My looooords!! Get into that seminar!The "Vital Spark", Para handy's famous puffer.A load of casks outside the Evening Star in Brighton.Seminars - even better at 09:00 in the morning!A Plane, funnily enoughA scooping book.  Well thumbed too.A cask on-stillage at a beer festival.Kleuver's brauhaus winnersOtley Arms, TreforestA big Praha Tatra T3 in the snow

  Beer of the Month 

Last Updated : 31/01/09

The Pub of the Month pages are here...

his is an archive of my Beers of the Month for 2008.  To see the ones for 2009 click here or for 2010 here.

In brief, my 2008 winners were -

  • January 2008 : Del Borgo ReAle Extra

  • February 2008 : Hubertus Kácov Kvasnicové 12°

  • March 2008 : Elgoods Black Dog Mild

  • April 2008 : Oakham Haka

  • May 2008 : Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

  • June 2008 : Green Flash West Coast IPA

  • July 2008 : Oakham Endless Summer

  • August 2008 : Goose Eye Chinook Blonde

  • September 2008 : Pictish Centennial

  • October 2008 : Phoenix White Monk

  • November 2008 : Pivovarský Dům Štěpán světlý ležák

  • December 2008 : Pictish Sauvin Blanc

Beer of the Month - December 2008

Brewery: Pictish From: Rochdale, Manchester
Beer: Sauvin Blanc Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: Hopped with the superb Nelson Sauvin hop, this is a wondrous beer!  4.8%, cask in the Dragon, Worcester.
2nd: Little Ale Cart Firdaussi   3rd : Brewdog Chaos Theory IPA
Beers drunk during the month : 50+ Scoops during the month : 15

Very few scoops this month as we've not been abroad and I just couldn't be arsed to travel anywhere for UK beers!  Saying that, we've had a polypin of Little Ale Cart Cock o' the North over the festive period and that's gone down pretty well...

To the issue at hand, then.   I know that it's starting to seem like I give the award every month to Pictish or someone brewing similar beers, but I can't help it when they brew stuff as good as this one!  I missed Sauvin Blanc on it's previous outings and so was delighted to finally catch up with the beer in the Dragon, Worcester and it was worth the wait...

Many of you will know of my enthusiasm for the superb New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hop with it's gooseberry, cat's piss (in the nicest possible way) and limey character but, just in case you don't, I really like them!  This hop is different than any other around which can't be said for many others (maybe Riwaka, Simcoe and Sorachi Ace) and, when used properly, gives stunning aromas and flavours not dissimilar, for those who know about such things, to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine... which is where it's name came from, prosaically, it being a child of the Riwaka hop research station in New Zealand.

What of the beer, then?  A gorgeous blast of gooseberry, elderflower and fruity, limey citrus was the first impression which followed through into the flavour - and what a flavour!  Masses of hop resins, bitterness and a slight acidity were obvious, all overlaid by that tangy, tongue-curling gooseberry fruit, and the finish was long, malty and bitter with the typical Pictish vanilla notes and sackfuls of tangy, zesty lime and gooseberry... what an absolute stunner and possibly the purest expression - as Pictish do so well - of the hop I've yet tasted.

Other excellent beers drunk in December...

As if to cement my love affair with Nelson Sauvin, my second-place beer also had plenty of it in it's hop grist, although this is currently de-rigeur for Little Ale Cart's increasingly impressive and hoppy beers.  Firdaussi (named after a big green kettle) was a very pale beer with bucketloads of of bitterness, grapefruit and gooseberry before a complex bitter, fruity finish with plenty of Nelson Sauvin's trademark gooseberry, lime juice and cat's piss... gorgeous.

I've always liked Brewdog beers but with a rider in that they are good at strong, hoppy IPA's and less good at other stuff; I think their stout isn't a proper one and is therefore totally overpowered by the various whisky casks used in the Paradox range and haven't really been set alight by most of their other lagers, amber ales etc.  Thus, when we received some Chaos Theory IPA (7.1%), I was fully expecting a cracker of a brew... and it was!  Amber in colour, it had oodles of American rosepetal hop on the nose with a very resiny hop, rosey, piney and bitter flavour which turned into an increasingly bitter - yet still piney and rosey - finish.

Of the other beers I liked in December, Glentworth seem to be returning to form (i.e; very pale hoppy brews) after a few months of blandness and two I sampled, Liberty Gold and Arctic Gold, were lovely examples of dry, bitter, hop-led beers at which they excel.  Windsor Castle's Slap & Tipple was, as is to be expected from such a consistently good brewery, a lovely rich and very Black Country-ish malty beer with a delicious treacle toffee finish, and finally Cannon Royall's Winter Oak was the best beer I've had from them for a good while with a firm maltiness and decent tangy bitter hop aftertaste which melded well.

Beer of the Month - November 2008

Brewery: Pivovarský Dům From: Prague
Beer: Štěpán světlý ležák Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: One of the classic examples of Bohemian Pilsener; stuff like Urquell - even the unfiltered version - is a joke compared to this masterpiece.  This is what lager should taste like!
2nd: Little Ale Cart Sorachi Stupid   3rd : Polička 12° kvasnicové
Beers drunk during the month : Over 100 Scoops during the month : 115

What can I say about this beer that could possibly do it justice? How about beer writer Evan Rail giving it maximum marks in his Czech beer guide and saying it’s “gorgeous”? How about it having been my favourite Czech beer since that eventful moment back in 2001 when I first tasted it? No, unless you’ve been to this superb brewpub and drunk several litres of one of the finest examples of the world’s most misunderstood, mis-spelt, misappropriated and bastardised beer styles – Bohemian Pilsener – then you’ve not really drunk proper lager. Forget thin, under-hopped extract-laced German pilsner (note the spelling!) and try the real thing; there really is a huge difference.

For a start, the best Czech pilseners – of which this is one – are full of worty, malty flavours as well as those gorgeous grassy, fruity and citrussy tastes of the noble Žatecký Červeňák (red Saaz) hop and it’s this balance between the spicy, bitter hops and the rich, biscuity sweet malt that really makes a good Czech pilsener one of the unsung wonders of the beer world; whilst some American IPA’s may be delicious hop-monsters, some Belgian lambics Madeira-laced lessons in poise and even the odd British cask ale can exert a superb balance between malt and hop it is here, in a properly brewed Bohemian Pilsener, that this interplay between the two elemental forces in beer – malt and hop – comes together most beautifully.

The beer is hazy gold with – and there’s no other word for it – a simply gorgeous aroma; maltsacks, hayfields, lemony resinous hop, biscuity maltiness and an indefinable hint of fruit, totally compelling. The flavour is full and malty with plenty of fragrant leafy hops tinged with lemons and hop resin, then a bitter dryness builds towards the finish which is a masterpiece in complexity with sweet malt, hopflower, citrus, chewy grain and wort all underpinned by a lasting bitterness. This beer is simply pure class and supremely drinkable although half a litre (currently 35Kč, about Ł1.15) doesn’t last long!

Back in the UK, Little Ale Cart of Sheffield have been making huge leaps with their beer and the last few in particular have been deliciously hoppy and bitter beauties with Ellen Douglas in particular standing out, and one of Richard’s beers almost got beer of the month… almost, but not quite! That beer was comprised of around 25 pints which was left over from racking one of LAC’s beers then dry-hopped with the very individual Sorachi Ace hops which produced the aptly-named “Sorachi Stupid” and what a stunner it was; gooseberry, pithy orange, fruit and tangerines on the nose along with huge resinous hops which followed through into the finish with crystallised fruit, bitterness, citrus and yet more bitter Seville orange flavours… a real hop-lover’s beer, that one!

