Category Archives: Beer Review

About Tyne

onebestway_TBB001_pumpclip_v8_Silver DollarTyne Bank’s beers have popped up in Booth’s recently, alongside new listings for the always excellent Harbour and Camden, who are settling nicely into the ‘reliable’ slot in the beer shelves. Notably, this doesn’t come long off the back of a rebrand for the Newcastle-based brewery, who, for me, possess that rare quality of, well, quality. there’s a lot to be said for consistency of quality these days – in fact, there’s there’s been a lot of noise recently about how it must be the cornerstone of a brewing business – and Tyne Bank’s beers have never been less than excellent every time I’ve tried them.

Silver Dollar (4.9% abv) takes me back to drinking it at Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House. When it first appeared, the barman at the time raved about it’s sheer ‘drinkabililty’; pints were duly ordered and sunk with the ease at which they’d been suggested. Now, it’s a bit of a poster boy for where my tastes lie right now; I’m craving body these days – searching for beer (particularly pale ale) with backbone.

Centennial and Amarillo are a hop combination you can’t go far wrong with ‘s , but Silver Dollar’s strength is, well, it’s strength of flavour – rugged, crunchy malt that even brings a little gingery cake – spice to proceedings. Combine that with a briskly citrus finish and round, sweetly fruity aroma and you’ve got a winner that fans of other ‘big pale ales‘ such as Bristol Beer Factory’s Independence, Salopian’s Darwin’s Origin and Oakham’s Scarlet Macaw should find comfort in.

That ginger-biscuit snap in the heart of the beer is evident again in Moteuka (4% abv), the palest beer of the trio. Again, it serves to bring sweetness and smoothness to what could have been too dry a pale ale, too rasping to be truly thirst-quenching. As you’ve guessed, it’s a showcase for Moteuka hops; all lime sherbert in the aroma and lifting the finish a little. Bittersweet rather than dry, it’s another beer you could happily sink all afternoon.

IMG_2074Now, who doesn’t like the way the word ‘Cherry Stout’ sounds? What a comforting, attractive pairing of words. Somewhat of a cult favourite on cask, my bottle of Cherry Stout (5.2% abv) certainly didn’t give too much away on the rather muted aroma: just a roasted, toasted malt note underpinned with a little liquorice. Luckily, I needn’t have worried about the flavour – deep within those black northeastern depths swum woody, perfumed flavours that brought a smile to the lips.

Those fruity notes balanced sweet and sour, rich and tart, with a floral note – not unlike Parma Violet, to my taste – but perfectly balanced with the stout. Begging to be poured alongside roast duck or beef, Cherry Stout is an endlessly interesting, rewarding beer that will give Stout freaks something to ponder.


Ilkley Brewery: Pedal Power & Passion Fruit

photoIt’s pretty difficult to avoid the Tour de France in Yorkshire at the moment. Yellow is everywhere – and when I say that, I mean it. I can’t remember the last time a whole region pushed something with such fervour. And i’m sure it’s wonderful if you’re a cyclist. I’m not – but I am a beer drinker, and that means lots of specials and cycling- themed one-offs to try.

We’ve still got a month or so to go yet, but it’s probably easier to list the breweries who aren’t promoting it than those who are. And why not? Beer excels as a promotional tool or reason to go off-piste in these kinds of situations.

Obviously it helps when the brewery itself is on the route, and Ilkley Brewery are one of the many that those lean men in lycra will be powering past come the Grand Depart. Ilkley’s ‘Tour Beer’ – Marie Jaune (4.5%)- is one that certainly deserves a mention. Why? Because although following the (it must be said) well-worn formula of pale, french-hopped or continentally-yeasted (is that even a word?) beer that 99% of breweries are opting for, it carries a much fresher, lager-esque quality to it. In fact, after an afternoon’s chilling in the fridge, it could have subbed for a lager; straw-pale, lively, a tight, white head, and that flinty, almost mineral quality on the nose that I look for in beers like this. Sweet, then grassy to finish, Marie Jaune will be an absolutely blinding thirst-quencher if you’ve queued all day to watch Froome, Cavendish and Contador zoom by.

It’s a little different from the norm (in much the same way that the continental, spicy-yet-wheaty- coolness of this beer won me over) and much the better for it. In fact,it’s on the list already to (whisper it) fill my fridge to enjoy the upcoming World Cup – with apologies to the cycling purists.

