Tyne 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.
Now, 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.
Beery surprises. Everyone loves them, right? That little thrill of finding something new and having your expectations turned upside is surely what enjoying beer is about; always knowing that somewhere out there is a brewery you just might be missing out on. Despite constant reminders from Andy Mogg that Truefitt Brewery’s beers (more or less his local brewery, as well as doing the design work for them) were very good – and indeed, getting better – it’s still taken me a while to actually get my hands on some.
Matthew Power’s beers bear all the hallmarks of ‘local hero’ brewing; a full range of the best-selling styles, beers named after his environs, strikingly colourful pumpclips which certainly stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, the beer is good. Very good. Truefitt beers carry a weight – in the body particularly – that recalls Oakham and Five Towns Breweries. Hops are sprinkled liberally throughout, of course – but these are really, really balanced beers.
Take the 4% abv North Riding Bitter. Not one to get excited about, you might say, but I defy you not to enjoy this ruddy-cheeked gem. Sweet, with tonnes of freshly-baked brown bread flavour in the body and finishing with complexity that comes as a complete surprise – hints of coffee and berry fruit – I immediately wanted another. And then possibly another.
Erimus (3.6%) is a light, summery Pale Ale with a mild-mannered nature and sweet finish, whereas Truefitt Trembler (a double IPA weighing in at 7.4% abv) may be the beer that hop-heads are overlooking in favour of more exotic, imported fare. Fiery amber in colour and boasting a reassuringly thick, tongue-coating mouthfeel, the nose is all strawberry jam and oily pine needle, which translates almost identically into the finish, adding long, rolling bitterness and a touch of alcohol as it fades away. Matt tells me the hops in this recipe are a moveable feast; he uses what’s available to him at the time. All the more reason to drink a bottle of this every few months, if you ask me.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with Truefitt’s beers. Perhaps it’s time for them to start travelling a little further up and down the UK; not that Matt is resting on his laurels. Last weekend saw the opening of the Truefitt Tap, so if you’re in the wilds of Northallerton, you could do a lot worse that drop in and get acquainted. Good luck, Matt.
These beers were given to me for inclusion in the follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, which I’m working on as we speak.
But when I think of that visit – in a dour, rainy 2003 Autumn, I think of one thing; the kindness of strangers. I was there to see one of my favourite (at the time) musicians – Ben Harper, the Californian master of proto-slide guitar, he who navigates his deep, rumbling Weissenborn slide guitar through oceans of blues, folk, reggae and rock before landing on your shore in a heady, intoxicating mix. I’d been a fan for a while, and when the chance came to see him and his band – the Innocent Criminals – at the legendary Brixton Academy, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
So we (my girlfriend and I – later to become my wife) travelled down with a gang of mates and spent the weekend in London, taking in some sights and – if I remember correctly – eating some fantastic noodles in Greenwich. Anyway, gig time arrived and we – us gang of awed northerners – arrived in the cavernous space of Brixton Academy.
After a support band that suffers every support band’s worst nightmare – to be ultimately forgotten – Ben Harper and his troupe of revivalists took to the baroque stage, hitting us with hit after hit after hit…and Louise couldn’t see any of it. She’s is only just five feet tall, you see. She’s petite. This leads to a clear line of sight being something hard to come by at a gig, even on Brixton Academy’s gently sloping floor.
Still, she’s a veteran of gigs by this point -, and used to it by now. Tip-toes are the order of the day, mixed with a near-constant jockeying for position in the assembled throng. Yet at this gig, something odd happened. A chap in front of us turned around, recognised Louise’s’ predicament and…well, made way.
Not only did he sit down, he encouraged his friends to. His friends asked their friends… and soon, we had a space in front of us – ensuring a great view of the stage and the band. People around us asked if ‘we were ok’ and ‘if we could see‘. It was something I’ve never seen since and doubt I will again. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the average fan of Ben Harper, but it’s fair to say there was a lot of Red Stripe consumed and even more pre-gig smoking going on. But still – intoxicants aside – when I think of Brixton, I think of these awesome people and what was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Not so much the great band, more the night. The people of Brixton – and beyond, I dare say, made it. It was a night when faith was restored in humanity, and we talk about it still.
