Hoegaarden Witbier 4.9%

9 06 2011

It has been a while since my last beer review but rest assured I haven’t been resting on my laurels sipping water, far from it, in fact I have been quaffing a ridiculous number of beers covering the whole spectrum; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

So without further ado I give you today’s offering:

Hoegaarden may not be the most adventurous or hard to find of the beers I have/will reviewed but it a far cry from most of the mass-produced tat you are likely to find being pumped out down your local and as such is well deserving of my time.

Hoegaarden is a Belgian Witbier  that has been around in one guise or another for a damn long time…it has been brewed in the village of Hoegaarden since 1445  to be precise.

The modern incarnation of this venerable beer came about in 1965 when Belgian milkman Pierre Celis recreated the traditional recipe in his hayloft following the closure of the last commercial brewery in Hoegaarden some ten years previous.

Now what a recipe it is;  water, yeast, wheat, hops, coriander and dried Curaçao orange peel.  Not quite what you get in your dull old Heineken!

Now as the sharp-eyed amongst you might have spotted from the picture this is a slightly cloudy pale beer with a good-sized white head that lasts reasonably well with plenty of lacing.

The aroma of the beer is great there are hints of citrus, freshly mown grass, a slight hint of yeastiness rather like freshly  baked bread  and a hunt of spice… a good start.

On drinking the beer there is a big burst of flavour right up front, cloves, coriander and citrus pretty much explode into your taste buds with a background fruitiness not dissimilar to banana and a slight touch of pepper.

This really is a great tasting beer and as much as there are a lot of seemingly strong flavours they are balance out well and there isn’t anything that ever threatens to overwhelm.

In short a really, really good beer.

4.5





Santa’s Sack Christmas Ale

16 12 2010

I had this recently as part of Wetherspoon’s selection of festive beers.

It is the last of Thwaites  “Signature Range” for 2010 and  having enjoyed several of the earlier offerings I was looking forward to an enjoyable pint.

My first impressions were pleasing as the pints that were set in front of me a really dark ruby red with a nice  thick foamy white head on them.

There was a fairly distinct aroma coming off  the beer which was a mixture between chocolate and what smelt like ovaltine, suggesting to me that there should be a really malty depth to the beer.

Well it turns out that looks can be deceiving, I led to believe I was going to be spirited away to a magical Dickensian Christmas  full of luxury and richness. Instead I was dragged on a 3 hour bus ride to Weston-Super-Mare, in the rain, with the windows open and the heater broken.

The predominant taste was that of cheap sugar and burnt toffee, none of the rich fruits, spices or chocolate notes that I would expect to get from a Christmas ale or winter warmer.

The body was so light as to be non-existent and if there was one that sticks out in my mind most about this pint it is wet.

I know that a number of people online have been raving about this beer but I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. So much that I took my pint back unfinished as did my mate.

1/5





Abbot Ale – 5% English Ale

13 12 2010

Abbot Ale is Greene King’s flagship beer and is also one of the first real ales that I ever had the pleasure of trying back in the day.

As such it is probably a little surprising that it has taken me quite so long to work my way round to writing a review on this particular beer.

I guess the biggest reason is that of choice; there are so many other beers out there and I am so keen to try them all (ambitious I know!) that if I am out in the pub I will drink pretty much anything before I consider heading for an Abbot, likewise if I am in an off-license there are literally hundreds of bottles that would come home with me first.

First things first let me state that this is a cask pint from the Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station. It is NOT – note the capital letters –  from one of these cans with a widget in. I don’t really like most ales in a can and Abbot is no exception.

When poured properly, not like my first pint that was slopped into the glass whilst the barmaid was chatting to her friend, you should see a clear golden/amber pint with a decent white head of about 2 fingers width which slowly fades away to a thin layer which stays throughout.

You can quite clearly make out the smell of malts, some fruity sweetness and a touch of hops but everything is fairly muted with no one aroma standing out from the crowd.