Another little gem that Ilkley have brewed of late is De Passie, a 7.8% abv (deep breath) ‘Imperial Passion Fruit White IPA‘, which they concocted in collaboration with Rooie Dop and Oersoep Breweries. Now, if you’re given a bottle of this, your first thought is ‘Ok.. this had better taste of Passion Fruit or you’re on a hiding to nothing‘, but I’m happy to say that the Yorkshire/Dutch team have nailed that quibble – and more besides.

The aroma is heady with fresh passion fruit and mango; so much so that it’s akin to a carton of Rubicon Mango juice. Pouring brilliant gold, a few quick swirls reveal a pear-drop complexity sitting under all that fruit in the aroma that brings a smile to my lips immediately. Light in body yet bursting with that tropical fruit personality, De Passie is a joy from start to bitter, pithy finish. In my opinion, it’s one of the tastiest, most balanced beers Ilkley have produced, and, alongside Mary Jane’s French penpal, it’s out there now.


Disclosure: both beers were given to me by Ilkley along with their submissions for the follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, which I’m currently working on. 

Joining Forces: Rooster’s and Pretty Things, Saltaire and Dark Star

IMG_1749This week’s treats come courtesy of four breweries joining forces. Or better, actually, two gangs of two. Rival gangs, I’d like to imagine, on a flight of fancy. One of each is based in Yorkshire (of course, come on, you know what blog this is, right?) and the others have jetted in from afar to bestow some foreign exotica onto proceedings.

Well, if you can call Brighton exotic, that is. Upon arriving in Yorkshire, those chaps from Dark Star Brewery made a beeline for Saltaire, put their heads together with the crack brewing team there and came up – interestingly – with a Bock. Pouring a magnificent shade of mahogany – almost purple in places; the same purple that you occasionally catch on a pint of Old Peculier – the nose is loaded with bramble, mild coffee and just a hint of toasted malt.

For such a powerful, warm aroma you expect a suckerpunch of alcohol (its a reassuring 5.6% abv) in the taste itself but it remains balanced, despite that latent strength appearing in a warming finish. With a rounded, softly sweet body that manages to remind me of both Dundee cake and milk chocolate at the same time, it’s a beer crying out for a cheeseboard to sit alongside it.

Meanwhile, up in Knaresborough, Rooster’s teamed up with Pretty Things Ale & Beer Project to conjure up Saint Robert, a 4.5% abv ‘Abbey Style Ale’. Named after a hermit who resided in a cave not far from the brewery, Saint Robert’s got a lot going on in the nose; a little bubblegum, some black pepper, a touch of baked brown bread…expecting heft, the beer turns out to be light and airy – all raisin, plum and a touch of bonfire toffee.

IMG_1763My initial fear of lack of alcohol remained unfounded; where I thought the beer could be flimsy and overpowered by the malt bill, it turned out to be a balanced showcase for more complex flavours in lower-strength brown ale. An ultimately harmonious blend of styles and flavours, Saint Robert proved to be a rewarding, moreish pint.

So, two winners. And kudos to all four for trying something a little different.  You can read more about Rooster’s back-story (and there is one) with Pretty Things here and here, and get the lowdown on Saltaire and Dark Star’s supergroup here. They’ll be collaborating again in July – keep an eye out.

Both beers are available right now. 

Hawkshead Revamped

IMG_1357Of all the breweries re-modelling their ‘look’ at the moment (seemingly everyone!), Hawkshead are probably the ones who ‘need’ to do it the least; such is the position that the Staveley-based brewer enjoys in both the drinking and brewing worlds. Spot a Hawkshead beer on the bar – from classics such as Red and Lakeland Gold to newer, bolder additions such as Dry Stone Stout and Cumbrian Five Hop – and you know you’re in for a treat (something Tandleman recently attested to). Matt Clarke and his brewing team are responsible for beers with not only bold flavour, but grace in balance and a consistency record that puts them firmly in my top five UK brewers. One suspects I’m not the only one.

Still, freshening up the look of a pumpclip can do wonders for new markets, and the new range of bottled beers certainly reflect that. Smaller in volume (330ml, with the exception of the stout), for a start, than their tried-and-tested range of Windermere Pale (which is constantly embroiled in a bitter three-way battle with  Rooster’s Yankee and Magic Rock’s High Wire for my favourite British Pale Ale), Lakeland Gold and Brodie’s Prime, which reflects the stronger alcohol content and section of the market that these beers are perhaps aimed at.

