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 2010 

Last Updated : 27/12/10

The Pub of the Month pages are here...

If any of the winners actually wants a certificate commemorating this great event in their careers then let me know and I'll see what I can knock up in Paintshop Pro...

kay, I know this is what all those posey blog writers (and even some beer writers) do, but I've had some superb beers recently and thought to myself "Gazza, how can you not bore your reader with the gen on these whoppers?" and so, always one for listening to strange voices telling me to do things, hey ho here we go...  hopefully this will develop into a monthly post if I can be arsed, but as that's the main reason I don't do a blog - my general lack of being arsed - we'll have to see about that one (it seems to have thus far!)

Click the links here to see previous beers of the month pages from 2008 and 2009.

My current beers of the month for 2011 are to be found here... here's a summary of 2010.

  • January 2010 : Trois Dames Bise Noire

  • February 2010 : Harwich Town Phoenix APA

  • March 2010 : Lambrate Ligera

  • April 2010 : Mallinson's Bettison's Tower

  • May 2010 : Hopworks (HUB) Organic IPA

  • June 2010 : Little Ale Cart Gladiateur

  • July 2010 : Mallinson's Hops at Work

  • August 2010 : Saints & Sinners (Brewwharf) Military Intelligence Black IPA

  • September 2010 : Jovarų Alus Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus

  • October 2010 : Brewdog Tesco's Finest American IPA

  • November 2010 : St Austell James' Flemish Red, St Austell, Cornwall

  • December 2010 : Oakham Crackers, Peterborough

With my overall champion beer of the year being the glorious Hopworks IPA!

Beer of the Month - December 2010

Brewery: Oakham From: Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
Beer: Crackers Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.2%, cask at the Wellington, Birmingham
2nd: Windsor Castle Hop Bomb    3rd : Little Ale Cart Pacific Dominion
UK scoops during the month :  50 Foreign scoops during the month : 7

It’s not fair, it really isn’t… even being brutally honest I’d have given beer of the month to one of our Steel City brews but that’d be like <cue festive gag> Turkeys voting against Xmas!  So, as that’s not allowed on “conflict of interest” grounds (but our Vladichestvo and Mother Russia were very good!), here’s my alternative selection of the month’s best brews… it’s not too shabby, rest assured!

Oakham; the mere mention of the word conjures up aromas of hops and quality beer so it’s no surprise that the winner is one of their pale hop-monsters!  Scooped in the Wellington, Birmingham, Crackers was nothing like the archetypal winter brew as in it was a) very pale, b) a mere 4.2%, c) had no rancid spices in it and d) was very hoppy indeed… just the way I like my beer and exactly what I’d been hoping for from one of my favourite UK brewers after a series of spicy brown dross.

Very pale in colour, presumably from low-colour malt, with a fruity, oily and ganja-esque hoppiness leaking out all over the place which I’d hazard a guess is at least partly from Columbus hops.  The flavour followed exactly to the aroma with a gentle honey maltiness overpowered immediately by bucketloads of lovely fresh, resinous hops, so many it almost tasted oily!  A good, solid bitterness developed into the finish but the huge resinous and “Amsterdam coffee house” aromatics and flavours never left and built into a huge punch in the aftertaste with a delicious fresh hoppiness, soft yet powerful bitterness and even a smidgeon of the honeyed malt peeping above the lupulin parapet; quite definitely not a winter beer but quite definitely a million times better than anything with spices added to it… this was my kind of beer 100% and I don’t care what time of year I drink them!  Pure hop heaven.

Runner-up this month is a surprising beer from a brewpub in the Black Country better known for it’s very good modern interpretations of Black Country beer and a few more interesting concoctions.  Hop Bomb isn’t a term I’d immediately associate with Windsor Castle brewery (Sadler’s Ales) of Lye, Stourbridge, but this was quite definitely one if not along the same lines as the Oakham which I’d drink a couple of rounds later on!  Scored in the Wellington, Birmingham, at the same session, this was a pale ale with a deliciously “Black Country” worty aroma allied with some pretty serious juicy hop aromas although they were more European than overtly American in character (although some of the established US hops such as Willamette and Mount Hood are more difficult to distinguish so I could be wrong!).

The flavour was very worty and malty, distinctly “Black Country” in it’s under attenuation, allied to a pretty substantial grassy, leafy hop flavour which had hints of lemons, blackcurrants, hay, fresh-mown grass and other fruits swirling around the basic hoppy, oily character. The finish ended satisfyingly flavoursome with plenty of the sweet maltiness remaining plus a good sharp bitterness and more juicy, grassy and still complex hoppiness spilling over into the aftertaste where it lingered for a fair while; this was a cracker of a brew from a brewery I very much admire but which rarely lets rip with the hops as much as this and, hopefully, heralds a more experimentative side the operation!

Finally we have Little Ale Cart Pacific Dominion, one of a pair of brews (the other was Dominion Pacific!) brewed with entirely New Zealand hops and showcasing the superb Nelson Sauvin and promising newcomer Pacific Jade excellently.  Pale – as you’d expect from LAC – with plenty of new-world gooseberry aromas and flavours allied to a decent bitterness, firm malt backbone and plenty of hop oils oozing out of the glass into the air!  Spicy citrus was obvious in the flavour, presumably from Pacific Jade, but the Nelsons trumped everything with a big sour tropical fruit blast and brought this hop beast to a juicy, bitter and pungently hoppy conclusion, one of their best yet… and that’s praise indeed.

Mentions in dispatches : Beowulf’s once-a-year beast of a brew Killer Stout was as black as a Hades coal cellar with masses of liquorice, burnt grain, bitterness, molasses and almost too much flavour for it’s own good although the surprising dryness saved it from being sticky and the finish was massively complex and burnt yet everything fell into place… somehow!  Mallinson’s Falling Hops was yet another cracker from Tara and Elaine with all the requisite factors present and correct; pale malt, soft bitterness, luscious hop aroma and fresh, pungent hopleaf taste which combined to give an effortlessly drinkable pint… and so we did, quite a few of!  I really like Blue Monkey’s consistency and commercially-minded yet interesting brews and Ape Ale was no exception; sweetish maltiness melded well with a decent hop punch before a beautifully put together fruity, hoppy, bitter and malty finish with everything perfectly matched yet sooooo commercially friendly!  Finally, lest you think I’ve turned “Flat Earth Society” and think nowhere outside the UK exists (I haven’t, we just didn’t go away in December and only drank a measly 7 Foreign beers!!), Odell IPA was, in contrast to most of their other fairly boring brews, powerfully hopped which worked well with the almost “Mid-Atlantic” paleness of it’s malt!  A restrained yet flavoursome combination of malt, bitterness, citrus, rosepetals, pine and sweet tropical fruit brought this easy-going yet still decenty hoppy brew to a finale with dry malt and plenty of rosepetals in the fruity aftertaste; not bad at all.

Beer of the Month - November 2010

Brewery: St Austell From: St Austell, Cornwall
Beer: James’ Flemish Red Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 6%, unpasteurised keg at the St Austell brewery Celtic beer festival
2nd: St Austell Starling's Dance IPA    3rd : Adnams Ghost Ship
UK scoops during the month :  74 Foreign scoops during the month : 11

It's an all Regional brewer month is November, although these two are rapidly gaining plaudits for the innovation in their brewing portfolio!

No trips abroad this month means several things including no bizarre beers that require an extended character set to spell and, unless I’ve had anything particularly good in bottle, a UK beer will be my best of the month… which is what has happened!

My first visit to the St Austell Celtic beer festival was all booked weeks before an incident which saw Steel City’s bag of Weyermann Carafa Spezial sent in error down to… St Austell!  This provided us with the opportunity, at the invitation of St Austell’s innovative and respected head brewer Roger Ryman, to showcase one of our beers at the event and, obviously, we couldn’t turn an invitation like that down so the company Insignia became – yet again – the Steel City dray and delivered a 9 of Nightmare on Henry Street directly to the brewery loading bay!  As good as “Nightmare” was I’ve banned myself from selecting our own brews as beers of the month so, despite us coming in the top three, yet again I have to choose other beers for the “podium”.

What does all this gibberish have to do with my beer of the month, you may ask?  Well, my top beer of the month was from that festival and I could have chosen a dozen more to fill the second and third slots, but the real revelation to me was the sheer experimentation in brewing the multitude of festival special beers (there were over 30 St Austell beers on sale, many one-offs!) and obvious love of trying out new things and new processes that the festival showcased.

My top beer of November, then, was St Austell James’ Flemish Red which, I must admit, didn’t inspire a great deal of optimism as, having sampled UK brewers’ attempts at esoteric European style beers on a number of occasions, I was fully expecting something about as far removed from Rodenbach and it’s ilk as it’s possible to be… imagine, then, my reaction on sniffing the glass of beer and my sensory organs filling with aromas of acetic acid, caramel, sour red fruits and spicy rum; this was one characterful beer alright, and one which was making a pretty decent go of smelling like a proper Flemish Red… but how would the flavour compare to the real thing?  Surely they couldn’t emulate such a bizarre beer style, especially in a UK regional brewery?

Well, how wrong was I to doubt St Austell?  In my defence I must say that it was only my third beer of the day and I’d not yet realised just how good the one-off beers were, but even so… this is probably the best rendition of this stupendously difficult style I’ve tasted and that includes some of the much-vaunted US brews which, to be honest, just don’t cut it at all.  A near-perfect combination of sour vinegar, woodiness, sweet yet sour malt, a caramelly dryness and even more vinegary, acetic and massively complex woody flavours – again with a hint of rum – amazed me with their authenticity and outright gorgeousness and, had I not had dozens of other beers I really wanted to try, this would have been my beer of choice all day.  It’s rare I’ve had a beer which is as true to the style and flavour of the original and they couldn’t really have picked a more difficult beer style to recreate!  So, with that in mind and the lingering memories of that puckeringly acetic yet deliciously moreish flavour still fresh in my mind, here’s to this amazingly accomplished brew appearing again… come on, guys, it’s a classic!

In second place comes yet another St Austell brew, Starling’s Dance IPA.  This beer is along more traditional lines than the Flemish Red yet still manages to mash up the classic expectations of an IPA; this isn’t your average American IPA, nor the standard UK take or even the “new style” UK IPA but a kind of strange hybrid of all of them which, somehow, works an absolute treat.    At 6% it’s a decent strength but this is never obvious and, straight from the off, it’s apparent that this brew is all about the hops with a lovely fruity, leafy nose supported by good biscuity maltiness.  The flavour expands of these themes with the solid malt base overlain by layers of hop giving bitterness, astringency, dryness, hop resins, grass, hay, fruit and some citrus before everything meshes together almost flawlessly in the big bitter, hoppy, malty finish with plenty of hop flavours to contemplate in there; as I said, it’s not easy to pigeonhole this brew so why bother?  Let’s just say it’s a great example of innovative British brewing and let it’s flavour do the talking.

