Friday, 30 January 2009

YoB: #34

At my brother's house in Newcastle-

Vedett Extra White (bottle) - I'm a massive fan of Belgian wheats, far more so than German weiss biers. I love the grassy flavours and the thirst-quenchingness. A lot more YoB entries would be Belgian wheat if I could get my hands on them in the Cumbrian boondocks. Back in the my days at Microbar in London we had loads. Celis on draught was a particular favourite - liquid custard creams with a helping of lemoniness and coriander seed. A proportion of people heartily disliked it and a distinct proportion couldn't get enough of it. When I find a beer is having that divisive effect on customers (somewhat paradoxically) I know its a special beer.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

YoB: #33

I'm in the Bacchus, High Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, A Sir John Fitzgerald pub. It's a strange place: it's modern but seems to have an ambience of 1930s Ocean Liner - with halogen downlighters. The Burglar's Dog described it as "a bit like the Poseidon Adventure but, like, the right way up". It's one very big redeeming feature is that it's managed by a beer geek whose cellar-keeping is second to none. I've never had a bad pint there; in fact, It's provided some of the greatest pints of my life.

Jarrow Rivetcatcher - I'm still stuggling with the tail end of flu and my tastebuds are knackered but still I can tell this is a tremendous pint. I'm growing tired of Cascade hops as I feel they're often used clumsily but here they've been used with great sensitivity. 

As I drink I eavesdrop on a bunch of retirement-age chaps enjoying a pint and I hear they are talking about beer. I've been a beer geek for donkey's years but I often forget that a lot of cask ale drinkers see stronger beers (starting at about 5%), and particularly foreign stronger beers as somehow dangerous and intimidating. Years of practise have allowed me to switch between sips-of-strong and gulps-of-weak with ease but I forget that not everybody does this. One chap says "I went Belgium and it was all 6% [voice in classic exasperated Geordie rising intonation; friends gasp with horror and shake heads]. The best I could do was Stella at 5%".

Saturday, 17 January 2009

YoB: #32

In the Black Dog, Dalton-in-Furness:

Okells Bitter. There are times when a straightforward pint of not-to-strong bitter is the greatest thing in the world. At the end of a long day the first pint seems to accompany an internal sound of the venting of steam pressure. Well, that's what I was hoping but unfortunately this was the first proper duff pint of the year: flat, brown and tasteless. Not Okell's fault, just one of those things. It happens sometimes.

Yob: #30, #31

A couple of beers in front of the telly:

Brewdog IPA.
Has rapidly achieved the status of favourite but I fear it may lose in a shoot-out with Thornbridge Jaipur.

ORVAL. A love affair approaching fifteen years. The relationship has had its ups and downs and there've  been times when we haven't even been speaking. About 5 years ago Orval was was at its peak in (in my experience) but at present it seems a little two-dimensional, playing hard to get, a bit sulky.

Friday, 16 January 2009

YoB: #21, #22, #23, #24, #25

Yates Fever Pitch 3.9%
I rather enjoy Yates Bitter but this was fairly bland and uneventful.
A bit nondescript, perhaps lacking freshness.

Golden Salamander 4.5%   
Just look how many beers this brewery produces. Indecision or innovation? You decide.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - 12oz bottle - The beer that changed my life. I first visited California in the mid-nineties. Discovering how different their craft beer culture was to ours was a revelation. I was so blown away that embarked on bringing a bit of US-style beer culture to the UK.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Yob: #28, #29

At the Black Dog Inn, Dalton-in-Furness:

Copper Dragon Bitter - tremendous, a little worty (which I like), biscuity malt and well-integrated hop character. Perfect condition. Pint of the Year so far.

At the Ship, Kirkby-in-Furness:

Ennerdale Blonde - Delicate blonde ale with an abundance of grassy hops (Saaz?). I love this sort of thing but that kind of hop character is ephemeral and can disappear overnight.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Yob: #26, #27

Lindeboom Pilsner (500 ml) - I love the soft biscuity maltiness of this lager. I surprised it doesn't get a better score on Ratebeer. I suspect the fact it's described as pilsner means it gets judged as such but it is somewhat "out of style" as they say at the GABF. Dropping the word "pilsner" would probably allow it a better score. 