Joining the sublime company of Cumbrian Five Hop and NZPA is the almost plainly-named IPA. Weighing in at a modest 7% abv, it displays all of that boisterous character that you’d expect from one of Matt Clark’s beers; it screams with hop personality. Pouring a rich amber, the body is sweet, muscular and rippling with boiled sweet and round, soft malt notes. The billowing head fills the top of the glass and you can’t help but stick your nose in there each time you sip; mango, lychee, strawberry and pineapple aroma all whizz by. Alcoholic heat rounds off the sip, reminding you that this IPA came from the Cumbrian hills and is as fortifying as they come.

Dry Stone Stout (4.5%abv), bottled, retains all of the character that I recall from trying on cask late last summer. Rich chocolate truffle dominates the nose – a sweet, rummy note that carries on into the body, where it’s joined by a little fruit to lift proceedings – dark cherry and plum. The finish is dry, woody and creamy, giving the whole beer a Black Forest Gateaux feel. It’s certainly on the sweeter side of stout, but not too much so. Moreish and satisfying.

Finally, Brodie’s Prime Export (nice use of the term Export, too – you don’t see that much these days, do you?) brings new dimensions to the hard-to-find (well, in my neck of the woods, anyway- and I’m talking about on cask) classic. BP’s a bit of a stand-out in the Hawkshead canon – it’s not really a stout but sometimes sold as such on bars – more of a strong dark mild (Leeds’ Midnight Bell sometimes suffers from this identity crisis). Lifting the alcohol levels makes complete sense for this bottled version, and it’s quite a beer.

Dark ruby when held to the light, with a fleeting, tan collar, there’s almond and Dundee cake on the nose; the mouthfeel is thick, slightly oily and tongue-coating and loaded with tobacco, cherry, chocolate, blackberry and mild coffee flavours. the finish is booming; sweet, then bitter, then finishing with a gentle, soporific afterglow of alcohol. Brodie’s Prime Export is a deliciously complex and intriguing beer.

Cumbrian Five HopDamn fine beers indeed – if you hop over to the website you can read more about other limited-edition bottles that Hawkshead are producing at the moment.

I like the aforementioned revamped look; the ‘Beer from The Lakes’ strapline is evocative and the clips look good on the bar – especially the cleaned-up, emboldened core range ones. As usual, I maintain my stance that the best re-brands are often the more subtle ones.  The new range-look certainly looks good on a bottle. Luckily, Hawkshead can always back up changes with great-tasting beer.

These beers were sent to me by the brewer for review. You can also see what Rob over at HopZine thought of this trio in his video blog here


lagerIs there anything more pleasant than being thrown a beery curveball? The lack of anticipation lowering that guard; the lack of anticipation letting you experience something fresh, without preconception, without hyperbole. This is what life outside the bubble must be like…

Me, I’m a man who doesn’t leave much to chance, especially over the holidays. Time off (anything really; work, kids, blogging, writing, exercise, anything) is precious these days, and I want things to go right. Everything correct and in its place. Anchor Christmas takes pride of place in the Yuletide roll-call; but this year’s edition leaves me cold – in fact, I couldn’t finish it. Harsh, unloved and astringent, this was the first year that I actually poured some of it away.

I’m sure you all got bought beer for Christmas, too. Boxes of the stuff will be sitting around for weeks yet; I’ll get through it though, no fear. A package from Booth’s (as in, bought from Booth’s by a relative) contained not one, but two complete curveballs. First up, Broughton’s Organic Lager (5% abv). Those that know me know I’m a bit of a Lager nerd; constantly on the quest for a UK one that lives up to style – and therefore- billing. You know, this one’s pretty good; the key is the finish. It has to be snappy. I find so many UK Lagers simply too sweet –  by some long margins.

Broughton’s retains a keen balance; the nose doesn’t really give much away apart from really rich, creamy malt – which is so rich as to be a little disconcerting – but that lightly toasted malt note reduces in the body where it eventually diminishes into a relatively snappy, flinty finish. Brightly gold and with a sustaining condition throughout the glass, it’s one of the better attempts at a style that we’ve yet to nail in the UK.