Finally, we come to a surprising entry and one from a brewery which, despite it’s recent reputation for fermenting it’s own revolution in interesting beer down on the coast, has always left me somewhat underwhelmed.  At the last McSpoons beer festival, though, was an Adnams beer which claimed to contain Citra, one of the most interesting and flavoursome new-wave American hops, and I was determined to try this brew above all the others on the list (after trying about half of the others I gave up, tired of boring brown malty 1970’s UK bitters…)

After a number of frustrating near-misses (where the beer was always “coming soon”) I finally caught up with Ghost Ship in the Worcester Postal Order and was very surprised by it’s incredibly pale colour, the same kind of pale-ness seen in “Mid-Atlantic” pale ales from micro brewers who use low-colour malt and it was definitely not something I expected to see from a regional brewer!  Thinking the colour would be the best bit of the beer I sniffed the glass and was rewarded with the unmistakable aroma of catty tropical fruits, the tell-tale sign of the glorious Citra hop, allied to a mashy, grainy maltiness; not a bad start!

I’d be lying if I said this was up there with the Little Ale Carts and Steel Cities (!) of the new-wave brewing revolution but, considering it comes from a regional brewer, it’s nothing short of amazing to see, smell and taste something like this and – considering St Austell are also coming on strong these days – I have a very good feeling that, at last, the remaining regional brewers are waking up to the fact that they need to brew interesting, innovative beer to survive and it’s simply not good enough to carry on churning out the same brown boring bitters they have done for the past few centuries!

The flavour had more mangoey, passion fruity Citra and a straightforwards citrussy bitterness with, as in the aroma, a grainy, mashy maltiness to counteract the hops although, personally, I’d have liked to have seen more hoppiness and bitterness… but that’s me!  If I take this beer on pure face value it’s pretty good bordering on very good, but (and I’ve said already this today!) considering it’s from a traditional old regional brewer it’s nothing short of revelatory with a good fruity hoppiness and superb colour, and was easily the best beer of the 30 I tried during the festival…  I may have to re-think my attitude to regionals if they keep producing stuff like this; keep it up, Adnams!

Other good beers drunk in November. 

Honourable mentions must also go to St Austell’s Smuggler’s Barley Wine with it’s superb rum cask flavour, Little Ale Cart’s deliciously hoppy Diamond Jubilee, Shotover and Pearl Diver, plus half a dozen other St Austell beers (Proper Black, Son of a Gun, Starling’s Dance, Smugglers 2010 and more) and, from the meagre Foreign tally this month, Arcadia Sky High Rye and Green Flash Barley wine.

Beer of the Month - October 2010

Brewery: Brewdog From: Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Beer: Tesco's Finest American IPA Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 9.2%, unpasteurised bottle from Tesco.
2nd: Little Ale Cart Oxfordshire    3rd : Port Brewing Midnight Sessions
UK scoops during the month :  95 Foreign scoops during the month : 47

Brewdog divide opinion even amongst those who admire them and their attitude.  I, for one, used to be a huge fan and for a while they could do no wrong as they produced classics such as Chaos Theory, How to Disappear Completely (still one of my favourite beers ever) and Edge, but then something worrying began to happen.

“Disappear” was the beginning of a spiral down into “look at us, we’re so clever” territory and for the past two years the core brands have become variable, classics are no longer made (or when they are they taste nothing like they used to, Chaos for example) and a proliferation of ludicrously weak and ludicrously strong fluids have been the obsession of the brewers and, sadly yet not entirely surprisingly, most vacuous beer bloggers have swallowed it all hook, line and sinker.

Now, at last, it seems as if things are shifting slightly back to the centre ground, a ground where it’s considered OK to brew quality beer which isn’t too weak to attract duty or strong enough to have alcohol campaigners frothing at the mouth in apoplexy.  I really hope that this is a conscious shift and not merely a random wobble but, if it is, then we are in for better times from the lads up in Aberdeenshire.

Let me say this about Hardcore IPA; I was never a huge fan, thinking it simply an over-alcoholic Punk, although the new version is a huge improvement.  When I heard that Tesco had commissioned their “Finest American IPA” from Brewdog and that it was, apparently, rebadged Hardcore (I later found out it’s a slightly different version with more Simcoes!) I was pleased as I could stock up on their “3 for £4” offer with something that was a damn fine beer… which we did, and the following weekend – as part of our regular blind tastings, unbeknown to me – a bottle of this Tesco FAIPA was on the rota and I was about to get a lesson in ludicrous use of Simcoe hops which is something I’m not averse to at all, loving the things as much as I do…

A couple of decent dark beers had set me up nicely and now I was handed a glass of an amber beer which, before I got it anywhere near my nose, I knew I was going to seriously love… billowing clouds of hop oils emitted from the glass and I wore a big, stupid smile as I immersed as much of my face as I could fit into the glass, inhaling deeply of the gloriously hoppy essences; this was very hoppy, in a huge American way… hop oils, rosepetals, mangoes, tropical fruit and even hashish were all in there and I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed inhaling a beer as much as I did with this one!

Eventually I thought I’d better taste the stuff as, despite my best efforts to consume the beer by inhalation, I’d not got very far down the glass as yet.  The first gulp was sweet toffee maltiness but almost immediately in came the hops, masses and masses of the things, almost falling over themselves in the rush to get in on some taste action; a huge bitterness balanced the malt and gave backbone but it was the luscious and enormous hop flavour that impressed me the most with aromas translating to flavours almost exactly with the luscious tropical fruit, hop resins and “Amsterdam coffeeshop” nuances all swirling around in my mouth fighting for dominance like a pool of alpha-male pike in a keepnet. 

The finish brought everything together with a colossal bitter explosion and, for what seemed like hours afterwards  I could taste those hops, so much so I had to restrain myself from picking imaginary hop petals from my teeth!  So, a colossal beer, totally over-the-top in the hop department and I reckon most “normal” drinkers – and many “brown beer” lovers too – would hate it, but I fucking loved the stuff and, when I finally found out it was Brewdog, I felt a strange vindication that yes, they can still strike gold, yes they can still brew superlative beer and yes, I still love them and their attitude… but, most of all, their hops! 

This is one of the finest beers I’ve sampled all year, maybe in the last couple of years, and if I had a hat I’d raise it to Brewdog in admiration… well done lads, now lets have more like that if you please…


In second place comes Little Ale Cart Oxfordshire which, as the even vaguely observant will have noticed, is yet another brew from this virtually unknown brewery – well, unknown outside of Yorkshire, Worcester and a select few other places – which produce a consistently Mid-Atlantic series of brews of which most are packed full of hops.

With no permanent beers the flavours are constantly varying as Richard tries new hops and new combinations of hops and, obviously, not all of these experiments work but, now and again, a true classic comes out and Oxfordshire (the beers are all named after LNER steam locos just in case you were wondering…) was most definitely in this category.

Pale in colour, very pale indeed, this brew had a superb floral, citrussy and pungent aroma which almost smelt dry-hopped… almost!  The flavour was immediately swirling with hash-like hop oils and aromatics much like walking past a “coffee” shop in Amsterdam!  This herby hoppiness lasted into the finish where it was joined by some dry, astringent bitterness, a suggestion of wheaty malt and a deliciously fruity, citric yet still ganja-esque hop finish… simply delightful and very, very unusual.


Finally, but certainly not last, comes Port Brewing Midnight Sessions.  I’m a fan of some of their beers although, for my tastes at least, they tend to succumb to the common US flaw in IPA’s in that they put way too much crystal malt into the mash which reduces the hop attack under a wave of sticky, toffeeish sweetness.  Now I know what you’re thinking and I’ll address the issue before you start shouting at your PC and punching the screen… yes, I know Midnight Sessions is a black lager and, as such, isn’t your usual San Diego hop-led IPA but I think that it’s great to see a brewery in an area known for one particular style of beer to show that they have, as the old saying goes, more than one string to their bow and can produce very passable renditions of old-world classic styles which, as the old world has had much longer to sort them out, are consequently much more difficult to brew and lagers are – lambics excepted – possibly the hardest beers to brew well in the world.

Black in colour with the expected ruby-red highlights, this was a beautiful looking beer as it lurked in the glass beneath a beige head.  The aroma was toasty and fruity with an obvious toasted grain character yet not overpowering, just subtle and suggestive not voluptuous.  The flavour was, again, gentle and suggestive with bitterness, toasted grain, fairly dry malt and good character and complexity and the finish had all these characteristics plus an increasing roast maltiness; I know I love big hoppy beers and the US way of brewing (apart from fucking crystal malt!) but I feel it must be applauded how a brewer in the states can manage to produce a schwarzbier that actually tastes like a German one and not like a black beer full of American hops… which, as everyone knows, would be a “Cascadian dark ale!”.  So, kudos to Port, and here’s to drinking this extremely suppable beer again soon!

Other good beers drunk in October. 

Little Ale Cart's Kettledrummle and Annesley Runner, Brewdog I Beat yoU, Bristol Beer Factory Acer, Titanic New York Wheat Porter, the new recipe (Sorachi!) Otley O2, Osset Real Ale Revolution IPA, Shorts Huma-lupa-Licious, Southern Tier Mokah Coffee/Chocolate, Boon Oude Lambiek on tap in Amsterdam, Ij Plzen, De Molen Met een pond Nelson Sauvin, Weißenohe Kloster-Sud, Pelgrim Chocolate Stout and Prael Nelis Herftsbok. 

Well done all, keep 'em coming!

Beer of the Month - September 2010

Brewery: Jovarų Alus (Aldonus Udrienes) From: Jovarai, Pakruojis, Lithuania
Beer: Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 5.6%, unfiltered/unpasteurised keg at Alaus Namai, Vilnius, Lithuania
2nd: Marble W90    3rd : A Grigonio individuali įmonė Šinkorių Tamsus Alus
UK scoops during the month :  105 Foreign scoops during the month : 48

September is traditionally (well, for the past 6 years anyhow!) the month in which our foreign trips kick off again after a forced absence over summer whilst slobs and chavs pack out the airports on their way to Tenentgreif and other such hellholes where they drink lots of lager, bake on the beach, eat egg and chips and indulge in the very Ing-er-Lish sport of casual racism aimed at the locals.