Finally, Polička’s delicious 12° kvasnicové was just as good – if not better – than when I last had it with honey maltiness, worty and maltsack flavours and a gentle bitterness and hop twang to balance it out in the finish; lovely stuff and a pleasure to drink; this stuff really is a beer to relax and enjoy and it has all the doughy, bready character I expect from a proper Pilsener but with so much more too... a real winner.

Other excellent beers drunk in November...

Other good Czech beers sampled during the trip were the massively rare Suchdolský Jeník in what appeared to be a school hall but was in reality a student centre called simply “Klub C” on the Suchdol campus in Prague; the beer is brewed on campus as part of a course and only sold at the various bars on-site and then only if you’re lucky! It was a cracker, too, full of maltiness, sweet grain and bitter dryness with a balanced and moreish finish. Pivovarský Dům’s Tmavý was almost as good as their světlý with it’s full-on cold coffee, toasty, roast and liquorice tastes and huge flavour whilst the Richter brewpub excelled yet again with a delicious Polotmavý, lusciously grainy and toffeeish, and a fruity, estery ale.

New micro Kocour’s beers seem to have plenty of promise as we sampled a surprisingly tasty 10° tmavý and a (for Czech) very hop-led pale ale. Purkmistr, in the Plzeń suburb of Černice, had some so-so beers although the stand out was the tmavý with it’s full roast grain and dark chocolate flavours and, as a bonus, they were brewing which smelt gorgeous! New brewpub Na Rychtářce, just north of the city centre, does only a single brew but it’s very good indeed being a classic style Bohemian Pilsener with a spicy Saaz hoppiness over a rich, juicy and typically worty maltiness.

The brewpub U Bezoušků in the village of Průhonice, not far from Prague’s southern fringes, produced a cracking Desitka (10°) which oozed yeast, malt, fresh grain and wort all balanced by a full bitterness and some dusty, flowery hops, one of the best 10° beers I’ve had in quite a while. Dependable Svijany’s 13° Kniěža Polotmavý was packed full of dark chocolate, toffee and treacle and was better for being unpasteurised in bottle, a practice which seems to be gathering a small amount of momentum these days.

Resurrected brewery Kout na Šumave have a good reputation in Czech but are hard to find; we located a “dance pub” (!) in Plzeń which had their kvasnicové on tap but they couldn’t serve it as the tap was faulty… cheers then! We didn’t run into the unfiltered beer again but did visit a bar in Praha (U Slovanské Lípi in Žížkov) which does four of their brews and the pick of the three on sale was the lovely 10° which was deep gold in colour and had a subtle resinous hop taste over a mellow maltiness and shouted quality plus good brewing.

Titanic’s Iron Curtain stout was, for me, the stand-out beer at the disappointing Wetherspoon beer festival and trumped most Titanic beers by having a huge roast, liquorice and burnt grain flavour with plenty of molasses, sweet malt although not quite enough bitterness to balance it in my opinion. St Austell Proper Job was sampled on several occasions and, despite being very variable, when good it had a cracking hoppiness with citrus, grapefruit, rosepetal, bitterness, fresh resinous hopflower and was very un-regional like in flavour tasting more like something from a micro-brewer which means St Austell must be doing something right.

Meantime Coffee Porter split opinion on Scoopgen right down the middle with some loving and others hating this full-flavoured brew; I’m on the side of “love it” and felt it was a far better beer than Dark Star’s Espresso with a huge, fresh coffee and chocolate taste akin to eating coffee beans in plain chocolate! I can see why some people don’t like it, but I did… very interesting.

Wye Valley Fallen Hero was akin to a supercharged HPA (despite being weaker in strength!) and had all the lovely honeyed grain, flowery bitterness and biscuity malt HPA has but with more oomph. Finally, LAC Hal 'o the Wynd was full of lovely Nelson Sauvins and had all the luscious gooseberryish resinous hopflower flavours that entails with plenty of balancing bitterness and a huge hop, gooseberry, bitter and fruity finish – top stuff.


Beer of the Month - October 2008

Brewery: Phoenix From: Heywood
Beer: White Monk Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.5%, Cask in Angel (Beer House), Manchester
2nd: Greenfield Black Five   3rd : Little Ale Cart Windsor Lad
Beers drunk during the month : 90 or so Scoops during the month : 40

Not a huge month in scooping terms this time, although I still had plenty of good beers even if none scored the maximum 5. I’m really pleased to be awarding my October beer of the month to an old favourite, a brewery whose beers I’ve liked ever since the very early 90’s, which narrows it down a bit... so, it's time for Phoenix of Heywood with their sublime White Monk to receive their first beer of the month. I first had this citrussy and bitter beast back in 2001 and raved about it then (and it’s sisters White Hurricane, Tornado and Typhoon) but I've never had it quite as good since… until now.

Indulging in a surprisingly unpretentious and delicious meal in the Beer House – sorry, Angel – I was elated to see White Monk on the pumps and it was duly ordered. The aroma gave little away, maybe a prickle of grapefruit and creamy maltiness, but the taste exploded onto my tongue with masses of citrussy, bitter, flowery hops which gave the impression I was chewing a hopsack. This huge American hop attack increased in the finish with a rich, strong yet not harsh bitterness, lashings of grapefruit, lemon zest plus more sappy, resinous hops and a lasting bitter, sticky hop finish; to someone who loves hops as much as I do this was pure indulgence, a pleasure to drink, therefore I’m more than happy to congratulate Phoenix on this masterpiece of hop showmanship and long may they continue to produce such cracking beers.

The very same visit also brought me another whopper in the form of Greenfield Black 5, although this couldn’t have been more different from the Phoenix; red/black in colour with a lovely roasted malt – even coal-like – toasted grain character, this was either a light stout or a strong mild but, whatever it was, I liked it a lot and, once again, it was in top nick.

Little Ale Cart, behind the Cask & Cutler in Sheffield, have now commenced full-time production after some variable testbrews and their beers are improving all the time. Windsor Lad, named after a random kettle, was a 4% pale gold brew with a developing bitterness on the tongue, citrussy and flowery hops came through with a good blast of bitterness and lemon, becoming fairly drying, with a fruity, bitter finish balanced by some faint maltiness; if they can keep brewing stuff like this then they will go far – with me, at least – although I'm still badgering Richard to put some more hops in...

Other excellent beers drunk in October...  Ossett are a brewery who I feel lost their way many years ago, but “Real ale revolution porter” is the best beer from them I’ve tried in quite a while. A proper porter, not a stout badged as a porter, this was deep red with sweet caramel, hints of roast, liquorice, bonfires and an ashy, complex finish with burnt matchsticks, liquorice, caramel and maltiness giving a complex aftertaste; top stuff, and hopefully signs of a return to form for them.

I seemingly can’t have a beer of the month without at least one Pictish beer, so here they are! Willamette was amber in colour with a full malty flavour overlaid with a good bitterness and fragrant hop flavour which leaned towards fruits and flowers. Sorachi, on the other hand, was quite a different beast; this hop is one of the most distinctive around at present and possesses what I can only describe as a bizarre mix of honeysuckle, crystallised fruit, orange zest and Seville marmalade flavours – honestly, it does! Pictish seem to have managed to brew with it in a way which doesn’t overpower the tastebuds, which can easily be done with such a flavoursome hop, yet maintain all it’s flavours in balance… as usual, excellent stuff from Mr Sutton.

Speaking of Sorachi, Hornbeam’s amazing Lemon Blossom apparently uses this hop and, after tasting it, I’m convinced it does! It’s not quite as well balanced as the Pictish example, however, and the overpowering Sorachi character becomes a little too much towards the bottom of the glass, although it’s still a tasty, interesting beer and if you want to know what Sorachi tastes like then give this a go!

