Sunday, 29 September 2013

MOSI beer festival

This is now the third consecutive year I've been to the MOSI festival and it never fails to impress. A magnificent setting, in the Steam Hall, you get to wander round the trains and contemplate other mysterious-looking contraptions from the industrial revolution while supping your ale.

The first time we went, they pretty much ran dry by early Saturday afternoon. It was a bit better last year but this time, we went on opening night - 5pm Thursday. Apart from having to go to work the following day, this was a good decision. There was a modest queue at the door but once in, the waiting was over and we had unfettered access to the bar all night.

I'd planned ahead by looking at the beer list and had decided to start with an Elland 1872 Porter. I'd never had a current Champion Beer of Britain before and wanted to have some before it ran out. In hindsight, this may have been a bit over-cautious because nothing runs out on Thursday night! 

It was very nice but I'm not the biggest porter fan and to be fair, didn't have much to compare it to. It was very strong and complex, with tons of roasted malt taste but the main problem was that it completely broke my taste buds, meaning I just couldn't get any meaningful taste out of the next two or three drinks. A schoolboy error.

The beer of the night for me was Weird Wit, a collaboration between Blackjack in Manchester and Weird Beard Brew Crew, who I've fawned over before in this blog. It was a wheat beer, so pale and hazy but strongly hopped as well, which is unusual for that style. It took a minute to get used to but once you were onboard with it, it was sensational. 

Another stand-out was Cumbrian Five Hop from Hawkshead, which was a lovely hoppy golden number. I think we may have had a Windermere Pale as well but it was all starting to get a bit fuzzy by that point and I can't be sure. 

I follow a lot of brewers on Twitter and there was much excitement over the annual hop harvest recently, with a rush to use this year's fresh "green" hops in a brew. With this in mind, I tried a Dunham Massey Green Hop. I had been expecting some sort of different, fresh taste but what I got was a bit odd; kind of like a grassy taste. It was difficult to describe - it did taste fresh but not in a particularly good way.

All in all, I really enjoyed MOSI and the beers were all very well served. Festivals can be awful when you have to fight to get to the bar but by going on Thursday, we avoided the queues nicely. The next one is IMBC in October. Can't wait.

Hedgehog update

Well no beating about the bush - unfortunately the little fella didn't make it. I have to say I hadn't given it much of a chance at the outset and my initial impression was right. Despite having food and water right under its nose, it just never really moved and didn't see the following day out. I returned it to the compost heap from whence it came and resolved to bury spent hops under the surface in the future.

As for the brew it succumbed to, it's still in the fermenter after two weeks. It's still bubbling and the gravity readings are still falling slowly so I'm not going to rush it anywhere. All my previous brews had been done in a week so this one's certainly very different. I think it will finish at around 5.5% but whether it's nice or not remains to be seen.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Atlas Wayfarer IPA

After the amazing success of the Hawkshead earlier, I returned the fridge with fresh vigour and a renewed spring in me beery step. What other delights did the Sainsbury's £1.50 ales have to offer?

Next up was this, from Orkney. I do love a good IPA, so I was really looking forward to this. 

Part of the problem of having a really enjoyable beer is that the next one can seem exceedingly disappointing if it's not up to the first. This is by no means a bad beer, but my first impressions were "meh". It's not up to the Hawkshead. 

BUT - it's still pretty good. I just need to be objective about's clear, dry, less hoppy and flavoursome than the Hawkshead, easy to drink and a cut above the average...but not by much. 

Hawkshead - Windermere

At £1.50 in Sainsbury's, I didn't really have great hopes for this; but then Nelly sampled a different Hawkshead at the MOSI Beer Festival last week (I'm sure he'll blog about it soon) and was singing its praises. 

Well I'll tell you what - this is bloody marvellous. Hoppy, fruity, zingy, with a dry, bitter finish. I've had some crap beers recently and this really cheered me up. Marvellous stuff; not dissimilar to some of those American craft IPAs we've sampled recently. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Greene King IPA Gold

I have to say, at the outset, that Greene King IPA has been responsible for some of the worst pints I've ever had in a pub. Therefore I really wasn't looking forward to this - even though I'd upgraded to the Gold, which I've assumed is some kind of Taste The Difference "quality" variant on the standard. 

I cracked it upon and was hit with a surprisingly hoppy bouquet. Of course, it wasn't as powerful as a Jaipur or Sierra Nevada but it left me hopeful for the taste. 

Which, well, wasn't quite as good as I'd perhaps built myself up for. Although it starts well, with a nice hoppy, honeyed flavour, it dies on the tongue and there's really nothing of lasting interest. To be honest I'd have it again in these circumstances (on special offer), if the old cupboard was running low. 