So, September brings the welcome relief of being able to travel again without feeling like we’re involved in the making of Shameless and this September we finally ticked off the final Baltic country of the three readily available ones, Lithuania. Kaliningrad, the final one, is technically part of Russia and isn’t easy to get into, plus it doesn’t have a brewing industry to speak of although it does have a tram system which I am determined to scoop in one day, but I digress…

Lithuania has a long tradition of “farmhouse” or “rustic” beers (called Kaimiškas) which are made in the rural north of the country although, until relatively recently, to try any you had to go there and find them!  This always appealed to me but, unfortunately, I never got around to it and almost forgot about Lithuania until I saw gen that some bars had opened in Vilnius which sold some of these ultra-rare brews – and ultra-traditional, perhaps the last bastion of unspoiled beer tradition in Europe which hasn’t been raped by multinational megabrewers – and that was it, we just had to go there!  Flying into Vilnius would have been the ideal move but the £200 price tag put paid to that so we settled for Ryanair to Kaunas for a bus/train return to Vilnius… so, that’s the story as to why two out of the three “podium” beers this month seem a little unpronounceable!

Back to the beer… my top beer for September, made by brewster Aldona Udrienės at her Jovarų Alus brewery, was the stunning Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus (which translates roughly as “rustic living beer”, basically unpasteurised farmhouse beer) and was sampled in the superb Alaus Namai bar in Vilnius which, bizarrely, means “Beer House”!  This cellar bar is distinctly non-touristy, being out of the centre of town, although it does attract plenty of foreign beer scoopers owing to the superb range of beer it sells with two proper Kaimiškas brews on tap plus two more “semi-real” ones plus a dozen other – mostly unpasteurised – Lithuanian beers; not bad, eh?  We spent an evening scooping away in there, sampling ten of the beers and, whilst some weren’t to my taste, they certainly were interesting.

Jovarų is a village in the north of Lithuania in the heartland of the traditional rustic beer area and, in common with many of the other remaining farmhouse brewers, Udrienės has been listed by the government as part of the cultural and culinary heritage of Lithuania; why can’t we do immensely sensible things like that in the rest of Europe?  The beer is a massively complex amber brew with a nose of toffee, malt, sweetness and brettanomyces and, in a strange way, reminds me of the beer from some of the Black Country homebrew pubs!  It is sweet and malty in flavour with fino sherry notes, lots of complex musty brett, and finishes with layer upon layer of complexity with malt, sweetness, yeast, breadiness, dryness, bitterness, grassy hops, fruit and farmyards coming together is a truly amazing way; this isn’t a simple beer, it’s not a session beer, but it’s a totally fascinating brew made in the same way for generations in one of the last remaining areas in Europe not yet changed by the industrialisation of beer and, thus, should be sought out by everyone who claims to love beer and all it’s differences…  and, believe me, it’s gloriously different!

Second place goes to a brew from much closer to home, from one of my favourite brewers anywhere, Marble’s stunning new W90.  I scored it in their new Manchester bar at 57 Thomas Street (opposite the best curry café in town, the Al Faisal) from gravity which, whilst not my favourite method of dispense, certainly worked fine in this instance!  Very pale with a gorgeous fruity, rosepetally hop nose and full-on, sweetish flavour with stacks of fruity hops and bitterness to balance before a sublimely balanced malt, bitterness and hop finish… a truly superb session beer with enough complexity for anyone, and yet another stunner from Marble.

Third place goes to another Lithuanian Kaimiškas brewer located, strangely enough, just a few kilometres from the origin of my first place brew!  This time it’s from Algis Grigonio in Pakruojis and his bizarre Šinkorių Tamsus Alus (translating as landlord’s dark beer).  This was sampled, along with the same brewer’s pale beer, at the posh cellar restaurant Sadutė in Kaunas which, despite the air of pomposity and aiming at a far more affluent social bracket than we fit into, was surprisingly sociable and the staff were happy to let us sit in the admittedly attractive brick-lined cellar and scoop the two Kaimiškas beers on sale, although maybe this was because there were no other customers?  The first, the pale brew, was thick with yeast and obviously the end of the barrel, but the tamsus (dark, which wasn’t really dark more amber!) was yet another revelation to my tastebuds which, so I thought, had tasted just about everything the world of beer had to throw at them.

A tart lambic-like character was immediately evident along with plenty of brettanomyces yeastiness and a distinct farmyard character.  Malt controlled the flavour along with sherbety fruit, cobwebby yeast and lambic hints, then the finish was a cacophony of malt, sherbet, lambic, brettanomyces, crystallised fruit and all kinds of other flavours I couldn’t isolate from the swirling mix.  It turns out, after some investigation, that the beer (which is marked with Lithuania’s “Culinary heritage” sign, meaning it is brewed by traditional means and techniques) isn’t actually boiled after mashing; they simply brew hop-tea which is added to the wort after run-off and the top-fermenting yeast is pitched!  This explains the myriad of wild yeasts in the flavour and is yet another example of a historical method of brewing which I thought was extinct in Europe but, it seems, lives on in this remote part of the Baltic states… fascinating stuff and a real journey of exploration for the tastebuds!

See more about this fascinating beer country here, here, here and here.

Other good beers drunk in September. 

From Lithuania, these beers also impressed; Davra Daujotu Alus, J. Morkūno įmonei „Jolus“ Individuali įmonė Švesius, Jovarų Alus (A.Udrienes) Šnekutis, Ramūno Čižo Kaimiškas Alus and Piniavos Alutis Raudonyu Dobilu Alus.

In the UK, I enjoyed Brewdog (Mikkeller) I Hardcore You and Alphadog, Little Ale Cart Tweedale, King's Courier and Kenilworth, Mallinsons Hops Likely, Brodies Seven Hop IPA and CIA, Brewwharf Reaktion and Marble Good beer... do they make any other?


Beer of the Month - August 2010

Brewery: Saints and Sinners at Brewwharf From: Southwark, London
Beer: Military Intelligence Black IPA Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 6.8%, cask in Brewwharf, Southwark, London.
2nd: Mikkeller (Proef) Spontanale    3rd : Pictish Citra
UK scoops during the month :  61 Foreign scoops during the month : 13

BrewWharf's glorious Military Intelligence blew away all before it this month and to drink it at source was a bonus!  BrewWharf's Military Intelligence – at almost 7% – isn’t your usual UK cask ale but, then again, nor is Brewwharf your normal cask ale pub nor is Phil Lowry your normal brewer!  Black IPA is an almost unknown beastie here in the UK (with the notable exception of Thornbridge’s Raven which won my Beer of the Month back in December 2009) and it’s very heartening to see brewers beginning to experiment with these interesting new styles from across the pond and make a pretty good go of them in the process through knowledge of the ingredients and process and not just pot luck!

The brew was jet black in the glass with a huge Simcoe and fruit aroma; the flavour had more of the oily, fruity hops and some smooth chocolate which led onto a smooth, chocolatey yet full-bodied flavour giving very little indication of the strength; I’d have guessed 4.5% if I’d not had the clip a few feet from my nose!  The hop oils soon came in and combined excellently with the rich, sweetish chocolate and toasty flavour with a skunky, juicy hop finish complemented perfectly by the firm backbone of chocolate and cocoa with a final flourish of mangoey Simcoes to end a fabulously complex and endlessly fascinating brew, one that could hold the attention for hours.  It’s so dangerously drinkable that a session on this is a real – if dangerous – possibility!

Phil is brewing up some real treats at Brewwharf at the moment which I heartily recommend everyone to go and try… you might catch an IPA, a pale ale, or just about anything inbetween, but whatever it is you can be pretty sure that it won’t be boring!

 I’ve never been 100% sure about the lavish praise and almost God-like status heaped upon Mikkel on sites such as Ratebeer; yes, he makes some very good beers and yes, there’s rarely a dull moment, but I’ve also tried – in my opinion, obviously – some unpleasant brews and also, recently, a few of the “single” series have been distinctly lacking in character. 

Mikkeller's Spontanale is definitely not in this category and, despite it not being a truly great lambic/sour beer, all the requisite character was there in spades and I’d have been chuffed to brew such a great attempt at probably the most difficult beer style in the world!  The aroma set the scene with a deliciously inviting sour, lemony nose – akin to Cantillon’s yeast, I thought – then the flavour came roaring through with all the typical lambic flavours and bugs present; sourness, lactic and acetic acids, barnyards, Maderia and a decent fresh bitterness blended together superbly and came to a gloriously lambic-esque climax which, had I not knew that the beer wasn’t a proper lambic (although, to be far, it was made at Proef in Belgium who know a thing or two about yeasts and other such critters) I’d have sworn it was some new Cantillon beer.  A great beer, full of character, and I see why Mikkel receives the plaudits he does if he can brew stuff like this…

I’ve been looking forwards to Pictish Citra for quite a few weeks ever since I knew it was in the cellar of the Dragon and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.  Pale in colour – as usual! – with the trademark Pictish sweet maltiness overlain by fresh, zesty hops and without any of the diacetyl which has been an unfortunate feature of their beers recently.  The fruity, zesty hop aroma continued into the finish with plenty of peach, mango and other soft fruit flavours although the trademark Citra “cat’s piss” character was – sadly – almost non-existent.  The finish was solidly malty yet bitter, fresh, fruity and complex and it drank better than most beers I’ve had this year; an effortless pint which could quickly have become a dozen!

Other good beers drunk in August.

Jan and Charlotte’s do at the White Horse, Parson’s Green, was attended by many top men (and women) of the European beer scene with, thankfully, an almost total lack of vacuous, know-nothing blogging twats present.  The (free!) bar hosted a selection of some eclectic and diverse European beers, many of them at the cutting edge of modern craft brewing,  and it’s from this one bar that many of my highly-rated beers come this month.

I’ll begin with a classic; not a scoop, but a world-class beer which is probably the benchmark of the style and a brew I consider one of the finest in the world.  Girardin Jonge (“young”) lambic at a mere one year old had it’s usual cannonade of brettanomyces, spiky Madeira, woodiness and grains booming out and, being fresh, everything was bouncing around and full of life, a pleasure to behold – and taste!  Girardin’s Kriekenlambic 2008 was a delicious combination of sour cherries, sweet wheatiness and the massively complex character of their house lambic which nearly, very nearly, became my beer of the day save for a slightly over-sweet finish… another year or two and this vintage will be fantastic.

From Denmark came Grassroots (Fanø Bryghus) Del Lille IPA and Fone50, both amazingly flavoursome for such low ABV beers (2.7% and 3.7% respectively!) but both had hops blasting out of the glass in all directions but mainly up my welcoming nose!  The Den Lil had an almost cannabis-like oily, skunky character with the hops beautifully uncluttered by any dark malts whilst Fone50 was more of a fruity hop exhibition with sweet, juicy peaches and mangoes vying with bitterness and a hint of malt for attention.

