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Cheese & Potato Pie with Gadd’s Dogbolter

IMG_1338The humble cheese pie; often overlooked for more sustaining, edgy ‘meat’ varieties, gets a bad rap. It’s always the bridesmaid or – worse still – shoved onto menus as an afterthought, the trad ‘vegetarian’ option; dull, mealy, and filled with ‘cheese product’ rather than the real thing. Make no mistake – the limp Cheese pie has been dealt a poor hand in life.

At IMBC last year (yeah, it was last year, crazy, huh?), my notes contained as much rhapsodising about Great North Pie Co’s Cheese and Onion Pie as the beer that washed it down. The pastry light and crumbly, the cheese filling silken and perfectly poised, it was an anthem of a pie. And it’s been in my mind ever since.

So, Christmas extravagances out of the way, I spent a relaxing hour making my own cheese pie last weekend. Nowhere near as lithe and graceful and Great North Pie’s, it was, nontheless a robust, hearty meal that brings a smile to your lips and, when paired with a great beer, one half of a very, very accomplished duo.

This recipe makes a medium-sized pie for two; if you’re doing a ‘plate pie’ it’s probably about right for a standard-sized plate, too. Firstly, you’ll need to make your filling. In a large mixing bowl, drop cubed cheese – about 120g in total. You can use whatever cheese you want, but I like to blend a couple (think of it like  using aroma & bittering hops, a base note and a top note. Really). I used a toothsome Welsh Cheddar (40g) and a softer, subtler Wensleydale (80g).

Peel 2 medium-sized potatoes, then slice them thinly using a mandolin or grater – watch those fingers. Put the potato to one side, and chop the white part of one small Leek into thin rings. Add the Leek to the cheese, then spoon on 100ml of Creme Fraiche. Season well with white pepper and a pinch of salt.

Grease and line your pie tin with some pastry, leaving it hanging over the edge. layer the Potatoes in the bottom, then add some cheese mix, then layer some more potatoes on top of that. Keep layering the cheese mix and potatoes until you get to the top, then place your lid on top, crimp, and glaze with a beaten egg.

Place in a pre-heated over at 175c for about 40 minutes, watching it carefully. Test for doneness with a skewer – it should go right through cleanly. Leave to cool a little, and you’re done.

IMG_1287My own preference with cheese is almost always dark beers, although a juicy, cold IPA would have been interesting too. But on this occasion I plumped for a bottle of Gadd’s Dogbolter. This 5.8% abv Porter is a bit of an icon – the beer that Eddie Gadd witnessed the birth of; the beer  that’s the cornerstone of the Firkin Brewpub empire. It’s still – in my opinion – criminally underrated, passed over for younger pups that don’t have a tenth of the depth of this beer. When in perfect condition – as this bottle was – this rough diamond’s aroma not only carries dusty, powdered chocolate and red berry, but a yeasty, earthy note that gives some hint to the complexity of flavour waiting for you.

Sweet chocolate, smooth, roasted grain which gives toasted bread and fresh coffee, and a surprisingly green, well-hopped finish, it hits all the right notes (and yes, in the right order) to make this beer a perfect match for Cheese and Charcuterie or, in this case, a Cheese pie.

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My Golden Pints 2013

collinghamartisansLooks like it’s that time of year again, so – determined not to miss this again – I’m going to try and put some thoughts down – if not for the brewers and others involved…for me! I really need to keep more detail of what I drink. Anyway, onwards and upwards…

Best UK Cask Beer – Jesus, fallen at the first hurdle. Where do you even start? I genuinely couldn’t pick just one out, so I’m going to cop out (get used to it, there’s a lot of this coming) and stick a couple in. Rooster’s 20th Anniversary IPA was pretty special on Cask, and one in the eye for people who maintain cask doesn’t do hops, to boot. It’s not a regular brew, however, so I’ll have to stick something else in here, too...Saltaire South Island Pale. A no-brainer at every bar I see it on. Collingham’s Artisan’s Choice was also bloody lovely during the summer.

Best UK Keg Beer – Fyne & Wild’s collaboration Cool as a Cucumber really made me evaluate an entire style of beer (well, low-alcohol beers)  – and if that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.