IMG_1294Booth’s 1847 Ale (6% abv) was brewed by Hawkshead Brewery, which should have served as a portent of the quality within. After teaming up in the summer for their excellent beer festival, Hawskhead not only stepped up to the plate for this commission but knocked the ball out of the park. Coal-black with a yuletide red streaking through it, 1847 delivered every flavour that I expected of the Anchor Christmas; Raisin, Rum, Plum, Almond and Molasses topped off with a defined, pine-led hop finish. The balance of flavour is really quite something; there’s so much going on but the way the beer flips between moreish and robust to refreshing and clean within one sip is quite astounding.

I will take this opportunity to plead Hawkshead to brew more. Next year, if this reappears, I’ll be buying a case. Or three.



Rockin’ ‘Round Some Christmas Beers

IMG_1095There’s novelty beers  – and there’s Christmas Beers.

Actually, that’s unfair. I’ve got a lot of love for Christmas Beers, as it happens – they cement beer’s versatility as a gift -and the season is ripe for translation in ale. Rich, warming, hearty. Comforting, even. A little special. The season, the mood, the food – I all feel they are genuinely enhanced by Christmas Beers. No matter what side of the craft fence you fall on, you find breweries from Mikkeller to Moorhouse’s , from BrewDog to Shepherd Neame and all points inbetween brewing this loved seasonal special. In fact, I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a brewer not brewing one (and looking forward to it) most years.

You can’t escape the novelty factor though; its everywhere. The labels, the positioning in shops –  both independent and supermarket – puts them aside from the rest, going for the market that doesn’t regularly buy beer but perhaps wants a stocking filler. If I’m being honest, I usually avoid them, but this year I decided to don the Santa hat, attach the antler headband to Wilson, and see what’s out there. Best of British Beer offered to send me a few, as did Shepherd Neame, and I picked some more up from Beer-Ritz and on my general travels.

Stonehouse’s Wit Christmas certainly got things started well. I enjoyed this 4.5% wheat/witbier a lot; the nose backed up the added ingredients added to the copper; nutmeg, clove, orange and lemon peels. Sweet at first – nearly, ever so nearly a little too sweet – it then dries right out on a crisp, citrus-led wave and invites another sip. A golden glass of winter cheer, it’s a different, tasty palate-cleanser after a rich cheese board. You know, when Dr Who’s on.

IMG_1098Batemans’ Rosey Nosey (4.9% abv) is a beer I genuinely like, Christmas or not. I think the way the softly fudgy malt base, plummy middle and crisp, snappy finish that it has is really, really balanced. There’s not much more to it than that, but I don’t want to disparage it by saying that. It’s a good beer, and an easy win.

Back up to Yorkshire for Hop Studio’s humbuggy Noel (There’s ‘No L’ in Christmas, to read the label properly), which occupied much the same territory as Rosey Nosey but with a more muted profile; brown, sweet and with a touch of cinnamon at the finish. Ilkley’s Mary Christmas (4.7%abv) was perhaps the most flavourful of the Yorkshire contingent; a stronger version of the titular pale ale, doused with cheery pine-needle spark and apricot richness. A genuinely interesting Pale Ale.

RedWillow’s Cheerless (5.5%abv) seems to give us the same curmudgeonly vibe as the Hop Studio contribution, but the porter within the bottle had a decent enough dried chocolate/figgy aspect to make you smile whilst hiding its strength.  And we all like those baubles adorning the Willow, right?

Bristol Beer Factory’s Bristletoe (5.5%abv) was a beer that, down the last drop, I couldn’t make my mind up about. The label boasts that 7 malts are packed into the mash to give you the deeply ruby beer you hold before you – and it’s tasty enough, for sure. But, for me, the yeast thrusts such a ‘Belgian’ note through the beer that I had to really search to find the plummy ,raisiny notes I knew were lurking within. Don’t get me wrong – it was good – but not what I expected. Perhaps one to give to someone who’s a fan of Flemish reds, in fact. They’d find some common ground; and I got thinking that this wouldn’t be one to pair with the Turkey, perhaps – but a nut roast or herby terrine, if you’re that way inclined.

