Category Archives: beer reviews

Rooster’s in Cans

Yorkshire brewery Rooster’s, founded by Sean Franklin in the 1990s but now run by the Fozard brothers, has just started canning three of its beers.

We’ve generally enjoyed Rooster’s beer on draught but have had mixed results with the bottled versions which we’ve put down to that scourge of the microbrewery — contract bottling. None of them have been bad, as such — just rather flaccid and stale tasting. The cans are packaged in-house, however, so we had high hopes that they might better capture the zing of the aromatic hops on which Rooster’s has built its reputation.

Fort Smith (5% ABV, £2.23 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) comes in a golden can with a matte finish, classy looking despite a vague reminder of Gold Label barley wine. It poured yellow-gold with gentle but generous carbonation which produced a thick, textured white head. The aroma was dominated by apricot and peach — a concentrated hit, like a scented candle — while the flavour recalled elderflower. The bitterness was assertive and almost surgically clean. Overall, it sits somewhere between a pint of cask pale’n’hoppy, as found up north, and a decent lager, and is certainly a cut above those cooked-tasting golden ales the supermarkets turn out.

Baby Faced Assassin in can.Baby Faced Assassin (6.1%, £2.42 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) is a beer we’ve wanted to try for a long time ever since seeing Zak Avery’s joyful reaction to an early iteration. (“It’ll never be released commercially…”) Opening the can released a burst of tropical fruit and citrus — it somehow smelled sweet, like a tin of Del Monte. Clear orange in the glass, it too had on of those solid, wavy white heads which inspires confidence. Close up, there was some weedy-ness to round out the fruit salad. The first taste elicited an ‘Oh, yes!’ It’s not at all sugary or cloying despite the aroma and, in fact, teeters on the line of being too bitter. As we went on, we detected an intriguing note of hedgerow herbs — cow parsley? — which you might call cattiness. BFA is not massively unusual — there are lots of beers that look and smell similar — but it all comes together so well, with no niggling off flavours to distract or irritate, that we couldn’t help but love it. Top marks.

Perhaps the extreme freshness of both cans gave them a bit of added glamour. Certainly the Brooklyn East India Pale Ale we tried afterwards tasted like the mummified corpse of a good beer, the hops all gone, leaving only a husk of leathery toffee.

Fuller’s Past Masters 1914 Strong X

There is never going to be a Fuller’s Past Masters beer that we don’t buy by the case, even though this makes three in a row that have failed to hit the standard set by the first two.

Though supposedly brewed to a recipe for Fuller’s standard mild from August 1914, the ABV has been bumped up from an almost sessionable, historically accurate c.5% to 7.3%, more befitting of a limited edition release. (Here are Ron Pattinson’s notes on Fuller’s X from the period.) It cost us £3.75 a bottle, in a case of 12, plus delivery.

It certainly looks enticing in the glass, gleaming red, and has the characteristic Fuller’s tangerine aroma.

The problem,  however, occurs on tasting, when an overriding, Irn-Bru, Lucozade sweetness takes over. It made us think, unfortunately, of Innis & Gunn, of whose beers we are not fans, or even Adelscott, the whisky-flavoured, sweetened, alco-pop beer from France.

In fact, the reminder of whisky doesn’t stop there. Though we occasionally drink it, as with coffee, we struggle to discern specific flavours and qualities beyond the bleedin’ obvious, so please excuse our vagueness when we say that there was a whisky-and-water boozy, smoky afterburn in the throat and nose.

There’s also a gentle tooth-stripping quality like the feeling you get after eating a particularly tart rhubarb or gooseberry crumble. (Oxalic acid says the internet.)

We’re making this sound like hard work, aren’t we? Well, that’s how we’re finding it, four bottles into a case of twelve. The rest we’re going to leave for a few months and see if it mellows, though we can’t really see how it will get less sweet unless some of the remaining sugars are somehow digested by the bottle-conditioning yeast.

Ultimately, it’s a really quirky, interesting beer that won’t appeal to everyone, and we know some people have loved it:

But the really exciting news: that incredible 1893 Double Stout is being re-brewed this year. We’ll buy two cases this time.

Fantôme Saison and Brise-BonBons

Belgium’s not as handy for us now as when we lived in London so we have to rely on mail order beer deliveries for our fix.

At the end of last year, from different sources, we got hold of two bottles from cult brewery Fantôme, and decided to liven up a stormy weekday January night by tasting them in one session.

The last time we tried Fantôme Saison was at Cask in Pimlico in 2010.  Back then, we didn’t really get saison (here’s the moment where it began to click) and, anyway, as various people told us, Fantôme’s is notoriously variable. At any rate, as far as we can tell*, though we made it our beer of the week, we didn’t write about it at length, and don’t remember much about it.

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Pre-WWII US IPA and a Euro-Mashup

We tasted two beers from our end of 2014 wish list last night: BrewDog’s collaboration with Weihenstephan, India Pale Weizen, and a recreation of the fabled Ballantine IPA.

Well, sort of. The latter was not the recent effort released by Pabst, which we’re still desperate to try, but an entirely different beer produced as a collaboration between two US breweries, Stone and Smuttynose. Will it soon be possible to have a bar selling nothing but Ballantine clones? Possibly.

If there’s a theme to this post, it’s old meets new, and the idea of sliding scales. You’ll see what we mean.

India Pale Weizen

6.2%, 330ml, from Red Elephant, Truro; £2.60 at BrewDog’s own online store

With apologies to the ‘all that matters is the taste’ crowd, what got us interested in this beer was the idea of the Scottish upstarts BrewDog collaborating with the centuries-old German brewery Weihenstephan. Our assumption was that they would meet halfway and create the perfect beer for a pair of fence-sitters like us.

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Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints 2014

Prompted by Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews, here are our nominations for the best bevvies, bars, book and blogs in the world of beer in 2014.

Bearing in mind that we live a long way from where the action is and haven’t been abroad, our choices are perhaps a bit parochial and conservative. In general, though we try to keep a bit of distance and remain objective, you might also want to cross-reference this lot against our disclosure page. And who knows how this list might have looked if we’d written it yesterday, or tomorrow.

Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Proper Job

Proper Job pump clip.After much over-thinking, we decided that we wanted to recognise a beer from one of our local breweries, of which we have drunk several pints every week, usually at the Yacht Inn in Penzance, and which consistently delighted us — that is, made us say ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’ The peachy, pithy, juicy aroma gets us every time, laid over a clean, fresh-tasting beer with no rough-edges at all. Through compromise rather than design, it’s been an American-style IPA at session strength for some years, which is now apparently all the rage. We expect to drink lots more of it in 2015.

Best UK Keg Beer: Brew By Numbers Cucumber & Juniper Saison

Brew by Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison.At first, we struggled to think of any keg beers we’d drunk often enough to form a strong opinion — we dabbled with a lot of one-off glasses in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London, but didn’t go back for seconds of many or any. Then we recalled this beer which we enjoyed back in June and liked enough to seek out for a second session. A gimmicky beer from a brewery whose beers we don’t find universally brilliant, it nonetheless knocked us for six — the beer equivalent of a classic ‘fruit cup’. (We have also found it good in bottles, but not as good as from the keg.)

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Thornbridge Tzara

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.The most convincing Kölsch you’ll taste outside Cologne and, debates over style and stylistic sub-divisions aside, one of the best lager beers around. The most impressive thing about it is the malt character — solid enough to chew on. Not flashy but classy, and a real demonstration of brewing skill. (Here’s what we said back in February.)

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