Enjoy Playing Away From Home . . .

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Best Beers II - Premium ales

I say "Premium Ales", but it's really ales between 4% and 5% in strength! Again pale ales and darker ones in my analysis, but starting with the darker ales this time.

Old Mill (website) of Snaith, West Yorkshire, who started up in 1983, brew some great ales, and I would have included their GBH (Great British Hopefuls), an excellent 4.2% bitter, but sadly it's only brewed every 4 years around the time of each Olympic Games. It is so good that I drank this only at a beer festival once I'd got the taste, ignoring other offerings, because it was that good. I first drank this back in 2000 AD, I do believe, and would happily drink it at any opportunity! 

Some great darker bitters are brewed more regularly, though, but not really to my taste, despite my being raised drinking London Pride and Youngs Special, both ales I continue to drink now and then, depending on where I am. However, Butcombe (website), a brewery established in 1978, and who moved to a 150 barrel brewery at Wrington in Somerset in 2005, brew the excellent Butcombe Bitter (4%) using Mendip spring water, and which I first tasted in the 1980s. This is a near perfectly balanced quaffing ale, tawny coloured with a dry refreshing bitterness, quality!

Hepworth (website) of Horsham, West Sussex, started brewing cask conditioned ales in 2003 and use locally sourced malt and hops for all their beers. Their 4.8% Classic Old Ale, does what it says on the label, it is an old ale, and it is a 'classic'! I suppose it is really a winter warmer, but it is a darn good ale, rich and flavoursome, with a lovely bitterness coming through at the finish. A very tasty dark old bitter indeed! 

All the ales already mentioned are very worthy of winning awards in all types of festivals, and in various categories, and have done! But I do have some humdingers to include with my paler choices, and Tiny Rebel (website) from Newport in Wales, have come onto the scene like a flash of lightning, brewing some crackin' ales at their 12 barrel plant since just 2012, winning numerous awards already!

Tiny Rebel's 4.6% Billabong is described as an 'Australian Pale Ale', and uses hops grown in Tasmania. I have seen numerous superlative reviews of this ale, "citrusy, bitter sweet, well-balanced, grapefruit aroma, lemon aroma" etc etc... My notes say it all, really, I believe this is an excellent pale bitter, with good body, and peach and grapefruit aroma and flavours, with a dry bitter finish. Say no more... 

I had to chose between 2 ales from Oakham Ales (website), either their superb 4.2% Citra, or the one in the photograph above, the 4.6% Bishops Farewell; though a very tough decision! One of my favourite breweries, as regular readers will be well aware, and the Bishops Farewell is a pale, fruity, hoppy ale with plenty of body and a lovely dry bitter finish. I'll even add the notes my brother sent to me when he drank this at the Swan & Rushes in Leicester, after I suggested he visit that pub whilst up there: "Pale, hoppy, fruity, smooth and slightly bitter", says it all, mostly!

From Salamander (website) in Bradford, West Yorkshire, founded at the end of the last century, and who expanded to a 40 barrel plant in 2004, comes a comparable ale to Oakham's contribution. Golden Salamander is a 4.5% golden bitter that uses Challenger and Styrian hops, and has a citrus aroma and taste, Salamander say it has an "assertive hop bitterness", and they ain't wrong! It is refreshing, fruity, and has a lovely dry bitter finish. Salamander are yet another excellent Yorkshire brewery, consistent, and their ales are always worth drinking, quality again...  

Twickenham (website), guess where they're based, consistently brew excellent ales too. They started off with a 10 barrel plant in 2004, expanding into larger premises and a 25 barrel plant in 2012. I first drank their 4.4% Naked Ladies well before trying it at the Crooked Billet, on the edge of Wimbledon Common, in March 2012, when I first made notes. It was excellent, and I have continued to drink it whenever, and wherever, I see it on the bar. My last couple of pints were tasted very recently at the Watermans Arms in Richmond, in the photograph above. Both of these pubs are Youngs pubs, by the way, which says a lot, but I have enjoyed my Naked Ladies at various freehouses too, eg the Bricklayers in Putney.

