A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Drinking by numbers

Fullers 1845A couple of beers with no other connection except they are named after the year in which their brewing companies were founded.

Fuller’s 1845 (6.3%), first brewed in 1995 to celebrate 150 years of the Fuller, Smith & Turner partnership.  This is a bottle-conditioned beer, and it is conditioned for at least 100 days before being released for sale – and it is certainly a fine beer, although not necessarily my favourite style.  A strong, sweet beer – you can smell the sweetness as soon as you open the bottle – with strong fruity tones of plums and apricots.  Deep amber, and with a creamy, almost oily texture, and a sweet, syrupy taste – almost cloyingly sweet, but also quite surprisingly bitter.  Certainly stronger and sweeter than I normally prefer, but given the right situation it’s a very nice drink, and it’s one I’ve returned to on a few occasions.

Joseph Holt 1849 (4.5%).  Again, celbrating 150 years of Joseph Holt (“count the rings of experience” as it says on the bottle).  This is more the strength of beer I preferJoseph Holt Bottles – although this, too, is a dark amber beer, but it has a light aroma and a surprisingly light taste for a dark beer.  Beers are often described as “biscuity”, but this one really did remind me of digestive biscuits – a slightly toffee taste as well, but not overly sweet – but having said that, not much bitterness either.  I thought it was fairly inoccuous, mildly pleasant, but without any great taste.  I also found it a bit gassy.  I enjoyed the one bottle, and would probably enjoy another one occasionally, but it isn’t a beer I’d want to drink more than one of.

Man walks into a pub

Man Walks into a PubThat’s the opening to many jokes and stories – although maybe it resonates with us less these days as, by and large, our experiences of pubs are different from, and certainly fewer and further between than they were during the heyday of the club comedians with whom these jokes are associated.  Anyway, that’s a topic for another time…the phrase is also the title of a book that was part of my holiday reading during our recent trip to Cyprus (the beery elements of which are described in Island Life).  It is by Pete Brown, a regular writer on beer matters for newspapers and magazines, and author of a couple more books that I haven’t yet read (but I promise I will).  You can find a link to his blog in the Other Beer Blogs section in the right-hand panel of this web site.

The book is subtitled “A Sociable History of Beer”, and that is what it is – something of a helter-skelter ride through the history of beer and pubs, from the earliest known references to something resembling beer up to the present day (well almost – more on that later).  The fact that it covers a lot of ground doesn’t mean that it is in any way superficial – it charts the major milestones in the history of beer, and puts them in the context of national, international and cultural events.  It weaves a very interesting story of how beer and pubs came to be what they are today, and includes some fascinating, tragic and hilarious episodes along the way.  Brown used to be an advertising executive working on brewery accounts, and his insights into how advertising and the media have affected our relationships with beer and pubs is, for me, one of the most interesting parts of the story.

Pete Brown’s prose style takes a bit of getting used to; the approach is often a bit “laddish”, and the large number of footnotes, some of which are totally banal, are a bit annoying, but in the end I found it to be one of those rare books that is so compelling that I found myself rationing myself to a few pages at a time, to ensure that I absorbed everything and got it into context.  One of the reasons I started this web site was to give me the impetus to learn more about beer, and being in the position of a non-expert, I found this book gave me an excellent overview of the subject and a thirst (appropriately) for more knowledge – I would definitely recommend this book.  As mentioned above, when you get to the end the story is not quite complete.  The book was originally published in 2003, and since then there have been a number of factors that have influenced our drinking habits – not least, of course, the smoking ban in pubs.  I suspect that there will be an updated edition at some point, but don’t let that put you off reading it now.

Available from Amazon: Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer

The Yanks are coming

flyingdogThose nice people at R&R Teamwork have sent me some more beer samples (thanks, Anna Jane) – this time of some American beers that are now being imported into this country and are available in mainstream beer outlets.  One was from Brooklyn Brewery and the other two were from Flying Dog Brewery.  I have to admit that my experience of American beers is limited.  The first time I ever visited America was a holiday in 1980; we started out in San Fransisco, and we were pleasantly surprised to find a local brew called Anchor Steam Beer – unfortunately, once we moved away from the San Fransisco area we couldn’t get much else but Coors, Michelob, Budweiser and the like.  The following year I ended up working in Dallas, Texas for several months, and the choice was pretty much the same.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like these light lager-style beers – occasionally – it was the lack of any alternative style of beer that was the problem.  Since then there has been a phenomenal growth in “craft” breweries in America, and some of the products of these breweries are now starting to reach us on this side of the Atlantic.