The first flavour that really hits you is a sweet toasted maltiness but before that can start to seem a bit too much you get the hops kicking in, there are some floral notes and a slight Earthiness – some have even said it seems a bit skunky on occasion. After the hops have started to recede a little you get the bitterness of the beer coming through along with a slight hint of citrus/orange  as well.

The flavours in Abbot ale are all quite crisp, strong and well-defined the only slight issue that I have is that everything is a little bit mish-mash and all over the shop, for example there is a fairly distinct cinder toffee note that you get right towards the end of the beer and because there is nothing around to balance it or cut through it you are left with a slightly burnt after taste. Not unpleasant by any standards but possibly a little disconcerting to some.

I have an old friend who always accuses me of being more complementary of Abbot Ale than I should be as a result of it being one of my first real ales. He might have a point but then again sod him,  there is something to be said for flavours or smells that take us back to a certain time or place and if Abbot Ale does that for me then so be it!

When all is said and done I still  have my original problem with Abbot; it is a good beer, there is nothing about it that is unpleasant or even less than pleasing but it isn’t a great beer – I wouldn’t ask for a pint to be bought to me on my death-bed.

If you are looking for a good example of an English Ale than Abbot will see you just fine but there are better beers to be had.

4.0/5





Whitebait

12 12 2010

As a child I remember being horrified by the sight of my uncle sitting there munching his way through a veritable mountain of Whitebait. It just seemed to be such carnage in order to put dinner on someones plate.

Now things have changed a little bit; I quite simply can’t get enough of them, particualrly as a light meal in a beer garden with a refreshing pint.

For those of you who are wondering what exactly Whitebait are they are immature sprats, normally Herring in the UK, the whole fish is floured or lightly battered and deep fried. Because the fish are so young and tender the entire fish can be eaten as is without needing the bones or head to be removed.

I think the best way to enjoy Whitebait is really piping hot with a good sprinkling of lemon juice and plenty of bread and butter – delicious

When you are flouring the Whitebait you can add in some light seasoning such as salt and pepper or through in some cayenne pepper and chilli powder in order to have deviled Whitebait.

There is no real special trick to cooking Whitebait and in my opinion the simplest method is the best –

Dredge the Whitebait in the seasoned white flour

Shake off the excess flour and fry in hot vegetable oil until the fish are a light golden colour – around 2 or 3 minutes

Serve immediately





Fuller’s London Porter 5.4%

5 12 2010

Fairly recently I wrote a review on Fuller’s London Pride (here) today I turn my attention to another beer from the London based brewery; Fuller’s London Porter.

I’m not going to prattle on at length about the history and origins of porter – trust me I can if you want 😉 but it is great to see a London brewery still leads the way in producing what I and many others deem to be the gold standard of porters.

Ok so where to begin, well it pours very dark brown, not black close enough, there is a slight ruby sheen to a pint if held up directly to the light. The head is egg-shell white and settles out at around 2 fingers, the head fades away a fair bit but leaves a load of lacing on the glass.

In terms of aroma you can quite clearly make out roasted malt, some bitter coffee notes and a hint of toffee or caramel, there is also a slight nuttiness and a hint of hops.

Taste is where Fuller’s have really won through on this one; everything you can pick up in the aroma of the porter is present and more.  The deep roasted malts come to the fore along with the coffee note and that toffee/caramel sweetness.

The chocolate from the roasted malt comes through in the after taste but in a subtle way, it is very much a supporting character in this porter as is the slightly nutty taste. There is a hint of fruitiness that you just about pick up in the background as well, if I had to try and pin it down I would go with raisins or sultanas with a tiny hit of vanilla creeping in as well.

All in all you come away with a rich complex taste that for me ticks all the right boxes, it is rich and malty, slightly sweet and fruity with an underlying bitterness that is refreshing and cuts through the richness which otherwise might be a tad cloying.

In terms of mouthfeel there is only really one word to describe this porter: smooth. In face we are going beyond smooth we are talking baby’s bottoms or the finest velvet gliding across your tongue  – ok well maybe not baby’s bottoms but you get the picture.