The name of the ale is inspired by the statues of water nymphs in York House Gardens in Twickenham, and the Naked Ladies is well-reported by me, obviously (love it!). This is an excellent pale golden bitter, very hoppy (using Pilgrim, Celeia and Chinook hops), citrus and peach aroma and flavours, with a light 'biscuit' malt about it, and a dry refreshing bitter finish. I'll repeat what I first said about it over 2 years ago, "Naked Ladies, you just can't beat them, continues to impress..."   

So! How is it that the Naked Ladies was pipped at the post, and it was just by a 'short-head', by a beer from Essex? I'm still scratching my head really, I was sure the Twickenham ale would be victorious in this category, but no... I kept looking at my copious notes and compared the two, and was surprised how Crouch Vale came into the reckoning right at the finishing post. Crouch Vale came into existence in 1981, moving to larger premises in 2006, and I have had quite a few very decent ales from them over the years; probably been drinking their ales for nearly 20 years now.

Anyway, the champion in this category is their 4.2% Yakima Gold, named after the Yakima Valley (named in turn after the Yakima Nation, whose reservation is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains), where the Amarillo hops used for this ale are grown. Indeed, 77% of all U.S. hops are grown in the Yakima Valley, and many grape vines too! I've had Yakima Gold in many different pubs/club and never had anything but a great pint or three, samples of my notes say "fruity, quite bitter, excellent"; "refreshing and very pale, fruity bitter with peach aftertaste, very good"; "genuine pale bitter, lovely stuff indeed!"

So, congratulations to the runner-up in this category have to be made (though all the ales mentioned are excellent!), I love the Naked Ladies, but the 'Gold Medal' goes to Crouch Vale Brewery and their Yakima Gold, cheers!   

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Chelmsford City Beer & Cider Festival 15-19 July

I welcome a good friend, John Stack, who is guest blogger of the day, but first must apologise, I still haven't worked out how to cut & paste without altering the appearance of the blog, so apologies for being a neo-Luddite, but a great read, and quite a few ales I've not reported on before, and photographs from him too, cheers John! Oh yes, and he didn't have a pint of all of them, allegedly...

The venue was Admirals Park in Chelmsford, and the entrance was free before 5 pm with a £3 deposit for a special festival glass, which was refundable should you already have too many glasses! The setting was a large park on the outskirts of town.  

The set-up was straightforward, involving some huge tents covering the dispensers of over 300 varieties of ale, 100 real ciders, perries and ‘pyders’, and a large selection of international beers from around the world.

There was plenty of room on arrival (Friday) but, by the end of the evening, it was chock a block with several thousand people all enjoying the drink, music and food that was on offer (chips, burgers, hog roast, Cornish pasties and German sausage) - your usual beer festival fayre.

There were approximately 110 breweries represented over the festival and several took the opportunity to display a large selection of their ales for the punter to try.  Breweries included: Woodfordes, Wibblers, Stonehenge, Roosters, Otter, Oakham, Mumbles, Lochness, Felstar, Camerons, Brains and Abbeydale.

After walking around for about 10 minutes I decided it was time to get sampling, I have not put these in any particular order but over the evening I sampled the following.  Here are brief descriptions of drinks with my personal view of each, but do remember, different people have different tastes...

Abbeydale Moonshine 4.3% Sheffield - This is a drink I use to drink many moons ago when I lived in Sheffield and I have not seen it for a few years.  This is a very easy to drink pale Golden ale which has a slightly citrus taste.  Really do rate this drink. 9/10

Bishop Nick Heresy 4.0% Essex - This is from one of the many Essex breweries that were here today.  This is a golden beer which had a bitter taste about it but not too strong, it seemed to be very popular the time I was purchasing this and would not hesitate to buy more of this, but with me on ‘special duties’ I declined some more of this drink.  7/10

Butcombe Gold 4.4% Bristol - This was a Golden ale which I had not tried before.  The various elements that hit your taste buds when drinking this make Gold a very enjoyable drink.  What surprised me with the heat of the day is that the pint actually felt slightly chilled which was a pleasant surprise. 8/10