Our only trip abroad this month was to the South of France so, obviously, beer wasn’t a priority, although I still managed a few throughout the month and, of these, two stand out; Harpoon IPA is chock-full of rosepetally hops with some fruitiness and sweet Turkish delight, although it was slightly too sweet and lacking in bitterness to balance the slightly cloying sweet malt. Sierra Nevada Celebration 2007, however, didn’t suffer from this problem and was a deep amber Turkish delight explosion with plenty of citrus, hopflower, bitterness and treacly maltiness, everything in balance, yet with masses of flavours to keep the interest all down the bottle; those who say SN aren't interesting enough these days should try some of this...

Embarrassingly, I must also mention that in a similar blind tasting to the two beers above I gave Grimbergen Dubbel an honourable score of 4, commenting on it’s “luscious liquoricey, chocolatey and slightly molasses-like sweet malt taste” and finished that it was a “complex, tasty ale if a touch too sickly”… well, I can’t argue with a blind tasting, so if you have chance to try this beer then feel free and let me know what you think… I’d not drunk it for years so had forgotten what it tasted like! This does prove the worth of blind tastings, however, as had I known what it was then the score would have almost certainly been lower due to my hatred of big-brewery beers; I try to give every beer a fair score, honestly I do, but sometimes it's easier to taste blind without any preconceptions clouding the judgement!

Beer of the Month - September 2008

Brewery: Pictish From: Rochdale, Manchester
Beer: Centennial Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.5%, Cask in Dragon, Worcester.
2nd: Oakham Asylum   3rd : Amber Grand Imperial Porter
Beers drunk during the month : 100+ Scoops during the month : 88

It may seem as if I'm simply giving out this award month after month to the same old breweries, but I can assure you that if other brewers were to conjure up something this good then it'd be here in a flash!  Pictish are one of my favourite brewers for their deliciously hoppy beers and I've had four in the last month of varying degrees of deliciousness, but this one was simply sublime and reminded me once again, after a few months in awe of New Zealand's lip-smackingly tangy hops, just why i love American hops so much.

Centennial is one of the "holy trinity" of American hops in most IPA's and, along with Chinook and Cascade (plus, generally, Columbus and Amarillo), has it's hand in some of the most pungently hoppy beers to be found.  It's all in the delicate balance of this hop with it's gloriously pungent bitter flavour allied to a leafy and almost lemon sherbert flavour.  There was plenty of grapefruit, lemon and resinous, leafy hop taste in the mouth then the strong - yet not harsh - bitterness took over into the excellently citrussy and leafy hop-tasting finish... so good I had to have another!

So, Richard Sutton does it again; another superb single-hop brew with all the hop's essence captured in a glass, he really does have the knack of nailing just what a hop means and not a lot of other brewers come close, although one that frequently does is the sublime Oakham Ales whose Asylum was a lesson in hop complexity and balance.  Waves of hop aromas blasted out of the glass and the flavour translated word for word with rose petals, citrus, forest floor, lime juice, turkish delight and a resiny, brambly hop finish that was simply amazing, let down only slightly by just a touch too much sweetness in the finish - but that's a minor consideration when the hop flavour of a beer is this complex and just so damn beguiling... Oakham does it again!

Third place goes to our final scoop of the Polish trip, maybe the best apart from the Brovaria beers, and surely one of the best Baltic Porters available today; Amber brewery from near Gdansk have a good range of well-made, tasty beers but this one, a new addition to their portfolio, was drunk from a stall in the main square in Poznan and what a beer it was!  Grand Imperial Porter was black in colour with a sweetish and mellow caramalt aroma, the beer had a gentle dryness, hints of bitterness, toasted malt, alcohol, fruitiness and chocolate before the huge tongue-caressing aftertaste of chocolate malt, slightly bitter hop, toast and a warming alcohol burn took over.  A sublimely made beer, it very nearly made it to beer of the month...

Other excellent beers drunk in September... A brand new brewery with it's very first beer rarely makes much of an impact, but this one did... Richard Appleton's Little Ale Cart brewery, situated behind the Cask & Cutler (Wellington) in Sheffield in the old Port Mahon premises, was made with the delicious South Pacific combination of Motueka for bittering and Riwaka for flavour.  The result was, at first, fairly shy but when allowed to mature (or "compost" as Richard says) in the cellar the brew took on a gorgeously pungent, fruity aroma with Pineapples, soft fruit, hop resin and a tangy bitterness on the tongue.  The flavour was amazingly balanced with a near-perfect match of zesty bitterness and soft fruitiness overlaid by a sharp, zesty hoppy edge which made for delicious drinking.

At Tamworth festival Kinver excelled themselves again with the leafy and very hoppy Crystal plus Sweetheart Stout, brewed by Fudge and  with a good balance of strong coffee roastiness and citrussy, very bitter hops which worked a lot better than most stouts with American hops do!  Brewdog Tokyo, their 12% Imperial Stout, was one of the best beers I've had from them and showed that it's possible to have a strong beer without Ethanol blasting your tastebuds into a fiery grave.  It had loads of toasty, fruity, liquoricey flavours with a huge body, hints of the strength, and a long, sweet yet not sickly and roast-led finish with more dark grain and liquorice... top suff.

Pictish Bobek was yet another hop-beast from them, one I missed last time around, and was packed full of resiny, lemony yet very European-tasting hops, definitely Styrian Goldings, and a glorious "forest floor" and pine needles-led finish with more lemony hop taste.  Little Ale Cart's TB2 had Mount Hood, of JHB fame, as the lead hop and despite being a mere 3.4% it possessed a smooth, rich hop taste with an excellent candied fruit and resinous hop flavour, whilst new brewer Stringer's of Ulverston impressed with their Bible-black, bitter, massively toasty burnt malt-flavoured Stout and Tara's brewery, Mallinsons, continues to improve despite a ready supply of "proper" hops with Tafelberg, a well-balanced, fruity and bitter beer with a good spicy hint to the taste and a solid malty undertow.

As for Foreign beers, our trip to Poznan, Poland, didn't turn up many of huge quality, although we had some decent enough brews, but the real find of the trip was the Brovaria brewpub with their solid, full and hugely tasty beers; Jasne (pale) was a honeyed, malty, bitter and very suppable golden brew whilst Miodowe (honey) had some toasted malts in the flavour before the sweetish honey flavour came along, strangely mixed with treacle toffee flavours, and a lovely rich, sweet honey-malt finish... very accomplished.  The best of the rest we had in Poznan was Konstancin Szef Joli Poleca Dawne (Niepasteryzowane), an unpasteurised bottle from a health food shop which had a slight butteryness to go with the dry, grassy hop taste and smooth maltiness. 

Beer of the Month - August 2008

Brewery: Goose Eye From: Keighley, Yorkshire
Beer: Chinook Blonde Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.2%, Cask at Worcester BF and Wetherspoons, Huddersfield
2nd: Harviestoun Game Burd   3rd : Pictish Susan
Beers drunk during the month : 200 or so Scoops during the month : 144

Well, well.  They brew perfectly drinkable yet slightly boring beers for 18 years and then what happens?  They turn out an absolute belter of a beer, a true hop-monster, a golden lupulin-stuffed treat... so unlike all their other beers is this one that at first I thought I'd been poured the wrong beer or the cask had been labelled incorrectly, but a quick cask-label investigation by our insider soon proved that this was indeed the best beer ever to come from Goose Eye.

It's a very pale beer, almost Pilsener coloured, but it's the hop aroma which is most striking; I should have guessed by the name, but I never expected Goose Eye to put so many hops into one beer... was it a mistake, a misbrew, or a sign of a seismic shift in hop thinking up in Keighley?  Whatever, the aroma is pure grapefruits and pungent, leafy, citrussy hops - simply stunning - and this leads through into the gloriously bitter, tangy and hugely hoppy flavour where grapefruit, lime juice, lemon jelly, tangerines and hop resins mix with some juicy biscuity maltiness for balance.  The finish is pretty damn bitter, yet retains the complexity which this superb hop brings and ends notably citrussy, lip-smacking and damned delicious...

