Category Archives: bottled beer

Saison Season is Open

We’re going to spend the next few weeks tasting saisons.

Last autumn, we played a bunch of porters off against one other and learned a lot in the process. Now that spring is in the air, we’ve decided to turn our attention to a brighter, lighter, more refreshing variety of beer which we still find somewhat mysterious.

The aim of this project, insofar as it has one, is to come up with a short-list of British saisons we can recommend wholeheartedly, but perhaps also to answer a nagging question: can any of them really compete with Saison Dupont, the Belgian original that arguably defines the style, on taste and value for money?

So far, we have bought bottles of:

  • Brew by Numbers 01/08 Saison Wai-iti and Lemon
  • By the Horns Vive La Brett
  • Celt Hallstatt Deity
  • Ilkley Siberia Rhubarb Saison
  • Partizan Saison Lemon and Thyme
  • Partizan Saison Lemongrass
  • Siren Ratchet Blended Saison
  • Wild Beer Epic Saison
  • Wild Beer Wild Goose Chase

And (offered, not asked for…) we will also be including free samples of:

  • BrewDog Electric India
  • Burning Sky Saison à la Provision
  • Hop Kettle Ginlemlii (thanks, @landells!)
  • Adnams/Magic Rock The Herbalist

If there are any beers you think we absolutely must include, let us know in the comments below, but we only have budget to place ONE more online order, so a lot will depend on which single retailer has the widest range available.

Of course that means that this will not be a comprehensive taste-off of every single UK-brewed saison — what are we, the British Board of Saison Classification? — but hopefully the pool will be large enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

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

Londorval & Landlorval

Last night, we blended funky Trappist pale ale Orval with two classic British best bitters, Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Our thinking was that mixing beers with somewhat similar characteristics — pale malts, old-school European hop varieties –would add complexity through subtly harmonies.

We poured around three-quarters of a pint of each British beer and topped up to a pint with Orval.

First impressions were not good. Both blends gained a Granny Smith character that was most pronounced in ‘Londorval’. That is a component of Orval’s flavour, yes, but, watered down, as it were, it became a grating, insistent irritation.

Bottled Landlord isn’t a favourite of ours but, of the two, ‘Landlorval’ was the better blend. Still, as the pint progressed, it began to seem ever more thinned out and gutted like… This might sound silly, but like a pint of Worthington Cream Flow from a keg that’s been sitting around for months in a hotel bar.

So, there you go: Orval doesn’t improve every beer to which you add it after all.

We can’t promise that this will be the last time we blend beers with Orval but it will probably be the last such experiment we bother writing up. If you come across a good combo, let us know.