Camerons Gold Bullion  4.3% Hartlepool - This is one of the few breweries I hear about a lot but have never actually got round to trying one of their brews. This drink was also golden with a good hoppy flavour which was easy to drink and also had a nice citrus flavour about it. 6/10

Felstar Hoppy Hen  5% Essex - This is another local brewery which is only a few miles outside of Chelmsford.  They had 3 ales to choose from but I picked Hoppy Hen. This is a premium Old Ale. Have to admit I found this drink was very hoppy indeed.  Anyone looking for a strong hoppy flavour then this is one you should look out for.  I personally did not enjoy this but everyone enjoys different things about ales, this one did not do it for me.  5/10

Mighty Oak Kings 4.2% - Yet another Essex Brewery, told you there were a lot of them here! This drink had a description of a golden beer brewed with Citra hops.  I have to say that there was quite an acidic/citrus taste off this one, which was pretty powerful. If you enjoy citrus flavour then this would be one for you but unfortunately was a bit strong in taste for me 5/10

Woodfordes Bure Gold 4.3% Norfolk - Woodfordes always have a good variety at Chelmsford Beer festival.  This year was no different as they even had their own pumps. I went for Bure Gold. This was a golden ale which apparently used American and Slovenian hops in order to get the flavours. Have to admit I found it easy to drink and would have drunk more. 7/10

Oakham Gangster 4.9% Peterborough - Oakham are one of the bigger breweries from Peterborough and I have always enjoyed drinking their ales.  This year at Chelmsford they had their own bar and quite a large selection to choose from.  I went for Gangster. This was a ‘golden ale’ with a deep copper colour.  This was very enjoyable and had a fairly dry hoppy taste to it.  Would liked to have tried some of the others on show but needed to try some other breweries tastes.  7/10

Stonehenge Danish Dynamite 5% Wiltshire - Have to admit, along with Abbeydale, this was my favourite drink of the day.  This was golden ale which was strong but that had well balanced flavours that make it an enjoyable drink.  Would highly recommend this to any person who enjoys different flavours bouncing off your palate making for a flavoursome drink.  Very good 9.5/10

Wibblers Cherry Blonde 4.3% Essex - Wibblers is another Essex brewery and had several ales on offer.  I went for Cherry Blonde which came under the description of a fruit/spice ale.  This drink had a lovely hint of cherry when it hit the palate.  Was a very nice drink which I enjoyed. 7/10

Just before the end of my tasting spree I decided to finish the night with something different so I went to the Cider/Perry section of the festival.  There were so many to choose from but I decided to go for Abrahalls Thundering Molly 5.2% Worcestershire - Have to admit I drank 1½ pints of this, it was a lovely Medium cider that had a lovely aroma around it.  It was not too strong but was very refreshing after the heat of the evening and all of my other tasting which I enjoyed.

Hope you enjoyed the summary! 

From me now, thanks again to John, and I can understand his liking for the Danish Dynamite, a crackin' ale, indeed. I have to admit I'd have loved to have tried the ales from Mighty Oak and Oakham, in particular, great breweries both, but many more lovely ales too, only jealous, a lot, cheers!

Monday 14 July 2014

A Challenge - Where are the Best Beers Brewed?

A friend of mine up int' frozen North put to me a question recently about where the best beer is brewed, which got me to thinking... To consider where the best breweries are means trying to work out what the best beers are, and, sadly, my limited resources don't help me reach that answer, there are many breweries, different styles of beer, many different hops, and we all have different preferences, consequently, how can a case be made that any beer is the 'best'? Whatever, I'm always happy to share my opinion, using memory and notes, and comments made on this blog before, so I may just repeat myself here and there! 

What I'll do is look at different styles in different blogs, and come up with a final conclusion later. Today, I'll start with session bitters, those below 4% in strength, subdivided into pale and not-so-pale ales. Regular readers will know my preference and will expect me to start with paler ales, and I shall, but only because I can't think of many darker ones to extol! Also, 2 brewers in Sheffield, whose ales I would love to discuss in this section, as they both brew excellent pale bitters but don't brew regular ales, Little Ale Cart and Steel City breweries, will have to be given a miss, sadly. 