The three beers I had been sent were a lager, a pale ale and a porter.   I decided that I would sample all 3 in a single session, and in the best tradition of beer tasting I would go from weakest to strongest, which would also be lightest to darkest (or so I thought).  The first was Brooklyn Lager (5.2%) from Brooklyn Brewery.  Darker than most lagers I’m used to, even the premium lagers that we can get in this country.  It had a nice head, and a biscuity malty smell more reminiscent of a bitter than a lager, a full-bodied malty taste and was quite bitter – but still had that clean crispness that I associate with lagers.  To be honest, if I hadn’t known it was a lager, I probably wouldn’t have thought it was one.  The label declares it to be “the pre-prohibition beer” and “a revival of Brooklyn’s pre-prohibition all-malt beers”.  The history of Prohibition in America is something I know only a little about, but I believe that when it ended the tendency was for weaker, lighter beers.  If this is a glimpse of what beer was like before prohibition, I think it is a welcome return for a very characterful beer.  Available from Oddbins.

Next up was Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale (5.5%).  A spicy, very citrussy smell – overwhelming aroma of grapefruit – to the extent that I had to check the label to make sure that there wasn’t any grapefruit in the recipe (I take some medication that for some reason prohibits me from eating grapefruit or drinking the juice).  There was also a strong hint of grapefruit coming through the malty taste and the hoppy bitter tang.  I’m really not doing it justice here, as when I drank it I thought that it was one of the best (if not the best) beer I have tasted this year.  This definitely goes on the shopping list (available from Tesco).

Lastly, Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter – 8.7% according to the bottle label, but 7.8% according to the website – sort yourselves out, guys!  This is a beast of a beer!  If you’re going to try it, make sure you’re prepared.  It pours like a stout with a lovely creamy head, and is black, black, black.  I was surprised that it smells of little other than malt – I was expecting coffee, chocolate, toast, etc. – but those tastes definitely come through when you drink it.  A creamy texture with the taste of stewed coffee, licorice, cigarette butts, bitter chocolate, burnt toast.  This is definitely a pudding beer – it could take on the christmas pudding and beat it into submission with no problem.  A real rival to the Classic Pale Ale for my best beer award.  Also available from Tesco.

These were 3 beers that were entirely new to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to sample them (for free – which is even better).  The craft brewing movement in this country doesn’t seem to have the same impetus or sense of adventure as it does in America.  There are lots of small breweries starting up in this country, which is absolutely brilliant, and they produce some excellent beers – but mostly they are “me too” brews that conform to the more common styles – maybe they are simply giving the market what it wants – after all, they are businesses that need to turn a profit.  There are a few exceptions to this – Brewdog is one that springs to mind – who are prepared to experiment a little with their beers.  And it’s up to people like me (and you) to experiment a little in what we drink as well, in order to encourage them.

Weedy beer

badger dandelionThere seems to be a spate of beers around that have been “flavoured” with unusual ingredients, and Badger (Hall & Woodhouse) is getting in on the act.  The other day I wrote about their Lemony Cricket seasonal bitter (see It’s still Cricket season) which is flavoured with lemon grass – and actually tastes really nice.  I know that before hops were used as a flavouring and preservative in beer, a number of different herbs and spices were used to offset the sweet flavour of the malt.  However, in general, I like my beer to taste of beer, without any fancy embellishments – but I’m always prepared to give a beer the benefit of the doubt and give it a try.

