Magical Mystery Pour #1: Spontanbasil

Magical Mystery Pour logo.Throughout this year we’re going to make an effort to drink some more unusual beers alongside our usual diet of standards from St Austell, Penzance Brewing Co, Anchor, Westmalle, and so on.

Dina, AKA @msswiggy, always seems to be having great fun exploring the weird outer reaches of the world of beer, like this:

So she was the first person we approached to give us a drinking list, stipulating that:

  • It should contain five or six beers.
  • All of which should be available from the same supplier.
  • At a cost of around £40 maximum for the lot.

First up, she recommended Spontanbasil, a collaboration between Lindemans (Belgium) and Mikkeller (Denmark), a lambic beer made with fresh basil leaves. It cost (brace yourselves) £13.50 for a 750ml bottle and its ABV is 6%.

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The Best Bottled Milds Are…

After five elimination rounds we ended up with eight bottled milds to compare against each other in the big final.

  1. Banks’s (can)
  2. Elgood’s
  3. Holden’s
  4. Ilkley
  5. Moorhouse’s
  6. Norfolk Brewhouse
  7. St Peter’s
  8. Thwaites’s (can)

We followed what has become our usual procedure: Bailey numbered eight plastic beakers and poured samples, as above; Boak then tasted them blind, promoting and demoting until we were left with a rough pecking order. Bailey (who sort of knew which beer was which) then reviewed her rankings.

In this case, we were in broad agreement, with only a little debate over third and fourth place: one beer was relatively bland but clean, the other more flavourful but with a nagging off-note. In the end, we went with clean, but there wasn’t much in it.

First place badge.First place: Holden’s Black Country. A noticeably ‘bigger’ flavour without resorting to stout-like roastiness or flowery hoppiness. It seemed somehow more dense and concentrated than its rivals, despite its restrained ABV of 3.7%. It isn’t quite like drinking cask mild but nor is it overly carbonated or crystalline as some bottled ales can be. Worth buying by the case with a session or two in mind. It is available for £2.09 a bottle at Beers of Europe.

Second: Moorhouse’s Black Cat. The smoky note we detected first time round was even more pronounced in this company — verging on cigarette ash at times. Nonetheless, it seemed quintessentially mild-like, and interesting to boot. Beers of Europe have it at £2.05 a bottle; if you live in the North West, you should be able to find it in shops fairly easily, and probably cheaper.

Best value badge.Third: Thwaites’s. This one slightly surprised us as, at a mere 3.2%, we thought it might get washed away alongside stronger, more characterful competitors. Though almost bland, it isn’t quite, and a tongue-coating body makes for a very convincing pub-style beer. It’s certainly top in terms of value selling for around a quid a can in supermarkets.

Fourth: Ilkley Black. We still like this beer a lot but it seemed marred by a faint slick of butter this time round. We bought ours from Beer Ritz at £2.96 but we are told it can be found in Asda stores in the North at less than £2 a bottle.

As for the others, we found St Peter’s much less enjoyable than on our first encounter, with an unbearable stale cardboardiness; Banks’s seemed all but flavourless in this company; Elgood’s was rather fizzy and Cola-like; and Norfolk Brewhouse’s effort was excellent but (perhaps this bottle was fresher) had grassy, flowery hop notes that seemed quite out place. (Links are to our original tasting notes.)

At the end of all that, we’ve got a much clearer idea of what we think mild is about. First, it has to put sweet malt and flavours from sugar at the forefront, but that doesn’t have to mean that it has to be sickly or lacking in character. Bitterness can work, but excessive perfume just seems wrong. Roastiness also jars, suggesting that some brewers remain in thrall to out-of-date history that declares mild to be a degeneration of porter, which it isn’t. (Though baby stout is quite a nice thing in their own right.)

Most importantly, though, we’re now convinced that bottled mild can work after all — great news for those of us who live in regions where it is rarely seen in the pub, and also for those of you abroad who want to get to understand the style without having to book a flight to Britain.

Predictions & Resolutions For 2016

Making predictions is difficult, but fun; it can make commentators seem like great seers, or complete idiots. (Usually the latter.)

In the wake of the takeover of Camden by AB-InBev a lot of people said, ‘Well, I saw this coming.’ Funny thing is, we didn’t, not exactly:

Most other breweries we can think of with slick branding and accessible flagship brands that aren’t brown bitters — Camden, Thornbridge, Williams Bros — seem less likely, but for some reason, we keep thinking of Purity. An outside chance, maybe, but perhaps worth a flutter.

But we won’t let that stop us from making this our first prediction:

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.

1. At Least One More Big Beer Takeover of a UK Craft Brewer

Others with better insight than us — namely Melissa Cole and Martyn Cornell — seem to be of the view that AB-InBev might have done with the UK for now (UPDATE via Twitter) and will be roving the Continent looking for acquisition targets. Maybe they’re right but we reckon at least one more British brewery will go this year.

‘Who’s next?’ you ask.

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Bottled Milds 5: The North Country

This final batch of bottled milds are all from the North — a term which, of course, covers a great deal of territory.

Though the Midlands has a strong claim to mild it is The North with which it is most associated in the popular imagination — part of the stereotypical image of a northerner along with flat caps and whippets, as in this article on the crowd-sourced comedy website NewsBiscuit:

In a move which is sure to be welcomed by ‘hard working families’ and ‘lovable northerners’, the Government has announced that whippets, pipes, pints of mild and dolly tubs are all to be zero-rated for VAT.

As with CAMRA and beards there is some truth in the association: we found a relative abundance of mild on our last trip to Manchester, albeit mostly kegged; and yet as early as the 1970s CAMRA was declaring it all but extinct in London and the Home Counties.

Apart from the question of whether they’re any good — the main point of these posts — there’s a secondary line of enquiry: do they have anything in common with each other? And, if so, can we say northern mild is any way distinct from Midlands mild?

  • Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild (Beers of Europe, £2.89 500ml)
  • Ilkley Black (Beer Ritz, £2.96 500ml)
  • Moorhouse Black Cat (Beers of Europe, £2.05 500ml)
  • Rudgate Ruby Mild (Beer Ritz, £3.00 500ml)
  • Thwaites Dark Mild (Morrisons, £3.96 4 × 440ml)

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B&B’s Golden Pints 2015

Andy ‘Beer Reviews’ Mogg kicked off this year’s Golden Pints yesterday and, as this is about the one thing we try not to over-think, without much agonising, here’s our contribution.

Best UK Cask Beer: Penzance Brewing Company Trink

pztrinkpcA strong pale’n’hoppy (5.2% ABV) that we used to trek to the Star Inn for but which, this year, has become a regular at the Dock Inn in Penzance. (Causing us to all but abandon our usual Proper Job at the Yacht round the corner.) It’s so much fun to drink, with all those tropical fruit and citrus aromas climbing out of the glass, that we always end up having one more than we ought but we forgive it for the hangovers nonetheless.

Best UK Keg Beer: None

We’ve not been around the UK much this year and there isn’t all that much kegged beer down here in Cornwall so we struggled to think of an obvious candidate. We might have said St Austell Korev or, searching old Tweets, the Marble Lagonda that got us all fired up back in March but, really, neither feels quite right. So, we’re leaving this one blank. (Hereafter, if we haven’t got a nomination, we’re leaving the category out altogether.)

BrewDog Electric India in the glass.

Best UK Bottled Beer: BrewDog Electric India

It impressed us in the heats of our saison taste-off and then stood up to, and bettered, Saison Dupont in the final. BrewDog, we think, are at their best making decent, good value, slightly pepped-up versions of foreign styles.

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