De Molen of the Netherlands are one of the “in” brewers at present and, on the strength of their submissions here, with good reason.  Zomerhop was pale amber and like drinking liquefied Turkish delight yet with a sessionability which belied the 6% ABV, whilst Fone50 was a massive, cobwebby, farmyardy beast of a stout with treacle, raw sugar, roasted malt and bitterness all colliding in one massive wreck of flavours which, somehow, worked… maybe it was the huge body and 11% alcohol which brought it all together but, whatever it was that worked, it shouldn’t have but did!  Finally, Struise Elliot Brew was drunk from bottle and, despite a massively high IBU rating, was a deliciously drinkable malty, hoppy and bitter brew, deeply resinous from fresh hopping, with a full-on hopflower, bitter and toffee-malt finish; good stuff.

In the UK, Little Ale Cart continue their good run with Malcolm Graeme being a typically pale brew yet with much more bitterness than is normal for their style and a lovely citrus/gooseberry/soft fruit flavour and finish with plenty of Nelson Sauvins in the mix.  Thornbridge Colorado Red was a clever brew tasting like an American red ale yet made, if I remember correctly, with 100% UK hops!  There wasn’t enough bitterness for my tastes yet the hop oils and fruity character were tasty enough.

Kinver Decapitator was, for an 8% UK beer, supremely drinkable with a hoppy aroma, some toffee malt but not too much to intrude, then a remarkably mellow flavour with hints of hop, fruit, alcohol and bitterness which all came together well in the finish.   Brew Wharf certainly go for extremes with their amazing Black IPA and ABC, a 3% “Mid-Atlantic” pale ale, on the bar together!  A thin malt body yielded to a deliciously fresh hoppiness and suggestions of graininess before a fairly straightforward yet immensely suppable bitter, hoppy finish which demanded a session.  

Dark Star’s Tripel is an applaudably good attempt at a style many get so very wrong with plenty of “banana and clove” yeastiness, lots of bitterness (too much for the style although I think it’s better with a dose of bitter hops to balance the sweet under-attenuated malt) and a bitter, clovey and characterful finish.  Also on the bar in the Wenlock that night was Ridgeside Black Night from the very new Leeds brewer and this was a straightforward yet impressively well made stout with a slightly thin body but plenty of liquorice, bitterness and roasty flavours to hit home on the tastebuds.  Marble’s 1734 is a brown ale, unusually for them, but one with a spicy rye-like taste, some chocolate, then a complex grainy, hoppy finish which impressed despite my initial reservations about the spicy flavour!

Pictish Summit was yet another “new hop” beer from Mr Sutton in Rochdale and had the expected mandarin zest flavour from this very promising new hop and a shed-load of bitterness too although, given it’s high alpha acid content, this isn’t that surprising!  The finish was malt, bitterness and yet more tangeriney, orange peel fruit which made for a very refreshing and tasty beer.

The Old brewery in Greenwich is Meantime’s new baby and their Kellerbier, brewed onsite with the bizarre three-level copper brewkit, was so much in tune with the taste of Franconian lager that I would have sworn I was in Bamberg if given it as part of a blind tasting!  Bready, bitterish, obviously a lager and with a fuller body than most German beers, a hint of diacetyl (but not enough to be offensive) then a noticeably bitter, bready aftertaste which was very impressive indeed.

Finally, a visit to the surprisingly impressive William IV out in Leyton yielded seven Brodie’s beers on cask and a further six in bottle!  My pick of the bunch were Kiwi, stacked full of juicy gooseberry fruit and pineapples courtesy of New Zealand hops, Citra which, at 3.1%, packed a good, hoppy punch yet was amazingly sessionable and, finally, Pecan pale ale which had pecan nuts mashed in with the malt and these yielded an unusual sweet nutty character which was very different yet strangely compelling!

Beer of the Month - July 2010

Brewery: Mallinsons From: Huddersfield. South Yorkshire
Beer: Hops at Work Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 5.3%, cask at the Dragon, Worcester
2nd: Little Ale Cart Harley's 1492    3rd : Yorkshire Dales Nappa Scar
UK scoops during the month :  68 Foreign scoops during the month : 7

Tara's done it again!  Ever a fan of pale and (very) hoppy beers I can assure you that this was one of Mallinson's finest efforts to date and positively reeked of Simcoe-y goodness from the moment the handpump was first pulled.  The nose was immense; resinous hop juice, Simcoe's trademark sweet peachy fruitiness with just a hint of cat's piss (in the nicest possible way!) and this followed on into the flavour with a full-on bitter, mango-like hop punch over solid maltiness then a bitter, zesty, soft fruit finish with more hop oils, resins and mango... bloody lovely stuff!

Second place goes to a brewery which, as long as you like "Mid-Atlantic Pale Ales", can do no wrong!  Little Ale Cart's Harley's 1492 was a pin dry-hopped with the fantastically pungent Columbus hop - hence the name - and simply oozed marijuana-like hoppiness with plenty of oily, herby and even minty hops pummelling the senses into submission, a true hop-monster and maybe one of the best beers LAC have done to date and proves, if any proof were needed, that dry-hopping - despite it's tendency to turn casks into IED's and making washing them out a right performance - is sinply unmatched in it's ability to add juicy, oily, fresh hop flavour and aroma to beer.

I've liked all the Yorkshire Dales beers I've tried thus far but this may well be the best yet, an amber brew with a straightforward bitter and fruity flavour yet somehow packed full of complexity and character with all manner of fruits, treacle toffee, malt, bitterness and other stuff swirling around my tongue and - somehow - creating a cohesive flavour in the finish which was reasonably bitter yet still with the complex fruitiness which gave the beer it's step up above the rest.

Other good beers drunk in July.

Not too many, if I'm honest, but here's a few...

Little Ale Cart's Dominion of New Zealand Mk2 is similar to the first version apart from containing approximately 15% more hops overall; not a bad thing if you ask me.  The first obvious character was Nelson Sauvin hops - and lots of them - billowing from the glass with all the luscious, tart, zesty gooseberry and tropical fruit you'd expect from such a glorious hop.  The flavour has a good malt base overlain by plenty of melon-like fruity hops and layers of bitterness, gooseberry and hop oils, leading to a fruity, Nelson Sauvin-led finish with some bitterness and even a hint of coconut at the death although the overriding impression was one of Nelson Sauvins doing their stuff in great style.  The new Tempest brewery's Emanation IPA was surprisingly good for such a new company and had plenty of hoppiness to balance the fruity malt and, overall, was well-flavoured and tasty stuff.

I'm not generally a huge fan of Stone beers from the US thinking many of them to be vastly over-rated and just not as good as they claim them to be, but Levitation was, despite being a bizarre mixture of red ale and IPA, a strangely satisfying brew.  It's modest 4.4% alcohol may have played some part in this as, at normal US strength of 8% or so, I can see the sweet treacly, toffee-malt being way too overpowering but here it supports a citrussy and fairly bitter flavour well along with a big citrus hop finish and accompanying toffee plus a suggestion of fruit and more lemon zest; good stuff.

Finally, I know it's bad form to praise your own beers but I do honestly think that Dave and I at Steel City are doing some great brews at the moment, the best being 51st State with it's citrussy, bitter taste and juicy hop finish. 

Beer of the Month - June 2010

Brewery: Little Ale Cart From: Sheffield. South Yorkshire
Beer: Gladiateur Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.3%, cask at the Dragon, Worcester
2nd: Oakham Tranquility    3rd : Thornbridge Pollard
UK scoops during the month :  43 Foreign scoops during the month : 10

Despite sounding like a typing mistake I can assure you there were no errors in this month's top beer!  I know I must sound like LAC's lackey as I'm always bigging them up but, honestly, their beers are consistently good - and sometimes great - although this assumes you like very pale and hoppy beers without much bitterness.  You do?  Good, so do most other people these days...

Gladiateur was one of their 4.3% beers (LAC do 4%, 4.3% and 5%) and had masses of lime juice hoppiness from, I'm assuming, Citra and maybe Nelson Sauvin?  It was a bizarre flavour alright but, after the initial first sip which somewhat confused my tastebuds, I realised that this was one of the best LAC brews I'd sampled thus far with plenty of sherbet lemon citrus (Centennial?), more bitterness than is usual for LAC's brews - although still restrained by my ideals - then a big hoppy, citrus / lime aftertaste and a sharp juicy citrus blast of bitterness to finish.  Not a beer for those who shy away from hops, no doubt about that, but for those of us who do a deliciously different hop beast.

Oakham don't get nearly the amount of coverage here that I'd like mainly because I rarely see their beers around owing to my piss-poor UK scooping record these days and it was only a visit to Brum's Bartons Arms with the Ratebeer crowd which gave me a chance to catch up with their fantastically hoppy pale ales.  Citra wasn't as good as the first release - although not much could be, to be honest - but still impressed greatly with it's "cat's piss on a mango" character which followed through to a deliciously fruity and bitter, hoppy finish.  Inferno wasn't that good at all, Bishop's was decent if lacking a touch of grapefruit but the star of the show for me was Tranquility, a 6.5% monster packed full of hops which gave a character very reminiscent of tangerines! This sublime flavour was allied to a full malt body, noticeable alcohol (which lost it the top spot) and a tangy, bitter, tangerine pith-esque finish; gorgeous stuff, shame about the alcoholic hotness though.

Thornbridge Pollard didn't sound too promising - a coffee milk stout - but they managed to pull off this mash-up of flavours into something almost delicious... Deep red, it had a smoky coffee aroma, think full-strength woodbines mixed with Italian espresso, then what I can only describe as a "milky coffee" taste (which wasn't, by itself, that pleasant) but overlain with a good dose of bitter, toasty coffee beans which pulled the beer back from the brink of sickliness and back to the realms of what pretentious blogger twats might term an "interesting interplay of flavours".  For my mind it was a touch too sweet and not coffee-ish enough, but it was certainly the best Thornbridge beer I've had for a while - Jaipur that evening was a flabby, hop-less mess - so more of the similar, please guys.

Other good beers drunk in June.

Little Ale Cart have been on a great run of form this last month and their Quentin Durward was the best of the rest posessing a bone-dry sherbet lemon, citrussy and fruity taste before a restrained bitterness crept into the mix alongside more sherbet and lemon zest.  Sceptre was also better than average, this one a straightforward lemony, grainy and hopflower tasting quaffer.