I've had the beer twice, both times slightly hazy, but that doesn't seem to affect the flavour in any way and, if possible, it was even better on the second occasion when I wasn't so amazed by the brewery which had produced it and could settle down to some serious contemplation of this quality mid-Atlantic brew, one of the best single hop beers I've had for quite a while.  Get it while you can... before I drink it all!!!

The other two runners up were both excellent ales, and Harviestoun proved - as did Goose Eye - that old dogs can learn new tricks, especially if they include lots of hops!  Game Burd is probably the hoppiest Harviestoun beer I've ever had (I've never considered Bitter and Twisted to be particularly hoppy) and was full of fresh, piney hops with plenty of citrus, bitterness, balancing toasty grain but the finish was a full-on bitter, juicily bitter hop fest and, as I said for the Chinook Blonde, if you'd given me this beer and told me it was Harviestoun I'd have told you where to get off... two brewers who've been around for years suddenly making impressively hoppy beers?  Oh yes, bring it on...

Pictish Susan was yet another whopper from Mr Sutton with the usual vanilla maltiness overlain by a bitter, leafy, grassy and fairly tangy hop flavour which included hints of pear and peach in it's complex makeup and was a delight to drink - so I did!  As Herbal scooped four halves of dubious quality scoops I took great pleasure in sinking two pints of this... oh, the freedom of the ethical scooper!

Other excellent beers drunk in August... Once again, Millstone do the business with True Grit, their 5% pale ale, which coincidentally is also a Chinook-monster... maybe I'm addicted to this supremely citrussy and bitter hop?  Whatever, the fruity, citrus and tangily bitter flavour, married with a good burst of creamy maltiness, makes this relative heavyweight seem a mere quaffer; top stuff indeed.  Golcar Porter and Mild impressed with their huge roasty, liquoricey flavours, Kinver Half Centurion was a lovely bitter, hoppy thirst-quencher whilst Pictish Little Gem a lesson in pineapply, juicy New Zealand hops.

Mighty Oak Golden Daze a surprisingly hop-laden beer with a gorgeous sweet rosepetal character (Tomahawk hops?), whilst Marble Stouter Port Stout did what it said on the bottle - very accomplished, as we've come to expect from them.  Elland impressed me (as they usually do!) with Eden, a 4.2% pale brew with a deliciously fresh citrussy flavour, whilst York Nelson Sauvin almost made the score sheet with a very impressive showing from this most un-beer like hop; think gooseberry, lime, tangy fruit and fresh zingy bitterness all the way - delicious stuff.

No foreign trips yet again due to chavs and brats clogging up the airports, but we're set to resume next month with Poznań followed by Marseille in October then Prague in November.

Beer of the Month - July 2008

Brewery: Oakham From: Peterborough, Cambs.
Beer: Endless Summer Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 3.4%, cask in Cask & Cutler Sheffield.
2nd: Millstone Gate Hangs Well   3rd : Roosters Boneshaker
Beers drunk during the month : 140 Scoops during the month : 108

So, here we have the first occasion on this page of a brewery winning beer of the month twice - and it couldn't happen to many better breweries than Oakham.  I've long been a fan of their hoppy, tasty and very mid-Atlantic brews, but don't get the impression that this beer is here because of some implied duty I feel to feature Oakham - no, I love their beers, but this one gets in on it's merits alone.

It's what I'd term a classic summer brew; pale, dry, bitter, refreshing and hoppy, but it has something else, that very rare quality of supreme drinkability which is just what you need with a summer thirst on, and at 3.4% it's perfect for this purpose.  For such a low strength brew it has plenty of flavour with a huge citrus, grapefruit and bitter hop blast rolling over the tongue which turns into a very dry bitterness in the finish with plenty of citrussy hop yet without any sticky malt which ruins many a summer beer; this is pure hoppy refreshment and one of the best beers I've had in this style for quite a while... and, if you want a style name, try "Boy's bitter" for size!

Other excellent beers drunk in July... Millstone's hoppy brews often don't get as much credit as they deserve and I'm more than happy to rectify this by saying I'm a huge fan of all their ales - probably owing to the very American hoprates and hop schedules - but this one, full of juicy Centennial, was especially good and had I not have supped the superb Oakham then it would have been my beer of the month.

I'm also pleased to report that Roosters seem to have remembered what hops are and, on the evidence of this recent beer, may soon be elevated to the highest echelon of my brewery league tables once again!  Boneshaker was made with the amazing New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hop, the one which tastes like gooseberries, nettles, lime juice and cat's piss, and had plenty of these characteristics all through it with a lovely tangy, bitter finish - top stuff.  Plus, their YPA isn't bad either at the moment...

Other notables I supped in August included more from the solidly impressive Hornbeam brewery, a deliciously chocolatey mild from the Hillsborough in Sheffield, Stonehenge's fruitily hoppy new Eye Opener, Vale Gravitas and a couple from Three B's which had plenty of promise.  No notable foreign beers were supped apart from a taster of Full Sail Topsail Porter which impressed with it's complexity and hint of bourbon, although we did share our last bottle of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe and it was simply stunning, but that's won already...

Beer of the Month - June 2008

Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co. From: Vista, California
Beer: West Coast IPA
Details: Draught in the East Village Tavern, Manhattan, NYC and in bottle from Bierkraft, Brooklyn.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !- 5.5!
2nd:  Lagunitas Maximus IIPA  3rd : Ocean IPA

Following on from the stupendous Weyerbacher Simcoe last month (although this is nowhere near as good in the bottle, it must be said) comes yet another hop-monster from across the pond, shagging our women and ruining our language... or something like that.  Whatever, this is one amazing beer which I think comes the closest to what I was looking for on my visit to the states with regards to pure unadulterated hop pleasure; this beer is all about the gorgeous character of American citrussy hops and not a lot else, so if you don't like hops then you probably won't agree with me!

I had West Coast IPA on draught (sorry, draft) in New York and thought it was a stunning beer and, if the truth be told, it probably would have won the beer of last month by miles had I not scooped it right after Weyerbacher Double Simcoe which kind of spoilt it's chances although I did rate it very highly at the time.  I brought a bottle back with me to see if it was as good the second time around and, if anything, it was even better - this is getting close to my idea of beer nirvana alright - with hop aromas exploding out of the bottle the instant it was opened!

Amber in colour, paler than most other IPA's I sampled from America, it has a stunning hop aroma of all the requisite USA hop aromas which you'd expect on a roll-call for an IPA but, somehow, they all seem so much more full of energy, life and enthusiasm(!) than in many of it's contempories somehow; rosepetals, grapefruit and lemon peel, crushed pine needles just like walking in an evergreen forest, lime marmalade and then some lovely soft fruits like raspberries, peaches and lychees.  The initial flavour was massively bitter yet impressively balanced by the rich maltiness before the hop flavours massed their troops over my tongue with all those sublime pine, peach, raspberry, grapefruit, lemon, rose and sticky hop resin tastes that I love and are just so redolent of American hops.

The finish turned more bitter (bitterer?!) yet with a mellowness that belied the huge IBU rating, with an endless sea of rose petals, citrus, pine and hop resins washed down with grapefruit and lemons... I just can't describe how good this beer is and how much I'm delighted to have discovered a beer this hoppy yet brewed very cleverly and with a very deft touch.  Sadly I don't think it's available in the UK as yet, but if it ever does come here then I'll be buying a case a week!  If you visit the states then search it out (or any of the brewery's other beers) and I don't think you'll be disappointed with the results.