Oakham (website) are one of my long-favoured breweries who started brewing in 1993 in Rutland, and moved to Peterborough in 1998. They now have a 75 barrel brewing plant, with an additional 6 barrel capacity at their central Peterborough brew-pub, the 'Brewery Tap'. From many great ales brewed there, they provide me with a long-loved pale golden ale, Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB 3.8%), what an excellent ale to start with, plenty of citrus aroma and flavours from the hops, and a lovely dry bitter finish. This sets the standard! 

Copper Dragon (website) of Skipton started brewing in 2002 with a 10 barrel plant, I think... Anyway, they now have a 10 barrel and a 20/30 barrel plant, and, it looks from their website, that the longer term plan is to increase to a 60 barrel capacity. I really got into their ales when I lived and travelled around Yorkshire, and their contribution here is Golden Pippin (3.9%), which is another pale golden ale with citrus aroma (get used to it!), a hint of pale malt biscuit, and a nice dry bitter aftertaste. All of these are good, of course, but this one isn't quite as good as the JHB!  

Nearer to home, down here in East Sussex, at the foot of the South Downs, is Burning Sky (website), a new brewery I have written frequently about, and run by Mark Tranter, formerly of Dark Star. I suppose I could ask the question, but I'm guessing they have a 20 barrel plant, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I'm on a roll here! For a low 3.5% strength, Plateau in no way lacks flavour or body, it is pale with a lovely refreshing grapefruit aroma and taste, a dry bitter aftertaste, and packed with hops, quality! Winning, so far, in the the pale hoppy category...

But to darker session ales and, I have to admit, the number that excite me are much fewer in number than the pale hoppy variety. I'm not saying that there aren't many very drinkable ales in this category, because there are, and I was going to mention three that I really like... However, the Slaters Bitter (website) I remember doesn't appear to be one they brew now, or it may be one of their others, but I do not remember it being a pale one, which they all seem to be, I remember it having a more traditional colour for a bitter. Sorry, it has to be missed out on here! So, I'm down to 2 darker session bitters I really like, of the many good ones that exist. 

The third beer I am considering is a very traditional looking bitter, is an early memory for me of what a session bitter should look like, and is brewed by Fullers (website), who are based by the River Thames at Chiswick in West London at the Griffin Brewery, where a brewery has existed for over 350 years. Fullers have only been included in the business name since 1845, consequently, one of their stronger beers is called 1845. However, Chiswick Bitter (3.5%) is surprisingly difficult to find even in Fullers' own houses! This has to be my favourite of the type, though not to be sampled following the consumption of anything stronger or it loses the effect of the qualities is has, because it is nice and subtle, definitely not in your face. It is a lovely refreshing bitter with a subtle nutty flavour and dry aftertaste, a nice one, and flavours have to be attributed to using Goldings for dry hopping in the cask.

Dark Star (website), used to brew in the cellar of their pub in Brighton, the Evening Star, but moved to aid expansion into a 45 barrel plant in 2010, to Partridge Green. I've gone on about this ale many times in the past, and The Art of Darkness (3.5%) has surprised many other reviewers too, when comparing the taste to how it presents. Although it is very dark, it is actually a very deep red colour, not as black as it first appears, or is often described as, and has a subtle roasted flavour, but balanced by fruit and spice. This is packed with many flavours due to a whopping amount of hops used! This has to be my favourite darker session bitter, the hops used are Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial for flavour, and Warrior for bitterness and, as I've said before, it's a session 'Black IPA', an oxymoron, excellent!  

However, apologies to the Sussex brewers whose ales I have already extolled, but I recently had a pale bitter that even more perfectly fits into my ideal session ale... "Is that possible?!?" I hear you exclaim, yes it is, and an ale I first tasted 2 years ago and which, every time I've had it since, in at least 3 different bars in different places down South, it has been as excellent as was my first taste, and this ale comes all the way from Fyne Ales (website) of Argyll, in the beautiful scenic West of Scotland! Fyne Ales have a 10 barrel plant, and been brewing since 2001 using liquor from their own water supply and a yeast with a 200 year old history, originally used by Fountainbridge Brewery, Edinburgh; McEwans, I presume...