IMG_1096Best of British Beer have taken the interesting step of collaborating with a few of their local breweries to produce beers just for them. Staffordshire Brewery’s Bobbin’ Robin (with the cutest label of the lot, by far!) is solid enough; a 4.8% brown ale with brown bread and malt loaf in the sip, and a smooth latte-like finish. Cheddar Ales weighs in Mulled Over (4.5%abv), which truly defined the ‘Pudding in a glass’ category; porter-esque in smoothness, silky and sweet, with all the almond, cherry, raisin and cinnamon you could want, before adding a little dose of milk chocolate at the end. Plenty rich for the strength, the quality of the mouthfeel set this beer apart. Lush. Festive Totty is also doing the rounds, if you’re a fan.

I have to set my stall out when it comes to Revolutions Fairytale of New Yorkshire; Wilson and I adorn the label. That’s right; in all of our maudlin black-and-white glory. Luckily for me (very, as I agreed to be the local label guy before the beer was brewed) the beer turned out well; mahogany in shade and woodsy with smoke and oak on the nose, you get a sweet, dark molasses heart before touches of cinnamon pepper the finish. It’s good – there’s a lot of flavour in there for the 4.5%abv – but don’t take my word for it; pick some up from Beer-Ritz.

Shepherd Neame’sChristmas Ale (7%) displays a deft touch. Strong in almost every area, it’s perfectly balanced; sweet, bready malt, figgy, fruity notes and a crisp finish that disappears as quickly as it arrives to leave a sweet, warming taste and feel on the tongue. It’s crying out for a cheeseboard packed with robust cheddars for it to wrestle with. Delicious.

IMG_1097Two villains tied my mammoth yuletide tasting session (well, sessions – this wasn’t an afternoon’s drinking). First up to bat, Backyard Brewhouse’s Bad Santa (6.8%abv), which turned out to be the surprise package of the lot. About as dark ruby as you can get before black and swaggering to the table like the titular drunk, foul-mouthed St Nick impersonator, the beer’s aroma was a knockout; liquorice and molasses in perfect harmony – a dose of blackcurrant too. In fact, my notes say ‘…like those liquorice and fruit sweets’. This theme carried onto the body, where all that fruit was joined by a little coffee and plum loaf, and just a hint – a hint, I say – of woodsmoke. With a little spike of alcohol warmth on the finish, Bad Santa was a really, really strong beer to enjoy for my first taste of what the gang from Wallsall have to offer. I’ll be picking up more from them.

Ridgeway’s Insanely Bad Elf (11.2% abv) is the strongest of the popular christmas beers from the South Oxfordhire outfit, and a sipper it certainly is. I actually didn’t mind it too much, although there’s not much finesse here. Sweet – almost stickily so- has barley twists and pear drops on the nose and the body, backed up by enough sweetness to please a confectionery-shop owner from which those old flavours came from. It finishes up with a little sweet Orange peel to clean things up a little, before a lengthy, bitter finish. But, like I say, I didn’t actually dislike it – perhaps I was getting in the festive mood.

S0 there you go. My thoughts on a small slice of what’s out there. I had fun, to be honest; although I’d like to see more Porters, Stouts, Old Ales and  – zipping along to the other end – lighter beers representing Christmas from our UK Brewers. Let me know what you think if you pick any of these up.

An Autumnal Treat From Five Points

IMG_0961There’s something in the stark, pentagonal pumpclips that makes Five Points‘ beer stand out on a bar. Perhaps it’s the clean, practical feel of them, or the names of the beers, perhaps – Railway Porter, Five Points Pale. Words that roll off the tongue; linguistic primary colours, simplicity.

After a somewhat troubled start (the first few beers I tried from them had not traveled well to the northern wastelands), I’ve really enjoyed the recent beers I’ve tasted from the Hackney-based brewery (which, Loiners will be interested to know, is owned by Ed Mason, the guy behind the recent refurbishments of Whitelocks and The Deramore Arms). Pale (4.4% abv) is very much your modern, sunny Pale Ale – a bright, citric nose sitting on top of a boiled-sweet/hard candy body. Not t0o thin, not too bitter, not too sweet – although the finish is more persistent that you’d expect.

But it’s the Railway Porter (4.8% abv) that captures my attention. Pouring a raisin shade of mahogany, the aroma is deeply comforting – a little leather, some oily sap but predominantly powdery, sweet chocolate. That chocolate gets steamrollered on the sip by woodsmoke and bramble, leading to a fruity, green finish, which is powered defiantly by East Kent Goldings.