…and it’s that that I think of when I spy these bottles – amongst others – sitting on the shelves of Sourced Market this week. A warm glow of recognition nudges my hand and so I buy them, hoping upon hope that they’ll won’t let me down.
I’m glad to say they don’t. It’s easy sometimes to dismiss the look of craft – much like the oft-cited pornography argument – but when the odd outfit creeps through that celebrates provenance and links into the community like Brixton have done, it makes you realise that there’s still great work happening in the capital. The labels ‘pop’ with vibrant screams of colour, the names of the beers celebrate Brixton’s multicultural history and tie them to the postcode. In a time of seemingly identikit London brewers, Brixton rise above the din for this writer. They seem a little more considered, a little more thoughtful.
Still, the proof is in the tasting; Electric Avenue IPA (6.5% abv) offers that familiar, modern IPA punch in spades; thick, chewy mouthfeel, amber in the glass, and plenty of sweet fruit – mango chutney, perhaps – in the nose, finished off with a surprisingly clean, almost herbal (grassy, minty) bitterness at the finish. The hops in the aroma are pungent, and the beer disappears way too quickly accompanied by a punchy, spikily hot Pepperoni Pizza. High praise, indeed.
Atlantic APA (5.4% abv) may boast Simcoe and Citra hops but I mis-diagnose the presence of Nelson Sauvin (before reading the label), such is the fresh, green grape and gooseberry notes in the aroma. Golden, refreshing despite being quite sweet, this pale ale is a beer I could drink a lot of. This bottle suffered from a touch of oxidisation, but no worry – this only became apparent toward the end of the glass and I would buy Atlantic APA again in a heartbeat. Vibrant, cool and light.
Windrush Stout (5% abv) was the real winner, though. I chilled it for an hour or so prior to drinking – purely due to the heat outside – yet I was still presented with an aroma of burnt malt, malt loaf and blackcurrant; the body remained light and incredibly fruity. I kept expecting a little vanilla to pop up but it never did – just waves of red fruit, a whisper of woodiness, and a long, clean bitterness. As the beer warmed, a little bready yeast note came into play, just to fill things out. Named after the ship that brought the first waves of West Indian immigrants to London, Windrush is a seriously good beer.
I enjoyed all these over a gorgeously balmy early summer evening – accompanied by a few Ben Harper CD’s and fair amount of reminiscing, of course. That’s beer at its best, if you ask me.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who likes to waffle – especially when carried away with a subject I’m passionate about – I find getting to the point sometimes difficult. The phrase ‘Good things come to those who wait‘ may have been cleverly co-opted by the big stout men few years ago but it’s a tenet I like to live by. I generally find it to work out, too.
I can signpost lots of events in my life through TV Shows – I’m as interesting in TV writing as I am books. The little box in the corner of the room needn’t be the devil – although that entirely depends on your viewing taste, I guess. I’ve my parents and grandmother to thank for my affectation towards Forteana, and I’ll watch most things with a hint of the supernatural about it, or stories wrapped in darkness. First came shows like The Twilight Zone, Eerie Indiana and Dr Who; later The X – Files, Millennium and the daddy of them all, Twin Peaks. TV shows – good ones – offer slow-burn and involvement on a level that film can’t. Not better, per se – but different. You have to live your lives with these people; especially if you tune in week on week as opposed to binge-watching.
True Detective is my latest obsession. If you’ve not seen it, it centres around a murder case investigated by two Louisiana state detectives in the Nineties that has repercussions on their lives as they grow older. Carrying more than a whiff of the occult and and a fist-full of menace throughout, it’s involving stuff and a show that improves if watched at night. It’s finished now, but I can’t recommend it enough. But it’s not a show that you can dive in and out of; you have to be present… be involved.