Mighty Oak's Kite Runner was a rather bizarre mixture of dark chocolate maltiness and oily, pungent Columbus-like hop flavours which shouldn't really have worked but somehow did.  Thornbridge Murmansk is a Baltic Porter and a bloody good effort at one too, much better than most of those in Poland or the Baltics to be honest!  Okay, it was again too sweet, but all the requisite caramel, dry malt, treacle and bitter treacle toffee was there giving a true-to-style, complex and interesting brew which, with a touch more attenuation, would have been a whopper.

I don't generally drink Salopian beers, thinking then poor these days, but I chanced a Blackwater Ska in the Lord Clifden, Brum, and found a very pale brew with loads of bitterness and grapefruity citrus hops used in decent amounts; Chinook is such a good hop!  Windsor Castle's Magic Miles was a strong mild in the vague style of the famous Black Country one and with it's deep red colour, treacle toffee malt flavours, good depth of flavours and a developing dry, malty and burnt grain finish was an interesting glass of beer.

Salamander Pot Black Porter started badly with a thin body and simple molasses taste but developed enough roasted grain flavours to salvage a decent drink from proceedings whilst Kinver Faith, Hops and Charity was a rich, full malty brew with a balancing bitterness and hint of stilton in the strong malt-led yet bitter, dry finish; strange stuff, but it sort of worked!

Beer of the Month - May 2010

Brewery: Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) From: Portland, Oregon, USA
Beer: Organic IPA Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 6.6%, unpasteurised / unfiltered at the brewpub.  75 IBU.
2nd: Revolution Brewing Let's have a War Belgian IPA     3rd : Hair of the Dog Blue Spot IPA
UK scoops during the month :  32 Foreign scoops during the month : 321

My second trip to the USA was always going to turn up some beers to my taste although, and I must admit to being a touch smug at being proved right in my assumption, there were far less beers of which I'd append the tag "hop monster" than I'd have thought a couple of years ago.  Basically, the assumption that US IPA's are rammed full of hops and over-the-top bitterness was found, by Dean as well as myself, to be totally untrue and most of them, it seemed, tried to create balance with the hops by adding a hefty dose of crystal malt which overpowers the lovely hoppiness and leaves something tasting, in a surprising number of cases, like a bar of Fry's Turkish Delight... which isn't a compliment.  Obviously there were some absolute whoppers consumed and it's never certain how fresh bottles are, but seeing as over 90% of our scooping was done in brewpubs and bars I feel we had a pretty decent exposure to the beers and most of them should have been fresh enough to be hoppy...

Anyhow, enough whining, we had a superb time and with over 300 beers scored (oh yes!) some good'uns were guaranteed.  Portland was indeed a beery a place as I'd heard although not all the beer was brilliant and, for example, we struggled through 12 almost identical bland, boring fluids in Deschutes plus Full Sail's range wasn't exactly an explosion of flavour either, but the city more than made up for these with a whole host of excellent brewpubs of which Hopworks, out in the South East at 2944 SE Powell Boulevard, was my pick of the lot.  A bright, modern place, obviously purpose built unlike many of the brewpubs which were in converted car repair garages or warehouses (not that there's anything wrong with this, it adds character!), ten beers were on tap plus the usual one on nitro and one on handpull (not cask, it's generally one of the tap beers handpumped).  We worked our way through the tasting tray and found that, in comparison with many other brewpubs where things only got interesting after the first four glasses had been swilled down, every single beer was full of flavour, well brewed and - more importantly - had a decent dosage of local hops!

The pick of the bunch, though, was their Organic IPA which simply oozed fruity, zesty aromatic citrus hops on the nose and, wonder of wonders, the flavour was uncluttered by an excess of dark malts (there was a smidgeon, but only that) allowing the bitter, lemony, fruity (apricots, peaches) and downright hoppy flavour to proceed uninhibited into a gloriously dry, bitter and juicily hoppy finish which implored you to drink more of this glorious example of West Coast IPA.  Another thing lacking was excess alcohol, a common problem with IPA's which burns out the tastebuds and therefore ruins the hop experience, meaning the 6.6% was just about noticeable although it played it's supporting role perfectly.  Overall, then, a classic WCIPA which is full of lovely hops and thankfully lacking excess alcohol and caramel malts which are the ruin of many a similar beer and the, as a bonus, brewpub is easily reachable from central Portland via bus 9 to SE Powell Blvd and 8th.

If only Revolution Brewing in Chicago, where we enjoyed some superb beers on an all-to-brief stopover in the pouring rain, had left out the sickly-sweet Belgian yeast from Let's have a War Belgian IPA (although then they'd then have to rename it!) then this beer would probably have received 5.5 points and joined my exclusive club of beers I'd have on my desert island if I were to be presented with one complete with bar and dispense equipment but, even with the sweet bananary Belgian taste (which is nothing like real Belgian beers in my experience), it still comes a very close second.  Maybe it's to do with the 32lb of Citra hops used in it's making - most going into the whirlpool or conditioning tank - which sealed it for me, giving an aroma which will stick with me for a long time; Citra have a very distinctive nose and this beer had it in shedloads with kiwi, peach and tangerine mixing with cat's piss (in a nice way, similarly to Simcoe!) to give a stunning aroma.  The flavour wasn't as intense or interesting as that stunning nose but still had plenty of Citra oils and fruitiness swirling around all over the place and it finished with a final oily slick of Citra juice down the throat; very good indeed, as long as you like unusual hops and drinking cat's piss!

In third place comes a legend in Portland, Hair of the Dog brewery.  They produce small amounts of (usually) wood-aged beers with a cult following and are in process of moving from an out-of-town location to a new site very close to downtown, just across the Willamette river, although when we visited construction work was still in progress and nothing was for sale!  Their beers aren't easy to find in Portland although bottles can be had at several shops (including the excellent Bridgetown Beerhouse at 915 N. Shaver St, close to the Amnesia brewpub) and on tap at Henry's 12th Street Tavern and the Horse Brass Pub.  At Henry's, our very final beer stop in Portland, we sampled their Blue Spot IPA which was quite a bizarre beer, tasting like a well-hopped yet dry and woody IPA with the usual Turkish Delight hints yet perfectly balanced by a dry, wood-aged edge and a very interesting interplay between dryness, hops and wood in the complex finish.  I don't generally like wood-aged brews that much but this was different than most, well-made and different and, for once, a hugely hyped brewery actually delivers the goods!

Other good beers drunk in May.

Oh, where to begin?  In New York I suppose, as we went there first, and we managed to unearth a few gems in the city's various bars.  I've liked what I've had from Founders Brewing Company thus far and their Double Trouble IIPA, sampled in the delightfully understated Habitat bar in Brooklyn, had a rather outrageous hop oil aroma, all orange zest and soft fruits, with a similarly full-on hops, orange, citrus and bitter taste ending with just enough sweet malt to be comfortable and lots more juicy, fresh hops.  The Blind Tiger was unfortunately holding a Rogue week - cheers then! - but we still managed to score half a dozen winners with Schlafly IPA being the pick of the bunch with it's huge, billowing Simcoe-like nose (peaches, cats piss, orange zest) then a full malty flavour with yet more luscious fruity hops taking over until the bitter, malty, toffeeish and peachy finish; lovely stuff.

I didn't take to the Ginger Man the last time I was in New York but on this occasion, scooping beer by the flight (sample tray), we had a relaxing afternoon blasting through some pretty decent brews from various countries and it's now firmly on my "like it" list!  The best of the dozen scoops I had was Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Fritz and Ken, which as the name suggests celebrates the 30th anniversary of the craft beer revolution in the states and honours Fritz Maytag of Anchor and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada who started it all off.  A smooth black brew, the nose belied it's big flavour of dryness, liquorice, fresh coffee and dark malts, all blended together with an effortless, understated class which underlines most of Sierra Nevada's output; a piece of quality brewing, this one.  Finally in New York we stopped into the 4th Avenue Pub where the very "Mid-Atlantic" Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale was scored.  If you've not seen my piece on the Steel City Brewing site about "Mid-Atlantic" pale ales - any why not? - then it's basically what I consider to be a pale ale with UK-style malts (all or almost all pale) with American hop attitude (lots of 'em, particularly late copper and dry-hopping) and this brew ticked all the right boxes with it's golden colour, delicious sweet Simcoe-like fruity hop aroma, a dry flavour without any nasty toasty malt to ruin it overlain by plenty of bitter, fruity, juicy peachy hoppiness; pure class, effortlessly drinkable and very "Mid-Atlantic"!

Washington DC produced nothing of interest beer-wise (although the President's lawn was in good shape) but Chicago did - big time - and on reflection we should have flown there and had a night out in the numerous brewpubs and bars... ah well, maybe next time!  Nevertheless, despite the pissing-down rain and ticket shambles, we still managed to buy two dozen bottles to drink on our epic journey aboard the Empire Builder train to Portland (2300 miles!) and visit three good to superb brewpubs.  First up was Revolution brewing, a new brewpub only a few months old, where some absolutely stunning beers were sampled on tap (including this month's silver medal winner) but the whole range was impressive with not a bad - or even average - beer amongst them.  Anti-Hero IPA was a no-messing-around big IPA with a lemony hop nose, balancing malt and plenty of bitterness around a well-balanced bitter, hoppy finish whilst Cross of Gold Pale Ale could have been mistaken for an Oakham brew with your eyes closed such was the fruity, citrussy and intense hop taste and moreish, inviting bitter hop juice finish, plus it was very pale unlike many US Pale Ales.  Iron Fist Pale Ale had maybe a bit too much of the toffee malt about it but salvaged things with a simply delicious fruity, bitter hop aftertaste whilst, finally, Workingman Mild did what it said being a proper UK mild, a mere 3.5%, emulating in some ways the Midlands style with some sweetness, grainy malt and nutty malt finish. 

Strangely enough there were three sub 4% milds on tap in Chicago that day, Morning Wood Mild at Moonshine which was, despite protestations from the brewer that it was too old, a cracker with coffee, chocolate and a pleasant dark maltiness to the finish whilst the other was at the Goose Island brewpub which, unfortunately, we ran out of time to visit... as I said, maybe next time!  Moonshine also produced a cracking IPA, Able Danger, which had a huge fruity, cat's piss-like Simcoe nose (believe me, cat's piss is a good hop smell!) and a cracking citrus, pine, hop oil and fruity finish which just begged for another one; sadly we didn't have time and almost missed our train due to the brewer forcing us (!) to drink a pint on the house!  The Piece brewpub in Chicago had a range which wasn't as consistent as Revolution yet still contained some excellent brews namely Big Black Mariah Stout, a full-on coffee, burnt toast, woody, nutty and roasted barley-flavoured beast which reminded me of Beamish during the early 1990's only, obviously, a touch stronger!  Their Wackjob Barley Wine was in the American tradition of having a huge hop hit to try and balance the maltiness and, although it failed in this, it was still an enjoyable brew with oodles of Citra all through proceedings and a deliciously fruity, bitter, citrussy and peach-infused finish; delicious stuff, especially considering it's ABV!

