Bath, lesbians, beer generally etc., and tonight I thought I'd crack open a bottle of Bath Ales' Gem (4.8%).

As you can see it's what I would call "traditional pint of bitter" in colour; quite flat, with a very small head (not sure you can see that in the picture, I'm afraid, but trust me on this). It's quite malty to the taste, but in a nice-biscuit way (not a Tetleys-Original kind of way, thankfully) with a long finish and hints of caramel.

Let's be honest here - there's not a lot going on here, but it's quite pleasant, in a "refreshing background pint" kind of way - eg it doesn't get in the way, but neither does it distract one from other things (like watching the football)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Flying Scotsman at Four Horsehoes, Chobham

Managed to drag the family out for a short walk this afternoon. They all hate walking, and it's only the promise of going to the pub (and some yummy treats therein) that gets them to agree to participate in the first place. Of course, this also means I get to go to the pub too...

So I based today's walk around the Four Horseshoes in the nearby village of Chobham. This pub is based in a cute building in a great location, but until its recent refurbishment it was a grubby, tired place and avoided by many. Today's trip was my first since it reopened a couple of weeks ago, and it promised "a range of fine ales" - just up my street.
In the "public bar" (much smaller than the restaurant, but I guess that's where the profit is these days), the "range of fine ales" were actually two - London Pride and Flying Scotsman. Now I'm no fan of London Pride (more of that in the future), and it was with a heavy heart I noted that the Flying Scotsman - which I hadn't heard of before - was from the Caledonian brewery in Scotland. I don't like to leap to conclusions but Scotland is not known for its beer. Most Scottish brews I've had have been bloody appalling.

So it was with some trepidation I sniffed the fresh-poured pint.

To my amazement, it smelt good - a bit malty up front, but in a good way. This is a ruby ale, looking fairly clear but creamy to the taste, like the Lancashire brews of my youth. Like almost every beer we've reviewed so far, it was citrusy (gonna need to find a new adjective), with hints of hazelnut and a clean finish.

Flying Scotsman is a really drinkable, tasty ale; not like the IPAs we've been necking so far, but in a northern, creamy way. This, really, is what yesterday's Hog's Back should have tasted like. Well done Scotland - you CAN do it!

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale #2

In a first for this blog, we're going to see a second opinion on a beer. 

M'colleague Mr Nelson opined on the excellence of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale earlier in the week, and seeing it at our local Sainsbury's (not cheap mind) I couldn't resist trying it for myself. About five years ago I went to Seattle and did some in-depth research into the craft beers of the Pacific  Northwest (of which there are many). Given that before I went I assumed American beer was all about Miller Lite and Bud, I was surprised and delighted (and hungover) with my discovery. However, I'd not known of any craft beers that had made the long journey over here.

Nelly rhapsodised about this beer last week and quite frankly he was right. It's a magnificent brew. It smells great, the hops are strong without being overpowering, and held in the mouth it fizzes into something frothy and utterly delicious. 

The only downside is that it comes in dinky bottles - the photo above is of a fully-poured bottle. We want more!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Hog's Back - Hop Garden Gold

Hogs Back is pretty much my local brewery - our local sells TEA as its token real ale, and its ales are in every supermarket for miles around. People round here are proud of Hogs Back - they feel a sense of ownership, and its brewery tours - which I haven't done - are legion.

I've drunk a lot of TEA - it's nothing special - but I hadn't tried the Garden Gold (4.4%), which I found in Sainsbury's this morning. Part of the problem of beer tasting (by "tasting" I mean, "having a few bottles in front of the telly") is that your palate is very much influenced by what you've had before. So I moved straight from the Kipling to the Garden Gold, and they're very different beasts indeed - that may influence what follows.

Garden Gold isn't particularly pleasant. I found it very malty and barely carbonated, and after the (relative) delight of the Kipling that was just lumpen and unpleasant. Trying hard for flavour it is slightly flowery (maybe this is the "Garden" part of the name), but it has that long, dry, malty finish that really isn't that pleasant.

