Iceni – Men of Norfolk 6.2% ABV

30 01 2011

Men of Norfolk is a strong (6.2%) dark beer from the Iceni brewery in Norfolk.

The Iceni Brewery is situated on the edge of Thetford Forest and takes its name from the Iceni tribe who were ruled by Queen Boudicca (yes, the famous one in the chariot) and occupied most of Norfolk and Suffolk around 61 AD. They have been producing beers since 1995 and even have their own hop garden on site…

I first came across the Iceni Brewery selling bottled beers in a food hall at the nearby Elveden Estate and picked up a couple of bottles for my uncle and I to  have later that day – Roisin Dubh if my memory serves correctly.

Well those couple of bottles went down well and since then I have tried pretty much all of the beers that Iceni have produced.

I have seen Men of Norfolk listed as a couple of different styles over the years, a few pubs have put it down as a porter and I have often seen it listed as a mild… I am going to stick with my original assertion that this is a strong dark ale and will try to steer clear of pigeon holing it unduly.

The pint pours to a rich black colour with a fairly thin cream coloured head that lasts well through out drinking – you could be mistaken for assuming it to be a stout based on looks alone.

The aroma is definitely there but isn’t too pronounced with roasted malts, raisins, chocolate and liquorice coming through clearly, there is also a slightly sour/bitter note almost like a bitter coffee that comes through in the background.

The main flavours are roasted malts chocolate, some sweet dark fruit – raisins, sultanas etc,  caramel and there is a nice cocoa bitterness in the finish The sweetness from the fruits and the slight bit of bitterness from the cocoa work well to balance out the rich roasted malt.

The carbonation is a little light and gives  a very soft mouthfeel that might not appeal to everyone but overall this is a small complaint to have.

I really enjoyed Men of Norfolk, the flavours work well together and have enough punch to carry the strength of the beer so you don’t just end up with that sour alcohol note that can plague some strong ales. 

 A very good beer from a small local brewer 4.5 / 5





Beer of the year 2010

10 01 2011

You might not have noticed but 2010 is dead and gone.

Whilst I don’t believe in New Years resolutions or anything that daft I do like to take the new year as an opportunity to look back over the previous one and take stock.

One thing that really stuck out for me whilst I was looking back over 2010 was the sheer number of different beers that crossed my path during the past 12 months, from old friends like Theakston’s Old Peculier to new encounters like Sharp’s Cornish Coaster I have sampled a huge variety of beers, even if I haven’t managed to get all of the reviews up yet!

I spent an enjoyable half hour or so considering this selection and there were a couple of beers that stood out for me as being real gems that deserved to be shouted about.

So with no further delay here are my personal picks for Beer of the year 2010

Beer of the Year 2010:

Great Oakley Gobble


 

Best Stout or Porter:

Maldon Oyster Stout

 

It was so tough for me to pick just two beers as I have tasted some really fine examples of the brewers art this past year and could have quite easily come up with a list of beers as long as my arm.

They haven’t all been good beers though and whilst I was happily day dreaming of beers gone by there were one or two horrors that had me shuddering at the thought.

So here we have a new category, one which no brewer should ever hope to end up…

Worst Beer of 2010:

Rocking Rudolph







White Horse – Black Horse Porter

30 12 2010

Black Horse Porter is a seasonal beer from the White Horse brewery (see what they did there…) from Stanford-in-the-Vale in Oxfordshire.

I have encountered a couple of their beers before and had found them to be well above average, in particular Volund’s Hammer and Wayland Smithy.

I came across this beer on cask at the Argyll Arms at Oxford Circus and after looking at the tasting notes – great idea everywhere should do it – I decided to give it a spin.

In terms of looks this is exactly what a porter should be, so dark it’s nearly black with a good firm white head that stays well for the duration of the pint.

You get the expected aroma of chocolate malt along with a rich biscuity note and some very light fruit.

The taste of this porter is superb, rich roasted malts give real depth and body to the beer whilst there is a nice hint of dark fruits which add a little tartness without making the beer in anyway fruity or overly sweet. There is a long dry finish and a really surprising kick of hops which really makes this porter sing.

I found this porter to a be a real treat, it was warming and full bodied with a great depth of flavour to it and the liberal use of Kentish hops really made it stand out.