Perfectly autumnal, Railway Porter is a keeper; the beer equivalent of warming up after a crunchy walk through a park on a cold day. Preferably in a pub, of course.

Disappointed, From San Francisco

IMG_0985Don’t get me wrong; I love Anchor Brewing.

Those dumpy, skittle-hipped bottles, the gorgeous, rough-hewn labels – even the term ‘Steam Beer‘ is all romantic and rose-tinted to me, recalling the fog devouring the Golden Gate Bridge and steamy, seamy summer months spent hunkered in a bar with a cool glass of Anchor’s flagship beer. Even the famous Fritz Maytag ‘popped in for some food and a beer, bought the brewery’ story is an enduring favourite with me, although I’m sure there’s more to it than the myth.

…And they are still producing such great ‘Core’ beers ,too. Sure, Steam is a beer that I’m perhaps over-familiar with; so much so that it’s often thought of as ‘just a fridge beer’, but it’s more than that. It’s a leader of the style – a style that actually isn’t particularly well-copied anywhere else. Porter is my favorite porter out there, butting up alongside Fuller’s London Porter for top spot in my heart. Christmas is still the only beer I buy a yearly release of, such is the flavour and difference between vintages. Humming and Brekle’s were fresh, bold new flavours to add to the range, and you could create a whole new blog post about the virtues of Liberty and Foghorn. Stone. Cold. Classics.

Yet I was quite disappointed with the two ‘new’ (to us) offerings from Anchor that have appeared this Autumn. First up, and the one I was most excited about, California Lager (4.9% abv). Apparently it’s brewed to ‘an authentic Gold Rush recipe, before the days of refrigeration’, which, although I can’t possibly corroborate, deflated any hopes I had for a fresh, snappy lager. Perhaps my hopes were too high from the outset, as what I got instead was an incredibly sweet, cereal-led golden ale; there is a crispness in the finish but that sweetness lingers. I felt it more akin to a light version of the Steam beer, rather than a ‘lager’, per se.

IMG_1032Big Leaf Maple (6% abv)is quite possibly the most autumnal-named beer on the market; in fact, Anchor think so much of it that they’ve seemingly trademarked the term ‘Autumn Red‘, which feels a little ridiculous, but there you go. It is red when plonked next to light, and carried a pleasingly tan head that dissipates quickly, leaving a comforting russet beer swirling around in your glass. It’s brewed with Maple Syrup, of course, but I didn’t get much of that in either the nose or the flavour of the beer; which is a shame because it’s one of my favourite flavours. There’s something other than sweetness in Maple Syrup, a woodsy, deep note that I can’t explain. Perhaps I was too eager to find it here, and was left wanting.

What it is instead is a richly sweet (again…) beer with an aroma, curiously, of Parma Violets and Brown bread, backed up by some ginger-bread spiced notes.  Again, the body is fairly light for the abv yet is rich enough to satisfy. I found the whole package similar in flavour to Goose Island’s Honkers Ale, if you want a yardstick with which to measure against. Still, it’s worth seeking out; not unpleasant at all – just devoid of Maple to this reviewer. Which, if you stick it on the label, I want to be able to taste.

Nottingham, For Us: The Plough Inn

IMG_0118Back in 2010, my trusty drinking partner Chris and I were blown away by Nottingham Brewery’s Rock Mild at a beer festival. Earthy, rich and full of blackcurrant-juice character, it remained glowing in our memories since then. We resolved immediately to go to Nottingham and try it, plus others, from the source. One day, we muttered with steely resolve. One day.

That day took almost three years to arrive but when it did, it was worth it. A New Years’ resolution to see more of the UK’s pubs led us to our first day out in Nottingham, a place that’s always intrigued me in terms of pubs and beer. I knew it was a hotspot, but couldn’t really pin down where the city actually was. For a boy from Leeds, used to being able to hotfoot it from north to east in under an hour, cities like Nottingham (such as Manchester and Sheffield) take a while to imprint on my radar. Besides, we had an agenda: The Plough Inn.

