St Austell Tamar Creek

St Austell Tamar Creek.

St Austell have continued their exploration of ‘world beer’ styles with a Belgian-style sour cherry beer.

We’ve met Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell, a few times, and he has always struck us as rather sensible — the kind of bloke who keeps a very tidy glove box. Get him on to the subject of Belgian beer, however, and he becomes positively giddy.

Last time we bumped into him, in a pub in Penzance, he’d just come back from a trip to Poperinge accompanied by the latest edition of Stange and Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and was excited to have re-stocked his cellar with multiple cases of De Ranke XX Bitter.

So when he brews Belgian-style beers at St Austell, it isn’t a text-book exercise or a mere marketing gimmick — there is a certain amount of passion (sorry) behind it.

The base beer for Tamar Creek was brewed on a tiny experimental brew kit, inoculated with wild yeast and brettanomyces, and then aged in wooden barrels on a bed of cherries from the Tamar Valley for six months. It comes in 750ml corked bottles wrapped in printed paper, in a tribute to Liefman’s — a better marketing manoeuvre than this rather gory PR photo:

Cherries being squashed by feet at St Austell.

We bought our bottle at the brewery shop for £9, but the online price is £14 including delivery. Is it worth the money?

Tasting

On opening, we got hit by an immediate nostril-curling sting of ‘funk’ which reminded us specifically of apples rotting in an orchard. (Brace yourselves — this review is all about ‘the erotics of disgust’.)

Poured into squeaky clean glasses, a soapy rose-tinted head rose up and over the lip of the glass before prickling away to nothing after 30 seconds or so, leaving what looked like a glass of well-aged red wine.

Despite a rather thin body, it tasted convincingly Belgian, the funky aroma matched by an acidic note not unlike (brace…) bile. It took us a while to pin down exactly which taste memories were being triggered, then it clicked: it had the skull-dissolving tang of pink grapefruit juice.

There was a dry tannic note, too, which wasn’t unlike biting into a grape seed.

On the whole, we’ll call it a grower. Though, at first, it seemed thin and one dimensional, the texture and sweetness built as it coated our mouths, and ‘ho-hum’ eventually turned to ‘yum yum’.

We didn’t regret spending £9 on it — about the same price as an imported Belgian equivalent — but whether you reach the same conclusion will probably depend on your interest in the exercise, the value you place on ‘buying local’, and your knowledge of the style.

We certainly look forward to future iterations of this brew, and to more heartfelt Belgian-inspired experiments from St Austell.

The Famous White Horse at last

The White Horse at Parson’s Green, West London, has a nickname which is amusing the first time you hear it but tiresome after the 100th, so I’ll say this only once: it’s known as the Sloany Pony because, unlike most serious beer pubs, its clientele is made up largely of tall, skinny posh girls.

whitehorsewebsitegrab

The White Horse on Parson’s Green, West London, has a nickname which is amusing the first time you hear it but tiresome after the 100th, so I’ll say this only once: it’s known as the Sloany Pony because, unlike most serious beer pubs, its clientele is made up largely of tall, skinny posh girls.

Several things become obvious on entering. First, the range of beer is huge and covers all the bases. Secondly, the bar staff are obviously being paid and trained properly, because they’re extremely cheerful despite item three: the place is absolutely crammed.

Standing about looking forlorn because we had nowhere to sit paid off after a few minutes, though, as a young Scottish couple moved up so we could share their table. How very civilised — that doesn’t happen often in London. And, what do you know: they’re only friends of the chaps that run Brewdog! They should be on commission, too, for their sincere salesmanship of Brewdog’s wonderful Paradox which features on the White Horses’s extensive bottled beer menu.

Notable among the many beers we tried were Schlenkerla Rauchbier on tap (almost as good as in Bamberg, but not quite); a startlingly good lambic kriek from Oud Beersel; and a 2006  Fuller’s Vintage Ale (with cheese).

We left feeling skint and rather unglamorous but will certainly be returning, even though it’s an hour and half trek from our place.  Perhaps on a weekday afternoon, though, so we’ve got room to breathe?

Fruit beers in the garden

We were going to return to our quest for a decent Baltic Porter, as we’ve got a few awaiting tasting. However, it was such a lovely day yesterday that we decided to drink fruit beers in the garden instead.

To give some context to our tasting notes; neither of us are massive fruit beer fans, and we certainly both prefer our fruit beer to be identifiably *beer* first and foremost, not an alcopop. I really can’t deal with overly sweet drinks of any form, but I do have a bit of a “sour tooth”, whereas Bailey doesn’t tend to go for sour flavours.

Timmerman’s Kriek, 4%
Looks quite artificial, with deep red colour and pink head. There’s a definite hint of sourness in the aroma though, which is promising. The taste – Bassett’s cherry drops. The aftertaste contains a blast of pure sugar on the end of the tongue which I’m not so keen on, but overall, it’s not as bad as I was expecting, i.e. not as sickly sweet as Fruli.