On to Portland, then, and apart from their amazing IPA (which came first this month!) the Hopworks brewpub also had strength throughout their line-up with some of their other beers being impressive too, in particular Crosstown Pale, a dry, pale and refreshingly citrussy brew with a moreish zesty, pithy hop finish,  Survival Seven Grain Stout was like drinking a fresh espresso mixed with the very strong chocolate and was one of the best examples of the coffee stout style we tried, and finally there was Bourbon Cask Noggin Floggin, full sweet and just like drinking brown sugar, spice and bourbon; not the kind of thing I generally like but this was amazingly moreish, well-balanced and fascinating with more than a touch of quality Rum about it.  Alameda Brewhouse was another great brewpub with some top brews including Yellow Wolf IPA with it's (yet again!) Simcoe-esque "peach and cat's piss" aroma then juicy malt and a big lemony, hoppy and bitter taste with masses of fruity, resinous hops packing into the taste and the bitter finish, also their Fixed Gear Pale Ale had a hazy golden colour, sticky honey-malt nose and taste with a late developing yet intense citrussy, bitter and oily hoppiness with some pine in the bitter aftertaste; a great drinking beer!

Amnesia Copacetic IPA was the best brew we tried from this tin-shed of a brewpub which seemed much further out in the suburbs than it actually was; it had grapefruit, citrus zest and some bitterness over a malty, toffee-led body which impressed although a fistful more of bittering hops wouldn't have gone amiss in my opinion!  Another brewpub, Laurelwood Public House & Brewery,  provided an unusual style of beer in a kind of "strong red with hops" vibe, Infrared, which managed to balance the huge sweetness from the toffeeish malt by huge additions of bitter, oily hops which shouldn't have worked but, somehow, it just did!  Another beer from them, Space Stout, was intensely burnt and toasty with a full body and coffee, liquorice and plain chocolate all present in the taste and finish with a mouth-coating consistency.

The Lompoc chain impressed us with a couple of their many brews; the 5th Quadrant brewpub (via their new tasting room "Sidebar" which has different beers on tap than the brewpub around the corner!) served us up some C-Note IPA, a brew possessing a massive West Coast hop aroma balanced by just enough toffee malt, but this was quickly crushed by waves of bitterness, fruit, citrus, pine and juicy hop oils which continued on into the bitter, hopflower-led finish; just what we needed after a walk in the sun from Amnesia!  At Lompoc's other brewpub, the New Old Lompoc, I was amazed to see Thomas Fawcett Single Malt on tap at a mere 3.4% which tasted like pure LCMO (low-colour Maris Otter) and had a deliciously simple honeyed maltiness and extolled the quality of Fawcett's malt to a tee.   Roots Organic Brewpub didn't do tasting trays, much to our concern, although we soon polished off everything on sale of which their Epic Ale, a 12.75% barley wine, hit the spot best of all with it's amazingly supple and smooth flavours of chocolate, toffee, bitterness and fruitiness, all intertwined together in a deliciously - and dangerously - drinkable manner!  The most bizarre brewpub of the trip award must go to Upright Brewing where you need to find a lift inside an unmanned lobby in an unmarked building then take it to the basement to find the brewery complete with deck chairs scattered liberally around for imbibing purposes!  Okay, it's not really a brewpub more of a brewery with some taps and chairs, but the beers were fascinating (all wood-aged) and although I didn't like all of them they were well-made and full of character with their Apricot Anniversary coming out best in my opinion with an incredibly lambic-like bone-dry palate with a sourish, dry yet juicy fruitiness and even hints of marzipan; bizarre, complex and very interesting indeed!

Some impressive non-brewpub beers we sampled were 10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA with a massive grapefruit and citrus peel character and a delicious fresh, hoppy finish - top stuff indeed.  Likewise, Fort George Vortex IPA was a paler-than-usual IPA stuffed full of juicy citrus hops to the point of stickiness plus the long, bitter aftertaste overlaid with hop oils and some malt was extremely enjoyable.  Speaking of enjoyable, I was delighted to see Russian River Pliny the Elder on tap in the Horse Brass as it's one of the beers I had really wanted to sample although, despite a pungently luscious hop aroma which is probably amongst the top five I've ever smelt, the palate failed to deliver what the aroma had promised and, despite being impressively toffee-less and juicily hoppy, could have done with a bit more bitterness and finishing hops to really make it a world-beater instead of just the very good beer it was.  Finally for the IPA's, Ninkasi Tricerahops was all peachy Simcoes with layers of bitterness, fruit, sweetness and hops which left a moreish and lip-smacking aftertaste and stood out even amongst other hoppy brews that night and after a long day scooping!

Dark beers now... Bison Chocolate Stout was a rich, full-on and very chocolatey with plenty of maltiness and a thick, smooth finish, Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout was similarly thick, viscous and laced with plenty of coffee and chocolate flavours whilst Oakshire Brewing Overcast Espresso Stout was our final beer in Portland yet still impressed with it's delicious freshly-made espresso hit over a slightly thin body but solidly full finish of roast barley, chocolate and more fresh coffee.  Finally, we sampled Dieu du Ciel Aphrodite on tap in the Ginger Man then again in bottle on our mammoth train journey and I was pleased to see it scored well both times with a subtle, dry chocolate and roasty taste, smooth and flowing, then hints of spices and vanilla in the chocolatey aftertaste; subtle and delicious.

Back in the UK it was gratifying to see that Little Ale Cart's beers weren't overshadowed by the US ones I'd been drinking for the previous two weeks and were, in fact, a refreshing and noticeably hoppy alternative to too many treacly, toffeeish underhopped IPAs! Alcazar had a good malty body with layers of bitter and juicy hop fruitiness ending bitter and zesty, whilst Merry Hampton had slightly more juicy fruitiness and more bitterness to it's flavour, ending notably bitter and refreshing with lots of fruity hops.  Pictish Target was about as good as Targets get with Sutty somehow managing to extract a grassy, herby flavour from them, albeit with the signature raw tongue-stripping bitterness, then an oily, grassy finish with more herbs.  Mallinsons Danger : Hops! had a touch too much toasted malt in it for my tastes but, still, the bitter, fruity and zestily citrus hops came through in the end, whilst Salamander Pitstop Porter did what their dark beers usually do and that's deliver a dry, coffee-led taste with a straightforward roasty, malty and burnt grain finish.

Beer of the Month - April 2010

Brewery: Mallinsons From: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK
Beer: Bettison's Tower Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.2%, cask-conditioned at the Dragon, Worcester
2nd: Great Oakley Welland Valley Mild    3rd : Browar Amber Żywe Niefiltrowane
UK scoops during the month :  66 Foreign scoops during the month : 29

This one has been a long time coming mainly owing to my total failure to get up North more often and sample Tara's increasingly impressive beers.  This situation is now resolved by Little Ale Cart swapping with Mallinsons so the beers are seen in the Dragon in Worcester which gives me plenty of opportunity to drink them in the comfort of my home town.

Tara's 101st brew was, as usual, pale and hoppy in character with it's deliciously fruity and hopsack aroma.  This followed on to a surprisingly big bitter flavour with a complex hop blast which included rosepetals, orange zest, citrus and a ripe fruitiness (I've since discovered the hops were Brewer's Gold, Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Sorachi which explains this!) and ended still bitter with a very complex and interesting hop finish with the overriding taste being akin to orange zest mixed with pineapples!  So, here's hoping Tara keeps up this excellent hop-led run of form and here's to many more like this one...

Second comes a beer about as different from Tara's as is possible in the restrictive UK beer scene, a mild.  I've never really had the opportunity to sample many Great Oakley beers before and my visit to the Hole in the Wall at Portsmouth provided no less than three!  All were very impressive but, surprisingly, their Welland Valley Mild was my favourite with it's simple yet effective flavour and, in my opinion, everything a mild should be; a full-on chocolate and toasted grain flavour with ample body and a touch of sweetness was the main characteristic followed by a smooth, dryish and very flavoursome "70% chocolate" aftertaste which certainly wasn't bland, an accusation often aimed at Milds!  Overall it was a cracking beer and a very fine interpretation of the style, although what sub-style it was wasn't obvious; North-West England with a touch more chocolate?!?

Finally, a beer from our recent return to Poland where craft beer is making a comeback in a similar fashion to most other countries around Europe and, indeed, the world.  Amber are based near to Gdańsk and brew a wide range of interesting beers varying from simple lagers through more serious jasne brews, a Vienna lager, a bock and strong mocne lager through to their excellent Baltic Porter.  Now they've gone a step further with their already impressive Żywe unpasteurised lager and brought out an unfiltered version too.  We tried this twice, once at the excellent Degustatornia bar in Gdynia and once at their quirky little bar called "Cup of Tea Żywe Club" in Gdańsk and were greatly impressed both times.  Cloudy and yellow, it has hops and a touch of bananary yeast on the aroma then a good malt and herby hop flaovur, still with the fruity yeast, and it finishes with malt, bitterness, grassy hops and yet more estery yeast leaving a dry, fruity aftertaste; not what you'd expect from a Polish lager although this is a particularly good example!

Other good beers drunk in April.

I suppose it'd be bad form to mention that some of the best beers I had in April were the ones I co-brewed!  Steel City's 51st State came out deliciously citrussy, bitter and juicy whilst our double-award winner, D-Generation XX, was like sucking on a Columbus hop...  Anyhow, our beers notwithstanding, some other crackers were from the same brewery as we used, our hosts in fact, and they are no stranger to these pages.  Little Ale Cart are really finding form at the moment and their Isinglass (yes, there really was a kettle named after fish guts!) had a massive blast of Citra hops, all tangerines, cats piss and lemon zest, whilst Knight of the Thistle was much more tropical fruit-hued although just as interesting.