The same is true of two beers I purposefully chose to enjoy whilst watching it over the last few weeks. First up, a mutant brother to an old favorite; Big Job by St Austell. Taking the already potent Proper Job and throwing in even more hops and strength, Big Job is a beast; weighing in at 7.2% abv yet remains fairly light in touch. The aroma competes with any of the US-inspired IPA’s out there, all tropical fruit and soft red fruit but with that candied-peel sweetness that Proper Job has as a little reminder of its familial roots. The finish could be a little longer, granted – it does make an exit quite cleanly (which isn’t particularly desirable for an IPA), but the latent strength ripples underneath it all, waiting to catch you out.
Staying in the south, Adnam’s Jack Brand Innovation (6.7%abv) was a Silver award winner in 2013’s Stockholm Beer Festival. Pouring burnished gold, the nose transports you to the countryside ; all meadows, wildflowers and malt floor. It’s the malt bill that leads the charge here; a thick, generous body of ginger biscuit and gentle, warming spice. Add a little marmalade to that – and a finish that’s only fleetingly sweet before drying right out with a resinous citrus – and you’ve got a beer you don’t want to rush, lest you miss some of its charms.
Much like the best television.
There’s something about the term Farmhouse that just gets me. True, I am a hopeless romantic, easily swayed by such terms – especially when it comes to beer and food. Label something rustic, homely or plain old-fashioned and I’m yours. I’m an old-fashioned soul, a Luddite, in fact. Which is why, dear reader, I picked up this bottle of Farmhouse IPA. I’m glad I did.
As the backstory on the website goes, Stuart Ross headed to the wilds of Stavanger ( I have no idea if it’s wild, by the way, it just sounds like it should be. My only previous knowledge of Stavanger is when Leeds United play pre-season games there – we have a voracious Norwegian following) to brew with locals Lervig Aktiebrygerri. The result was this Farmhouse IPA; a typically fresh IPA dosed with Belgian and Brettanomyces yeasts.
Fast – forward a few months and I’m sitting in my garden – wholly unexpectedly – under blue skies and unseasonably warm weather, drinking it. It’s a corker – and the aroma alone elicits groans of pleasure; pale gold in colour, all lemon sherbert sweets, forest floor and that hard-to-describe in writing Bretty note. Barnyard. In a good way. Earthy. On the sip there’s champagne-like effervescence, bubbles carrying more pithy citrus and sweet, honeyed notes all the way through the sip.
The bitterness lasts and lasts, reminding you of its hoppy credentials – although it tastes nowhere near its 6% abv billing; the package is almost ethereal in weight. All in all, Magic Rock and Lervig Aktiebrygerri should be proud of what they’ve done here. It sounds simple, to dose up an IPA with Brett or other funky yeasts – but as we know, to pull it off well is another matter entirely. I wish I’d have bought a couple to lay down and compare in a little while , in fact. If you see it about, fill your boots – spring is only around the corner, and this is when this Nordic beauty will really come into her own.
Of 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.
Damn 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.
I’m not being flippant when I say that I don’t really know much about modern Welsh Beer. Aside from the classics – the story of Wrexham Lager, the big boys (boyos?) of Brains and the more well-known (and loved, I might add) names of Purple Moose, Waen and Otley, the first ‘new beer’ I’d had from Wales of late was the power-chord blast of Tiny Rebel Brew Co, a thoroughly modern gang who, in my opinion, still place great value on balance of flavour, despite rocking all the right notes in terms of branding and placement.
I’d been hearing things about The Celt Experience for a while – good things – but only managed to get my hands on their wares late last year when they popped up in Booths. From the striking black-and-metallic labels to the considered, tastefully brewed beers within ,the whole package shouts mystery, whilst projecting the rural, almost gothic feel that the brewery’s advertising suggests. Overall, The Celt Experience brew in three sub-ranges; Core (where these beers come from), the esoteric Shapeshifter series and Ogham; beers of a stronger, more contemplative feel. Having tasted these base beers, I hold high hopes for the rest of the range.