Well done Greene King - you've actually made a pint hat doesn't make me retch. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Homebrew 4 - Hedgehog Down.

I did another brew today - my fourth overall and third using a full mash. They had been getting progressively better but I had decided to look after the yeast a bit better for this one and made a starter for the first time. I pitched a packet of Safale S-04 into 1L of weak dry malt extract solution the evening before and left it overnight.

I had been determined to not pitch too hot so cooled the starter down to 18C before popping the yeast in, to give it a nice gentle start. I included some wheat in the mash for the first time as well, because this supposedly helps with head retention. We'll see.

All went well and I cooled the wort right down to under 20C before pitching the yeast starter in. A few hours later and there was plenty of bubbling going on, all the trub had congealed into a nice krausen and the body of the liquid was looking really clear. Textbook stuff.

After everything was finished, I cleared out the copper first, putting all the spent hops onto the compost heap as it's meant to be good fertiliser. I had to go out for a bit, so filled the mash tun up with water to stop the grain drying out and left it until later to clean.

When I took the grain down to the compost heap later on, I was surprised to see a hedgehog sitting next to the pile of hops.

I'm no hedgehog expert but it didn't look very well. Naturally, I turned to Google for help and it turns out that spent hops can be really bad for dogs. I couldn't find any reference to hedgehogs but I figured that the hops seemed likely to be the cause of the little fella's current predicament.

I had no idea that hops could be so poisonous and feeling very guilty, decided that I had to try and help. I don't give the little thing much chance but it's now in a box, with plenty of warm newspaper and some food and water on hand. Come on, little dude!

Weird Beard Brew Crew - Hit The Lights

Well, I said I was going to try another Weird Beard ale before too long and in the end it took precisely 24 hrs. Was my trip to the Beer Emporium to buy a bottle of Hit The Lights worth it?  

Yes. I was a bit unsure what to expect as this was described as "a mixed-up IPA", brewed with Target and Aurora. These aren't particularly popular hops and I was interested to see how they came across. I've used Target in my first few homebrews and although it smelled nice in the packet, the dodgy results led me to ditch it for the latest batch.

As with Mariana Trench, this is a well-carbonated beer, perhaps a little too much so. Despite a slow and tilted pour, the head easily frothed up to the top of the pint glass. The aroma was a really pure and clean hop smell, just like sticking your nose into a packet of Target. The mouthfeel was really creamy and frothy, which I quite liked and the taste was very nice too.

Hit The Lights isn't fruity or citrusy and is a bit more challenging as a result. I liked it but I'd pick a Mariana Trench off the shelf if I had to choose.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Weird Beard Brew Crew - Mariana Trench

This is billed as a "Trans Pacific Pale Ale" due to being hopped with New Zealand and West Coast US varieties.

It was really well carbonated, which I tend to like in bottled beers. Upon pouring, a frothy head developed and this stayed around for quite some time. The general carbonation lasted too, giving a really nice mouthfeel and allowing the flavours out.

The aroma was great, packing a hoppy punch and the taste was spectacular - just enough biscuity malt base to carry a wonderful tropical fruit and hop flavour. Unsurprisingly, I felt it was reminiscent of the American pale ales.

I was seriously impressed by this offering and as Weird Beard do quite an extensive range, I'll be checking out their other beers as soon as possible.

St. Austell - Big Job

Proper Job's stablemate is big by name and big by nature. 7.2% and "massively hopped", it really does pack a punch. These high-strength "double" IPAs can sometimes be a bit claggy and hard-going but I thought Big Job avoided the pitfalls nicely. It could have used a little more carbonation but even so, it was still easy to drink given the high ABV.

The aroma was intense and in the same category as the Thornbridge brews but the taste was much more complex, with malt in evidence as well as just a faceful of hops.

Big Job isn't a regular brew for St.Austell and barely warrants a mention on their website. I have a feeling that popular demand may eventually dictate a change of policy here though.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Goose Island - IPA (2)

I had been planning to try a bottle of Goose Island IPA for a while when Chris beat me to it. He wasn't blown away so I thought a second opinion was in order.

I loved it! My bottle was plenty carbonated with a big hoppy aroma and lovely balanced biscuity malt and hoppy taste, reminiscent of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Delicious.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Homebrew 2. Down the drain.

Well, to say I'm a bit disappointed would be an understatement. I've just poured 18L of beer down the sink and need to blog about it. My first attempt at a full-grain brew had left me so full of hope and anticipation but in the end it was a right load of undrinkable piss.

I've already blogged about where I think I went wrong with this brew but it still deserves an actual review. After having conditioned for 2 weeks, I cracked open a bottle.