I wish it was better; I'd like to live somewhere with decent beers (I shall try and dig out something from Ascot Ales, our other brewery), but beer, like any localised foodstuff, is ruggedly geographic, and I have a feeling I live somewhere with poor beer-making facilities. I might be wrong, mind...I'll just have to try more.

Thornbridge - Kipling

My esteemed beer colleague, Mr Nelson, commented earlier this week that Thornbridge are criticised for making too many similar ales. This was the first thing that sprang to mind as I took my first sip of Kipling, a so-called "South Pacific Pale Ale". I'm not entirely sure what that means - I don't associate beer with Tahiti, or "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" - but one thing I do know - this isn't a million miles away from an India Pale Ale.

There are many bands who've made a career out of making the same record many times (flippin' Rednex had two massive global hits in the mid-90s with pretty much the same song), but sometimes that's because it's a formula that works, like Thornbridge's .

Kipling is, by any standards, a lovely beer. It's crisp, well carbonated, with hints of tropical fruits (that'll be the south Pacific influence). It's a great beer for a summer evening, light bodied and thirst quenching. Of course, it fails the Jaipur test, but that's ok...although you might wonder why, therefore, Thornbridge should bother, and not just stick to selling us lovely, lovely Jaipur instead.

Tetley's Original

The world of beer is a wide and diverse place and I am determined that our beer adventure should reflect this. Sure, it would be oh so easy to indulge ourselves drinking nothing but fancy IPAs and hoppy pale ales but this could be viewed as elitist and as men of the people, this would not do.

Luckily, I remembered that I had some cans of Tetley's Original in the back of the garage that my dad had bought for me because they were on special offer for packs of 12. I dug one out and opened it up. It developed a decent head when being poured but in the time it took to switch my camera on, this had all but gone.

Tetley's Original is like no beer I have ever tasted. A quick sniff revealed an overwhelming malty aroma, like driving past a biscuit factory with the car window down.

Upon drinking, the sweet malty fragrance effortlessly gave way to a biscuity taste on the tongue, reminiscent of rich tea.  The experience is difficult to describe in words, but I imagined it to be like the result of putting Horlicks in a SodaStream.

The intense maltiness was briefly countered by an earthy, bitter sensation at the back of the throat but then this inevitably gave way to a long doughy finish, like how I imagine it would be if you were an elderly gentleman with no teeth sucking on a slice of Soreen.

I'm going to be honest and say that I don't like Tetley's Original. Apparently though, it's the UK's number two ale brand so some people must do. If you're one of them, there are 11 cans in the back of my garage that you can have.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Bath Ales - Wild Hare

I have something of a soft spot for the West Country, having spent a year there as a student living in Devon, and a lot of time working there since; so I'm inclined to favour West Country ales, as they're part of my, er, "beer DNA" (eg I drank a lot of them).

I've talked before about how beer is essentially a social drink, designed to be enjoyed in company as a lubricant to conversation and jollity; so Wild Hare (5.0%), for me, will always be linked with a memorable evening spent in a pub in its home town of Bath.

I'd been for a meal with Kate, a kind, sparky, clever lesbian of about 50 or so, and talk had got onto beer. She'd dragged me into this great little pub (The Salamander) and ordered two pints of Wild Hare. It was served well, and we were well on the way already; she then told me how hares were her favourite animal, and for her 50th birthday she was getting a tattoo of one. She demonstrated with her hand exactly where this sophisticated, professional lady was getting her's not often I'm lost for words.

So Wild Hare will always have that association for me, and hence have a place in my beer memory; hence I thought it'd be good to get a bottle drunk early doors for the blog.

The picture is of it freshly poured - you can see there's not much head. In the cold light of day, without a hilarious middle-aged lesbian telling me tattoo tales - it's not really all that. Sure, it's drinkable - light and refreshing, citrus, hoppy etc etc - but for me its distinctive feature (other than being organic, which I'm not really sure means anything) is its lingering dry aftertaste, which just makes you want to drink more of it - no bad thing. It's certainly pleasant enough, if not the most thrilling pint I've had of a Thursday evening.