Golden (4.5% abv) is up first; a graceful poem to doing all the little things right. Burnished gold, the aroma comes alive with Citrus jelly undercut by fresh, herbal grassiness. The body of the beer – vital for a golden ale – has a good weight to it, rich with grain and cereal before more orange and lemon washes through to clean things up. The bitterness is robust and long-lasting, making this a pale ale with a voice – a pale ale that will please seasoned hop-heads.
Bronze (4.2% abv) lives up to its name – Copper hued and lively, with a nose like freshly-baked flapjack, all oats and honey. Before the sweetness has a chance to settle on your tongue, more of that aforementioned bitterness arrives, turning the entire pint on it’s head. Thick, creamy and bitter? Rich and refreshing? You bet. Misplaced or not, Bronze reminded me of the best Kentish ales; robust and almost stinging in hop attack. Wonderful stuff; and nice to drink something with a considered British – style hop profile, too.
Finally – and trust me, I didn’t want this tasting to end – comes Bleddyn 1075 (5.6% abv). The brewers describe it as an IPA; but I personally felt that it had more akin to true strong Pale Ales, such as Three Tun’s Cleric’s Cure or Hop Studio’s Vindhya, such was the balance of malt and hop. Semantics, perhaps – the bottom line is that Bleddyn is a fantastically balanced beer that’s not to be messed with. Amber in colour ,there’s nutty, creamily-rich biscuit again that gets hammered into oblivion by waves of Grapefruit-led bitterness, high and dry, then finishing sweet again, leaving a trace of alcohol warmth behind.
As you can probably tell, I really, really enjoyed this trio – and it’s a shame it’s taken me so long to put them up here. The Celt Experience’s beers are starting to appear on bars in Lancashire and Yorkshire, so don’t miss a chance to catch them. After all, the more we drink, the more they’ll have to make and send over, right?
Do pop over to the website; it’s one of the better ones out there and has some lovely, moody photos of the gorgeous landscape from whence these brews were….well, brewed.
Is 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.
Booth’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.
There’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.
Whilst in Edinburgh this summer I embarked – over a breakfast, of all things – on a rant about the proliferation of Saison and ‘Quasi-Saison’ into the market this year (apologies still to Craig, Chris and Sam who had to sit through it). I don’t rant much (on here, anyway), but I had gotten a little sick of the tang of Saison yeast being thrown into anything (especially IPA) and the beer being labelled as such. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for bending the rules from time to time, but the core of my rant was that I just craved tasty, simple, herby Saison. It may be a matter of semantics for some, but for me it was as simple and as selfish as that.
In fact, it got me down so much I was actually avoiding beers with the ‘S’ word on the label or pumpclip. Until Bad Seed’s Saison (6%abv) arrived in my hand and gave me my faith back. The beer pours cornfield gold; and I sat and took in the aroma for what seemed like an age – lemon rind, a hint of vanilla, the citrus-spice of raw ginger. On the sip, it was smoothly sweet until a rush of dry, coriander and pepper heat swipes the malt away at the finish, which is gentle; risingly bitter with a fresh, grassy herbal note. The alcohol is well hidden although there’s a faint warming note after the sip, which only adds to the robust-yet-light feel of the beer. Complex? Yes. Easy – drinking? Certainly? Well-brewed? Resoundingly so. No bells and whistles; just a bloody good Saison.
Bad Seed are based in Malton (famous for its food festival – and of course being the birthplace of my dog, Wilson!) and haven’t been going that long – James Broad and Chis Waplington only set up in the summer – but their beers are already garnering some formidable buzz. What struck me the most – once I’d gotten past the initial pleasure of the beer in the glass in front of me – was how clean the beer was; how well brewed it was. Small needn’t be a byword for lazy in terms of the condition of your beer, no matter how ‘innovative’ it may be in terms of flavour. No such qualms from Bad Seed. Go buy some.