Oh my God, the smell was something else. A kind of metallic, soapy aroma which was very difficult to describe in any further detail. Whether this smell was diacetyl, skunking or other random off-flavours I don't know. With a bit more experience I may have been able to hazard a guess but as a newcomer to brewing, I'm afraid I didn't have a clue what the smell was.

Although I didn't fancy swallowing it, I tried holding some of the beer in my mouth and swilling it around. It had a decent amount of carbonation and a quite nice mouthfeel. However, swallowing even a little bit would have been unwise, judging by the aroma. It was so clearly undrinkable that I made the decision to chuck it. I poured all but three bottles down the sink in order to free up the bottles for my next, highly improved batch. 

Perhaps one day, those three bottles will mature and become really nice. I won't start holding my breath though. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Coach House - Cheshire Gold

Coach House is a micro-brewery based in Warrington, formed in 1991 by former Greenall Whitley career brewers who found themselves at a loose end when that company ceased its brewing operations.

The business seems fairly big for a UK micro, with 9 faces on the website. The site is so old-fashioned and badly designed though, it had me almost weeping in frustration. Search all you like for some information about the beers but you won't find any.

Mrs Nelly and I recently popped into The Hollies Farm Shop in Tarporley. This is a nice shop, packed with a choice of excellent local produce except beer. Out of two brands, Cheshire Gold seemed to be the best bet.

Upon reading the label, I was immediately whipped into an apoplectic rage by the unnecessary apostrophe on the back, in the possessive adjective "its". I'm fine with the odd grammatical error on a fruit and veg stall or in an email but they shouldn't make it as far as being printed on your packaging. A decent-sized company like this should have the judgement to get their labels proof-read properly before going to print.

Once home, I attempted to calm down in the usual manner by drinking beer. Cheshire Gold wasn't quite what I was expecting but was pleasant enough. I normally expect golden ales to be more fruity or floral but this fell a little short in that area, with a caramel maltiness being the dominant flavour. It wasn't overbearing though, and I can see why this would be a beer that would appeal to a good cross-section of drinkers.

The staff have between them probably forgotten more about brewing than most other micros will ever know. All well and good but as a paying punter I can't help thinking that this business needs to work on its presentation.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

George Wright "Cheeky Pheasant" at the Junction, Rainford

What a pleasure to go to a pub that's genuinely interested not just in real ales, but in promoting local ales too. This was the experience at The Junction, on the outskirts of Rainford, near St Helen's on Merseyside. 

I had a pint of Cheeky Pheasant (4.7%), from the George Wright brewery in that town, and was really pleased - a proper Northern bitter, all nutty maltiness and citrus hops, creamy on the tongue. I went back for seconds and would have had many more were I not on my way into Liverpool for a wedding (bitter on offer - Worthington Smoothflow. I didn't bother). 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Black Sheep - Ale

Black Sheep Brewery was founded in the early 90's, an offshoot from Theakston's, which was at the time part-owned by Scottish and Newcastle. Paul Theakston couldn't face seeing the family firm become part of a large conglomerate and decided to go it alone.

That the new venture has outlived the big multi-national is in part a testament to the changing face of British brewing. As the 90's came to an end, the move away from bland, mass-produced beer had begun to take hold and smaller breweries were once again beginning to flourish.

Black Sheep Ale has a bit of history behind it then, and is now 20 years old. I wanted to like it, given the heritage and what it stands for but although it's a well-crafted brew, it's not really to my taste, being a bit too malt-led. The taste was quite toffee-like but nicely crisp at the same time. I found it to be okay but a bit old-fashioned - just the sort of beer your dad would like.

The best bit about it was the the label was very basic and floated right off after a soak in the sink. This means no scraping was needed to clean the bottle up and it's now standing by to receive some of my next batch of amazing homebrew.

Goose Island IPA

I was really excited about this beer; having sampled the superb Sierra Nevada recently, I was keen to further explore the world of American Craft Beers. This particular one's from Chicago, which may be a world capital of beer. Or may not be. I have no idea. 

It's an IPA, and is much more pale than the Adnams from earlier in the evening. On opening there's a really lovely hoppy smell, and the first swig was great - bursting with flavour. 

But it doesn't last; perhaps I hadn't chilled it enough, but it goes flat quickly and the hoppiness turns into maltiness. I wanted to enjoy this, and to be fair it's better than 80% of beers, but it wanted it to be good. 

Adnams Lighthouse

The bottle had been in the fridge for a week. Since the terrifying experience with the Sole Star, it had remained there, resolute and unblinking as it stared me out each time I opened the door. Should I take it out and free up the space - or is that giving up? Is it cowardly to quit a beer?

Well, yes it is, so I came home from work tonight and cracked it open.

As you can see, it was well-carbonated with a good head (ok, you can't see the head in the pic, but you take my word for it). I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as you might expect after the Sole Star, but you know what? It was pretty darn good.