Indeed, though, after extolling so strongly the virtues of ales from the Dark Star and Burning Sky breweries, how could I consider an ale from Scotland, hardly renowned for their pale hoppy bitters, as my 'champion' in this class? Here's how, and I'll describe it simply, and pretty much as I did 2 years ago, Fyne Ale Jarl (3.8%) is a crackin' dry, pale golden and hoppy ale, with plenty of citrus flavours, nice and bitter, and very refreshing, and has continued to be so at each tasting! When I looked at their website I saw that they use one of my favourite hops, Citra, which could be a reason why I like the Jarl so much, and, no doubt, because they are an excellent brewer of fine ales (excuse me Fyne Ales, but had to include the obvious pun too!).

Cheers to Fyne Ales and Jarl!    

Saturday 5 July 2014

Tenterden in the Kent Weald, and ales of course!

I met up with 3 friends from my late teenage years yesterday, 2 who now live in Ashford, and the other who has lived in Florida for nearly 20 years, and is over visiting family and friends. She decided she should visit the other 3 of us, so Tenterden provided a reasonably easy meeting place for us all, and I had never been there before. You would expect Shepherd Neame to be dominant here, and 2 of the 4 public houses on the main road are pubs of Kent, indeed, and the provider of my favourite ale of the day, at the last pub I visited! 

However, the Woolpack Hotel (website), affectionately called the "Woolly" by locals, apparently,  is situated right in the middle of this busy small town High Street, with the tower of the Norman Church, St Mildred's, peeping over the top in my photograph, and is run by Enterprise Inns. This 15th century inn now comprises a pub, hotel and restaurant, has open fires and wooden beams, and recently has undergone a major refurbishment. Consequently, like all these old pubs in the town actually, has quite an open bright atmosphere. 

Similarly, the barman had a bright personality too, and was very welcoming and friendly, even happy to serve one of our group with a pot of tea for one, such is the modern hostelry. All these pubs serve food, as expected, and there were 3 real ales on offer here. From nearby Sussex was Harveys Sussex Best, regular readers will know my opinion of that ale, so nothing to be said here today, and also Timothy Taylor Landlord was on offer, another ale that can be very good, but not quite my cup of tea really! Oh yes, and the one I had a pint of, the ever reliable, Hopback Summer Lightning, enjoyable as always, even if a wee bit too strong for this time of the day. Consequently, the ales provided were all very well-known and easily available everywhere, not surprising for the ever-careful Enterprise Inns. 

The William Caxton (website), a little further down the High Street at West Cross, is a Shepherd Neame pub, and is a hotel and restaurant, and 15th century too. The pub is named after some lad who had something to do with the printing press, and maybe had been born in Tenterden, though this is supposition, as no-one really knows where he was born, but they happily go along with the idea the pub should be named after him, as are other place and building names around the town! The other 3 all ate in the William Caxton, and apparently enjoyed their decent value food, but I had already eaten a fair sized meal before I traveled, so can only take their word for it, but the ham, in particular, appeared to get a firm nod of appreciation. 

All ales were provided by Shepherd Neame, of course, who have certainly expanded the range of ales they brew; looking at their website, they now brew over 20 ales! There was the familiar Whitstable Bay and Master Brew, and I had their Goldings Ale (4.1% and subtitled Summer Solstice, so a seasonal summer ale). The Goldings is a golden ale, bitter, with a slightly sweet fruit-flavoured contrast, though I didn't get the mango and bananas suggested in the tasting notes, not bad though. I had a chat with the lass behind the bar, as you do, and found that this seasonal ale will soon be replaced by their American collaboration I recently reported on, the 4.5% Samuel Adams Blonde Ambition, so locals have a very good ale to look forward to there too! 