41GRDQJ-6xL._SX280_SY364_SH10_QL100_Best UK Bottled Beer – two have stood out. Kirkstall’s Dissolution IPA was outstanding; a resinous IPA resolutely British in tone. If I look back at my notes, however, the beer I drank the most of during our hot summer was Oakham’s Citra IPA for M&S. Incredibly good value for money in terms of quality, the whole range this year was pretty darn good. Sorry, rest of the UK – gotta put my money where…well, where my money was. Bad Seed’s Saison and Three Tun’s Cleric’s Cure, and Salopian’s recently released Kashmir also knocked me sideways.

Best Collaboration Brew – Well, this is clearly my own collab with Ilkley on The Good Stuff! In all seriousness, brewing a beer for the launch of your first book is pretty special, and will forever remain part of the great (if a little stressful) memory of that night. Thanks again, Ilkley.

Best Overall Beer – Jesus, this is hard! One beer?!?! Rooster’s Fort Smith has not only been spectacular in bottled form, but cask too. Sublime.

images (2)Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – only a recent addition, but I think Mark Tranter’s Burning Sky branding is seriously attractive. Saltaire’s rebrand is a lesson to all breweries who want to modernise without losing the life of your original brand.

Best UK BreweryPass. I can’t answer it; there’s too many. As the old adage goes, if it’s on here, then I think it’s pretty special.

Best Overseas Brewery – I actually (purposefully) spent a lot of 2013 focusing on drinking UK-based beer, especially from regions I didn’t have much knowledge of. So not one for me to focus on, but I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve had from Pretty Things, and await their collaboration with Rooster’s with relish. They’re just ….consummate. Tocalmatto’s Re Hop was also delicious; elegant and glorious in that special way that Italian Beers seem to get.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013 Five Points. I like the sheer drinkability of their beers – unfussy, if you like. Just bloody tasty. Underwhelming to some, I know, but I place value in that kind of stuff.

Pub/Bar of The YearYork Tap for me, please. Not only did Jon Chappell and his team launch Great Yorkshire Beer with military precision, doing everything on the night and leaving me to basically buzz around, they’ve been nothing but outstanding all the time. I can never catch them out, whether it’s day, night…the staff, the beer… it’s a great pub, seriously – one of many in York.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013 – It’s a pleasure to finally have Kirkstall’s Bridge Inn and The Flying Duck open recently. Both great additions to Yorkshire’s pub scene. And there’s the small matter of The Leeds Tap (Well, Tapped Brew Co as it’s known as), too…

Best City for Beer in the UK – I’m going to put my rose-tinted bias for York away for a year and go for Edinburgh. It’s just brilliant. EBBC this year was an absolute blast; special people and some special beer in a special city.

leeds_international_beer_festival_2013_posterBeer Festival of The Year – IMBC; although Leeds Independent deserves huge points for such a leap from the previous year’s prototype event.

Supermarket of The Year – Booths; for their continued interest in beer, particularly from the North – their festival this year was excellent.

Independent Retailer of the Year/Online Retailer of The YearBeer Ritz for both, simply due to the fact that they are still my local heroes and ‘go-to’ guys. However, I must applaud Yorkshire’s other indie beer and food shops who not only stocked GYB (let’s not forget, they sell beer, not books) but continued to keep interest going and support the whole project – BierHuis, Yorkshire Ales and Keelham Farm Shop in particular. Thanks a lot, guys.

The-Inn-at-the-TopBest Beer Book or MagazineCAMRA’s Beer Magazine still corners the market on the magazine front – but it’s not available to everyone, of course – and I still think needs a challenger to perhaps provide some good-natured rivalry. Not a beer book per se, but one of interest to people who love pubs, is Inn At The Top by Neil Hanson. It’s his account of running the Tan Hill Inn during the 70’s, and manages to be both wistful are terrifying at the same time. I also hugely enjoyed Melissa Cole’s Let Me Tell You About Beer this year  –  accessible, rewarding and with a range of beers that’s within the reach of the curious shopper.

Best Blog or Website – The death of the Blog has been greatly exaggerated. Some of the most inventive, interesting, up-to-date Beer writing is still happening on blogs, no matter what a small section say. Granted, it may be a case of sorting the wheat from the chaff, but if you’re not diving in then you won’t know, will you? First up, Loaded Kitchen. The sheer quality of  what Maggie Cubbler is doing with food and beer is – in my honest opinion – unparalleled in the blogosphere (and, in some cases, beyond – take that, pro chefs!). Her blog made me take a second look at my own attempts  – and that’s what I want?  The blog looks great, reads great and the food (I’ve had the pleasure of eating some of it) tastes even better than it looks. Not only that, she’s breaking out from behind the screen and doing tastings and events, too – so keep an eye out.