Yes, I’ll gladly travel two hours to get to a certain pub, thank you. Often, it’s good, but rarely does it exceed expectation. Situated just outside of Nottingham centre in Radford, The Plough sits proudly in the middle of a huge estate, proclaiming the brewery that it serves in huge gold letters across the front. Our taxi driver just a speck in the distance, we stood outside, peering into the brewery yard. It wasn’t quite opening time.

And it was cold. Very cold.

We tried the door; it opened. ‘Hello?’ I asked, half-fearing the response.

‘Hello’ came a cheery voice from behind the bar. ‘You’re a little early.’ remarked the landlady.

Legend NewEver polite, and perhaps a little too English and uptight, we immediately offered to wait in the car park until the clock hit 12. For this, we were told in no uncertain terms not to be stupid, and get inside. Minutes later we were nestled in a warm corner, frothy pints of Rock Bitter at our hands and having a good old natter with Mel (the aforementioned landlady). Assuming we were there for the football, it soon became apparent that we a bad joke writ large: A Leeds supporter drinking in a County pub with a Forest supporter being served by a secret Liverpool fan. she kept the beer coming with a little backstory each time – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Our pints of Rock Bitter disappeared in almost record time; golden and rich with digestive biscuit in the body, finishing dry, long and surprisingly assertive. It was about as much of a thirst-quencher as we needed after our journey. Rock  Mild (3.8% abv) was not so much of the Blackcurrant-fest that we recalled but fruity and plummy nontheless – and boasted an older sister in Foundry Mild (4,7%abv), all toffee and gentle smoke. Extra Pale (4.2%) freshened things up with soft, wheaty notes in the body and a peachy, stone-fruit finish. Legend (4%abv) proved to be the real surprise package; amber in colour with a super-smooth body full of bonfire toffee and a remarkably grassy twang on the finish.

All simple beers, fresh from the brewery all of 10 yards away, and all packed with flavor. Worth the trouble? Absolutely.  Mel made sure that, before we left, we tried a sample of Sooty Stout, which was just getting ready to go on the bar – don’t miss it. A luscious Oat stout, the nose is thick with Milk Chocolate and Cappucino and the sip laced with fruity, bitter liquorice. A real treat.

IMG_0117Our day was only beginning, but as the glasses stacked up around us, the pub slowly filling with drinkers both alone with papers tucked under their arms and couples whispering conspiratorially in the corner, we both realised that we wanted to stay. Our session had achieved what it set out to – to experience the full Nottingham Brewery / Plough Inn story – but delivered a special sub-plot; one of a warm welcome and local knowledge. The couple of hours we spent there felt like a couple of weekend-lunchtime pints with mates rather than a geeky beer pilgrimage. I’m so glad we took the effort to visit a care-worn but much-loved pub, as comfortable as a pair of slippers even to a couple of interlopers from across the border. The kind of pub experience that you often read about, but rarely find.

Buoyed by the excellent start, we moved on after some farewells and effusive thanks. After all, we had another couple of Nottingham Breweries to try and distill into an afternoon pint.

Thanks Mel – we’ll see you again soon.

St Austell 1913 Cornish Stout: A Classy Affair

IMG_0010I only enjoyed one stout on St Patrick’s day this year – not that I’m one for that particular ritual – but by god, what a good one it was. It seems St Austell had gone on full offensive and fired a few bottles of these out for review over the week, and opening it brought a broad smile to my face. When you’re talking gifts, it’s not often that the beer you get lives up to expectation.

By all accounts, St Austell unearthed a recipe dating back to 1913 for this stout; launching it at the Beer & Mussel festival in St Merryn. Reading that, as I drunk, only had me salivating – a pint of this with a bowl of plain mussels, some crusty bread….

Anyway, enough of that particular daydream. If I could sum up the 1913 Cornish Stout (5.2% abv) in one word, it would be ‘Classy.‘ A slightly metallic nose, all earth and bark, followed by a juicy, raisin-laced body with hints of smoky malt in the sip. There’s a really interesting, moreish bonfire-toffee note running through the whole thing, too. The beer then blossoms into a sweet, silky and almost milk-chocolate-laced finish. You think it’s finished fairly sweetly until a rising bitterness appears in your throat, reminding you that it is, after all, a Stout. It’s a really interesting beer.

It’s probably one of the best, most well-balanced stouts I’ve tasted – and those of you who know me will (hopefully) know I don’t say those sorts of things just because the beer was free. I’m off to buy some more, and that says it all.

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