beer reviews

Four truly exciting beers in 10 days

It was inevitable that having written about beer feeling unexciting we’d encounter a run of beer-of-the-year contenders.

First there was an Italian Pilsner at Zero Degrees in Bristol.

Bearing in mind Italian Pilsner was basically a mythical entity to us at the start of this year, it struck us as absolutely convincing.

It was extremely bitter and desert dry despite its 6.4% ABV. It had the requisite white wine quality with suggestions of elderflower and lemon.

On a warm evening, after you’ve schlepped up Christmas steps, it’s exactly the glass of lager you dream of drinking.

OK, so beer can still excite us, we’re not dead yet, we said.

Then, a few days later, we found ourselves at The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London, and thought, sigh, we’d better try Five Points Gold, out of grim duty.

We love some Five Points beers (Railway Porter, the sadly defunct Pils, and Pale) but don’t get on with their Best Bitter. We find it muddy and confused. Gold, we assumed, would be like that, but more watery (it’s 3.4%) and less interesting.

But, blimey, it was good. We spent quite a bit of time thinking about Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in the past – very pale, very bitter, mysteriously alluring.

That this beer, and only this beer, was pulled through a sparkler made us wonder if it might be a deliberate homage to the North.

We pulled out some of the old shopping basket descriptors: tangerine, peach, grape… But, really, the appeal was its clarity, cleanness, and balance. A real Swiss watch of a beer, perfectly put together.

Despite the presence of cask Railway Porter, a favourite of ours, we stuck to Gold, and left the pub several hours later with just the slightest buzz on.

Lost & Grounded Landbier with sunlight glowing behind it in a taproom building.

Last Friday, as we often do, we wandered to the Lost & Grounded taproom for a couple of pints between work and tea.

It feels like most weeks there’s some new lager substyle on offer and this time it was 10 Years On Land, a Landbier brewed in collaboration with The Royal Navy Volunteer pub.

Again, we ordered it because it was new, and we felt vaguely obliged, but it was love at first slurp.

For one thing, it proves that a beer can be hazy and still somehow taste clean – or maybe fresh is the better word.

It took us back to last autumn, trolling around Nuremberg and writing one tasting note after another that said something like: “Simple, but so fresh.”

There was a bit of lemon barley water about it, some grass and crunchy grain, and a decent amount of bitterness. At 4.4% it made us think, you know what? Dinner can wait.

Finally, on Saturday, we popped out to another local taproom because we’d heard a rumour that Moor Brewing Smoked Lager might be available.

It’s not quite as magical as Schlenkerla Helles but, on draught, was certainly fresher than the bottles of Schlenkerla we get in the UK.

It’s smokier than last year, or at least struck us that way, pushed just to the edge of too much. Or, in other words, just right.

Drinking it in the sun, surrounded by the hops that grow over the fences and street signs by the brewery, we thought, perhaps, we heard the echoes of an oompah band across the industrial estate.

beer reviews Beer styles bristol

Barley wine sweep #1: two sort-ofs and a definite

Barley wines round one.

Wednesday night offered a brief window for hunting barley wines (or old ales, or strong ales – BWOASA from now on).

We found two quite similar beers that offered considerable food for thought: Oakham Hawse Buckler and Moor Old Freddy Walker.

We came across the former on cask at the Drapers Arms, our local. At 5.6%, just at the lower end of our ‘strong ale’ bracket, it’s billed as a ‘black beer’, but doesn’t half look like a stout. Obviously. On first tasting, as prickly, sticky hops poked their way through a fairly dry body, we remembered the craze for black IPA of a decade ago.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, it didn’t immediately meet any of our expectations of BWOASA. But the more we drank, the more we noticed a morello cherry, fortified wine character.

* * *

Old Freddy Walker (7.3%) is a beer we’ve known in one form or another for years, now. It’s one of the few relics of when Moor was an old school Somerset real ale brewery rather than the urban craft beer outfit it is today.

It was the only BWOASA we could find on offer at our local speciality beer shop, Bottles & Books, where, frankly, we had hoped to come across at least a few examples. It cost £3.80 for 330ml. It was at this point we began to get mildly anxious: what if there just aren’t any in Bristol right now, as blossom appears on trees and students get their shorts out of storage?

Old Old Freddy was in the Spingo Special style – intensely boozy, syrupy sweet, very brown. The current incarnation, though it takes the name, is black, much drier, and much more evidently hoppy. Grassy and herbal, even.

A bit like Hawse Buckler, in fact.

If OFW is an old ale (that’s how it’s badged) then HB can be one too – especially as HB seemed more luscious, despite the lower ABV.

* * *

Then finally, last night, we found a definite barley wine, also from Moor: Benny Havens, 9.5% in a 330ml can, at £4.25 from Brewer’s Droop on Gloucester Road.

The feller behind the counter was astonished and appalled to realise it was the only barley wine or old ale he had in stock. He pointed to imperial stouts and double IPAs, and had any number of obscure German and Belgian beers, but this particular style… Well, it’s just the wrong time of year, isn’t it?