From a purely Beer perspective, the progression of both Chris Hall and Craig Heap has been great to see. Both Chris and Craig have become go-to sites for me for not only the skinny on London and Cardiff respectively, but Beer in general. Chris’s article on Cantillon might be one of the most enjoyable blogs I’ve read all year. The fact  that they’ve recently been given opportunities to contribute to this and curate this speaks volumes of the potential that I think they have.  I’ve also found myself nodding in agreement to a lot of what Yvan Seth has had to say this year – I think we share a lot of the same headspace when it comes to beer.

Finally, Boak & Bailey, ATJ and Tandleman still continue to not only churn out great content weaving in social commentary, history, essays and prose, but still post regularly – which is great to see. Boak & Bailey’s Long Reads initiative has exercised a muscle in my writing arm that was seriously underdeveloped – and for that, I thank them. I’ve even got my subject for the next one all sewn up…

Beer App – don’t use any of them!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – He’ll hate me for saying this but I still find Matt Gorecki’s twitter feed to be ‘most like that person is in real life.’ He may not blog much any more – but he’s done some first-rate guesting here and here. Don’t be a stranger, Matt!

Best Brewery Website/Social Media Wild Beer Co’s new site is wonderful.

Here’s to 2014’s list!

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.

A Walk Through The Herb Garden, Bottle in Hand

IMG_0824Since being captivated by Wild & Fyne’s Cool as a Cucumber beer a little while back, I’ve been rolling the concept of herbs, spices and such in beer around in my head like a lone jar of Garlic Salt in an empty pantry. Surely it’s a great way to get beer into the kitchen – if that’s your thing – but many fall flat on their face. Wild Beer Co have almost made this their niche in the short time that they’ve existed, taking the brave step of eschewing the easy route and brewing a genuinely interesting bottled range.

But brewing with herbs and spices isn’t new – just seemingly relegated to the ‘seasonal special’ section of a breweries’ roster and mostly ending up in the ‘discount’ bin. Beers that seem to recall herbs – through the wonder of yeast, hops and malt – seem to convey those flavours better than beers that would actually contain them, like a cuckoo’s egg in a nest.

There’s probably even a strata of drinkers who avoid these sorts of beers full stop, huffing and puffing with indignation as the latest brewery announces their Juniper-spiced Pale Stout. Is there a need for them? Of course there is; it’s another facet of the wonder of beer and if it piques the interest of someone who wouldn’t normally try beer, then it’s a home run.

In an effort to see what’s out there, I’ve spent the last few weeks gently keeping an eye out for more mainstream beers with added spice or herbs, discounting the more popular flavours, such as Ginger, Honey, Coffee and (surprisingly), Chillies.

It really was a mixed bag (or perhaps spice rack).

Sharp’s Cornish Pilsner (5.2%abv) was first out of the cellar; swanning around all regal, classy and deft of touch – a dry, flinty pils with a muscular abv that’s just won a major award. Poured into a tall glass it fair induced a thirst; I’ve enjoyed it before, but this version was spiked with Thyme grown at the excellent Eden Project. As expected, the beer was spot on, those grassy Saaz hops providing a stone-fruit and cut-grass flavour alongside a similar nose – but I just couldn’t taste any thyme. I had some fresh Thyme in the garden and considered a swirl…but I didn’t want to spoil the great Pilsner, to be honest. Still, buy the beer; it’s great.

photoHackney’s Pressure Drop Brewing comes screaming to the fore next, with Wu Gang Chops The Tree, a 3.8% Hefewiezen ‘with foraged herbs.’ The label doesn’t say what herbs, and I didn’t check them out so as not to degrade the guessing game – but again, I was faced with a decent beer but no discernable herb flavour or aroma. Well, not exactly. Plenty of lemon rind and a vague mintiness (the kind that Sorachi Ace hops can impart) lurked in a solid – and deceptively delicate – Hefeweizen.