Other excellent beers drunk in June...  The remainder of my American bottles were polished off with the standout brew being Lagunitas Maximus IIPA, a simpler brew than the Green Flash yet still with a deliciously pungent citrus hoppiness and luscious balancing candy-sugar maltiness.  From our Swedish visit to Gothenburg, some good brews were Dugges Holy Cow IPA, an obviously American-influenced brew with hopflower aromas and flavours of rosepetals and pine with the tell-tale citrussy blast of American hops well forwards in the taste.  Likewise,  Ocean IPA was another USA-like brew with plenty of thick malty body, rich and bitter citrus tastes and a good astringently bitter finish with yet more citrus and grapefruity hop character.

Back home, I enjoyed Alehouse Sauvin so Good a lot - although others didn't - due to it's amazing aroma and flavour of lime juice and gooseberries from the stupendous New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops.  Windsor Castle Mud City Stout was a dark, caramelly and rich delight with masses of plain chocolate (proper 70% cocoa stuff, not shite like Cadburys) and loads of character to match it's strength.  Prospect Nutty Slack  was an excellent deep brown roasty and treacly brew with a delicious sweet, nutty roast grain finish and, finally, it's always good to have a good beer from an old brewer who still knows how to make the stuff - Hambleton Joyride was pale, very bitter and with dollops of luscious blackcurrant fruit and a leafy hoppiness which suggested Bramling Cross hops... whatever, it was a lovely hoppy brew from a month which has given me some excellent beers for the list.

Beer of the Month - May 2008

Brewery: Weyerbacher From: Easton, Pennsylvania, USA
Beer: Double Simcoe IPA, 9%
Details: Tap in the East Village Tavern, Manhattan, New York.
Score: Absolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beer - what an absolute whopper !!!
2nd: Midnight Sun Mars, 3rd : Pictish Riwaka

I always knew that my trip to New York would rake in some massive scoops and, perhaps more importantly, open my eyes - and taste buds - to what's so special about American beer.  Having scooped 151 beers during my 151 hours in the country (but only just!) I feel happy that I've discovered a few things about the local "suds" during my trip...

Back to the beer... Alex Hall took me to a brand-new bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where the paint was barely dry and the staff were clearly still learning how the place rolled, but I had no complaints on the beer front!  The East Village Tavern serves over a dozen draught American micro-brews (plus one cask ale, Alex was installing the handpump during my two visits!) which included such delights as Green Flash IPA, an absolutely stunning beer from a brewery which is in my world top ten already, the famous Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA and something called Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA.

I knew that I liked Simcoe hops from several encounters with them, the most recent being the Shepherd Neame Stone IIPA, and so I parted with $7 for my 12oz glass of this 9% beast hoping it would live up to my expectations.  As soon as the glass was thrust towards me I could smell hops, which bode well, but I was totally unprepared for the colossal hop aroma which greeted my stunned sensory organs; the expected fresh, piney, citrus and very resinous hop nose was overlain by a simply sublime raspberry and peach fruit aroma which was so beguiling that it was a good five minutes before I could stop sniffing the glass - my fellow drinkers must have thought they had a right (East?) village idiot on their hands as I grinned ecstatically whilst smelling my beer!

When I finally got around to extracting my nose from the beer and supping some I knew immediately that I'd found one of my "holy grail" beers, one that I'd gladly take on a desert island and drink myself to a happy humulone-assisted death; the hop character was massive, spicy, citrussy and full-on yet wasn't harsh or overbearing and married perfectly with the slightly toffeeish malty body.  Those delicious raspberry hints were there again accompanied by gooseberry, blackcurrant, liquorice and sweet peachy tastes which swirled around my tongue as the brew progressed towards a massively hoppy climax with plenty of bitterness (rare in the American beers I've sampled thus far) but with the simply sublime hop flavours reigning supreme... I drained the glass with regret and, despite being totally desperate for scoops, almost ordered another - which is surely the sign of a classic beer!  I was only saved from hop starvation by Green Flash IPA which, amazingly, I could taste and came very close to the Weyerbacher's quality.

Let's get one thing straight - this isn't a beer for those who think the pinnacle of brewing is a dull UK Regional bitter or that hops shouldn't taste of anything other than Goldings, no sirree, but if you like extremely hoppy beers then you really should give this one a go.  It's extreme, yes, but that alone doesn't cut a lot of slack with me and I like to see something else in a beer, something which I'll call "brewer's skill" for lack of anything else to call it; anyone can make a strong beer with truckloads of hops in it but not everyone can make a massively hoppy beer as balanced, complex, non-harsh and damn-near perfect as this one... but Weyerbacher can, and they go straight into my all-time top ten with this beauty.

Other excellent beers drunk in May...

I had way too many to describe in detail so let's list a few of my favourites from May's New York trip...

Green Flash brewery shoot straight into my top-ten of brewers with their sublimely crafted and cleverly made beers; they're very hoppy, yes, but the hops are used with the touch of genius and meld together into a flavour which I found to be the epitome of what I look for in IPA's - if you see any of their beers, snap 'em up - they're top class, especially their West Coast IPA which is a gorgeous bit of hop-juice.

Strong stouts are something that American brewers have mixed results with as, personally, I don't really feel that roasty stout flavours work with citrus hops - although that's a personal thing!  North Coast Old Rasputin is definitely not in this mould, however, and it was a deliciously rich, thick and burnt brew with plenty of complexity and flavour plus bitter hops in the finish.

Most of the best beers I had in the USA were IPA's and, in yet another strange revelation, I found that I generally preferred IPA's to their stronger IIPA brothers owing to the over-boozy tastes found in the strong (9%+) IIPA's and the consequent overshadowing of hop character, whilst the weaker (although still potent) IPA's allowed the hop's flavour to blossom accompanied by a balancing toasty maltiness.  Some IIPA's I enjoyed, despite my preconceptions, were Midnight Sun Mars, a stunningly hopped deep red brew with luscious raspberry, pine and apricot Simcoe flavours and a huge fruity bitterness, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IIPA is a famous brew and I was pleased to find it a superbly balanced brew with plenty of citrus and European-tasting hops and toffee malt and, finally, Green Flash IIPA was hugely bitter with a massive pine and rosepetal hop hit, as is to be expected from such a top brewery.

Back to the standard IPA's then... Arcadia Hoprocket, their 11th anniversary beer, impressed on cask with a fresh sweet fruity hoppiness, Chelsea's Hop Angel did just what it said on the tap, Arcadia's hopmouth was to me more of an IPA than an IIPA although on the strong side and Lagunitas IPA impressed no end with it's superb fresh hop character and citrus blast - just what I imagined an American IPA would taste like!

An honourable mention must go to Dogfish Head for their amazingly subtle and complex Festina Peche Berliner Weisse; okay so it's not a real one and even in Germany they don't dump peaches in it, but it's subtleness, delicate touch and delicious interplay between the sweet fruit and sourness really impressed me - far more than their rancidly sickly World Wide Stout, and showed that American brewers are capable of a deft and subtle brush if they so wish.  Breweries which I liked a lot included Green Flash (sorry to keep harping on about them, but they're just superb!), Smuttynose, Allagash and Dogfish Head.

It's easy to forget the home-grown talent after such a monumental trip (emphasis on the mental), but I've recapped the UK beers I had before I went away and found some crackers.  Pictish, unsurprisingly, win the day for my UK collection with their simply stunning Riwaka - 110% pure, fresh, juicy and tangy hops, simply superb - and the deliciously sessionable Pale'n'Oppy wasn't bad either.  Acorn Chinook IPA continues their tradition of single-hopped 5% beers which have been variable in hop character but they must have been saving it up for this beauty; a massive lip-smacking grapefruit and citrus flavour blew away all but the very best at Reading beer festival.  York Pure Gold was a stunning pale gold brew with masses of citrus hops and bitterness, Naylor's Centennial is the best beer I've had from that brewery and showcased the lovely flavours of the Centennial hop, but to prove it's not just pale and hoppy beers I love I must mention one of my favourite brewers, Hornbeam, who have produced another corker by the name of Malt Mountain Mild - if you think mild is boring, you need to try this!  Brewdog Edge was another good mild and at a ludicrously low 2.7% too...