Unbelievably, a Banks' beer sneaks into this list - the first time for that - although it was by no means one of their usual brews!  Maui Coconut Porter was brewed for the McSpoons beer festival and was a full-on chocolate, vanilla and desiccated coconut stout (definitely not a porter) with a thick chocolate body and more vanilla (rather than coconut) in the sweet finish; bizarre, but it worked!  Hammerpot Bottle Wreck Porter was similarly thick although this brew had a predominant taste of liquorice and bitter, toasty malt whilst, staying with stouts, Great Oakley's Abbey Stout was crammed with roasted barley, aniseed and frazzled malt grains plus a good hint of well-made (i.e. not from the UK!) espresso in the long, roasted finish.  Finally on the stout theme, Three B's Oatmeal was a completely different beast with it's very dry, ashy and bitter palate overlaid by roast malt, liquorice and bitterness.

Otter Mild was, probably, the best beer I had during the McSpoons festival and somehow managed to cram a huge biscuity, honeyed, juicy malt flavour into a light amber brew and totally amazed me by it's suppleness and intensity yet downright juicy, honeyed tastiness.  Finally for the UK, Dark Star's bizarre Saison sneaks in; those who know me will realise I didn't drink Dark Star beers for years and, now I've begun to try them again, I've never been too impressed with any of them save Hophead.  Saison is a brave experiment - not many UK drinkers will know a Belgian farmhouse ale is supposed to be hazy and taste like a banana penny chew colonised by mildew and spiders - but I quite liked it in a hmmmm-okay-but-don't-want-more-than-a-pint kind of way and, I suspect, others will feel the same...

Abroad, then.  Caldera Pale Ale from Oregon should never, ever - if you apply all the lessons learnt about beer in cans - even get a mention on here except, perhaps, a scathing one-line putdown, but canning has moved on a long way and this brewery somehow manages to can beers unpasteurised (!) and tasting bloody lovely.  Their Pale Ale had a resiny hop nose with a fresh, bitter and fairly simple taste although more hops and fruit came in as I supped although I couldn't help but think the hops tasted suspiciously European at times... but, then again, maybe I'm naturalising CTZ, Centennial and suchlike subconsciously as I now expect them to feature in UK beer?  Whatever, it was a good, firm bitter brew with no "can" taste and a fine drinkability with no spoiling toffee or caramel.  Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra was more amber in colour with a stonking rosepetal and herby hop nose and taste, very leafy and fresh, before the hops turned almost minty in the solidly bitter finish; interesting stuff.

Gdańsk's new brewpub, Brovarnia, produced some tourist-grade beers at very tourist prices with the pick of the three being their Ciemne (dark) with it's slightly smoky toasted dryness with a reasonably complex malty, ashy malt finish.  Another Polish micro, Kormoran, impressed greatly with it's bottled beers - all unpasteurised - and in particular their Porter, a 9% Baltic beastie with a full dry, toasted grain taste, thick and ashy, then a good roasty, malty finish, and Warnijskie was a hazy golden brew with a fresh yeasty twang, fruit and malt, leading to a smooth malty finish with none of the 7% alcohol showing it's head; good stuff, and it's good to see the small brewers standing up in Poland to show that good beer can be made there, it was just that the multinationals couldn't be arsed.

Beer of the Month - March 2010

Brewery: Lambrate From: Milan, Lombardia, Italy
Beer: Ligera Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 5.5%, on tap at Hop in Milan and on handpull at the brewery tap, better at Hop but pretty bloody good anywhere!
2nd: Little Ale Cart Centenary    3rd : Baüscia Onice
UK scoops during the month :  25 Foreign scoops during the month : 44

There seems to be a theme developing here; last month's winner was an APA, as is this month's, and I'd not put much money against next April's being one too (although you don't tend to see as many in Poland and Gdańsk is our next trip!).  Nevertheless, I make no excuses for my love of American "C" hops - you can blame Messrs Dobbin and Franklin for that - and Lambrate's attempt at the style has improved immensely since we sampled it last year, and it was pretty decent back then!

Our first media was at the brewery tap itself where the beer came from handpull and displayed a juicy, thick bitterness alongside a malty body with just a suggestion of hops on the nose and finish; very good, but nowhere near as immense as the pint from tap (yes, from KEG, you heard that right you Flat Earth Society veg!) we had in Hop.  A stunning hop oil nose, full of raw Columbus and tempered by toffee maltiness, showed that this was going to be so much better than the pint we'd had at the brewpub not an hour previously!  The flavour was pure CTZ, masses of oily hops, juicy fruitiness and a solid malt backbone, but it was all about the hops at the finish with a rasping bitterness and a huge dry-hopped, oily, resinous and just plain gorgeous hopflower punch which put a huge smile on my face; not many beers do that, but this little beauty did and I'd go as far as to say it's one of the classic beers of Europe at the moment... as long as you like hops, obviously...

Second place goes to Little Ale Cart's 100th brew, the appropriately-named Centenary, with extra hops added in celebration!  A full-bodied flavour of malt, bitterness and fruity hops is nothing new for LAC but this one had a feisty, zesty tangerine streak shot through it which, as I supped my way through the glass, became more and more intense until I was convinced someone had squeezed a tangerine into my pint!  Little Ale Cart beers are consistently good but this one, just maybe, was their best beer yet...  it goes a long way to showing how much I like their beer that of the 107 I've tried thus far the lowest score has been 3 out of 5!

Third place is claimed by Paolo Polli (of BQ fame) with his Baüscia brewery.  Onice is a stout and semi-permanent in the range and at first tasting seems an everyday, rather straightforward brew, but after a while it becomes more complex with a very roasty flavour, toasted grains, frazzled malt, fresh coffee, dark chocolate and even some bitterness - rare in too many stouts - before a very complex yet still immensely roasted aftertaste which ends dry.  A classic dry stout, then, and amazingly they've managed to pack all this immense flavour into a meagre 4% body!  The beery equivalent of clowns in a car; more and more just keep coming out and you wonder how they were all squeezed into such a small container!

Other good beers drunk in March.

Our trip to Milan gave me 41 scoops - not all Italian - with, as usual, plenty of interesting brews.  New local micro Geco impressed with their Pecora Nera, or Black Sheep, yet another 4% bombshell of a stout with treacly, roasty and ashy burnt grain flavours following on to some sweetness in the roasted barley finish; very nice indeed.  The Officina della Birra brewpub in Bresso, just outside Milan's urban transport zone, was brewing on our visit and consequently smelt gorgeous - as do all breweries when producing, even the rancid Royal in Moss-side smells good! - with good beer, too, the best of which was the 7% Speciale, a ruby-red, smooth and mellow brew with toffee malt and juicy grain yet saved from cloyingness by a dry, fruity finish which somehow balanced it all out admirably.

In the superb BQ bar we scored a shed-load of beers with the best being from yet another new local micro, Rurale, and their Terzo Miglio APA had a deliciously fragrant, fruity hop nose with melons and peaches in a similarly fruit-filled, hoppy taste and a finish crammed with juicy fruits, hops and bitterness; a real taste explosion of a beer!  I also managed to sample the very first beer I've liked from the much-vaunted Baladin brewery which seems to attract all the hype from beer lovers, although I've never had a beer I've liked from them until now!  Open is billed as an APA (yes, another one!) and despite having much of the same brettanomyces flavours most of their other beers seem to have (which I don't consider makes great beer and, in my opinion, quickly becomes tiresome) it also had an appley, malty, bitter character with an unusual fruity, bitter finish which, whilst not being particularly amazing, was at least interesting.

Finally for Italy, Paolo Polli's Baüscia brewery can always be relied upon to produce something low in gravity yet full of flavour and so it was with LA30, a 4% pale ale brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops plus some kind of "stimulant" which I couldn't quite work out; Paolo told us that the beer had been brewed by a "friend who is a porn star" so it could have been anything... to me, anyhow, it tasted of dandelions, gooseberries and lemons with a strange spiciness and dry, fruity hop finish with fleeting hints of something elusive which was interesting as well as annoyingly difficult to pin down!

Back home, I'd better kick off with our very own Steel City Black No.1, brewed at Little Ale Cart, which surpassed all expectations with a hugely bitter, leafy hop character, rich and full roast/coffee/chocolate body which was maybe a touch sweet (so we could have left out the Crystal malt after all!) then a full-on, toasted, coffee beans coated with chocolate blast and a good bitter, complex aftertaste which lasted for ages after the final swallow; I know banging on about your own beers isn't the done thing but I like to think I'm honest in my judgements and wouldn't bleat on if they weren't good!  The coffee version, Czarna Kawa, was a fascinating experiment and if anything was even better which smelt - and tasted - like a just-pulled espresso and will definitely re-appear in some guise again this year!

Little Ale Cart's Tracery was exceptionally dry and bitter, unusually so for them, with more of the citrus/tangerine flavours found in Centenary but tempered by a lower ABV, more dryness and a citrussy zesty finish at the end.  Malvern Hills' new stout, Trevor Trevor, had a smooth, nutty, burnt grain character with heaps of liquorice/ash/fruit and a good dry, grainy finish with hints of bitterness in the finish, whilst White Rose continue to impress with Gecko Beach having plenty of juicy, fruity hoppiness with more than a suggestion of peaches to it.  Finally, Mallinsons beers have started appearing in the Dragon, Worcester, and Jane Really Wouldn't Like it had a huge dry-hopped aroma before a toffee malt body and more hop oiliness in the long, malty finish.

All you need to know about Italian brewpubs and craft beer producers can be found here.

Beer of the Month - February 2010

Brewery: Harwich Town Brewing Company From: Harwich, Essex
Beer: Phoenix APA Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 5.1%, Cask-conditioned in the Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico, London
2nd: Füchschen Altbier    3rd : Uerige Altbier
UK scoops during the month :  49 Foreign scoops during the month : 23

A brewery I'd only had one beer from two years previously isn't one I'd expect to be my beer of the month which goes to show that you should never to prejudge anything, especially beer.  I sampled it in Pimlico's new Cask Pub & Kitchen bar where, as I knew nothing about the brewery, I had no idea just how good it was going to be - and good it was!

A pale ale, it possessed a fresh hoppy nose with some citrus which gave me cause for optimism after having been hugely disappointed by Dark Star Six Hop which didn't have anywhere near enough hops in it and was so sweet I could feel my teeth rotting as I supped.  Being called an APA was another hopeful sign - which I assumed meant American Pale Ale - and it didn't let me down!  The first impression was of a reasonably bitter beer, something distinctly lacking these days, with famous five-esque "lashings of fruit" from the yeast and hops before the fresh, citrussy, hedgerow hops came in with a delicious, tongue-puckering zestiness, dryness and fresh citrus blast although the good malt body and interesting fruitiness balanced proceedings superbly.

The delicious hop-buzz continued into a moreish bitter, fruity finish with plenty of bitterness and yet more dry, citrussy hop flavours which left a beautifully bitter, hoppy aftertaste from a beer I never suspected would produce such greatness... which, as I said, is the perfect example of why you shouldn't prejudge beer!

