Category Archives: beer reviews

Acai Fruits. (Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR))

Beers With a Pinch of Place

For as long as we’ve been pondering what ‘local’ means in terms of beer, we’ve also been interested in beers made with ingredients that evoke the place of their origin.

In the last year, others have crystallised that into a conversation across various blog posts and articles, of which there have been a particular flurry in recent weeks.

The idea that what is at hand — what grows in nearby fields or hedgerows — might shape the design of a beer is alluring and, frankly, rather obvious to anyone who’s ever clapped eyes on, say, bright yellow gorse flowers, or glossy rosehips. Realising that our stash contained a few beers which make a virtue of containing unusual place-specific ingredients, we decided now was a good time to taste them, with a question in mind: does this approach create tastier or at least more interesting beers?

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Tap East American Pale Ale.

Beers of Convenience in London

A weekend in London meant seven hours of trains and replacement buses, 48 hours of dashing about on DLR, tube and suburban services, and another seven hours back.

Running from one bit of family business to another, our beer choices were dictated largely by convenience. Nevertheless, at Tap East dropping off books, and then again for our signing event on Saturday afternoon, we managed to drink draught beers from Wild Beer Co, Rooster’s, Ilkley, Firebrand, Burning Sky, Pig & Porter and Tap East’s own on-site brewery.

We enjoyed some more than others (Pig & Porter Honey Wheat impressed us in particular) but, based on a single serving in most cases, wouldn’t want to say too much more than that.

There was one beer, however, that tempted us away from ticking and into repeat orders: the Tap East house American Pale Ale (cask, 4.4%). It was a faintly-hazy, pale orange, fresh fruit salad of a beer with none of the raw savouriness that we’ve found off-putting in similar products from other breweries. We’re not much good at guessing hop varieties but we thought, in this case, that we might be experiencing a face full of Amarillo. The website, though, suggests Citra and Chinook. At any rate, just as vanilla tricks the senses by association, something about the hops here made the beer smell sweet, like mango juice or boiling apricot jam. It was good value, too, at not much more than £3 a pint.

* * *

Heading from the book event to a birthday party, we stopped off to pick up some bottled beer at bloody Waitrose. We say bloody Waitrose because every time we mention supermarket beer on the blog, someone will say, ‘You should try Waitrose — their selection is excellent!’ and, every time, we reply, ‘Our nearest Waitrose is in Devon, two hours away by public transport.’ But, yes, based on this visit to the branch in Westfield Stratford, Waitrose is streets ahead of the competition: Oakham Citra and Scarlet Macaw, Thornbridge Wild Swan, Meantime Porter, Meantime IPA, Crouch Vale Amarillo, and, as they say in infomercials, many, many more. They weren’t especially expensive either — c.£2.10 for most 500ml bottles.

Disclosure: we paid for our drinks on the first trip to Tap East (Friday) but got most of them on the house during the signing event (Saturday); and Boak’s little brother works behind the bar there.

Penzance Brewing Company pump clips, including one for Mild.

One of Those Trendy Milds

On Saturday, we made the 15 minute bus trip to the Star Inn at Crowlas, home of the Penzance Brewing Co, to meet a couple of friends who’d never been before.

They’re fairly into beer but like what they like: malty bitters and porters, and definitely not anything that smells of grapefruit. It is fortunate, then, that Peter Elvin, head brewer at PZBC and landlord of the Star, has recently taken a break from brewing pale’n’hoppy golden ales to produce what we understand is his first ever dark mild.

We were, frankly, excited to see it, so starved are we of mild down here in Cornwall.

At 3.6%, it was perfect session strength. Mr Elvin being obsessive about beer clarity and vocally critical of brewers who use caramel for colouring, we weren’t surprised to find it perfectly transparent — deep conker-brown rather than black. It was surprising, however, to find that it tasted like stout-lite, with plenty of roasted grain character, and the balance more towards bitter than sweet.

But what can you usefully say about a fairly by-the-book mild? It was flavoursome, good value (£2.60 a pint), and kept out the increasing wintry chill without getting us legless.

And this might count as a ‘top tip': it was especially good alternated with pints of citrusy, fruity Potion 9, each beer making the other taste more essentially of itself by contrast.

Porter finalists lined up.

Porter Taste-Off: Grand Final

We’ve just spent a happy couple of hours tasting six of the best porters we’ve tried in the last two months, and we have an overall winner.

You can read about how this small project began here, and sets of tasting notes for the six batches we tried in ‘heats’ are collected here. Suffice to say, this has been an ad-hoc, completely subjective process, the results of which are really only very meaningful to us.

The finalists were (in alphabetical order):

  • Anchor
  • Beavertown Smog Rocket
  • BrewDog Brixton
  • Fuller’s
  • Guinness West Indies (disclosure: freebie)
  • Samuel Smith’s Taddy

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Meantime, Sambrook's and Okell's porter labels.

Porter Tasting: Batch 6 — Odds and Ends

The purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective.

This is our last batch of porter tasting notes — even though people keep flagging new ones we must try, this has to end some time, if only for the sake of our sanity.

What have we learned about porter in the last few weeks? First, that it allows quite a bit of room for variation: we’ve tried some that resembled German Schwarzbiers; one or two that could easily be marketed as strong stouts; and others that were very hoppy, or smoky, or had some other left-field characteristic.

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