Badger dandelion flavoured organic ale badger stinger(4.5%) describes itself as “a refreshing well-rounded ale with dandelion natural flavour”.  It has a golden colour and a slightly herby smell.  I’m not sure what I was expecting it to taste like – maybe something like the dandelion & burdock pop that I used to drink as a kid – but in fact it has quite a bitter, slightly oily, astringent taste.  I didn’t get the “floral hop tones” or the “delightfully grassy hedgerow aroma” promised on the bottle- in fact I found it slightly unpleasant.  As I got down the glass, it began to taste cloyingly sweet – and still oily.  It was drinkable as a one-off, but I won’t bother buying another.

River Cottage Stinger Organic Ale (4.5%) – Brewed by Badger – “brewed with organically grown hand-picked Dorset nettles”.  I wonder whether Dorset nettles are better than nettles from other counties for adulterating beer (you can probably guess that I didn’t like this one either).  It’s pale, with a very thin head that didn’t last long.  The bottle label says “slightly spicy with a light bitterness and a subtle tingle that comes from the nettles” – definitely light, in fact a bit thin tasting, but does have a bitter finish.  I couldn’t detect any “tingle” or any taste that might have been nettles.  None of the negative characteristics of the dandelion brew, but nothing to go out of your way for – clearly something of a marketing gimmick to attract the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fans.

As a self-proclaimed big fan of Badger beers, I was quite honestly rather underwhelmed by these two offerings – stick to the good stuff.

Where did summer go?

fullers summer aleDid it ever arrive?  Did I blink and miss it?  I just found some notes I made about a bottle of Fuller’s Summer Ale (3.9%) that I tried a while ago – it’s a seasonal beer that is available in cask as well as bottle form (but not at this time of year) – but if you can find a bottle lurking on a supermarket shelf somewhere, pick it up, as it is a true taste of summer – light in colour and taste, hoppy, aromatic and refreshing – it will bring back (false) memories of those long sunny summer days we enjoyed this year.  When I drank this I thought that if I hadn’t already known that it was a Fuller’s beer, I would probably have been able to guess that it was.  Regular drinkers of Fuller’s beers might know what I mean – there is just something about their beers.  I feel the same about Marston’s beers as well – they seem to have a sort of “signature” taste – maybe it’s the Burton water.

On the subject of seasonal beers, and Fuller’s seasonal beers in particular, we don’t have a lot of Fuller’s pubs in my area, and those that we do have tend to stick to the better-known brands such as London Pride and ESB, so it’s rare for me to get the opportunity to sample a seasonal on draught.  Part of the problem is knowing what seasonals are available at any given time.  Perhaps I’ll keep a calendar of when each brewery produces each of its seasonals – watch this space.

It’s still Cricket season

i_lemony_cricketAlthough I thoroughly enjoyed our holiday in Cyprus (see Island Life), it has been great to get back to some “proper” beer!  On Friday Sarah popped down to Morrisons for essential supplies (not just beer) and in the evening I went a bit over the top and worked my way through a few bottles of different beers:

 Brakspears Oxford Gold Organic (4.0%) – one of my favourite beers from one of my favourite brewers (OK, it’s now brewed by Wychwood, which is part of the Marston’s empire, but it still tastes like Brakspears, and that’s good enough for me).

Thwaites Wainwright (4.1%) – named after Alfred Wainwright, author of the famous walkers’ guides to the Lake District.  I can’t remember whether I’ve written about this beer before – if not, I probably should have, because I’ve had it several times, and it’s a nice drop.  When I was a student at Lancaster University in the early 1970s I used to drink a lot of Thwaites Bitter (it’s brewed in Blackburn), and it’s a name I keep an eye out for.

Greene King St. Edmunds (4.2%) – I first tried this at the Great British Beer Festival (see Spoilt for choice) – the cask version – and got hold of some of the bottled version not long afterwards, and since then it has become something of a regular in the beer cupboard.

Joseph Holt 1849 (4.5%) – another occasional visitor to the beer cupboard (I’m sure I have some notes on this waiting to be written up – must drink less and write more – no hang on, that doesn’t sound right).

Sarah had finished off a bottle of Thwaites Liberation (4.5%) which she had used some of in a beef and ale stew (very tasty) and we then shared a bottle of Batemans Victory Ale (6.0%).  A bit on the sweet side for me, but Sarah enjoyed it.  We were certainly making up for a couple of weeks of drinking lager!