We bought the one can there was and drank it at home, paired with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1970.

It really looked the part, this one – golden, bright, with a generous white foam. Instinctively, we thought it tasted right, too, more or less how we always want Gold Label to be. That is, sweet, heavy, smooth, but also with a solid underlying bitterness, perfectly in balance, just up very high. There was maybe a smoky, grainy edge to it, but only faint, and not unappealing. The hops were perhaps a bit rough and rowdy but that would no doubt pass with age. (But… can you age cans?) There were aromas of peach and grape, wrapped up in soothing boozy fug.

Yes, definitely a barley wine, and very decent, too.

But then, a final doubt… didn’t double IPA also taste like this once? In around 2008?

beer reviews Beer styles bottled beer Germany

MINI TASTE-OFF: British Takes on German Wheat Beer

‘Why aren’t more British breweries tackling German-style wheat beers?’ Adrian Tierney-Jones has asked more than once. Intrigued by that question, we rounded up a few and gave it some thought.

Now, clearly, this isn’t one of our full-on, semi-comprehensive taste-offs — we didn’t have the time, inclination or, frankly, budget to get hold of a bottle of every Weizen currently being made by a UK brewery. One notable omission, for example, is Top Out Schmankerl, recommended to us by Dave S, which we couldn’t easily get hold of.

But we reckon, for starters, six is enough to get a bit of a handle on what’s going on, and perhaps to make a recommendation. We say ‘perhaps’ because the underlying question is this: why would anyone ever buy a British Weizen when the real thing can be picked up almost anywhere for two or three quid a bottle? The most exciting German wheat beer we’ve tasted recently was a bottle of Tucher in our local branch of Wetherspoon — perfectly engineered, bright and lemony, and £2.49 to drink in. How does anyone compete with that?

We drank the following in no particular order over a couple of nights, using proper German wheat beer vases of the appropriate size. What we were looking for was cloudiness, banana and/or bubblegum and/or cloves, a huge fluffy head and, finally, a certain chewiness of texture. That and basic likeability, of course.

beer reviews breweries

Moor’s Bristol Takeover

Last weekend, to break the journey back from Yorkshire to Cornwall, we stopped over in Bristol and spent an evening accidentally immersed (not literally) in Moor Beer.

When we interviewed Justin Hawke for Brew Britannia, the brewery was based on the sleepy Somerset levels, where its shiny metal and US punk attitude seemed rather out of place.  Last year, however, it relocated to Bristol, which is sometimes called the Capital of the West Country, and which is certainly the heart of the South West’s ‘craft beer revolution’.

We say ‘accidentally’ above because we went out on the town with no fixed plans other than to have a half of something exotic in BrewDog but, a few steps along the waterside from there, we came across the Three Brothers burger restaurant which was proudly displaying to the street a line of shiny keg fonts, most of them bearing Moor’s logo.

beer reviews Somerset

General brilliance, specific problems

Moor Illusion black IPA

By Bailey

My little brother lives in Bristol, a city increasingly awash with interesting beer. Though he’s teetotal, he’s geek enough by nature to have absorbed a certain amount of knowledge about beer from us and from friends, which is why, when he saw a selection of bottles from Moor in a butcher’s shop, an alarm bell rang and he decided to grab one of each available as a Christmas gift for me. (At considerable expense, I gather.)

On opening the package, I beamed. Just as with Butcombe, I can’t help feeling warm towards a brewery from the Shire; and we’ve generally found Moor’s beers to be exciting and interesting, if not always consistent.

Merlin’s Magic (4.7%), a super-hoppy ‘take’ on best bitter, saw me through the helping-Mum-get-things-down-from-high-shelves, pre-dinner milling about phase of Christmas Day. It had zing beyond zing, cutting through the effects of a morning nibbling chocolate with lemon-rind, herbal dryness. As the extended family turned up, everyone insisted on a taste. “Too bitter!” they all said, before layers of complexity hit them and their eyebrows rose upward. “Ooh… nice though.”

Illusion (4.7%) came towards the end of the meal, before desert. It still doesn’t help explain how black IPA is distinct from other types of beer (a hoppy porter, in this case, I think) but did march confidently over duck fat, gravy and English mustard. More zing. Fireworks, in fact. My beer-hating Auntie liked it, too, much to everyone’s amazement. I wanted several more.

Finally, however, a dud: Moor Amoor (also 4.7%, I think, though the website disagrees). A murky, reddish brown rather than the black I’d been expecting from the word porter on the label, its smell was really offputting: I Couldn’t Believe It Wasn’t Butter. Though there was something nutty to enjoy in the taste, overall, I’d rather, honestly, have had a can of Bass or bottle of Guinness. Quality control problems?

At any rate, from our perspective, that last beer is the answer to this question from Simon Johnson:

Or, indeed, to a similar question we asked ourselves back in 2008, when we were only little, and enjoyed an earlier iteration of Amoor under the name Peat Porter.