Our recent re-visit to Düsseldorf after a gap of over five years confirmed to me just what a superbly drinkable beer style Alt is and how much I enjoy draining those little 20cl glasses over and over again!  It really is an experience every beer lover should have and standing in a little alcove in Uerige opposite the continuous flow of alt from the wooden casks whilst steadily supping glass after glass is one of life's better beery moments. 

Here, yet again, was the lesson never to think you know what you'll like best; I assumed I'd put Uerige at the top of my altbier table but, despite it being the hoppiest and driest of the four "smaller" producers, I actually enjoyed the beer from Füchschen more!  We'd tried to get into Füchschen on our second night but arrived to find the place rammed - literally - with football fans; so full was the pub that we couldn't find a single millimetre of bar area where we could lurk for a couple of beers so decamped to Frankenheim for some cheap-tasting swill which came a poor second to "proper" alt.

We tried again on our final day in town for an afternoon meal before the tedious fester at the airport and I was amazed by the rich treacle-toffee flavours, the typical altbier peardrop hints, a full grainy malt palate with a dab of bitterness to finish; this wasn't the beer I thought I'd enjoy best but, relaxing in the tiled brewpub with our glasses of alt, it suddenly struck me that as much as I loved Uerige's Hallertauer hop attack, ample bitterness and treacly, toasted maltiness, the alt from Füchschen somehow trumped it into second place by sheer drinkability and silky dark maltiness with just a suggestion of hops.

Other good beers drunk in February.

I've always like Slater's beers but not really sampled many since their move to Stafford.  Why Knot was a fresh-tasting, fruity (as their beers generally are) and floral beer, slightly sweet and honeyed, with more fruitiness and some elderflower-esque hops to finish off this beautifully drinkable brew.  Alan Hinde's Coastal beer gets up to the Wellington in Birmingham regularly and his Men-an-Tol Mild was a cracker with it's ruby-red hue, hedgerow hops and a dry, toasted grain finish with yet more berryish hops; okay, maybe it's not a mild in the commonly accepted sense, but it was a lovely fruity and hoppy brew and charmed my tastebuds perfectly.

Little Ale Cart continue their run of form with Sea Eagle, reeking of American hops with citrus esters oozing out all over the place, plus our very own brew, Steel City Czarna Kawa, which had a huge coffee hit over the firm bitter, dry stout and far exceeded my expectations for what was, after all, a single trial cask!  Windsor Castle Mud Rat had a smooth, rich chocolate malt flavour, initially simple, yet it developed a more roasted finish and ended like a stout.  Redemption Pale Ale was a surprise in London for it's intense fruitiness, good balance of malt, fruit and bitterness before a moreish rounded finish whilst Brewdog's Nanny State was finally scored in the Edgar Wallace (thanks to the landlord!) and despite being a touch too burnt and chocolatey to balance the hops, the grapefruity Chinook character was superlative and the bitterness during the aftertaste intense and lip-smackingly good.

Over in Germany, we visited Gulasch Bräu in Düsseldorf and found their single beer, Helles, being served from wooden casks in the local style and a bit of a whopper it was too, all juicy maltiness, spicy hop, a dextrinous, mash-like body and a fairly bitter, dry and hoppy finish.  The other two brewpubs in Düsseldorf, Zum Schlüssel and Schumacher, didn't quite reach the loft heights of the other two although their beers weren't bad by any stretch, Schlüssel's being slightly too sweet for me and Schumacher's a touch too dry and thin for the level of bitterness although their Jongbier was almost a polar opposite and very worty; not my beer of choice but interesting nevertheless.

Moritz Fiege are are fairly large brewery in Bochum so I was surprised to find their Pils to be almost Czech in style with plenty of worty, malty flavours counteracted by a good dry bitterness with grassy hops in the aftertaste (and their Alt wasn't too bad either), whilst even the usually bland chain brewpub Johann Albrecht in Düsseldorf managed to produce a mashy, solid, dry and bitter helles with an almost herbal-hop flavour in the finish.

Most of the other German brewpubs, sadly, contrived to cement my opinion that not enough brewers are prepared to challenge the ludicrous Rheinheitsgebot and produce more interesting beers, but more sadly most can't even be bothered to brew good quality standard helles and, in particular, dunkels either with standards of the latter being especially poor; thin caramelly pils, anyone?  I love Germany as a country and drinking environment, but it's a shame the beer scene is so moribund with very few exceptions.

Beer of the Month - January 2010

Brewery: Trois Dames From: Sainte Croix, Vaud, Switzerland
Beer: Bise Noire Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: Bottle-conditioned 330ml, 7.2%, from the excellent Au Grain d'Orge beer shop in Crissier, Lausanne.
2nd: Little Ale Cart Boswell   3rd : Trois Dames Pacifique
UK scoops during the month :  21 Foreign scoops during the month : 48

I honestly never thought I'd be giving a Swiss beer beer of the month although, thinking back on the 100+ I've now had, there are some pretty decent beers being produced by the local micros and the country is definitely on the up as far as brewing goes.  Even knowing I'd be in the country for over 2 weeks with work didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm that I'd scoop many beers (wrong, 48!) or enjoy that high a percentage of them (wrong again, over half got a score of 3 out of 5 or higher) but without doubt the discovery of the week beer-wise just has to be Trois Dames.

Bov, the Swiss beer expert, reckons that Trois Dames are "maybe the best brewery in Switzerland" and, having tasted nine of their beers in the last month, I'd be inclined to agree with him (based on my much lower Swiss beer experience, obviously) with regards to brewing skill, style variation and plain old beery interest.  To show just how varied their range is, my nine beers were, style-wise, IPA, Brown IPA, Irish Red, Wheat beer, Dry stout, English Best Bitter, Espresso stout, Schwarzbier and New World pale ale; not bad, eh?

My choice of BOTM out of these nine (all of which scored 3 or above except the Irish Red) is the superlative Bise Noire.  This is, according to their website, some kind of take on Schwarzbier but there's something in there that no German brewery (except maybe Brewbaker?) would add if my tastebuds aren't mistaken and that's orange zest or other orange flavouring. 

Okay, so maybe some of the orangey taste comes from what tasted like a hefty addition of Simcoe/Sorachi or similar fruity hops, but to my well-travelled tastebuds there was definitely something orangey going on in there and it was beautifully done; just a hint, flitting around the taste and difficult to pin down, but definitely there adding even more complexity to what was already a very interesting beer with all the caramel, chocolate and sticky, fruity hop and it finished with a glorious burst of tarry, chocolatey malt, bitter hops, sweet caramel plus yet another hint of orange fruit which made this a beer to remember.

Little Ale Cart get on the podium yet again - well, they have hit a great run of form recently - with Boswell, a fruity, bitter, tangy brew which displays all the characteristics Richard is striving for in his beer in a pale-as-you-like package.  Yes, there's some balancing maltiness, but it's all about those hops and these are leafy, fruity, fresh and tangy on the tongue with gooseberries, peaches and sticky hop oils exploding everywhere.  The finish has all this plus a restrained bitterness atop a firm malt backbone and, even amongst the other excellent LAC beers recently, this one is probably the best they've brewed thus far.

Bronze goes to Trois Dames again for their deliciously hoppy Pacifique Ale which I sampled on tap (the only time I saw their beer on draught) at the relaxed and beery La Bossette bar in Lausanne.  I suspect this brew contains some Nelson Sauvin hops although it also had plenty of the "rosepetal" flavour characteristic of Cascade and Centennial, but when a beer is this tasty, hoppy and downright enjoyable semantics like that hardly seem to matter in the bigger scheme of things.

Amber in colour, it had a sweet toffee and rosepetal hop aroma which set the scene for the flavour.  A dextrinous malty sweetness, maybe a touch too sweet for greatness, began proceedings although this was quickly overtaken by plenty of fruity, rosey bitterness with lashings of piney hop and lychee/honeysuckle fruitiness from the hops.  The finish was still fairly sweet yet the deliciously fruit-led hop charge balanced it out with just enough bitterness allowing the rosepetal and fruity finale to wow my cynical old tastebuds into paroxysms of praise.

Other good beers drunk in January.

Little Ale Cart are, as I've already said, in a rich seam of form at present and their Ivanhoe and Woolwinder both hit the spot equally well, Ivanhoe having more oily hop juices whilst Woolwinder was a myriad of swirling sharp, citrus zestiness.  Pictish Rakau, made with new organic hops from New Zealand, thankfully showed only a touch of the diacetyl which has plagued their beers recently (they always have a touch but it's grown unpleasantly butterscotchy recently) and instead was chock-full of fruity bitterness with a bitter, tart and tasty hop and bitter finish.

Back in Switzerland, Trois Dames IPA was a lesson in how sipping beer just doesn't give you the full impression!  I tried the beer three times in different locations and, on each occasion, I liked it more and more; maybe I was getting used to the admittedly intense flavour, maybe I simply acquired a taste for it, but all I can say is that by the end of my third bottle I was waxing lyrical over it's peachy, hoppy and piney character with a delicious juicy, fruity hop taste (Simcoe?)  and yet more bitter, fruity fresh hoppiness in the ample malty finish with a lasting bitter aftertaste.  Their Brown IPA was almost as good if a touch too perfumey amongst the mounds of rosepetals and dark maltiness yet still had plenty of character (and hops!) which cheered me up no end.

Docteur Gabs is a small brewery near to Lausanne operated by young brewers and, although they don't take the flavour risks of Trois Dames, their beers are examples of well-made, solid and tasty brews which I'd drink any day of the week.  I particularly liked their stout, Ténébreuse, which possessed a deliciously dry, roasty flavour coupled to a winey, roasted and burnt, dry finish; great stuff, and their seasonal hoppy lager, Gabslag, wasn't half bad either plus it had an amusing name... always a bonus.

Finally, I can't not mention my visit to Verein Unserbräu in Basel, one of the rarest brewpubs in Europe which opens for a mere three hours a week on a Tuesday evening!  See the latest Gazzateer for more info, but basically it's a homebrewer's club which has - presumably - a license to sell their beer in their own bar which resembles a basic cafe with a small brewkit in the window.  Four beers were on tap and very good they were too, in particular the Sweet Stout which was nowhere near as sweet as I'd feared and instead was packed with roasted, nutty and frazzled barley flavours which mellowed to a sweetish finish balanced by the burnt maltiness, and the Solothurner, an amber lager whose lingering candyfloss, toffee and juicy maltiness was lip-smackingly impressive.

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