Ringwood Boondoggle at the Running Horses, Micklesham

Went out this morning for a hike, which meant - of course - finishing up with a cheeky pint in a country pub (what other purpose is there for hiking??). I'd been informed (by the hike guidebook) that the pub - the Running Horses at Micklesham near Dorking - had a "good selection of real ales", although I took that with pinch of salt when it said "including Abbots and Directors".

The "selection" was Brakspear, Ringwood, London Pride and Boondoggle. As I'd tried all the others, I went for the Boondoggle (4.0%), which was also made by Ringwood.

It's another summer ale, which is pretty welcome after a morning slogging round the Surrey Hills; it's light and refreshing, with citrus notes. To be honest though - it's a bit dull. Maybe that's because I've been drinking Thornbridge for the past couple of days and am looking for something with a bit more pizazz in my beer, but this was rather insipid.

That said, shortly after the above photo was taken my food arrived - a plate of crayfish tail and Marie Rose sauce sandwiches, with just a hint of chilli - and strangely the beer improved markedly, combining really well with the slight bite of the food.

As for the pub, it's the current "Surrey Dining Pub of the Year", and the emphasis does seem to be on the food (my butties were very nice, and served with a little potato salad too) - certainly the beer selection is a bit dull. It's well located in a pretty village near Box Hill and was remarkably busy for a Thursday lunchtime, which is always a good sign. The people at the table next to me ordered fish and chips - it looked amazing, so that's my hint should you find yourself here. It's an olde worlde sort of place - a 16th century coaching in with rooms - and the bar bit is pretty dinky, with most of the place given over to the restaurant.

Not a bad stop for a butty and some ale of a lunchtime, mind.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Marble - Lagonda IPA


Manchester's flagship brewery, Marble, has been on my radar since I mistakenly ordered a pint of their other offering, because it is confusingly (for me) called "Pint". That was at the MOSI beer festival in 2011, when I had intended to order a half, as is the norm at these things. Personally, I think the naming was a cunning ploy to trick drunken punters into buying more beer than they'd intended. Anyway, my pint of Pint was delicious and I subsequently felt the need to confirm this with several visits to the Marble Beer House in Chorlton. 

I realised I hadn't really tried the other offerings in the Marble range so I treated myself to a Lagonda IPA.

This is described on the bottle as a clean, hoppy IPA. It was well carbonated and poured with a perfect head, presenting a lovely deep, complex hoppy nose.  The taste was fresh yet intriguing, perhaps a product of the six different hops used. There was definitely the usual grapefruit bitterness and something else too. Lychee, perhaps?

Lagonda is a beautiful example of a craft-brewed IPA and I can't wait to try some other Marble beers.

Thornbridge - Wild Swan


Hot on the heels of yesterday's successful trip to Jaipur, I thought I'd try another of the Thornbridge range; in this case, the 3.5% "White Gold Pale Ale" Wild Swan.

As I opened this one the cascade of hop bouquet exploding from the top made me think it'd be basically the same as Jaipur - that overpowering explosion of fruits and hops was just like the Jaipur, and I guess was linked to the effervescence of the beer (note - I have no idea if that's the case. Sounds right, mind). Pours well, the fizziness giving a good solid head like its big brother the Jaipur.

On drinking, though, the differences become clear. It's much gentler than the Jaipur, and whilst refreshing, it lacks the complexity of the stronger beer. Wild Swan is, by today's standards, a weak beer, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - you can drink a lot of it without ending up speaking in tongues. It's light, zesty with hints of lemon freshness; I'd say Wild Swan is a summer beer - the kind of gentle ale you could sup in the gloaming, on a terrace by a river, after a nice walk and batting away the odd mosquito.

It's a good beer, but not as good as Jaipur (it's in good company there - not a lot else is). Mrs Woose relieved me of half the bottle, thinking it was Jaipur. Her verdict? "It's not bad, but it's no Jaipur"

Once again, she's hit the nail on the head.

Thornbridge - Wild Raven


A Black IPA may not be to the liking of some purists but Wild Raven is in my opinion Thornbridge's best offering. 

At 6.6%, this is a heady brew, which generates an easy head and is a deep black colour. A good sniff reveals the usual Thornbridge hop assault but this time it's set alongside a roasted aroma.