Back up the High Street, we also visited, twice, the merely 16th century coaching inn, the White Lion Hotel (website), sorry, my mobile phone was getting very tired, and would not agree to take a photograph of the building, despite many attempts (I really do need to bring my camera with me these days), but if you link to their website, you'll see a large picture of the hotel, plus a few other images! Inglenook fireplaces, wooden beams, hotel, pub and restaurant etc etc... and, again, bright and airy. This is a Marstons/Ringwood hostelry, so quite a few of their ales, plus a local guest brewery.

From Ringwood are 2 old dependable ales, their Forty Niner (4.9%), reported on before, and a nice darker full-flavoured bitter, and Best Bitter (3.8%), an easy drinking best bitter, it does what it says on the tin, not bad. From Marstons their Old Empire (5.7%), which I have had before, a very decent full-flavoured darker bitter, and, I believe it is brewed by them, but have had trouble checking up, the label gave no hint, and the lass behind the bar hadn't a clue either, Lion Heart (4.5%), which Martin appeared to enjoy, another darker bitter. From their guest Kent brewer, Old Dairy, was their regular Gold Top (4.3%) and the seasonal Sun Top (3.6%), a very pale bitter with a slight malty biscuit taste. So 6 ales, from quite dark to pale bitters, provided quite a variation in style for the buying public.  

The final pub, which I visited alone, having said goodbye to the others, and opposite where I would catch a bus to take me back to Sussex, was the relative baby of the bunch, a mere Victorian child by comparison to the rest, the 19th century The Vine Inn (website), and the second Shepherd Neame pub of the day. Bright and airy, blah dee blah, serving food, but I don't believe accommodation is available here, so I'm guessing that staff live upstairs because it is quite large, as you can see from the photograph. If they live here or not, the staff were exceedingly enthusiastic and friendly, all keen to serve, none more so than the bubbly Jazz, who served up my pint after offering a taster, which, well, I'll tell you about that in my ale analysis below. 

Ales? All from Shepherd Neame again, as expected, Master Brew, Whitstable Bay and the Goldings I had already tried at the William Caxton, so, please see above, but also a gem from the brewery's 'pilot brewery', where I've reported in the past that the 2 sisters from the Hastings Arms have brewed before. Drum roll... one from the No 18 Yard Brewhouse (more ales to add to the 20+ Sheps ales already alluded to!), The Classic 442 or 4-4-2, named after the football formation, thus seasonal regarding the World Cup. As soon as I sampled this beer I felt a rush of hops up my nose, it was hard to explain, but also I thought wheat and barley, but I was wrong about that, as I found out following a bit more research, back to the website!

The effect I got of a wheat ale must have come from the hops, because wheat or lager malt was not used in the grist, so maybe from one of the 3 German hops, Halletau Hersbrucker, Herkules, or Halletau Mittelfruh, or perhaps from the Czech hops used, Saaz? Or maybe, even one of the SIX hops used from Kent made an impact?!? Yes, 10 hops in all were used for this impact ale, the Kent grown hops being Goldings, Fuggles, Admiral, First Gold, Challenger, and Cascade; so the Yanks getting their foot in the door too! Whatever, if you see this ale, have a try, and feel free to pass on your opinion. Cheers to Jazz for her professional and friendly manner, for offering a taster, and for putting up with this blogger... 

Cheers to you all!    

Thursday 3 July 2014

Wetherspoons open pub in Dublin!

So, Wetherspoons encroach the pub trade in Dublin, next week (Tuesday 8th) opening The Three Tun Tavern (not much on it yet, but here's the link to their website page, which no doubt will gather more information soon) in Blackrock, in the premises previously known as Tonic Bar.

So what is being offered here, at prices that should undercut other bars in the area, when considering Wetherspoons record in the UK? Well, decent value food all day, of course, and they have 12 handpumps for cask ales. They are looking at supplies from microbreweries in Ireland, as well as importing ales from Britain; Adnams ales being mentioned already. 

What they won't be serving is Guinness as they cannot get a satisfactory price, consequently, not being able to undercut other bars' prices, I presume... But they will be serving up Murphy's and Beamish at 5 cents under 4 Euros a pint, which should be competitive, from what I've heard recently! 

So there you go, drinking in Ireland will suddenly become less expensive.. Good luck to The Three Tun Tavern and cheers to Wetherspoons!