Category Archives: beer reviews

Stumbling Upon The Four Thieves, Battersea

We couldn’t resist following an official-looking brown tourist information sign pointing to ‘Brewery & Distillery’.

Having set out with no particular plan in mind other than to find (a) beer we can’t get in Penzance and (b) somewhere to enjoy lunch with baby-laden friends we trusted Clapham, in south west London, to provide. The sign actually directed just across the border into Battersea, to the Four Thieves.

This pub occupies a huge building — a former music hall — with decorative tiling throughout, high ceilings, dark corners, a jungle-like ‘gin garden’, a back room with breakfast buffet, a games room with arcade machines and ‘interactive experiences’, and, of course, a substantial glass-fronted brewhouse.

It’s got a touch of the 2005 about it — that curlicued boutique-hotel styling that was all the rage before the industrial look took over — which, frankly, made rather a pleasant change. (Or maybe we’re just getting old.)

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BrewDog Dü Altbier

We were pleased to hear BrewDog had attempted an Altbier given recent evidence of their knack for brewing textbook examples of classic styles. Is it a beer worth shouting about?

When we were in the very earliest days of learning about beer, using Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide as our manual, we were desperate to try Altbier, the speciality of the north-western German city of Düsseldorf.

Then, in 2008, when we’d been blogging less than a year, we finally made the pilgrimage, and did little but drink Alt for several days. We had a great time — the city is fascinating, the pubs are great, and there’s an irresistible charm to almost any regional speciality with its own persistent culture.

The beer itself, however, seemed to us rather like heavily chilled, bog-standard British bitter, saved only from blandness by super-freshness and context.

Candy Kaiser (we paid £2.75 for 330ml from Beer Ritz; it’s available for £1.80 direct from BrewDog) was first brewed in 2014 under the name ‘Amber Alt’. In this latest iteration it tastes (if our seven-year-old memories can be trusted) almost as good as, and pretty similar to, the real thing.

Which is to say, despite a characteristically overblown BrewDog blurb (‘a full throttle attack on your taste buds’) it is accurately unexciting.

It is suitably conker-brown, has an appropriate hard-toffee, brown sugar sweetness, a touch of dark roastiness, and — its saving grace — plenty of serious, unsmiling, business-like bitterness. Other than that, there was little else to latch on to, which is true to style — Alt is for drinking in volume with your pals, not chatting about — but makes it hard to recommend as a beer in its own right.

It doesn’t capture the magic of drinking Alt at source but it does come closer than most bottled versions, so if you’re curious about can’t make it to Düsseldorf, it’s probably the best substitute on the UK market this side of a cold bottle of St Austell HSD.

La Brasserie Artisanale de Nice

That’s actually the name of the brewery, not a description — a clear benefit of being one of the first ‘craft’ breweries in your region.

We were tipped off to the existence of Nice’s answer to The Kernel by Ratebeer. We tried to find the beers on sale in a bar or restaurant but didn’t have any luck and so visited the brewery to buy takeaway bottles during the brief daily window between 17:00-19:00.

It operates out of a retail unit on literally the wrong side of the tracks, beyond the main station, away from the sea and the historic tourist district, and is the kind of place that you think mustn’t actually exist until you go just one block further and, yes, there it is across the road from a seedy cafe near a boarded-up supermarket.

The owner seemed delighted to see us and wanted to know how we’d found out about the brewery; he’d never heard of Ratebeer but wrote down the URL. When we said, ‘This isn’t really beer territory, is it?’ he gave a long, bitter laugh and rolled his eyes. ‘You can say that again!’

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Does it Work and is it Worth a Tenner?

Schneider’s Meine Porter Weisse is, as the name suggests, a cross-breeding of English porter and Bavarian wheat beer — an idea intriguing enough to convince us to part with £9.99 for 750ml.

Our first guess was that this would have something to do with Brooklyn Brewery but, no: publicity materials suggest that Georg Schneider conceived this beer with his friend ‘Alistair’, a brewer in London. Presumably there are legal reasons for the coyness — this is not a formal collaboration — but there’s only one porter-obsessed global craft beer aristocrat who really fits the bill.

From its wheat beer ancestry it gains high carbonation and opacity, while the porter side gives it a rich red-black colour. It could look muddy (as dark wheat beers often do) but actually pulls off velvety richness.

The aroma is dominated by wheat beer characteristics: some pineapple, a little banana, and vanilla. With the first gulp, porter takes over with a burnt-toast and dark chocolate bitterness which works unsurprisingly well with the creamy texture. Ultimately, as the head dies away, the Dark Side comes to dominate, though a hint of tropical fruit persisted to the end.

We were reminded a little of Schneider’s own Aventinus and also of Anchor’s mouth-coating, chewy Porter, though this isn’t as good as either of those beers. It’s not a clumsy clash as many of these German-US-UK hybrids can be, but nor is it quite in balance, and our final impression was of wateriness — like drinking mild. That’s unforgivable in a 7% beer.

Though Bailey (who’s soft about mild) liked it more than Boak (who hates pineapple) neither of us would rush to drink it again, and certainly not at this price.

The Great British Saison Taste-Off

Since April, we’ve tried a ton of different British-brewed saisons and selected eight for our final taste-off. Now, at last, we have our top three.

We won’t make you wait — they are, in order of preference:

  1. BrewDog Electric India — 5.2%, available April-June — tasting notes 30/04/2015
  2. Cheddar Ales Firewitch — 4.8% — tasting notes 06/08/2015
  3. Weird Beard Saison 14 — 5.6%, an ‘occasional brew’ — tasting notes 29/07/2015

Beers which tasted great in the ‘heats’ didn’t necessarily stand up to the competition — Wild Beer Co’s Epic, Ilkley Siberia and Mad Hatter Rhubarb Custard seemed rough-edged by comparison with some of their peers and, in no particular order, came at the bottom.

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