Onto a beer that’s popped up in the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt, which is currently in its last stages of competition. Batemans Black Pepper Ale (5.1% abv) comes with a ridiculous little pepper sachet to ‘sprinkle on’ the head, which needless to say didn’t happen. However , I was surprised at the taste of the beer; it did taste of pepper. The ruby-hued beer is perfect for this time of year; Autumn in a glass. There’s a firm, nutty coffee-inflected body, and yes, a real smack of Black Pepper in both the aroma (which is redolent of Gingerbread) and taste. I must admit, I didn’t like it at first; but actually warmed to it as I drank. True, I couldn’t drink a lot of it, but in terms of this experiment, it passed. It tasted and smelled of black pepper; I enjoyed this with a Steak Pie and needless to say, it played along nicely.

But something niggled; although the brewers have successfully transferred the taste and aroma of Pepper into the beer, I can’t help but think they’ve chosen the wrong style; it’s too strong a seasoning to put into a session-strength, autumnal ale. The pepper would have worked well in a Dubbel-style beer, or even a Stout or Porter. I guess I could always try Goose Island’s Pepe Nero, but that fell short of the mark for me, too.

DSCF4181Marble & Emelisse’s Earl Grey IPA (6.8% abv) has its fans, too – and it’s easy to see why. It’s a big, big beer, with a rich, honeycomb toffee nose which carries through to the body of the beer, but just when you’re processing that thick, tongue-coating sweetness, a huge wave of bitterness crashes in and cleans everything up. Again, in terms of Earl Grey notes there’s not much that I can’t get in a regular IPA, apart from an oily at first, then drying, fuzzy-tongued finish that *could* be from the tannins – or *could* be from the hops. Still, it’s a satisfying spiky IPA. If you’re a committed hophead and haven’t tried this yet, then seek it out.

Carrying on the tea theme is Camden’s Gentleman’s Wit (4.3%), a Witbier the colour of lemon curd and tasting not dissimilar, either. I remember speaking to Mark Dredge at the northern launch of Camden Ink about this beer in particular; Camden were looking for ‘something different’ to inject a bit of fun into their wheat beer and had landed on the Lemon/Bergamot combination as one that suited. It does suit; the lemon coming to the fore and – if possible – making a light, crisp Wit seem even lighter.

photoIt’s a lovely little beer – perhaps a little too clean at the end of the sip – and although I think ‘ I do taste Bergamot’, there’s a lot of Bergamot notes (citrus, green leaves) in the beer anyway. Can I pick it out? No, but it’s an easy win for Camden in terms of pairing flavours and, yes, I think the average drinker would happily concede that.

So yes, overall, a hit-and-miss event in the case of actually transferring the essence of the herb to the beer. I’m sure that, much like hops, it’s down to the age of the beer, the bottling, the condition as to how much of the herb you get in your glass at the end of the day. Which begs the question; if you can’t guarantee that, why do it? Brewers – is brewing with such fine and delicate herbs a major headache? Does the alcohol obliterate the flavour, thus opening up Low-ABV beers as the way forward?

I don’t feel done with this question yet…

Easing Back with Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA

Kirkstall IPAWell, I’m back after a *lovely* hiatus. Despite spending the last few weeks lounging around the Italian Lakes, eating way too much food and drinking far too amazing wine, I do find myself looking forward to a decent beer when I get back home. Getting my mitts on this beer in particular –  Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA (6% abv) – was high on my agenda when I strode into BeerRitz last weekend.

Why? Pure, honest to goodness anticipation, that’s why. We’re used to being made to wait for limited editions, one-offs, collaborations, but simply having the first bottle from a brewery that I’ve watched grow into such an integral part of my own beer scene is just as exciting – if not more. To cap it off, we get a new (ish) beer – a slightly stronger version of the already-deceptively-strong Dissolution IPA.  It’s been released to almost no fanfare; so I’m here to put that right.

Extra IPA ramps up the abv by a percent, yet remains incredibly focused for an IPA. There’s real depth to it; and the condition of the bottle was immaculate. Pouring Amber-Gold, the aroma is subtle; stone fruit, a touch of blackcurrant, and loads of zesty Orange marmalade all vying for attention as you inhale. It’s the taste where the magic happens, however – it’s incredibly light at first, all bready grain and rich cereal. As it dries, all that fruit jumps in, a prelude to a long, long rasping bitterness that not only slaps your palate into shape, but reminds you of the abv and the style you’re currently (immensely) enjoying.