Beer of the Month - April 2008

Brewery: Oakham From: Peterborough, UK
Beer: Haka, 5.7%
Details: Cask-conditioned in the Dragon, Worcester.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Before I start I suppose I should admit that I love Oakham beers and have done ever since they roared onto the scene with JHB (now sadly a pale shadow of it's former self) and showed the UK just how good Mount Hood hops could taste.  Recently, however, they seem to have lost a lot of their former brilliance, no doubt partly due to the worldwide hop shortage, plus their move from the old brewpub into a larger brewery south of the city may have had some effect... whatever, their beers - whilst still good - seemed to have lost their magic of late.

Well, that's what I thought until I tasted Haka!  I'd missed it the previous year and so was delighted to see it on the bar in the Dragon, Worcester, although Richard assured me that this year's version was different using the premier division-like hop strikeforce of Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka rather than the previous year's Pacific Gem.  With the much-publicised hop shortage in America, brewers have been investigating countries formerly out of bounds for supplies of hops and have unearthed some gems, with the deliciously gooseberryish Nelson Sauvin being a personal favourite and so, with this in mind, I ordered my pint and raised it to my nose.

The aroma wasn't anything mind-blowing with fruity hop on the aroma, but the taste was something else entirely... a massively bitter flavour whacked me in the tongue along with, as I became accustomed to this fearsome assault, grapefruit, mandarin oranges, limes, honey, tropical fruit and a juicy, sappy hop taste which was simply amazing - I'd not had an Oakham beer this hoppy and fresh since Inferno a year or so back and to say I was impressed would be an understatement!  The finish was supremely bitter yet balanced by the substantial malt body and sappy, fruity, resinous hops which hid the alcohol very well and gave an overall experience of having chewed a load of hops and was also very refreshing... the best Oakham beer I've had for a long time and yet another showcase for the gorgeous New Zealand hops!

Other excellent beers drunk in April...

Quite a few to go through here... Hornbeam Winterlong continued the run of deliciously complex brews from Denton with their trademark honeyed hints, whilst Red Rock Driftwood was one of the best UK bottle-conditioned beers I've had for a long time with some rosepetally hops and a good nettley, hoppy finish.  Elgood's Old Wag was another cracker from this seriously underrated regional with a smack of citrus hop and a nutty, malty flavour with a bitter and American-inspired finish.

I can't not have a Pictish beer in this column and so this month's cracker was Admiral, a dry pale brew with the usual high bitterness and a luscious apricot and pineapple fruit character.  Fernandes Dragonslayer was a massive beast of a stout, very roasty and burnt, yet with a plenty of drinkability for such a bitter and roasted ale whilst, on the other side of the spectrum entirely, Leeds Ascension was another delicious pale ale from this very impressive brewery and had plenty of rose-petal hops along with citrus and pine tastes and finished bitter yet tasty and very moreish.

I can't not mention the beer everyone was talking about during April, namely Shepherd Neame Stone California IIPA, so I will... yes it was an extreme beer with loads of delicious piney fresh hops on the nose (my favourite bit!) and an impressive hopping ratio on the tongue, but I found the bitterness too harsh - almost certainly due to Target hops being used - and this spoilt the overall experience for me although it was certainly an interesting, different and opinion-dividing beer which seems to have got a lot of scoopers talking about beer tastes again... which can't be a bad thing, can it?  See here and here for my impressions of the Stone.


Beer of the Month - March 2008

Brewery: Elgoods From: Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK
Beer: Black Dog Mild, 3.4%
Details: Cask-conditioned in the Saracen's Head, Worcester.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Now this month's choice is a right turn up for the books.  For a start, my beer of the month is from the UK, secondly it's from a regional brewer (albeit one of the best) and thirdly it wasn't a scoop!  Amazing but true...

On a recent wander around Worcester we arrived at the Saracen's Head where an amazing sight awaited us in the back bar - a pair of cask-conditioned milds graced the pumps and so, despite scoops waiting in the Dragon, we took full advantage of such a fortuitous occasion and had 3 pints each!  Proper mild is rare in any circumstances these days, but it's very rare in Worcester (if you rightly ignore Banks' "original") and the notion of two being on at the same time in a free house would have raised an incredulous laugh from me if such a thing had been suggested a mere five minutes earlier...

Windsor Castle mild was a lovely reddy-brown brew very much in the Black Country tradition with lots of sweet malt, toffee and caramel and scored a very respectable 4.5 on the Gazza scale, but the surprise beer of the day was Elgood's Black Dog which, despite not having the courage to call itself a mild, was undoubtedly one of the species and a superb example at that.  With my first sip I was whisked back to the late 1980's and my favourite ever dark mild, that from Burtonwood, and as I relished in the lovely juicy barley flavour overlain by roasted, toasty grain, liquorice toffee and bitterness I was amazed at just how good a beer this was; how had I overlooked it's seductive roasty charms for so many years?

The answer, predictably, is desperation - I've had a few halves of it in the past but these have generally been rushed affairs when nothing scoopable was available at the pub I'd visited and so had swigged a swift half of mild out of politeness.  Now I know different, although I should have guessed it would be good as Elgoods are one of the very few regionals I have any time for these days and their inventive, tasty brews are easily good enough to pass as those from a micro, and that's praise indeed from me.

So, three pints of roasty delight later, we managed to resist ordering another round and departed for a round of scooping (which wasn't all bad as the delicious Pictish Bravo was on the pumps) but this brush with one of the UK's last few traditional dark milds - very much in the Northern style, too - has reminded me that I grew up in Cheshire drinking mild and, 18,000 beers and 20 years later, it's still something I really enjoy doing... it just proves I did know something when I were a lad!

Other excellent beers drunk in March...

The Elgood's partner in crime that day, Sadler's Mild, was tremendously enjoyable and it was just unlucky that I preferred the Elgoods on the day!  Another beer drunk that Saturday was Pictish Bravo which exuded all the sweet, fruity delights of a ripe pineapple along with a predictable Pictish bitter finish and some citrussy notes although the pineapple character of the bravo hop went all through this deliciously moreish brew; another cracker from my favourite UK brewer, then.  Red Rock Humber Down mild (yes, another mild!) was a nice complex toasty brew and excellent drinking, as was Beowulf Noble bitter with it's full-bodied malt, hop and fruit flavour.

Other UK beers appreciated were Brewdog Punk IPA from bottle which had a delicious sweet hoppiness and an unusual English "hopsack" aroma and flavour with a lovely sticky resinous mouthfeel in the finish instead of the far more common American citrus/pine hop character we're all used to these days.  Another notable bottled UK brew (amazingly enough) was the bottle-conditioned Meantime Wintertime, a dark brown sweetish and very malty beer with a distinct beechwood smoke character (how very Bamberg) that meshed perfectly with the other flavours and turned a good dark ale into a complex and delicious brown ale and further increased my admiration of Meantime's brewing prowess.

Moving abroad now to Croatia where the local Medvedgrad beers don't seem to have changed a great deal in the five years since my last visit despite them having moved out of their brewpub home to a purpose-built plant outside Zagreb.  The best of the beers is still Zlatni Medvjed, a deliciously malty, herby, bitter and very lemony brew with a dry bitter citrussy finish from, presumably, Slovenian Goldings and a real pleasure to drink, although their other beers weren't quite as interesting and their strong offering, Grička Vještica, was sadly underpowered for it's lofty 7% ABV.

