Category Archives: bottled beer

Haves and Have-nots

This morning, Huddersfield’s Magic Rock made Un-Human Cannonball, their 12% 11% ‘Triple IPA’, available for purchase. It sold out online within 20 minutes.

The last week has seen a constant buzz from beer geeks, trigger fingers twitching over mouse buttons, desperate to get their hands on this limited edition, once-a-year speciality. Though we’ve generally been very impressed by Magic Rock’s beer, we refused to play.

Beer, we’re beginning to think, ought to be a repeatable experience. That’s one reason we prefer St Bernardus Abt 12 to Westvleteren 12, and probably why our ‘cellar’ is full of ‘special’ beers we never seem to get round to drinking.

And, anyway, how good can this particular beer actually be?

For all our aloofness, though, when the starter’s gun sounded, we did, for a brief moment, feel the urge to join the race — to avoid being ‘left behind’ and place ourselves among the raptured:

The fact is, this kind of marketing event just works. If we ran a brewery, we’d be doing exactly the same.

If you’re in Manchester or London and want another shot at getting your hands on UHC, there are launch events taking place this evening at the Port Street Beer House and Craft Beer Company (Islington) respectively. Good luck!

Supermarket ‘Craft Lagers’

Lager written on a pub window.

At least in terms of the number of brands available, we are currently spoiled for choice when it comes to ‘craft lager’ in supermarkets.

London brewery Fuller’s have been trying to launch a successful lager for decades. An early effort, K2, back in the 1980s, was a flop, but Frontier (4.5% ABV) seems to be achieving considerable success, at least if the sheer amount we saw being consumed on a recent trip to London is anything to go by. It might be benefiting from the fact that its stylish packaging rather implies that a trendy new brewery called Frontier is behind it, the Fuller’s name being all but hidden in tiny lettering.

Fuller's Frontier Craft Lager.Thought we’ve found the draught version perfectly fine if uninspiring, the bottles we tried hovered between just-about-drinkable and downright unpleasant. We would have liked some fruitiness, some sulphur, some Continental hop character, or some bread dough in the aroma, but got only a vague whiff of cream crackers. It seemed stale and ‘cardboardy’, with a throat-lozenge honey character where we wanted crispness. A victim, perhaps, of harsh treatment in the supermarket distribution network?

Marston's Revisionist Craft Lager.Marston’s Revisionist lager didn’t fare much better. We both suspected that, had we tasted it blind, we would have easily identified its brewery of origin. In fact, packaging aside, there wasn’t much to distinguish this from any number of standard ‘golden ales’. At first, we enjoyed its delicate elderflower and peach notes, but it finished badly, with staleness and stickiness building until the last mouthfuls were an effort. Though very cheap in Tesco (not much more than £1 a bottle), we can’t say it was good value.

We’re happy to see British brewers producing more lager, but, in general, they need to clean it up, jazz it up, or ideally both.

If you really want to pick up a UK-brewed ‘craft lager’ with your weekly shop, we haven’t found one more enjoyable than the now pretty solid St Austell Korev. If you don’t insist on a British product, Pilsner Urquell is still the best of the readily-available big brands in terms of taste, while Czech-brewed ‘own-brands’ continue to represent a bit of a bargain.

Hawkshead Stout, IPA and Export

Hawkshead bottled beers: IPA, Dry Stone Stout and Brodie's Prime Export.

Hawkshead of Cumbria is one of those breweries whose beer we’ve read more about than we’ve drunk. Best known for their pale-and-hoppy session ales, and much beloved of our northern beer blogging peers, they have recently acquired their own bottling line, and sent us three beers to try.

Dry Stone Stout (4.5% ABV) is a great name for a beer, suggesting the Cumbrian landscape as well as indicating, we assume, the intended character of the beer. It looked enticing in the glass, unctuous, and with a dark, immoveable head. Unfortunately, this bottle, from the first batch off Hawkshead’s new bottling line, seemed to have gone a bit wrong. Where we expected flinty austerity, we found an overwhelmingly buttery, toffeeish, Werther’s Originals character.  Boak, taking it as a kind of ‘Caramel Shortbread Stout’, rather enjoyed it; Bailey found it undrinkable.

Modern aromatic IPAs seem to fall into two broad categories: tropical-fruity and weedy-leafy. Hawkshead’s nameless version (7%) is firmly in the latter camp. It gave off a sweet pipe tobacco aroma on pouring, and its taste provided reminders of pine, lemon verbena, meadow grass, and, er, other type of grass. It shares some of the pleasingly raw character of Brewdog Punk IPA at is best, and is similarly dry. We found it nicely clean with no interfering ‘off’ notes. If it has a flaw, it might be that it is not terribly distinctive — why would we buy this rather than any other IPA of around the same strength? (See also Northern Monk Brew Co New World IPA.) Nonetheless, we liked it a lot, and would certainly buy a few bottles if the price was right.

We finished on a really interesting beer — Brodies Prime Export (8.5%), a stronger version of one of Hawkshead’s flagship products. Almost-black and red-tinged, it reminded us at once, not of another beer, but of Pedro Ximenez, a sweet fortified wine made from raisins, with a barely perceptible top note of grapefruit spray. It also brought to mind that bottle of 30-odd-year-old Adnams’ Tally Ho we drank last year, only without the unpleasant funkiness. In other words, Brodie’s Prime Export tastes like a ready-aged beer. It is rather classical and classy, despite its ‘craft’ branding, and gets four thumbs up from us.