The taste is unlike any of Thornbridge's other beers. It's very hoppy of course, but also presents the drinker with a decadent roasted chocolately taste which just works perfectly. The amazing thing about this beer is how they manage to make such a dark, strong beer so light and refreshing at the same time. I think it's the ample carbonation which stops it from being too heavy.

I often think that many of Thornbridge's beers are too similar. Variations on a theme. Wild Raven certainly cannot be accused of that and is quite simply superb.

Sierra Nevada - Pale Ale


Being a recent convert to the joys of craft beer, I realised I was yet to try a proper American ale. That's quite an omission, considering the new wave of brewing in the UK was largely inspired by the IPAs and pale ales being created in the States. I decided to put that right with a Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada, the daddy of them all.

The pour easily developed a head of a couple of fingers with plenty of carbonation. The nose was very impressive. Not a Thornbridge-style assault but a strong-yet-intricate smell of hops and biscuity malt. Upon drinking, I realised this is a truly great beer. The carbonation helps to deliver the tastes into all the right places and what a wonderful array of tastes they were. A lovely grapefruit bitterness being kept in check by a subtle biscuity malt. 

At 5.6%, it's a pretty strong beer but actually tastes stronger. This would undoubtedly be labelled an IPA if brewed in the UK but these tags are completely arbitrary and I don't care what they call it, it's absolutely great.  Once again, I think I have a new favourite.

Taste is subjective


As much as I would like to think otherwise, I have gradually come to accept that my own sense of taste is very subjective and is greatly influenced by the location, the occasion or the company I'm in.

Any doubt about this was finally eradicated on a recent holiday to France. Mrs Nelly and I had been up since the crack of dawn and had spent the entire day dragging kids and luggage through airports and hire car terminals. I'm not completely ashamed to admit that that first glass of red wine had been on my mind since about 9am.

Eventually, after a long day we found ourselves sat at a little table outside a restaurant in a charming village in the French Riviera. It was everything I had hoped for. The sun had set but it was balmy and the air was still. I was almost trembling as the waitress poured me a glass of house red. I took my first sip and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I did what I always do and made a great fuss of declaring this to be the nicest wine I had ever tasted. "Why can't we get wine like this back home?" I demanded to know. Later in the evening, we bought a bottle and looked at the label. “Hmm, Vin de Zinc et Sulphides. I don’t know that one.”

A couple of days later, we found the same bottle for sale in the supermarket. EUR 2.50. We got a bottle and took it home, just to see. It was the worst wine I’d ever tasted. As well as being a little angry that the restaurant had served us this cack, I was also pleased to have learnt such a valuable lesson about the fallibility of my own tastebuds.

I realise I have just started a beer blog with a post about wine, but I feel this little story illustrates an important point. I love beer and I can easily get carried away gushing about the latest hoppy number I've "discovered" but it's important not to get too snobby about it. Taste is incredibly subjective and anyway, if you've had a hard day and you've earned that drink, then the nicest beer in the world is invariably the one in your hand.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Thornbridge - Jaipur


Nelly's been banging on about the general marvellousness of "Jaipur" (5.9%, Thornbridge Brewery), so I thought I'd give it a shot as the first beer to be reviewed on these hallowed (er, eventually) pages.

It's not the first time I've sampled it - Nelly brought a crate on a recent drinking walking weekend - but it's the first I've tried not as part of a mammoth boozing session. And quite frankly, I couldn't remember what it was like (which is hardly surprising had you been there).

So what's it like? First impressions were surprising - I know it's a Pale Ale, but it was almost lager-y in colour and well carbonated, albeit with a decent, thick head. The smell was impressive; tonnes of hops coming over the side of the glass. It's extremely fruity to the early taste, with citrus fruits and tropical notes (grapefruit, orange). Let's be honest here - it's delicious, smooth and drinkable for such a strong beer. I dread to think how I'd cope if faced with it in a pub of an evening; as it was, it came from Waitrose at £2.05 a bottle; not cheap, but worth the extra pennies.

For the ultimate test, it passed it over to Mrs Woose for her opinion. "That," she said, "is bloody lovely."

And - not for the first time - she's absolutely right.