Spaten Munchen (500ml) - not disimilar to the above. Thinner mouthfeel, more attenuated.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

YoB: #26

Coniston Bluebird at the Swan, Ulverston.
This is the real stuff, not the faux bottled stuff, and tremendous it is too. I worship the way the Coniston people use hops. My personal Pint of the Year Award 2007 went to one of their seasonal beers, the name of which slips my mind. Again, it was the brilliant hop character (without high bitterness) that charmed me.

This entry should count for more than one YoB number, but I didn't count how many I had. Oops.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Yob: #19, #20

Ulverston Flying Elephants 3.9% (?)  I like this one. It's very pale ale with a melony hop character. My all-too-brief tasting notes belie a rather enjoyable beer. 

Whitehaven Brewery Ennerdale Autumn. First impression - nothing special but I am prepared to be corrected. I'm told it's being well received elsewhere.

Consumed at the Ship Inn, Kirkby-in-Furness where I regularly enjoy a daft pub quiz where the taking part is definitely more important than the winning.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

YoB: #16, #17 & #18

At my mother's house with a Thai takeaway:

Biere d'or des Flandres
I don't know anything about this beer and when it was thrust into my hand by my step-father I didn't bother scrutinising the label. It's one of those tiddly little bottles beloved of Johnny-foreigner of a French persuasion. Not unpleasant, no off-flavours but still a canoe beer.

Hawkshead Lakeland Gold 4.4%, 500ml bottle. Bears a passing resemblance to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale but is more rough round the edges and possessed of a character that may well be described as "abrasive."

Brewdog Punk IPA  6% - We all know this is a modern classic so I won't bang on about flavour. What I do really like about Brewdog is their studious avoidance of tedious ink-wasting favoured by more unimaginative brewers such as "finest traditional ale brewed from the choicest malt and hops."

YoB: #14 & #15

Barngates Cracker 3.9%
Dark session ale. Complex with spicy notes characteristic of this brewer.

Barngates Mothbag 3.9%
Pale session ale thankfully avoiding the very-pale-ale-with-too-much-Cascade cliche. Altogether more refined.

At the Black Dog Inn, Dalton-in-Furness - my favourite pub in my South Cumbria homelands.

Monday, 5 January 2009

YoB: #11, #12 & #13

Lowenbrau Oktoberfestbier, 500ml bottle from Aldi (if I recall correctly).

While preparing Tesco Finest Pork Sausages with cabbage it occurred to me that the food was somewhat Germanic and that a German beer may compliment it.

My hunch was right. The flavours worked perfectly and the tongue-scrubbing effect of the carbonation was particularly apparent. This effect has been mentioned by other beer writers but this was the first time I'd really appreciated it. 

Herold Black Lager (500ml bottle). 

I've had an on-off love affair with this beer since it started to appear in Britain in the late nineties. The love affair is on again. My favourite aspect of this beer is the long finish in which the flavours seem to mingle and mutate in agreeable ways right before the eyes (er, tastebuds.)

Brilliant. It's been a long time since I had one. I kept thinking of the Sass and Dandelion and Burdock I grew up with.

In the past ten years I've interviewed, or just chatted with, countless UK microbewers. Interview or chat, I always ask "which non-UK beers do you particularly like?". I don't really want to know, I just want to spark the conversation and examine the interviewee's enthusiasm for beer. If the brewer's eyes light up and I hear a long diatribe on the wonders of various exotic beers I know I'm speaking to someone who is genuinely interested in flavour and also likely to be a brewer whose beers are consistently interesting.

On the other hand, I've had some rather underwhelming responses. Funnily enough, they've come from brewers whose beers are, well, dull as ditchwater. Some examples:

"I don't bother with foreign beer"
"I tried that Chimay once: didn't like it"
"My mate gave me a bottle of that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to try - too fizzy"
"I'm not interested in foreign beer"
"It's all lager isn't it?"