4.7/5





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





Man Walks into a Pub: A sociable History of Beer by Pete Brown

18 11 2010

Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of BeerMan Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer by Pete Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read quite a few books on beer in the past and have found that typically they all have one thing in common: they are either monumentally dull or a total farce.

Weighty volumes that document the complete history of a particular brewery right down to what tiny changes were made to a particular recipe and when are all very well and good. No doubt they are of great interest to men with big bushy beards who wear cable knit jumpers and who carry note books around with them but they are a bit too serious and stodgy for the more casual reader.

On the flip side of the coin I don’t want to read a book written by some tracksuit wearing chav who just wants to brag about how he can drink 20 pints of Stella, fight some rival football fans and still drive his barely legal Vauxhall Nova that should have been scrapped before he was born.

That is where Pete Brown has got things bang on the money, he treats the subject seriously and manages to convey a lot of useful information whilst keeping things light and smattered with humour throughout.

By choosing to focus more on the social history of beer brewing and drinking he avoids bogging the reader down with some of the useless minutiae that a lot of the more serious beer books pride themselves on.

I am also very impressed with the way that Pete Brown handles the often tricky real ale vs. lager issue. A lot of writers fall heavily on one side of the fence or the other and as such we often hear lager being decried as tasteless or a children’s drink or ale being slagged off for being a drink for fat, bearded weirdos who need to get out more.

Whilst I have my own views on the matter I realise no one really wants to hear them, and in return I don’t really want to hear their views rehashed over and over again either.
So it was certainly pleasant to come across an author who wasn’t using their book as a soapbox to take pot shots at their target of choice.

If you have anything more than a passing interest in beer and have ever considered reading more about beer and drinking then you could do an awful lot worse than to take this book as a starting point.

View all my reviews





Best Steak and Mushroom Pie

7 11 2010

It has come to my attention recently that pies are now trendy… don’t really know what to say about that as where I come from they have never really gone out of fashion but that is by the by.

The weather is drawing in and it is the time of year for something warming and that is exactly what this steak and mushroom pie is.

To make a pie that will feed 4-6 people you will need the following:

500g diced steak (round steak works well)

500g mushrooms (any old mushrooms will do)

2 large white onions

2 carrots

2 tomatoes

a good handful of parsley

1 clove of garlic

1 pint stout or porter

1/2 pint beef stock

500g shortcrust pastry

salt and pepper

1 tbsp worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp tabasco sauce

flour

make sure that the steak is diced into smallish cubes, if any seem too large then cut them until they seem about right, pop the cubes of steak into a bowl of seasoned flour and ensure that all of the chunks are well coated.

Heat some butter or lard in a large pan until it is just about smoking, now add the cubes of steak in batches until all of the meat is browned off.

Place the steak to one side until later, now add the diced carrots and onions to the same pan and cook until they are starting to soften.

Once the carrots and onions have softened add the diced tomatoes, chopped mushrooms and the chopped parsely to the pan along with the remainder of the flour from the bowl and all of the wet ingredients, stir together well and return the steak to the pan.

Cover the pan and leave to cook over a low heat for at least 1 1/2 hours.

Ensuring that your pastry is nice and chilled roll out enough to make the base of your pie and line your pie dish/an enamel plate with it. You will want to leave soem over hang so that you can make a good seal with the lid later on.

Place your pie dish/enamel plate into the fridge to keep the pastry cool and to prevent shrinking until you need it.

Once the filling has been cooking for 1 1/2 hours take it off of the heat and leave to one side for it to cool as you do not want to be putting the filling onto the pastry whilst it is still hot.

Brush the inside of the pie crust with beaten egg to stop it from going too soggy, now add your cooled pie filling into the pastry and make sure it is well spread and evenly filled, there is nothing worse then a big gap in your pie.

Brush some beaten egg around the top lip of the pie crust so as to form a seal and place the lid of your pie on top.

Make sure that you cut a hole for the steam to escape from during cooking, now brush the remainder of the beaten egg over the top of the pastry to give it a lovely golden colour.

Cook the pie for approximately 30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to around 180 degrees. Once the pastry is golden brown on top the pie is ready.