Warming alcohol makes an appearance as you gear up for another gulp. All in all, you’ve got a beer of distinct grace and brawn; qualities that all IPA should possess. The flavour profile is perfectly British, and Kirkstall have set off on their bottling journey with an incredibly impressive beer.  Buy it.

 

Back To The Future With Hardknott

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When I look back a few years to the time when smaller, independent (yes, go on then – craft breweries) were really starting to gather steam, I invariably think of Hardknott. Dave Bailey (Brewer, Doer, Force Majeure) whose enthusiasm for the subject inspired and enraged people in equal measure, was someone who seemed to pop up everywhere; be it personally draying beer to far off places like London and Edinburgh, or making sure that his voice was heard in any debate both personally or online. Hardknott were pushing against the tide, pulling others into their circle and collaborating left, right and centre. His blog provided a useful and interesting view from behind the bar and inside the mash tun at a time when everything seemed so fresh and exciting. Battle lines were being drawn.

It helped that Hardknott’s beers backed up the rhetoric; bold, flavoursome beers that forced you to take notice. Beers that seemed perfectly brewed for both the kitchen (something that’s ingrained in the Hardkott ethos) and the bar. Sure, Hardknott seemed to suffer a little from the same ailments that many small breweries hit once an initial wave has broken on the beach – slightly inconsistent bottles, the odd flavour changes with cask beers as they find their feet, but that’s only to be expected.

I last spoke to Dave at the Leeds International Beer Festival last year – where I spent much of the afternoon glugging his excellent English Experiment IPA. We had a very brief hello at Indy Man the month after. We caught up, laughed, and that was that. I hadn’t tried any Hardknott beer since.

Why? I think, looking back as I write this, Hardknott ‘graduated.’ In my mind, Hardknott’s beers stopped shouting at me and grabbing my collar, urging me to look their way across a bar that’s even more crowded than it was in 2010 – but this time, it’s not just a range of 4% ‘Pale and Hoppy’ beers beckoning me; it’s a bar full of …well, beers like theirs. I know (and can rely on) Hardknott – so I can move onto something else. After all, there’s so much damn choice.

Hardknott-Pump-Clips-700x300

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when I was faced with new bottles on a beer shop recently, I made sure to pick some up. It was like reacquainting myself with an old friend; in fact, that was exactly what it was. Whilst the beer world followed Hardknott’s (amongst others, of course) lead, Hardknott have quietly expanded, rebranded (in an excellent fashion, helped along by Lemon Top Creative, bagged a decent spot in Booth’s and – to use a wanky business term – grown muscle. Much like the rebrand, the trio of Hardknott bottles I enjoyed were lean and trim; rough edges smoothed out and honed, hungry for action – the way a football manager would want players to return after a summer break.

First up, Continuum (4% abv) –  which, at first sip, recalls early SNPA without the alcohol. Golden, yet served in a small enough bottle to instinctively make you reach for the tulip as opposed to the pint glass. it’s packed with flavour; pine sap and blackcurrant on the nose, an undertow of creamy malt and a more sappy, bitterly rising. It’s Hardknott’s session beer, apparently – in terms of alcohol, I’ll  take that, but it’s still a shot to the tastebuds, without being too tiring.

Infra Red ups the ante with a 6% abv punch, and still has all the swagger that made it such a hit when it first appeared in pubs and bars in what seems like decades ago now. Ruddy of hue and redolent both in the nose and body of Raisin and brown sugar, there’s plenty of Orange pith streaking through it, whooping and hollering, to cut through all that malt give the beer a drying finish. Another beer that’s way too easy to drink. If Theakston were starting up now, this may be what Old Peculier would taste like.

Azimuth (5.8%abv) finishes the session. Borne out of a desire to brew something similar to Infra Red (ie an IPA), but without the malt profile, Azimuth is, simply, a wonderful beer. Peachy-golden in colour, the nose has plenty of stone-fruit, apricot jam and boiled sweet notes jumping out at you, and the beer itself manages a sly trick of tasting sweet (with more boiled sweet and jam) first, then bitter (Grapefruit and Mango), then turning sweet again at the end of the sip. The end result is a beer that I can only really sum up in one word: Juicy. It’s a juicy IPA. There you go.

With casual food suggestions on the label, these three bottles were an absolute pleasure to get to know again. Hardknott have quietly upped their game and more than hold their own – and it’s a wonderful thing to see a modern brewery progress and grow in such a natural way. Well done Dave, Ann and Graeme (not to forget Alex Routledge) – it’s a pleasure to meet you again.

