More winter warmers

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Service update: no internet in the Boak and Bailey household, so updates will be intermittent until it’s sorted. Virginmedia’s service and customer service is terrible. 

Just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean the winter warmers stop coming. Here are some of the good ones we’ve had in the past month or so.

Meantime Winter Warmer

Finally got hold of this one in a Sainsbury’s on the outskirts of London. Worth the trouble, as it’s very pleasant and packed full of flavours – smoke, hints of chocolate, some fruitiness. We thought it was like a smoother, milkier version of their London Porter. Bottled conditioned and 5.4%.

If you want more poetical and detailed descriptions, the Beernut has reviewed it here, and Zythophile has reviewed it here.

Anchor “Our Special Ale” 2007

This is brewed to a different recipe each winter, according to the Anchor website. The 2007 version is 5.5% and very tasty. It’s a red-black colour, with excellent head retention and full body. The aroma reminded us of pine trees and candyfloss. We noted burnt gingerbread flavours (that’s a good thing!), with some spices that were difficult to identify – possibly allspice? Nutmeg? There was also some fruitiness – a little bit like peaches. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were cranberries in it.

It had a bitter dry finish – almost certainly C-hops, but the citrus isn’t particularly pronounced.

All fantastic examples of how lots of flavour can be achieved with a *relatively* low ABV.

Deus and polypin conditioned beer

polypin.jpgWe saw in the New Year at a friend’s party, with a bottle of Deus and a polypin of home-brewed stout.

First, the Deus. There’s no denying that this is a very special beer. It has an incredibly complex production process and shares some champagne maturing techniques — hence the epithet “Brut de Flandres”. If you want to find out more about how it’s made you can visit their site here.

It’s absolutely lovely, with a wonderful perfumy aroma. It’s light on the tongue initially, but with a long complex aftertaste, and ginger and apple notes, amongst others. But is it worth £15? There are even lovelier beers available for a lot less. Still, a nice one to pull out for a special occasion, and the bubbles were fantastic.

As saddo homebrewers, however, we were just as interested in seeing how our polypin-conditioned stout would work. This was the first time we’d used a polypin (essentially a strong collapsible plastic bag with a tap) so we were worried as to how it would turn out. We couldn’t find a lot of guidance on the internet about using one in homebrewing, but it’s quite common for UK breweries to offer polypins for home use, so we figured the end product would probably taste OK.

We were slightly perturbed when it expanded ready to burst after just a day of secondary fermentation, so we decided to vent it. We continued to vent it 2 or 3 times a day until the day before it was due to be served, when it was transferred to our hosts’ house to settle. At that point, we started worrying about whether it would be carbonated enough, or off, or explode in their garage.

And wonder of wonders, it worked. It was extremely interesting (well, for us anyway) to compare the polypin version of our stout with the bottled one. The one in the polypin was “flatter”, but no flatter than most cask ales in pubs. They had a different mouthfeel (perhaps due to the carbonation) and the faux-cask ale had a softer aroma. The cask ale also tasted “fresher” — it’s difficult to describe exactly what we mean by that, but hopefully it’s clear to those who’ve compared cask and bottle. The bottled version tasted like it wasn’t quite ready, whilst the cask ale had definitely matured in the same period (two weeks).

This is a useful discovery as (a) it saves on bottling (b) it’s probably as close as we’re going to get to the condition of cask ale at home — more so than bottle-conditioning.

Incidentally, we also discovered that smoked paprika doesn’t *really* work in stout…

The Greenwich Union – on the up again

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stoutTo Greenwich then, to visit the Union again. We haven’t been there much recently, maybe once every six months, as we weren’t too impressed with the service the last couple of times, and Greenwich is a bit of a hike from our gaff.

However, we are delighted to report that the Union is on top form at the moment, and well worth a visit. More than a couple of visits a year, in our case. Especially because Meantime always seem to be tinkering with their recipes, so the beers never taste quite the same from one visit to the next.