Sunday, 4 January 2009

YoB: #10

Mordue Geordie Pride, 4.2%

Served in the Cluny, Newcsatle-upon Tyne.

My initial perception was of a big blast of diacetyl - an off-flavour I really can't stand. I can detect the merest hint of diacetyl from the other end of the street. 

Questioning my own judgement because I'd been eating spicy food and the icy North Eastern weather was distracting, I persevered. With more mouthfuls thankfully the diacetyl seemed to decline to a more acceptable level (such as that found in Fullers London Pride) and the genuine flavour became apparent. I'm normally a fan of Mordue beers but this one wasn't too memorable - a fairly standard bitter of 4.2% with a soft mouthfeel that made me think there might be oats in there somewhere.

The Cluny's an interesting place. It is part of the Head of Steam chain of pubs which are all known for their good beer. The clientele is a sprinkling of students, and importantly, the kind of people that many Newcastle students turn into - arts, public sector and media. The contrarian in me urges me to see what would happen if I was to ostentatiously read the Telegraph in there - I expect I'd be lynched in a non-violent, vegetarian, organic holier-than-thou sort-of way. 

As someone with a long-standing fascination with who-drinks-what-and-why it is evident to me that this demographic demands good beer but they prefer imports. Three, and sometimes as many as six cask ales are available but I look around and I see large numbers of people drinking Liefmans, Duvel-lite and other quality imports, draught and bottle.

p.s. I don't actually read the Telegraph. I can't abide reading about cringeworthy middle-class people fretting about school fees - I just want to shout in their faces "private education is not cumpulsory!".

Saturday, 3 January 2009

YoB: #6, #7 & #8

Cumberland Arms, Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Jarrow Bitter 3.8%,  Consistently enjoyable session bitter utilising the classic Cascade/Crystal hop/malt combo. 

Jarrow McConnells Celebratory Port Stout 5.4% - Tremendous! Neither really stouty or porty, nonetheless a great beer - undercurrents of treacle, chocolate and coffee with an abundant smack of hoppy orangey fruitiness. Despite pseudo-Victorian pumpclip imagery, it's actually quite modern in its flavour profile. 

Matfen Magic , 4.8%, toffeish, light bodied, website describes it as a brown ale. They'd possibly sell more of it in Newcastle by putting "Brown Ale" on the pumpclip

Look out for the Cumberland Arms in Oz Clarke and James May's new TV series.

YoB: #9

Harvistoun Bitter and Twisted, 500ml bottle.

My enjoyment of this beer seems to be mood-dependent. Sometimes I experience it as a joy-inducing modern big-hop classic; sometimes as an indifferent mid-brown, unmemorable beer. I suspect its my palate playing this trick but I've yet to work out what factors contribute. Sometimes I go through phases of perceiving flavours that aren't necessarily there. Occasionally I detect oxidisation in every beer taste - when beer after beer seems oxidised I have to remind myself it might just be me! I once had a phase of perceiving metallic flavour in everything I sampled and the effect was quite disturbing. If anyone can shed any biological/physiological light on this, please let me know

Thursday, 1 January 2009

YoB: #5

Meantime Winter Time Winter Warmer, 5.4% 500ml.

Very enjoyable dark ale. Surprisingly stouty and with a good lingering finish.

Label design disappointing - you can usually rely on Meantime for understated and reasonably elegant labels thankfully devoid of "ye olde" claptrap.

YoB: #4

Budvar. 500ml bottle. 

An old favourite. Any nuances of flavour swamped by chilli crisps and other assorted party nibbles.

YoB: #3

Alnwick IPA, 500ml 4.5%

Alnwick Brewing Company (actually brewed by Daleside)

Where's the hop character? Are our palates skewed by US IPAs or is this one wrong? Label declares "floral hop aromas" - where are they? Actually has a musty, undergrowthy aroma.

YoB: #2

Meantime London Stout (bottle), very roasty stouty, not entirely suited to pairing with sundried tomato crisps.

2009: Year of Beer, beer #1

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

Very slightly oxidised otherwise tremendous. Luxurious liquorice!

00.01 New Year's Day in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at my brother's house in front of a proper coal fire with real flames.