The Lighthouse is described as a Pale Ale, but although there are some hops coming through it's no IPA; it's malty, but not in a bad way, and simple, uncomplicated and rather tasty. At 3.4% it's got more flavour than you might expect from a relatively weak beer (a lot more than the S*le St*r), and whilst it's not amazing, it's pretty darn good and I enjoyed it. 

Well done Adnams - pulling it back from the brink.

Homebrew 1 - Woodforde's Nelson's Revenge kit.

Well this has been in the barrel for a few weeks so it's not going to alter much now - unfortunately. Time for a review.
Considering this was my very first attempt at making beer, at least I can say that the result actually qualifies as beer, unlike attempt 2. (More of that to come later.) However, for me the positives end here. It's drinkable but overpoweringly malty. I actually added a hop "tea" into the secondary ferment but even this has only tempered the doughy onslaught slightly.

It's not a nice maltiness either. Not biscuity, no caramel notes, just kind of stale. I've never had a pint of Woodforde's in the pub so I can't say for sure but surely this simply cannot be anything like the real thing. Other Woodforde's beers were winning CBOB not very many years ago, for pete's sake.

I don't know what would cause a successful brewery to launch a range of homebrew kits but it simply can't be a good idea. For me personally, the name is now tarnished forever and I'm now very unlikely to ever buy a pint of real Woodforde's beer having had the taste of this stuff indelibly burnt into my consciousness.

As I've now discovered, proper full-grain brewing is a nuanced affair; easy to do but difficult to do well. I won't be making any more kit beers again but I'm glad I did one to start off with, just to get used to cleaning and sterilising all the kit, pitching the yeast, racking and all the basic stuff.

Having been quite harsh about the taste, it wasn't undrinkable by any means. My father-in-law quite enjoyed it but he's more of a whisky man and is pre-disposed to having a fondness for malt. He'd better get cracking on this lot because I need the barrel for my next batch.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Meantime IPA

On the suggestion of Nelly (before he'd reviewed it), I'd bought this bottle and it had sat on my shelf for a few weeks till I found the right point to open it.

Well, I've had a long hard day today, and this had migrated to the fridge, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Sadly not pictured above is the top, which is a champagne-style cork with a wire cage. It is, quite frankly, a gimmick, and probably contributes to the price - and when I opened it the beer spurted out like champagne all over the sodding worktop. Now, it's pretty gassy as it is, but this was just annoying. With the usual caveat that I know sod all about beer (but I know what I like, etc), was it that the poncey lid was making it extra fizzy?

Anyway, the beer itself - really bloody good. Hoppy, fizzy, immensely tasty; not the sharp, overpowering nose of a Jaipur, but fruity - orange, marmalade, freshly-cut grass, and a lightly bitter, caramel aftertaste. Extremely quaffable, which I guess is why it comes in a big sodding bottle; the plus side of this being that I could have a pint and Mrs W could have her fair share without nicking mine (her review - "yeah, I liked it" - first day back at work and all that, she's a bit tired, bless her).

So - no Jaipur, but pretty darn good.

Windsor & Eton Guardsman at the Dog and Partridge, Sunninghill

Both Mr Nelson and myself live in places with a similar demographic - I live in Surrey, and he in Cheshire, which is basically the Surrey of the North. The surviving pubs in both places seem to tend towards the gastronomic - I guess pubs make a lot more profit on food - and there's an increasing (and welcome) trend in well-appointed country pub-restaurants in both counties.

So it was I found myself at the Dog & Partridge in Sunninghill (which is actually in Berkshire, but only just).

It's a finely equipped, delightful venue, with smart, welcoming staff and superb food - the Sunday roast beef was stunning. The courtyard garden is arranged around a water feature with a thankfully-partitioned off children's play area. On a sunny Sunday afternoon it was a delight.

However...(there's always a "however")...I wanted some ale.

On offer was London Pride (dull), Doom Bar (gone downhill since it became ubiquitous), and Guardsman, which I'd not had before, and was relatively local.


You know how some beers leave a long, dry aftertaste? This left the longest aftertaste I've ever known; of the sort that made you want to drink something else to take the foul, malt-heavy taste away. It was utterly awful; I couldn't finish it.

Now look again at the picture above. As regular readers will note, I know nowt about beer, but those taps suggest to me that they aren't really looking after the beer properly. They seem, well, false (I appreciate I might be completely wrong here, and welcome correction). I would hazard a guess that the pub isn't really interested in beer (the glass of Merlot I had afterwards was excellent, by the way), and offers "real ales" because they think they should. Maybe Guardsman is really nice, and they'd just served it badly? 

Either way, next time I go there I'm sticking to the wine.