The old Medvedgrad brewpub is now home to the Zlatno Pivo company which, I think, doesn't brew on-site anymore but might brew it's beers elsewhere but they are more likely to simply be rebadges of the Medvedgrad beers - they certainly tasted similar to me, although the food was excellent and for that I almost forgive them!  Another Croatian beer worth a go is Ličanka Velebitsko Svijetlo from a micro up in the mountains down towards Ogulin and it seems to be more widely available than previously although, I understand from Marko in Croatia, that the brewery's quality has dipped markedly recently.  The pale lager is still a decent brew however with a long, dry, bitter character including some citrussy hints and a balancing maltiness before a very dry and bitter finish, but the dark (temno) has lost a lot of it's previous character and is now just a decent enough dark lager with a slug of chocolateyness in it's makeup.


Beer of the Month - February 2008

Brewery: Hubertus Kácov From: Kácov, Středočeský kraj, Czech Republic
Beer: Hubertus Kvasnicové 12°, 5%
Details: Draught in U Klokočnika, Nusle, Praha 02/02/2008.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

This month's winner is neither a huge bruising stout nor some massively hopped American-style beer but one of those brews which it's incredibly difficult to get right - Czech Pilsener.  Obviously it's not the Pilsener as that's nowhere near four-star material these days, but an example made by one of the small Czech regional brewers who beaver away making beer for their regular customers and have probably never heard of Ratebeer or Beer Advocate and almost certainly would never class their beer as anything other than "the best beer we can make" whilst the notion of it being "beer of the month" to a foreigner would be absurd.

On our recent Prague tour Dean and I visited some out-of-the-way bars in the hope of finding some different beer and, in U Klokočnika, we did just that; this bar is a small street-corner local's pub sitting on a quiet lane in the far outskirts of Prague in Nusle, a place where tourists never go, and the only custom is from those living nearby or those who travel to drink the beer.  The pub itself is nothing special whatsoever with it's small bar adorned with happy drinkers, a larger main room with a smoke-filled atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a reasonably blunt penknife and a back room used for events and suchlike... nothing special at all, but fulfilling it's role in the world admirably and, best of all, no English is spoken - the true sign of a non-tourist bar!

What was special was the beer.  Kácov is a small-ish brewer from the region around Prague who officially only produce two beers, a výčepní (tap) and stronger 12° called Hubertus, but U Klokočnika have somehow managed to persuade them to supply both in kvasnicové (yeasty) versions which are simply stunning examples of what a proper Czech Pilsener should taste like; no strong bitterness or tastes out of place, just perfectly brewed lagers.

My Hubertus was slightly hazy yet a classic deep golden colour, nothing different there, but what immediately came across was the sweetish, peachy, fruity and spicily hoppy aroma; it was simply divine and I spent a few minutes simply sniffing the glass with a big grin on my face!  I thought that there was no way the flavour could match that bewitching aroma but I was wrong - a gorgeous full-bodied maltiness (as you'd expect from a Czech 12°) overlain by more peachy fruit, a gentle bitterness, fresh hoppiness and even some lemony hints... The finish was complex and flavoursome yet perfectly balanced and I was gutted when my glass became empty...

Drinking such a classic brew in a perfect pub such as U Klokočnika meant that this beer was one of my best "beer moments" for ages and, to me at least, is close to my ideal of the ultimate incarnation of a 12° Czech lager and one of the best brews I've had the fortune to drink for a very long time... and all for 17Kč a half-litre!  The locals who frequent this magical place don't know how lucky they are...

Other excellent beers drunk in February...

We had some delicious brews during our short two days in Prague including the amazing Old Gott from U Medvídků which, if you tasted it blind, you'd probably swear was a "proper" Flemish red such is the lactic sourness and wood-aged intensity of the flavour - plus the amazing prune beer (Zmenšit Špeciálne) was pretty good too with a bewildering flavour of marzipan over kirsch... honestly!

The whole range of beers from Polička sampled in Hrom do Police were impressive, particularly the kvasnicové versions, with their rich worty flavours and bolshy hoppiness; no shrinking violets there, then!  Of the Prague brewpubs, Polotmavý Kvasnicové from the very new Bašta brewpub was rich, apricot-like and toasty in it's soft, malty way and both beers (Svĕtlý and Černý) from Richter were solidly brewed, tasty, excellent examples of modern brewpub takes on the Czech standards - full of flavour yet still in touch with the styles.

Back home, February was a good month for me with quite a few good beers consumed at the surreal Oakwood beer festival which, for those who've not been, is held in a school with various rooms scattered around containing caches of beers!  I was particularly pleased to scoop Darkside from the recently resurrected Fox & Newt in Leeds as I'd heard John Eastwood was providing consultancy - and it showed!  Whilst all previous offerings have been repulsive malt extract fluids this was a proper roasty, malty stout with a delicious sweet fruitiness in the background; top stuff.

Other notable highlights were K9 and 1077 from an old favourite, Barngates, both pale, citrussy and bitter in the modern English "golden" style yet with enough hops to make them serious.  I was relieved not to miss two Thornbridge Hall brews, Volande Porter (8%) and Halcyon IIPA (7.7%), both as good as I'd hoped; Volande was deep red, toffee-ish rich and oily with plenty of body and flavour whilst Halcyon was pretty much as diametrically opposed as could be with a huge malty body supporting bags of rosepetal and citrus bitterness leading to a dry, very bitter yet complex and delicious finish - Thornbridge do it yet again!

Back in Sheffield, the Bath Hotel provided Acorn Mount Hood IPA which, in keeping with Acorn's excellent standard, didn't disappoint with a big malty body, lots of tongue-curling bitterness plus a hefty hedgerow fruitiness which I suspect came from the hops, giving an excellent overall flavour and one I hope is rebrewed in the future...


Beer of the Month - January 2008

Brewery: Del Borgo From: Borgorose, Lazio, Italy
Beer: ReAle Extra, 6.4%
Details: Cask conditioned in Ma che siete venuti a fŕ, Rome.
Score: Absolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beer - one of my top ten beers of all-time!!

Cascade, Amarillo and Tomahawk are the holy trinity of hops used in this gorgeous amber brew which makes for a total American lupulin-fest.  The nose is like nothing else I've ever smelt before; citrus, rose petals, pine, resins, peachy fruit and simply gorgeously inviting; I'd happily buy that aroma as an aftershave!  The flavour starts off with a huge blast of bitterness yet this recedes and allows the complexity and character through with sweet maltiness balancing pine needles, citrus, more Turkish delight-like tastes and a whole range of fruity, leafy and lemony hoppiness.  The finish is the work of a true craftsman with the substantial bitterness being held in perfect balance by the juicy maltiness and incredible hop character with all the previous tastes coming through - pine, rose, citrus, even some tobacco and lime zest!

After I'd finished my first swig I must have just stood there with a shocked look on my face for I knew, even after one mouthful, that this was a beer that offered exactly what I want - massive complexity, loads of interesting hops, bitterness and overall great balance - this beer has all those but it's the way the massive flavours are synchronised that really impressed me; anyone can brew a beer with these four hops and make it "extreme", but it takes a lot of skill to make such a beer as excellently balanced as this is; Leonardo the brewer is an artist in beer.

We had this in bottle too and, despite looking a lot darker than the cask version, it tasted just as gorgeously hoppy... Del Borgo bottle their beers in shapely and very attractive bottles and seem to have got the bottle conditioning spot-on too, definitely one of my top breweries after sampling just six of their brews!

Other excellent beers drunk in January:

A great few nights spent in Ma che siete venuti a fŕ in Rome brought out some excellent brews; Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (5.2%) was a lovely, fresh, bitter North German style beer brew, Dolle Oerbier Reserva 2006 (13%) had all the lip-smacking lactic and acetic acidity with lots of woody, winey backup, Drie Fonteinen Doesjel (6%) was simply a stunning "flat" lambic possessing that delicious Maderia-like mellowness with a lot of Girardin Black Label character, then Panil Barriquée (sour version, 8%) was loaded with lacticity and wood-aged character and tasted very much like a quality Flemish red. 