Boon Kriek 4%

We had high hopes for this one, as it seems to be generally quite rated and is as authentic as you like. However, it was a lot like the Timmerman’s – overly sweet and not very complex at all. It was a bit more buttery than Timmerman’s, and had even less sourness.

Mort Subite Kriek (original) 4.5%
This we liked a lot. It’s a much less lurid pink, and the flavour is a great balance of sweet and sour, with a nice dry refreshing finish. Definitely a lot more going on with this one than Timmerman’s or Boon. The difference is in the aftertaste – whereas with the above two we got sugar, and not a lot else, here you get a crisp fruitiness that lingers on the palate.

Meantime Raspberry Grand Cru 6.5%
Bit of an odd one out in this session (raspberry, not lambic, British) but it’s always been a favourite, not least because it’s beer first and raspberry second, with a good bitterness that you don’t tend to get in fruit beers. That’s what we remembered, anyway (see a review from December 2007 here). It always tastes slightly different from batch to batch in the Union, their brewery tap, and we’ve noted that in the last few years it’s become less pink and less obviously raspberry-flavoured.

However, this incarnation (and it is the stronger “grand cru” version) seems to have forgotten the raspberries altogether. There’s a generic fruity taste, a bit like a nice Koelsch, but unless someone told you it was raspberry, you wouldn’t know. The refreshing tartness makes it a pleasant drink, but I think would be a disappointment to people looking for a fruit beer, and at 6.5%, this is not one you want to quaff much of in the sun.

Disappointing – I know this can be better.

Cantillon Kriek 5%
We bought this when we visited the brewery back in August 2007, so it’s been in storage for around nine months, in addition to the time it’s already spent at the brewery.

You have to have the courage of your convictions when you drink this beer. If you gingerly sip it, all you get is SOUR, but if you take a big gulp and let it cover your tongue, there’s a pleasing explosion of apple, cherry, pink grapefruit and strawberry, with red wine / sherry notes in the finish.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to sip this all day long; even in the sun it’s hard work, although the champagne body and bubbles gives it a pleasing decadent feel.

All in all, Mort Subite was the surprising winner for both of us.

For more tantalising beer on grass action, check out Beer Nut’s post on wheatbeers. He’s got a bigger garden than us though.

For more on fruitbeers, here’s a Session post we did back in August 2007 on the same topic, including notes on our own blackberry beer.

Boak

Belgian beer in Burgos – La Espiga

Burgos is the kind of place that guidebooks describe as “likeable”. It has some nice old buildings including a stunning cathedral, and lots of bars and pubs. You probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit, but it’s handy for travel in between Madrid and the Basque country.

As I had only chosen it for a stopover based on the rail connections, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover La Espiga, a genuine beer lover’s paradise. I’ve been to a number of places in the last couple of months in Spain that claim to be “beer paradises” or “beer temples”, only to discover they’re yet another weapon in Heineken’s Spanish armada, and that the exciting international beers on offer extend to Adelscott and Desperados.

Trois PistolesNo, this was the real deal. Around 10 beers on tap, including La Trappe Dubbel, Spaten Bock, Kwak and Liefman’s Kriek, and between 50-70 more in bottles. The selection was mostly the usual Belgian big boys – the Trappists, the Abbeys, the Deliriums, the Hoegaardens, but there were some more unusual offerings, such as the Unibroue range from Quebec.

There was a guide to the various beers, and the staff were knowledgeable and prepared to make recommendations. Beer menus are something I’m very keen on, as they help and guide the budding beer enthusiast – it’s amazing how many good pubs with big selections don’t bother with this step.

Best of all was that it was absolutely heaving with locals of all ages, enjoying a range of beer. Perhaps there is hope for the beer scene in Spain afterall. Maybe the Spanish beer revolution will begin in Burgos – I also noticed a German bar, and the internet cafe I visited had Barbar Miel and Kapittel Watou in the fridge.

In the meantime, here’s to you, La Espiga. I put this up in the hope that another beer lover who winds up in the area will google “beer + Burgos” or perhaps even “cerveza + Burgos” and will discover you too.

Notes

  1. Cerveceria La Espiga is on Calle de San Juan, right in the middle of town. Cibercafe is on Calle del Pueblo (?) which meets Calle de San Juan at a big arch.
  2. Burgos is about 2.5 hours from the French border and 3.5 hours from Madrid on the train.
  3. French keyboards are the most annoying in the world. All the letters are arse about face. It has taken me an hour to type this.

Boak (homeward bound…)

Lamb and Kriek Pie

I noticed that the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London (my favourite pub) was serving Lamb and Kriek Pie today. I didn’t try it, but I’ve been pondering other pie/beer combinations.

Obviously, there’s the classic steak and ale – I’ve found Hook Norton Old Hooky a great ale to use for this, as it’s on the malty side. I used ESB once and it was a touch too bitter.

But what beer to go with chicken in a pie filling? Something not too bitter, light in colour, perhaps citrusy… a German weissbier? Chicken and weissbier pie could work.

How about for the veggies (like Boak)? Lentil, carrot and onion cooked off in Koelsch might work. Or mushrooms in mild… as long as a completely black filling doesn’t make the pie look too unappetising.