A lot of people far more worthy than I have waxed lyrical about Fuller’s London Porter and have even gone so far as to vote it the World’s best porter on several occasions. I don’t often like to follow crowds or ride along with popular opinion but on this occasion I can’t really disagree with any degree of conviction.

There might be better porters out there but if there are I certainly haven’t found them.

5/5





Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

30 11 2010

There are a lot of chocolate stouts available on the market today and I mean a LOT. It is a popular style of beer that people just can’t seem to get enough of.

Because of the sheer range of chocolate stouts available it is quite an achievement to stand out from the crowd; Young’s Double Chocolate manages not just to stand out but to jump up and down whilst waving.

How do they manage such a feat? Well as odd as it might sound most chocolate stouts actually don’t contain any chocolate whatsoever, the name and indeed the taste actually comes from the dark malt that is used. Young’s however throw a small amount of chocolate into the mix and the difference to the taste is immediately apparent.

The main thing you notice from the aroma of the stout is unsurprisingly the chocolate, you also pick up the rich roasted malts and a slight hint of sweetness. If anything I think that the chocolate aroma is a little bit too strong for my liking, if you were blindfold you could be mistaken for think you were being given a cup of cocoa not a beer.

In terms of looks the stout pours very dark, almost black and has a thick rich look to it with a good sized beige head that lasts well throughout think Guinness but even thicker.

So we come to the main attraction, how it tastes.

Luckily the taste is far more balanced than the aroma, I had been concerned that this would just be sweet and like drinking a pint of chocolate, but that’s not the case at all. You get the taste of good dark chocolate coming through along with a dry nuttiness and a hint of coffee from the roasted malts.

In contrast to the rich sweetness of the stout you get a nice kick of hops that comes in midway through and lingers to the finish, there is also a slight aniseed / liquorice that helps to keep things balanced and a hint of alcohol dryness towards the end.

In terms of mouthfeel this is a very smooth creamy stout that is like drinking rich dark velvet, the body is edging towards the heavy end of the scale and it just feels wonderfully luxurious.

All in all I would have to say that Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is one of if not the best examples of chocolate stout that you will find,not only is it great for the slight novelty value of having actual chocolate added to it but it is a superb stout in and of itself.

4.85/5

There is a





Greene King Harvest Ale

24 11 2010

Harvest ale was one of several seasonal ales released by Greene King.

I say was as unfortunately Harvest Ale is now “retired” and is increasingly difficult to find.

The aroma is rather pleasant with predominately malty tones and a hint of dried fruit creeping in.

In terms of appearance Harvest pours to a very dark brown – imagine coca cola almost with a thin beige head which lasts reasonably well.

Harvest is quite sweet but it isn’t sickly there is a nice dark malty taste with elements of raisins and a nice hint of red berries which carries through to the finish adding a slight element of sharpness which helps to cut through the sweetness.

Considering that Harvest is a mere 3% ABV it is surprising that there is as much body as there is, it is nicely rounded  with a fairly soft carbonation.

All in all I always found Harvest Ale to be a really good example of a brown ale and thought it was a damn shame when GK decided to retire it, especially when you compare it to some of their recent offerings!

4.2/5





Greene King Hop (formerly The Beer To Dine For)

22 11 2010

 So we meet again Mr Bland….

 I was working at Greene King when The Beer to Dine For officially launched, unofficially it was the launch of butt plug beer but we wont go into that here…

Whatever it was called one thing is for certain it is still kicking around today, now under the interesting name “Greene King Hop”. The premise behind beer to dine for was that it would be the perfect accompaniment to food and would help win people over to real beer, particularly women.

The reality was a little different:

It looks fairly good, both in the bottle and when poured, having a nice clear honey gold colour with a fairly small head that quickly dissipates to nothing; I can well imagine it being poured into fancy glasses at some dinner party in suburbia and  fitting in well amongst the Blossom Hill and Jacob’s Creek.

The worry started to set in when I realised that there is no aroma, not just that it is faint but that there is quite literally nothing at all, not good.

The worrying lack of anything continues when you take a sip the best thing I can say about GK Hop/Beer to Dine for is that it is bland.  There isn’t really anything about it that jumps out and grabs your attention. There is some sweetness there and a slight amount of bitterness but being brutally honest there isn’t really much more flavour then you would find in Carlsberg or any other mass-produced lager.