In the UK camp only two beers really impressed, both at the Wellington's festival; Slater's Bitter (3.6%) was stunning for it's sprightly strength with a honeyed maltiness over a dry bitter taste followed with a bitter, malty and fruity finish, everything a low-ABV bitter should be, suppable yet with loads of character.  Abbeydale have, in my opinion, been nowhere near as good as they used to be in recent years but Deception (4.1%) put a stop to that run of bad results; using New Zealand's amazing Nelson Sauvin hops this stunner had massive gooseberry and elderflower aromas and tasted "just like a NZ Sauvignon Blanc" according to my tasting notes - extreme but very interesting!


Beer of the Month - December 2007

Brewery: Great Divide From: Denver, Colorado
Beer: Yeti Imperial Stout, 9.5%.
Details: 355ml Bottle in the Rake, Borough Market, London.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

I bet you never thought you'd hear this one... Gazza going on about how good an American beer is!  Well, despite giving the impression I'm a parochial, miserable old fucker with ne'er a good word to say about our across-the-pond bretheren, you'd be mistaken in thinking so as, being a lover of the hop, America has a lot to offer people like me.

So, during my recent trip to Laaarndon taaaahn, I was in the fortunate position of being in the superb Rake bar in Borough Market with a Yeti in front of me.  Not a big hairy monster, before you suggest that, no - I'm sure John Bratley was in the Wenlock - but a bottle of Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout.  Despite the astronomical cost of Ł5 or so (I can't remember how much it was now, I think my brain has blacked it out lest I realise I was fleeced) I was determined to try this beer as I love a dark beer as much as the next man, plus one with lots of hops in might just be my idea of a really, really good time...

I must admit to being a little apprehensive as to whether it would be too over the top in the flavour stakes as, despite loving big, complex beers, I don't really like huge unwieldy flavours as anyone can brew beer like that; if the UK beer scene has taught me one thing it's that complexity married with subtlety and a delicate brush can create some fabulous taste sensations.  Well, subtlety wasn't the Yeti's way at all, and for the first few sips I wasn't sure at all - was this just another clumsy palate-blaster with no charm underneath all those huge flavours?  Happily, this proved not to be the case the further I got down the glass with, underneath the huge roast and spicy hop character lurked candy sugar, bitterness, rose-petal hops and a distinct spiciness with a huge blast of resinous, bitter hops.  The finish was surprisingly balanced despite the beer's obvious power and I was impressed with the way the flavours were kept more-or-less in balance although there's no denying this is a monster of a beer and not for those who only like UK Regional beers!

I could taste the acrid, burnt roasty grain and bitterness long into my journey back to the hotel out in East London, so maybe I did get my money's worth out of this one... !

Other excellent beers drunk in December :

Brewdog's interesting Paradox stout is aged in different whisky casks which gives surprisingly diverse results; I liked the Ardbeg (batch 9) and Glen Moray (batch 5) but didn't really get on with the Bowmore (batch 8) - although I don't really like Bowmore anyway which may explain this!  I also loved Meantime's lusciously hoppy and citrussy Pale Ale plus their deliciously roasty London Stout in their brewery tap, the Greenwich Union.

A Ratebeer meeting in Glasgow introduced me to some hefty delights such as Sweden's Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter 2006 and the American Weyerbacher Old Heathen and Pizza Port Hop15 which were all big beers yet had a good deal of complexity and balance about them.  In Vienna, 1516 finally showed me why it's so highly rated with a lovely Weyermann Red Lager and tongue-curlingly bitter Yankee Sticke plus a pretty decent Hop Devil IPA.  The usual suspects Siebensternbräu, Wiedenbräu and the new Eipeltauer all provided me with well-made and tasty beers, proving that a trip to Vienna is still a highlight on Europe's boozy tour.


Beer of the Month - November 2007

Brewery: Pictish From: Rochdale, Manchester
Beer: Samhain Stout, cask-conditioned, 5%.  Seasonal for Halloween.
Details: Handpump in the Dragon, Worcester, 17th November.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Okay, okay, so I love Pictish beers - but don't let that make you think I am totally obsessed by the delicious hop-laden nectar from this brewery... oops, sorry about that, got carried away with devotion...

Being in the Dragon in Worcester just after Halloween I was fortunate to encounter one of my favourite Pictish brews, the superb Samhain Stout.  As the name implies this only appears once a year, at Halloween, which is a real shame - this jet-black brew is a "proper" stout in all senses and a truly excellent beer.

I was only going to have a half but, so good was this demonic brew, that I did something I've not done for a good many years and got one of those rancid 4-pint beige carry out things filled in order to contemplate it further at home.  As the beer warmed it developed a myriad of explosive flavours which all, somehow, kept themselves in an orderly queue and took it in turns to parade across the tastebuds; roast grain, toffee, liquorice, treacle, espresso, a hefty bitterness, juicy red fruit, a full-bodied maltiness and even some delicate nutty notes swirled around inside my mouth to give a truly amazing combination of flavours - and, amazingly, they were all perfectly integrated so as to give a mouth-filling blast of taste and stouty character.

I realise that this massive brew may be too "in yer face" or "OTT" for some people - fair enough - but I simply love it and can't wait for the end of October next year in order to delight my senses with such an interesting, complex and downright amazing stout which ticks all the boxes a proper stout should do; absolutely stunning.

Other excellent beers drunk in November :

Thornbridge Kipling, Rulles Blonde, Hornbeam Bitter and Dark Domination, George Wright Pure Blonde and Teignworthy Climate Change.


Beer of the Month - October 2007

Brewery: Cardos Cerveza Artesanal From: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Beer: Barley Wine, 12%, Bottle-conditioned 500ml bottle.
Details: Drunk at a restaurant out in the sticks in Argentina at Capilla del Seńor.
Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !


I was impressed by Cardos' Cream Stout (6%, Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !) during my last visit to Argentina, but I didn't know the depth of quality in all their beers until I had the opportunity to drink all four at a meal hosted by Argentinean micro-brewers from Murrays and Cardos.  I'd already enjoyed the Pilsener (Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !) and Scotch Ale (Une Point !Une Point !, not to my taste but well-made) and thought that this one would be the methsy, over-strong and unbalanced runt of the litter... how wrong I was!

Most barley wines are huge, strong, palate-blasters and a glass of that is generally enough for me (although the Argentines seem good at stronger beers) but this was a stunner; an amber brew with a gorgeously inviting hue of ruby shot through it, the aroma was beguilingly winey and malty with just a hint of fruitiness but the real surprise was the subtle and complex flavour; a full maltiness, without being too heavy, was joined by a strawberry fruitiness, Madeira, toffee, some dryness and a hint of alcohol burn although all the flavours were integrated into one smooth wholeness rather than milling around the tongue causing mischief as is common in such strong beers. To get a 12% beer so balanced and subtle yet still very drinkable is an artform – and this beer is a masterpiece!

It scored a resounding five out of five (almost my highest score... not a lot gets five!) and I honestly think I tried to eschew all thoughts of "time and place" from my rating of the beer; it really was that good!  I brought two bottles back with me and, sadly, the first one totally failed to live up to my hype and would only have scored a 3, so the other is staying put in our cellar for six months to allow it to build up some maturity - then, I hope, I will be able to recreate that special moment at home!

Cardos beers aren't available in Europe so to try it you'll just have to travel to Buenos Aires - but that's not really a hardship as it's a fascinating city with a great beer culture and plenty to see... if you do go, Cardos is usually available at the following places;


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