Sam Smith’s Extra Stout — a good beer, all of a sudden?

ssbadge.gifI occasionally drink Sam Smith’s Extra Stout (the one on the pumps) when I just want a half of something, and don’t fancy a “pure-brewed lager”. Usually, it’s a black and fluffy white Guinness clone, albeit one with marginally more flavour. But yesterday, I had a half in the Fitzroy which knocked my socks off.

1. It didn’t seem to have been nitro smooth-flowed to death — it was still creamy, but not like someone had put shaving foam on top.
2. The head was that pleasing tan you get on good stouts, instead of the usual glacial white.
3. It was warmer than usual (that is, several degrees above freezing).
4. The body wasn’t a scary, opaque, artificial black — it was dark red, and clear.
4. It was delicious: coffee, chocolate, a little note of sourness, and some salt — just perfect, to my mind.

What’s going on? Is there a cask variant which some pubs have and others don’t? (As is the case with some of Sam Smith’s bitters.) Or have they changed the recipe?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find out. The brewery’s aversion to “modern ways” means they’re not online and don’t really do press releases. The bar staff in the pub were none the wiser, either. Hmm.

Pagoa post script – Zunbeltz (and style nazis)

In my post two days ago, I reviewed two Pagoa beers – now the third, “Zunbeltz”, which describes itself as a stout.

Again, this seems to get real bad reviews on Ratebeer, and I can’t really see why.  It’s got bags of flavour, toasted malt, coffee and chocolate notes and a lovely long finish. This is easily one of the tastiest beers in Spain and would stand up very well against a British mild like Oscar Wilde.

And perhaps this style “confusion” explains the bad reviews - it hasn’t really got the body to be a stout, which is what the reviews seem to focus on.

While I can’t get as worked up as some bloggers about overclassification of beer – I think it’s quite useful for homebrewing if you’re trying to copy a particular favourite – I think in this case, it has resulted in a good beer getting some very bad reviews because it’s not “true to type”.

Or alternatively I’ve had a taste lobotomy since being out here…

Anyway, it is definitely worth trying, and I won’t even qualify that with “if you’re in Spain”. 

Boak

M&S get real

norfolk_bitter.jpgIn 2006, we wrote to British supermarket chain Marks and Spencers to tell them how impressed we were that they’d started stocking some decent beer, namely their OK IPA and excellent Irish Stout.

But we also had some suggestions:

1. Real ale bores, just like serious foodies, like to know who is making their beer. The standard M&S practice of concealing their suppliers didn’t enhance the appeal of the product but rather seriously reduced it. Couldn’t they tell us who was making their booze for them, as ASDA, Sainsburys and others do?

2. Given that everything else in their range is supposedly of the finest quality, why weren’t these beers bottle conditioned? It seemed odd to us that they would sell hand-reared, free-range, 21-day aged beef next to pasteurised, filtered beer.

I’m delighted to see (in the latest issue of What’s Brewing) that CAMRA were also pursuing the same line of enquiry — as I’m sure were many other individual consumers — and that it’s paid off. M&S are now to stock four new bottle-conditioned beers from around the UK, each attributed very clearly to its home brewery (Woodforde’s, Vale, Cropton and Black Hills).

Last night, I tried their Norfolk Bitter (Woodforde’s) and was very impressed. Tons of citrusy hop flavour and aroma, and a lovely thick, persistent head

Nice one, M&S, and nice one CAMRA! Now to get that fantastic Irish Stout bottle conditioned too…

Basque beer – two offerings from Pagoa

San Sebastian is considered to be a bit of a foodie paradise, with lots of local wines, ciders and spirits to match. I hadn’t been expecting to find any basque beer, but I was on the lookout, and I struck gold early on with a couple of offerings from Euskal Garagardoa S.A. in their “Pagoa” range – Orhi, a pilsner and Gorri, a “Red Ale”. I gather from various internet searches that there is (or was) also a stout (Zunbeltz) available but I’ve not been able to find it.

The beers are described as “traditional Basque beers” and the ingredients are just barley, hops, water and yeast. Both are 4.9%. There’s no other information on the bottle.

These beers got a bit of a slating on Ratebeer but I have to say I really enjoyed them. Possibly in contrast to the standard Spanish fizz and the disappointing offers from the various French microbrewers that we tried in the last couple of weeks (possibly more to come on that, but I don’t want to slag off microbrewers who are trying their best).

The Orhi in particular was very pleasant. I was reminded more of a koelsch than a pilsner (malty, fruity flavour, low carbonation, medium body, long finish) but it was great to have a beer where you could taste the malt and the hops. It also went very well with the spicy chorizo stew I was eating.

The red ale reminded me of an Alt, with a toasty malt taste, and again quite fruity and not particularly carbonated.

Definitely worth seeking out if you’re in Spain.

Boak

PS Sorry about the lack of photo – I have one, but no way of transferring it onto this computer at the moment.

Damm good beer (ooh… bad pun)

akdamm.jpg In both France and Spain, the label “beer from Alsace” or “Alsatian beer” is used to imply that the stuff in the bottle will be a bit more strongly flavoured, better crafted and purer. In short, it will be almost as good as German beer.

In practice, there’s very rarely any real difference in style or quality. One Spanish brewery that justifiably trumpets its Alsatian roots, however, is Barcelona’s Damm, whose beers are a cut above those of many of their competitors.

Their well-known Estrella Damm is a fairly typical bland Spanish lager, but unlike similar efforts from Mahou, San Miguel and Cruzcampo, it’s actually pleasant tasting. Of all the commonly found Spanish lagers, it has the most body and the strongest malt flavour. The one to go for if you’ve got a choice in a Spanish bar.

volldam.jpgTheir flagship beer is the Germanically named Voll-Damm. It’s a dark golden, full-bodied 7.2% (DN) German-style special beer whose label makes some bold claims: “The Genuine Beer Character”; “Das Originale Maerzen Bier”. Hmmmm. First brewed in the 1950s, it might struggle to convince a court of the truth of that last claim. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic beer, by any standards. We had one shortly after a bottle of Salvator, and the taste was remarkably similar, even if the colour was not. The nicest tasting Spanish beer we’ve found, if not one to knock back lots of in the blazing sun. Spanish residents can even join a Voll-Damm fan club and declare themselves Volldammistas.

Finally, there’s the fancily packaged A.K. Damm, which is named after the brewery’s founder, August Kuenstmann Damm, an emigree from Alsace. It’s not strong (4.8%), but it does have a (just about) discernible hop character and a really solid malt base. There’s also something fruity in the yeast — we were reminded of one of the more ale-like Koelschs. It’s worth noting, too, that when we had two bottles brewed six months apart, the newer bottle was much better.

The one that got away — the Damm beer we have yet to try — is Bock-Damm. It’s not a Bock, but a dark Munich style lager.

It’s good to see a Spanish brewery taking the trouble to produce a range of different styles, even if all of them are pasteurised and filtered half to death.