Maldon Oyster Stout

5 05 2010

In this second part of my Farmer’s Ales double header I am going to take a look at their Maldon Oyster Stout.

This is one of Farmer’s Ales “Occasional Beers”; on their website they state that these are what many breweries would refer to as their “seasonal ales” however as they are never quite sure when they will brew them they thought that occasional was a better title to bestow.

The particular occasion that this stout is brewed for is of course the Maldon oyster festival which takes place each September, whilst I didn’t visit the festival I was lucky enough to sample a bottle of the oyster stout at the Hyde Hall RHS gardens.

I must admit to being very pleasantly surprised with this particular beer; you can still find many “oyster stouts” on offer however an awful lot of them no longer contain any oysters at all.

Luckily this isn’t the case here, if you look down the list of ingredients for this beer you will find Maldon oysters from the River Blackwater nestling amongst the malt and hops. The addition of the oysters adds a savoury depth of flavour and just the smallest hint of saltiness which works perfectly well.

When poured the stout has a lovely deep dark brown colour to it and has a smallish beige coloured head that lasts for the duration of the beer.

It is a wonderfully smooth stout with a real hit of flavour, there are deep chocolate and coffee tones that work brillantly alongside the slightly savoury salty note from the oysters. There is a lovely long finish to stout with the coffee note really coming through towards the end.

I will be honest I am sometimes a little underwhelmed with some stouts, they often tend to be  too heavy with no real delicacy of flavour to them or if not you come across some slightly odd flavours that that occasionally you really wish you had never tasted.

Maldon Oyster Stout is one of the exceptions to this rule, it is light enough to drink a session beer and packs a real whallop in the flavour department.

If you find yourself in Essex and looking for a pint give it a go you wont be dissapointed.

4.8/5





Who are CAMRA?

29 04 2010

You will probably hear me mention CAMRA a great deal in my posts, as such I should probably explain who they are and what they do.

In a nutshell CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale, they were formed back in the 70s with the aim of promoting and raising awareness for Real Ale, Real Cider and the British Pub.

They tend to promote smaller brewers and champion the less common types of beer and other traditional drinks; for example porters, milds, perry and stouts.

They publish a good beer guide each year, along with their monthly magazine which goes out to about 100k members.

CAMRA also organise and support a large number of beer festivals around the UK including the Great British Beer Festival at which there are often awards given out to beers that they deem to be particularly worthy.

If you want to find out more about them or possibly even become a member than you can visit there website here





Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival

29 04 2010

Today (25th April) is the last day of the Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival 2010.

Whilst I didn’t manage to get over for the full run of the festival (April 7th -25th) I did manage to spend a fair whack of time in various Wetherspoon establishments and put a fair dent into their selection.

According to the festival programme and “tasting notes” that were being given away in the pubs there are up to 50 ales being featured this year, including several that have been brewed exclusively for the festival.

I am not usually a big fan of the so called festivals that are run by pub chains but I must admit that this offering from Wetherspoon really did win me over.

To my mind they did more or less everything right, there was a large and varied selection of beers, they produced a festival t-shirt, there was the oppurtunity to enjoy the beers in 1/3rd glasses so you could get round more without getting too drunk ( I didn’t avail of this option!) and they even lowered the price of a pint, where we were drinking at the King’s Ford in Chingford we were paying a measly £1.55 a pint!

I was impressed that it wasn’t just the more mainstream breweries or varities of beer; nestling alongside the run of the mill ( a term I use lightly) ales were milds, porters, stouts and even a couple of real ciders and the choice of breweries was excellent and from as far afield as Hawaii and South Africa.

One added bonus that might be of interest to people even after the festival has finished is the CAMRA membership form at the back of the festival programme, not only can you sign up and show your support in helping protect and preserve great beers but you will be sent 20 quid of Wetherspoon vouchers for you to use, not bad seeing as you can get a membership for £20 a year (£14 a year if under 25 or over 60).

I guess this festival pretty much sums Wetherspoon up for me, yeah they are a big faceless chain that is changing a lot of the pubs we have known and loved over the years but they are also doing a lot of good, not just in promoting real ale but also in helping to prevent pub closure, I think the fact that CAMRA are so pro Wetherspoon just helps highlight just how much good they are doing





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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