On Sunday we decided to go to The Jekyll And Hyde at Turgis Green for something to eat – it’s a Hall & Woodhouse pub, and I love Badger beers.  I thought they might have the autumn/winter seasonal Pickled Partridge (4.6%), but in fact they were still selling the summer seasonal Lemony Cricket (4.4%).  A couple of pints of that went down very well with the very good bangers and mash, and lubricated the pub quiz very nicely (all I can say is that we didn’t come last!).  Shame it’s only available through the summer, as it’s a very drinkable beer.  I was intrigued by the name – reminded me of “Lemony Snicket” a character in children’s books – apparently the name was chosen by members of the Badger Sett Ale Club (of which I’m a member, but I don’t remember being asked!) – and reflects the fact that lemon grass is used in the brewing process – it doesn’t taste particularly lemony, but it is very refreshing.

Island life

KeoBeerGlassesOne of the reasons that there hasn’t been much happening on this web site for a while is that we’ve just been on holiday to Cyprus.  It was the first time we have been there, and overall, it is a very pleasant place – sunny and warm, very friendly people, most of whom speak English, and many things that will be familiar to British people, mainly due to the island being under British rule up until the end of the 1950s – they drive on the left, for example – and beer comes in pints, not half-litres like the rest of Europe.  Sadly, as far as beer is concerned at least, that is where the similarities end.  Yes, you can get imported keg beers such as Caffreys and Boddingtons, but I don’t particularly want to drink those beers when I’m in England, let alone when I’m on holiday – and besides, the “British pub” type bars where they are sold don’t really appeal either (OK, let’s be honest, it’s not so much the bars as the people who frequent them that don’t appeal).

I could only find two local brands of beer – Keo and Leon – and internet searches haven’t revealed any others (but let me know if you know of any).  Keo is by far the most widely available, and to many people is synonymous with beer – “a pint of Keo, please”, regardless of whether you end up with Keo, Leon or something else, such as Carlsberg.  Both Keo and Leon are 4.5% lagers, and pretty ordinary at that.  You could be drinking any of the insipid “standard” lagers that you’d find in any British pub, and neither brewery seems to produce a “premium” lager that might at least have a bit of taste.Leon_beer

Leon is the older of the two breweries, having been established in 1937.  However, they stopped producing the brand during the 1960s when they acquired the licence to brew Carlsberg locally.  They relaunched the beer in 2003, using the same recipe as when it was first brewed in 1937.  Keo has been around since 1951.  I never got round to doing a direct side-by-side comparison of the two beers, but my unscientific view is that Keo is the lighter, crisper taste, with Leon being just a tad darker and sweeter – but there’s not much to choose between them – they are a refreshing drink, but they both need to be drunk as cold as possible otherwise they both taste a bit sickly.

Cyprus is a lovely place, and a good holiday destination.  Lots of Brits have moved there either to live and work, or to retire to somewhere warm.  If you get the opportunity, go there to visit – but put your beer-buds on hold for the duration – unless you happen to like boring lager.

The Keo website is probably quite interesting, but I don’t know Greek!  Leon don’t appear to have a web site – there is a bit of information in this Wikipedia article, but I’ve already used most of it in this post anyway.

Good Old Uncle Sam

samsmithsI can’t believe that a brewery as well-known as Samuel Smith’s doesn’t have its own website, but I couldn’t track it down, even using the combined might of Google and Wikipedia.  I did manage to find some useful information on a Tadcaster local website, but the fact that the banner says “Happy New Year” makes me wonder how regularly that site is updated!

When I lived in South Yorkshire we used to go to a number of pubs that sold Sam Smiths beers, and as I recall, it was always quite drinkable, though in those days (before University) I probably didn’t care what beer I was drinking as long as it had the desired effect!  I lived in Dallas, Texas for a year back in the 1980’s, and one evening I was in one of our favourite bars (The Vineyard on Greenville Avenue for anyone who knows Dallas) and I mentioned to the barman that I was really missing British beer – he said that he thought he might have some that he had bought in ages ago, but hadn’t managed to sell it because the locals didn’t like it.  He disappeared and returned with a bottle of Sam Smith’s Pale Ale – the trouble was it had been sitting at the back of a fridge for yonks and was ice cold – I had to wait for it to warm up before I could appreciate it properly.  Unfortunately he only had a couple of bottles, and he wasn’t prepared to order another batch just for me.