Now correct me if I am wrong but isn’t the whole point of proper beer to steer people away from tasteless crap and onto something with a bit more going for it? Well you will never achieve that goal if the alternative is just as bland and unassuming.

The finish isn’t really anything you would be impressed by either it is thin and just helps contribute to the fact that this might as well be a bottle of fizzy syrup that has been allowed to go a bit skunky.

Oh yes did I mention the fact that due to the naff clear glass bottle 4 out of the 7 I tried had a nice skunky essence to them, just what I would want with my coq au vin!

I don’t go in for the idea of slagging off Greene King because they keep buying up smaller brewers but at the same time they really should know better than to put their name to this muck. It is marginally better with food but that is only because it is bland and inoffensive and doesn’t detract from what you are eating.

1/5





King Goblin 6.6% Special Reserve

21 11 2010

This is what Wychwood have to say about Hobgoblin’s big brother, King Goblin:

Brewed only on a Full Lunar Moon. 

As the full moon casts its eerie light over the shadowy old Eagle Brewery, a magical brew gurgles forth from the casks.

A beer enlivened by the energies of the universe, when the elements are converging into a harmonious alignment. Truly a brew fit for a celestial majesty.

As much as I would like to imagine that this beer was indeed only brewed on a full lunar moon I can’t see that this is anything more than marketing spin on the part of Wychwood.

One thing that is a bit special though is the presentation of the beer itself. the label features the hobgoblin we all know and love but this time he is surrounded with a little silver border which is repeated on the neck label. There is also a little booklet attached to each bottle advertising their hobgoblin/king goblin  engraved tankards which is a nice touch if not quite to everyone’s tastes.

The aroma from King Goblin is reasonably strong there is a rich, sweet maltiness along with a definite hint of citrus fruit, grapefruit if I had to try and pin it down.

The beer pours to a deep rich coppery colour with a fair sized off white head which lasts well whilst drinking and leaves a reasonable amount of lacing, so far so good!

The flavour of King Goblin surprised me in a pleasant way, quite often when you find a “special reserve” version of an existing beer it can be a bit of a let down, it either tastes nothing like the original and they are just cashing in on an existing brand or the extra alcohol kills the flavour of the beer. King Goblin falls prey to neither of these traits.

You can still taste the fact that this is a beer that is based on Hobgoblin; there is still the same toffee sweetness backed up by deep rich malts but the fruitiness that was present before is far more prominent, you get a full on hit of grapefruit and citrus.

You can also get a definite taste of rich dark chocolate coming through alongside the malt which all goes towards making King Goblin have a bit  more complexity than his little brother.

There is a nice smoothness to KG that means hat it goes down oh so easily, the body does feel a little on the thin side though, not watery but just not quite matching the level of alcohol.

Whilst speaking of the alcohol content you do notice that it really does drink it’s strength in fact I have heard some people say that if they didn’t know better they would put it above the 7% marker…

I actually think that in some ways King Goblin does the job of a winter warmer far better than some of the actual winter warmers I have reviewed recently, that said I would be more then happy to enjoy a few anytime of year.

4.5/5





Changes they be a coming…

29 03 2010

So it’s Monday morning and I have been thinking, as always this was a hard task but the reward justified the pain!

I have decided to make some changes to my blog, hopefully these will all be over by the end of the day and it should be shinier and easier to navigate around, particularly as my mind wanders off in so many directions that I could write a recipe one moment and a review of a game the next.

The first change and probably the most exciting (well for me at least!) is that I am starting a new blog!

It’s called Bottoms Up and is devoted to one of my favourite topics – Beer. But not just any old beer, this is a blog about proper beer, with bits in it. We are talking real ales, porters, stouts, bitters and milds to name just a scant few.

I am going to be reviewing beers and pubs and talking in general about the state of the brewing industry as a whole (I used to be a very very small part of it for a few happy months)

So if this sounds like your type of poison then come and have a look.








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