Chocolate As To Beer

IMG_0070As I type this draft up, Dea Latis are hosting a Beer & Chocolate guided tasting at The Brewery Tap, Leeds. Without making a sweeping generalisation about the fairer sex (of course not!), it’s looking incredibly successful. A lot of people like Beer. But everyone likes chocolate.

Thus, the two are best of buddies. There are some truly world-class Chocolate beers out there – Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (and people say that’s not as good as it used to be) being the first two that spring to mind – but, as with the dark beer/coffee tryst, there’s a lot of poor ones out there too. As a flavour, it’s a case of approximation. The delightfully Wonka-esque-named Chocolate Malt doesn’t really impart a chocolate flavour to me; more of a burnt/roasted note. So what do you do? Add Cocoa? Steep the beer on Cacao Nibs? Syrups and Essences? All of the above, it would seem, judging from a quick scan of the ‘net.

I must admit, I do like an occasional chocolate beer hit – but I generally get it from chocolatey stouts and porters, rather something with the specific word chocolate on the label. I also like Chocolate with beer: stouts, brown ales, porters and krieks are delicious at times with a little nibble of chocolate on the side (Ooh, get me, I bet you’re thinking. Don’t worry, this is a practice I only carry out at home, proudly wearing my ‘beer git’ badge).

One that I enjoy often is Saltaire’s Triple Chocoholic, which lasts about three seconds wherever it appears on cask.  A bittersweet stout swirled with Chocolate Syrup and giving you an instant hit of Maltesers and Toblerone, it’s the kind of beer that you feel you shouldn’t enjoy but do; which is ironic, given that that’s how most of us feel about chocolate. And maybe that’s the key to the style’s popularity; it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

smiths yorkI picked up an armful of Yorkshire’s current chocolate-themed beers for an Easter blowout. First up, Rudgate’s York Chocolate Stout (5% abv). Of course; York. The home of Rowntree’s and Terry’s; the home of Northern chocolate treats like KitKats and Chocolate Creams. Now, the chocolate-making is done by small companies like York Cocoa House – who teamed up with the ever-reliable Rudgate Brewery to produce this stout.

It’s pretty well-realised, actually. Dark but with the merest hint of Ruby within, the nose is all caramel and milk chocolate – Mars Bars, perhaps, being your reference point. There’s some mocha in the body, which is light,  and it finishes with some toasted bread notes that gets increasingly bitter as the finish goes on. The chocolate flavour in here is pleasant and well-balanced; and I actually think it could do with a little more ooomph (official term) in the body, to enhance that even more. Still, a really enjoyable beer and it passes the chocolate beer test – it’s drinkable.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Sam Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout (5%abv). Expectations were high; wonderful, classic Smith’s label, and an amazing aroma to boot – the best of the bunch. As I poured, the room filled with deeply nutty notes; all Walnut praline and Coffee-cake frosting. But it tasted way too sweet for me – tooth-jarringly so. I couldn’t drink much of it.

bad kittyNext up, Brass Castle’s Bad Kitty (5.5%abv) – a beer I’m more than familiar with, having judged it not long after its inception at York Beer Festival in 2011. We crowned it winner that year, and rightly so; my memory of it was that it was head and shoulders above the rest on the day. Not a chocolate beer per se but a Vanilla Porter, I’ve included it as it’s in the same family, if you will.

Bottled, it surprised me with its drinkability. Bad Kitty is a pitch-black moggy with a deep, rich vanilla sponge aroma that’s backed up by lashings of roasted, toasted malt notes. The almost over-sweetness that the nose sets you up for never really appears. Instead you get a smooth, suppable porter that begins with vanilla cream and finishes fruity and moreish; laden with Blackcurrant and digestive biscuit. If you like Vanilla Porters – or that particular flavour in Beer, seek this out.

Giving the usual Easter Eggs this year? Seek out a chocolate beer instead – at least it’s different!

Rooster’s Yankee and Fort Smith

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it was about time Rooster’s got in on the bottling scene. With nothing left to prove in the cask world, it seemed like it was impossible to talk about Rooster’s in the last few years without ending the conversation with the phrase ‘I wish they’d bottle, though…’. Clearly, we want to go out and drink beer, but these days it’s vitally important to get your beers to drinkers who want to stay at home too.