Anyway, over the past couple of months I have tried a few bottles of Sam Smiths beers – and liked them all:

Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale (5%).  Darker than I would have expected for a Pale Ale.  Slightly sweet, fruity smell, toffee taste with a bitter tang and a nice bitter finish.  The bottle notes say that they use organic seaweed finings, which I thought was appropriate since I drank this with a fish pie – although I think the beer had too powerful a taste for that, and overpowered the fish a bit.  I was also interested to see Carbon Dioxide on the list of ingredients.  I’m sure that lots of brewers add CO2 to non-bottle-conditioned beers, but I don’t recall seeing it in an ingredients list before.

Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (5%).  One of my favourite beer styles, and this is a very good example of the style.  Black, with a creamy head.  A malty smell, but not burnt like some stouts are.  Smooth creamy taste – bitter, but with quite a bit of underlying sweetness and a roasted malt flavour – maybe a hint of coffee in there as well.  Very nice indeed.

Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter (5%).  Another favourite style, and I enjoyed this one as well.  Very dark, full bodied with a creamy head.  Roasted malt smell, very intense taste – manages to be both dry and sweet at the same time – tangy, toasty, creamy – a little sweet, but nice all the same.

Sam Smith’s India Ale (5%).  Pale amber -“the colour of a golden sunset” according to the bottle notes.  A strong hoppy smell – claims to use British hops.  A strong, bitter taste, very hoppy, and again with quite a bit of sweetness underlying the bitterness – and a long bitter-sweet finish.  The bottle notes suggest drinking this beer with spicy food, and I think it would go well, although I drank it without food.

For any Sam Smith’s fans who live in London, have a look at this website that I came across that has a Google map of Sam Smith’s pubs.  Neat.

Gone to the dogs?

PoshPoochI’ve had a go before about brewers who claim association with “respectable” places, even though they are based in a place that is maybe a bit less grand – see Dreaming Spires? and I’m going to have another go.  Ascot Ales is not based in Ascot, but in Camberley, several miles away.  Okay, Camberley isn’t a slum by any means – far from it (before I start getting hate mail from Camberley residents) but you have to admit that Ascot, in the Royal County of Berkshire, with its association with toffs swilling Champagne at the racecourse does sound a bit more up-market than a pleasant but essentially dull (sorry Camberley residents, but it is!) commuter town in Surrey.  The website doesn’t give any history of the brewery, so I don’t know whether they actually started up in Ascot and subsequently moved.  Perhaps someone who knows could enlighten me.

Anyway, I tried a bottle of their Posh Pooch bottle-conditioned ale (4.2%).  It’s an amber/copper colour, and has a slightly sweet fruity, malty, yeasty smell and a fruity, slightly bitter taste.  It’s very drinkable, and could be a good session bitter.  The bottle notes claim that it is brewed using “Specialty Yeast” (their spelling and capitals) – and according to their web site, they also use one of the less common varieties of hops – Chinook – as well as Cascade, to produce the flavour.  Worth looking out for.

Better late than never

earlybirdIt’s probably too late to find this beer in the pubs – at least the cask version – though you might still find a few bottles somewhere.  Early Bird Spring Hop Ale from Shepherd Neame is a seasonal ale which is available, as the name suggests, in the Spring – February to May.  I sampled a bottle in May but have only just got round to writing about it!  Anyway, it will serve as an early warning for next year!

The bottled version is 4.5% and the cask version is 4.3%.  The bottle has a distinctive shape, with a picture of a swift or a house martin (I can never tell the difference).  It is made using only Kentish Early Bird hops, hence the name.  It’s a pale golden beer with a slightly malty, slightly floral aroma and a malty, hoppy taste – a light bitterness, but not too much, makes this a very drinkable beer.  Very nice – I’ll be looking out for it next February.  And I’ll try not to take so long to write about it!