News, Nuggets and Long Reads 01/02/2014

Marston's revisionist keg range.

It’s Saturday! But wait — before you rush off to bomb around the town centre on your BMX and buy Pick’n’Mix at Woolworths, here are a few things we’ve spotted during the week.

→ The picture above shows Marston’s new range of keg beers branded and sold under the ‘Revisionist‘ label. Though some will inevitably groan at a big player with a poor reputation among beer geeks ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, we can’t deny that we’re intrigued.

→ Meanwhile, we also hear that the same brewery is putting some beers that have been packaged, to their detriment, in clear glass, back into amber (brown) bottles. They are also planning to do more bottle-conditioning. Good news, we think.

American brewery North Coast is to begin distribution in the UK via Left Coast. We’ve never tried their beer so have no idea if this is good news, but Old Rasputin is in The Sacred Book, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

A nugget of trivia from Brewdog

Long reads

→ This week’s tips for saving to Pocket: a piece from Punch on ‘the art of drinking alone’ by Brad Thomas Parsons (via @allesioleone) and another excellent piece from Good Beer Hunting with some timely commentary on contract brewing.

→ BBC News Online seems to be running a story about beer once a week at the moment. Last week, it was women in beer; this week, some pondering on the Rheinheitsgebot. Next week: what does ‘craft beer’ really mean?

Around the Blogoshire

Stephen Beaumont has named the well established Allagash his American brewery of the year. He makes the case well and we have added their beers to our hit list.

→ David ‘Broadford Brewer’ Bishop has this week’s most inspiring home brew recipe. Well, not a recipe — just a germ of an idea, but a good one: the dankest beer ever. (Would 1001 Inspiring Ideas for Home Brewers be a good book?)

Companionable Silence With Westerham

Westerham beer bottle cap on a map of Kent.

Westerham Brewery of Kent share with their bigger neighbours, Shepherd Neame, an apparent fixation on World War II, and a certain conservatism in their style of brewing.

Based on the five bottled beers we’ve tried this week, however, we’d say Westerham has one big advantage over SN: a superstar yeast strain. It was cultivated from a 1959 sample from Westerham’s original Black Eagle Brewery, taken over by Ind Coope and closed down in 1965, sleeping peacefully while other breweries’ yeasts were ‘cleaned up’ and so lost their character. It seems to add layers of complexity to even fairly ‘standard’, cleanly made beers.

William Wilberforce Freedom Ale (4.8% ABV, bottle-conditioned) is sideboard brown and offers lots of toffee and caramel, but is also notably clean. The use of (Fairtrade) sugar (an inexplicable taboo in self-consciously ‘craft’ brewing) adds some dryness that is missing from some similar beers. It is not exciting, as such, but we found it extremely satisfying.

Scotney Pale Ale (4%) is the palest beer in the range — lighter than, say, the amber of Young’s Ordinary, but certainly no ‘pale’n’hoppy’ lager-alike. There are ghosts of tangerine and pine from the hops, but it stops short of flowery or perfumed. It has a fairly intense bitterness which sucks the cheeks in. Overall, we’d call it clean, spicy and English.

We’ve been conditioned to expect from an IPA either (a) huge amounts of citrusy hop aroma or (b) no hop aroma at all (Greene King). Viceroy India Pale Ale (5%) is somewhere in the middle, alongside Worthington White Shield. The bitterness is pronounced — almost too much, but not quite — and with a tannic quality we associate with properly brewed tea. We also got more spice, this time almost Christmassy (cinnamon?). There was the faintest hint of a not-quite-right savoury flavour as we neared the end of the bottle, but the big hops defeated it.

Scotney Best Bitter (4.3%) was, for us, the only clanger: all toffee and caramel, and not much else, along the lines of Sharp’s Doom Bar. If you like this style of beer, however, you might appreciate that this is more bitter than many examples.

British BulldogBritish Bulldog (4.3%, bottle conditioned), with Winston Churchill on the label, was, in some ways, the most interesting of the bunch. Ostensibly similar to Scotney Best, it seemed paler in colour and was far more complex. Bottle-conditioning gave it an extra zing and extremely draught-like. It took a moment or two before we realised: it’s a dead ringer for cask Fuller’s London Pride at its best. We detected a very faint roastiness, a spot of green apple, some sweet orange peel, and numerous other flavours and aromas which, dialled right down and blended together, made it subtle and fascinating. Our clumsy pouring gave it a slight haze but no ‘floaters’. One to buy by the case.

These are beers that, on the whole, don’t demand your attention — they are neither hard work nor aggressive — but, at the same time, are from from bland. They keep a companionable silence.

DISCLOSURE: Robert Wicks at Westerham sent us samples of his Audit Ale and Double Stout because we’ve expressed an interest in beers brewed to historic recipes in the past. We’ll be writing about them in a future post along with some similar beers we’ve accumulated. The beers mentioned above were included to fill up the box.