The wait is over, and I have to say that it’s worth it. Not only do Rooster’s bottles look great, but the condition of the first set of beers to be released is good, too. Tom and Ol Fozard have gone with a straight light/dark/strong lineup in Yankee, Londinium (see previous review) and the lesser-known Fort Smith, and for those wanting a primer in where Rooster’s are heading at the moment, it’s a good call.

First up, Yankee. You know what you’re going to get when you pop the cap, and lord knows I’ve sunk enough pints of Yankee (4.3% abv) over the years to practically taste it before it’s poured. Rooster’s marker in the sand, there’s grassy, fresh hop bitterness played off against a softly biscuity malt backdrop, and a long, clean finish. A familiar taste, and one that’s pleasing beyond words. To bottle without including Yankee would have been unthinkable, I would imagine.

Fort Smith – named after the town where Rooster Cogburn lived – is one I’m less familiar with having only tried on cask a couple of times, but based on this outing it’s a beer I need to cosy up to more often. 5.5% abv, amber in colour and again, in excellent condition, there’s an explosion of Mango and Grapefruit on the nose, a smooth, sweet body and a lingering, rising bitterness at the end of the sip which tells you that it’s a loud, proud IPA that manages to straddle both sides of the Atlantic. Wonderfully balanced, Fort Smith is a powerhouse of flavour wrapped up in a very respectable abv.

So, overall, welcome home, Rooster’s. Now, can we have Wild Mule next? It’ll be Summer, soon. Rooster’s bottles are available at Beer Paradise.  You can also read Bibulous Me’s excellent review of the bottles (with the same plea for Wild Mule!) here.

Harbour Brewing

076We used to spend holidays in Cornwall with our Grandparents when I was a child; it seemed like it took years to get there in the family car, stopping off along the way countless times to stock up on Ribena and boiled sweets, rewarded finally with countryside that seemed sort of like ours in Yorkshire, yet entirely different. The beaches and the sea always seemed a little more picture-postcard than our often wild Yorkshire coast, a little more glamorous  perhaps. Despite being in the UK, Cornwall always felt a little foreign to me.

Beer-wise, it’s another blind spot of mine. I last visited on a stag do to Newquay in 2008 -ish; a fun weekend in a ropey place. Newquay was not what I expected, but we did the usual and gorged ourselves on Doom Bar, Betty Stogs and beach bottles of Wooden Hand and Tribute. Only one pub got repeat visits; a bluesy music – and – real- ale place near the infamous Bertie’s Surf Shack. I can’t quite recall its name – can someone help? Could it have been Leadbelly’s?

Anyway, the crisp lines and monochrome labels of Harbour Brewing portray a different kind of Cornwall, perhaps. The website looks excellent – sleek and moody, with an almost David Lynchian shot of a wind-battered harbour on the landing page. Rhys Powell and Eddie Lofthouse seem to know exactly who they are already in terms of beer – and Skinner’s they are not.  Bright labels which evoke old coffee cans (to me) adorn the core range, and the silver-and-black treatment (perhaps echoing the photography on the site) dresses the specials, which is what I’ve got my hands on.

Double India Pale Ale No 3 (7%abv) pours a lovely russet-amber shade; more akin to that of a rich Scotch ale than an IPA, and promises some serious malty action. That creamy-yet-clean biscuit note does indeed underpin the nose, which abounds with Orange peel and grassy pine needle. On the sip, there’s additional lychee fruitiness which is then washed away with a little ripple of effervensence, leaving behind a green, fresh – but altogether restrained – bitterness. It’s a smooth, gently sweet IPA, and has me wondering (which I don’t say often) whether it’s a little too restrained?

Overall, it’s a good beer, and manages to shoehorn in flavour and vibrancy without overloading you with alcohol and heat.

IMG_3423Porter No. 6 (6.8%abv) shows a similarly restrained hand but with the dark malts involved, and is a hell of a glass of flavour for it. It’s a lovely ruby-blackcurrant colour, with a nose that evokes Autumn and woodland; all leather, burnt wood and earthy, black pepper notes (apologies, got a bit Goolden there!). The flavour is powerful without being strong – waves of digestive biscuit and hazelnuts at the start, then bitter chocolate and espresso notes at the end. It’s like a box of Black Magic in beer form and a perfect fit for the snowy afternoon that I chose to drink it in.

