Category Archives: beer reviews

Choosing a Lager in the UK

The arrival of a new beer from Sweden on the UK market has made us wonder about the hierarchy of packaged lagers available in the UK.

The graphic below isn’t a league table, exactly. Rather, we imagined that someone was offering to buy us an entire case of lager, and then played the options of against one another, based on our most recent experiences of each beer.

So, if offered the choice between a case (or, rather, a slab) of Foster’s or one of Carling, we’d take the Carling. If we were then given the opportunity to trade up to a case of Camden Hells, we’d certainly take it.

This is based on our personal preferences and prejudices, of course — your table would likely look different because, for example, you might not have a soft spot for the curry house favourite Cobra like we do.

There’s a vague attempt at order — imports to the right; bigger UK breweries down the middle; those pitched as ‘craft’ towards the left. The wishy-washy colour coding is intended to hint at a scale from nasty to delicious, via bland (or neutral if you want a more, er, neutral term).

An attempt to rank lagers available in the UK with Schlenkerla Helles our top pick and Foster's at the bottom of the pile.

As it was samples of Fagerhult from Swedish cider-makers Kopparberg that kicked this off, we should say that we didn’t much like it — drunk on its own, it’s bland shading to nasty, with no discernible bitterness or malt flavour, just some sweet vegetal notes. It was OK with salty, spicy food (a tomato-based curry), seeming more bitter by contrast. We can’t imagine buying it over most other bog-standard brands, though, unless it was hugely discounted or, say, we were having a Swedish-themed Wallander watching party.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve heard worrying reports of a recent and sudden drop in quality of bottled Pilsner Urquell. When we last had it, it was as pungently weedy and bitter as ever but we will try a bottle or two in the new packaging when we get the chance and report back.

UPDATE: We might have been too generous to Fuller’s Frontier above, with the not-bad draught version in mind, rather than the bottles which we didn’t like at all last year.

Four From Summer Wine

Yorkshire brewery Summer Wine have been around for a few years now — do they deserve a place on our list of trusted breweries?

Trusted breweries are those whose beers rarely disappoint, regardless of whether they’re from cask, keg, can or bottle. We’ve tried Summer Wine’s beer, primarily on cask, several times, and never been overly impressed, finding them generally on the rough side.

Having been challenged over our lack of enthusiasm, however, we decided to give them another go and so ordered four 330ml bottles from Ales by Mail.

  • Pacer Session IPA (4.1% ABV, £1.97)
  • Oregon Pale Ale (5.5%, £2.06)
  • Sabertooth IPA (6.9%, £2.33)
  • Maelstrom Double IPA (9%, £2.76)

Continue reading Four From Summer Wine

Peculiorval

Theakston’s Old Peculier (CO-OP, three for £5) is pleasant enough, but rather light-bodied and over-clean. It’s the perfect candidate, then, for blending with Orval, the rambunctious, stylishly unkempt poster child for brettanomyces.

This time (here’s last time), though we were less precise in our measurements, we went for an approximate blend of one part Orval to two parts Old Peculier. The resulting beer was very dark brown but stopped short of being black.

We knew with the first sip that this was another hit — Orval, still, but newly dark, rich and chocolatey. Now, we’re not saying it was better than Orval, just that it was nice to see Orval playing against type, doing something different.

There were flavours here that aren’t, as far as we can tell, in either base beer. Chinese five spice came to mind, including a dangerous suggestion of cinnamon (we don’t like it in beer, in general) which stayed just the right side of tantalising.

The Orval also brought out Old Peculier’s latent but muted prune and currant flavours, almost as if it were a kind of seasoning.

All in all, there was something distinctly medieval about this blend, perhaps recalling some of the fruit-laden recipes from the Forme of Cury, and we don’t hesitate to recommend it as a beer-n-TV pairing for the BBC’s Wolf Hall on Wednesday night.

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.