For the uninitiated, the Union in Greenwich is the main outlet for Meantime’s beers. Meantime seems to divide beer lovers; on the one hand, it has many fans, on the other hand, the fact that it serves most of its beers in keg form makes it a no-no amongst hard-core CAMRA types those who feel that cask is the best form of serving beers. [See comments]

After today’s visit, we would recommend a visit even if you despise Meantime beers. You can find excellent and well-priced food, plus a good range of bottled beers from other brewers. They’ve obviously taken on board previous negative comments about the service on sites such as Beer in the Evening — service was excellent, with bar staff keen to plug the Meantime beers, offer tastings and advice and generally look after the punters.

But onto the beers. The specials on today were a Strawberry beer, and a stout, which was called something like London Single Stout. The strawberry was very pleasant – not quite the thing for the bleak midwinter, but refreshing and fruity. The London Single Stout was definitely streets ahead of the Extra Dry Stout, reviewed here in May by Stonch, and here by us. It’s not too fizzy, it has a lovely big body with all sorts of vanilla and coffee flavours. Very impressive for 4.5%.

We also thought that the Wheatbeer and Raspberry beers had improved. These are also produced in “Grand Cru” versions in bottles, and we wondered whether this had helped improve the quality of the “base” product. The wheat tasted of bananas, as expected, but also had a fresh hop finish. The Raspberry has got much lighter over the years (it’s barely red at all now) but delivers a beautifully balanced fruit flavour. Unusually for a fruit beer, you can also taste the malt and hops. Clever stuff.

The Pale Ale tasted like a cleaner, more sparkling version of Young’s bitter. The Pilsener is now only available in bottles, but is absolutely delicious – it tastes herby and spritzy. To finish, we had a Chocolate beer and a Coffee beer (also in bottles). They’re both marvellously thick and creamy; the coffee porter is probably more complex, but it would be difficult to pick a favourite from the two.

Weirdly, they didn’t have any Winter Time, and the bar staff were as confused as us about why not.

The Rake at Christmas and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout

If you want to get into the Christmassy spirit in London, a trip to Borough Market is a winner. Geese, game pies, mulled cider, and carol-singers under a tree. A real Dickensian wonderland (just wish they had Dickensian prices). All the better if you go on a weekday afternoon when you should be in work.

Having carefully selected some beers in Utobeer to go with Christmas dinner (more on that after Christmas) we retired to the Rake for a quiet drink or six. We hadn’t been for a few months – it’s rather difficult to get in the door in the evenings these days – and were pleased to see that what was on offer had changed considerably since the last time we were there. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous selection, it’s just good to see change and variety.

On tap; HopBack Entire Stout, O’Hanlon’s Goodwill, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, La Chouffe N’ice, Koestritzer Schwarzbier and I think Maisels’ Weisse. In bottles, another two hundred or so.

yeti.jpgOf the various beers we had, Goodwill was great in that it wasn’t just a standard bitter with some cinnamon in it. Instead, the brewers had gone for citrusy flavours and succeeded in creating a nicely balanced, warming bitter. Similar citrusy flavours abounded in Celebration Ale, which also tasted of peaches. La Chouffe was very tasty, but then at 10% it should be! All excellent beers.

But the star of the show was Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout (in bottles). Now, we’d had a few drinks beforehand, so I’m not sure in the cold light of the morning I’d be as bold as to say it was the best beer I’d ever tasted (which I said a few times last night to anyone who’d care to listen…) But it knocked our socks off sufficiently that we ordered another one straight afterwards, rather than try a new beer. It’s 9.5% and almost jet black, with a gorgeous mocha-coloured head. It reminded me of an amazing hot chocolate I once had in Spain, which was 85% cocoa solids. Incredibly chocolatey, thick and silky, but not at all sweet. It’s very bitter (it proudly boasts “75 bittering units”) but the hop bitterness blends perfectly with the cocoa bitterness. It’s a sledgehammer of a beer.