Harbour certainly seem to be doing a good job in getting their beer up and down the country, and I’m looking forward to picking up more of them. The beer is flavourful and balanced, and quintessentially British, which appeals to me greatly. There’s no feeling that Harbour are trying to be something they aren’t, and long may that continue.

Unwinding with Windsor & Eton

023 (2)I was drinking in Leeds ages ago (getting on for early Summer last year) when I first came across Windsor & Eton. It was one of those moments of beer serendipity that I like to collect so much; discussing in one pub how I had ‘heard good things about them, but not tried them’, only to come across a refreshingly fruity pint of Knight of the Garter in the next. Thank you, Ninkasi.

Interest piqued, I picked more up as the year went on, and present my findings here. Republika (4.0%abv) really is a top-drawer lager; initially brewed with the input of Tomas Mikulica of Pivovarski Dvur. Perhaps a little darker in colour than one would expect, it packs a lot of flavour into the glass – a creamy, distinctly biscuity foundation in the body topped off with a fresh, grassy, flinty nose and a snappily crisp finish. I’ve enjoyed Republika perhaps the most since the initial taste, finding it popping up at tastings and dinners as ‘the lager offering’ – and rightly so. Good stuff.

020Where to start with Conqueror 1075? The steroid-taking older brother of Conqueror, 1075 is one of the best black IPA’s I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. It’s a gift that just keeps giving, new nuances and aspects hitting you each time you sip, or indeed from bottle to bottle. Weighing in at 7.4%abv, it pours jet-black and unleashes aromas of Cedar, Pine and deep woodsmoke as your pour, giving the nose an immensely deep, satisfying nature. The beer itself drinks way too easy, mostly due to an elegantly refined, smooth mouthfeel that takes those woody notes and cleans them up around the edges with more pine and an odd-yet-brilliant fruitness that reminds me, oddly, of parma violets. With more front that Kate Middleton on a french holiday, a touch of alcohol heat pops up at the bitter end, and you’ll be kicking yourself for only buying one when you finish the glass. I was, anyway.

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W&E are known for getting behind the Royal connotations of their name, which could turn some of the more fervent amongst you off – but do so at your peril. Windsor Knot, a 4.5% beer brewed to celebrate the marriage of William and Kate, is so much more than a novelty beer. In fact, it’s now one of their regulars, and rightly so. This amber beer is a great example of US and UK tastes coming together; massively sweet belgian-candy notes in the body, rounded out with more subtle fruit sweetness (think raisin and almond cake) and a high, bitter finish with plenty of pithy citrus rind that dries as it fades, leaving you wanting another before you’ve even swallowed.

It reminded me of super-fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a beer that I’ve found recently has gone right ‘off a cliff’ in terms of flavour) – all sweetness and hops, smooth and moreish. It’s crying out for a plate of quick-sauteed Prawns with Garlic, or some slices of sweet, smoky Chorizo. A bold, tasty beer that you shouldn’t miss out on if you haven’t caught it yet.

Finally, two ‘Jubilee’ beers. Hitting up the empirical connection, Treetops (4.4%abv), named after a safari lodge frequented by the Queen, just missed the mark for me. A stout with ‘Yams, Millet, and Sorghum’ to bring the African connection in, Treetops was just not to my taste. Very sweet, with a rough, grainy, burnt coffee nose that reminded me of the Greek coffee I drink on holiday, the body has plenty of milk chocolate swirling around but there’s an inherent graininess that I can’t escape. You know Hershey’s chocolate? Like that, to my taste. An interesting beer if you like your stouts, however.

IMG_3424Kohinoor (5%abv) is named after one of the Queen’s diamonds and comes across as a cousin to Windsor Knot; those same boiled-sweet and fruit jelly flavours abound in the body, and it’s topped off with a nose of Seville marmalade and slightly herbal, grassy notes. The whole package is lovely; tasty, full of flavour and incredibly light for the abv. I’ll be seeking this out in cask, where it enjoys a slightly lower abv.

Overall, W&E are the kind of brewery that make me want to live nearer to them to drink more of their wares; a brewery quietly going about their business with little fanfare. Reviving brewing in Windsor (according to their site, the last brewery there was Burge’s in the ’30’s.) it’s sleek, elegantly refined brewing that has a massive hit rate within their core range.

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