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





The Kings Ford – Chingford E4

22 10 2010
The King’s Ford
250-252 Chingford Mount Road
Chingford
E4 8JL
Phone
020 8523 9365

The Kings Ford is part of the JD Wetherspoon chain of pubs and as always with Wetherspoon pubs you mostly know whar you are gonig to get before you even enter the door.

There is the usual cheap, cheerful and filling pub grub there are the same specials nights and same offers that you see scrawled on chalk boards the length and breadth of the country.

There is also the same bittersweet feeling that accompanies all Wetherspoon venues; I always feel a pang of dissapointment that the pub in question is part of a chain and isn’t an independant local free from the whims of big busines. However at the same time this is always offset by the fact that if Wetherspoons weren’t around there would be even fewer pubs then there now are and far fewer pubs would serve real ale

All that aside the King’s Ford isn’t a bad little pub; certainly it is one of the few options if you want to drink well kept real ales at a pub in Waltham Forest and that alone makes it worth a mention.

You certainly wouldn’t visit the King’s Ford for the decor, it is dark and dingy inside and looks like it is overdue a spot of renovation, but then I guess Wetherspoon have bigger fish to fry then the wallpaper of a pub in Chingford.

The atmosphere in the pub is nice enough during the day and in early evenings when it is mostly old men passing the day away enjoying a cheap pint or 5. Over the weekend it does get busy, the cheap price of drinks makes it a popular place for people to start the night off before heading on elswe as such there can be a distinct lack of seating from about 8.30 onwards.

Service is normally good and the pub seems really well run, the current management are strict on checking ID which seems to deter a lot of the underage kids that often make a Wetherspoon pub their home from home.

There are usually at least 5 ales on tap and the selection is good, even by Wetherspoon standards. Last time I was in the King’s Ford they had Abbot Ale, Greene King IPA, Rudgate Ruby Mild and two beers from the Brentwood Brewery – Chockwork Orange and Hope & Glory.

I can really recommend the Chockwork Orange, it is a beautifully complex dark ale coming in at a pleasant 6.5%.

As well as the real ales on tap they also had a cider that managed to fall outside of the usual strongbow or magners selection  in this case it was Weston’s Marcle Hill.

If you are looking for a traditional English pub full of character then the King’s Ford probably isn’t the pub for you, but if you are looking for a good selection of real ales at a great price and happen to be in the area then give it a go.





Hamilton Hall – Liverpool Street Station

29 04 2010

Hamilton Hall is part of the J D Wetherspoons chain of pubs located at the Bishopsgate Street entrance to Liverpool Street Station.

Due to it’s location it gets busy and I mean BUSY, obviously there aren’t locals as such (unless you count the tramps) and the clientele tends to be a mixture of train passengers, local workers and away day football fans – a heady mix! The pub is set out over two levels each with a bar and a seating area, the furniture is typical Wetherspoons; cheap dark wooden chairs, tables and stools with the ubiquitous table numbers for food set into them. The decor however is about as far removed from the usual Wetherspoons as you can get; it used to be part of the old Great Eastern Hotel and depending on who you ask was either part of the banqueting hall or ballroom. Regardless of which the it is stunning, there are a lot of original features and gilding throughout and several massive floor to ceiling mirrors that help add to the overall feeling of light and space.

The staff here are ok, they always seem to be the usual mix of students and backpackers that you find in most pubs in the city. One thing to note is that due to how busy it gets in here it can take a while for staff to notice you as such if you are due to be catching a train make sure you give yourself an extra few minutes, particularly if eating. One nice feature that is a new addition this year is the set of screens on one of the walls showing what trains are next to leave from which platform, it certainly beats having to run up and down from the station. The food is the standard Wetherspoons menu of pub grub, cheap and plentiful, some of the prices are higher than you might pay in other Wetherspoons but they are still cheaper then anything else you would find at the station. So onto the most important thing, the beers. As with most Wetherspoons there are all the usual suspects when it comes to the generic McDrinks, Strongbow, Guinness, Heineken etc there are also what I think of as Wetherspoon’s “standard ales” Greene King IPA and Greene King Abotts Ale, neither of which are a bad pint but they wouldn’t get me overly excited either. So if we put these standard offerings to one side what do we have at the Hamilton Hall, well downstairs at the main bar there are 10, thats right 10 handpumps. These handpumps are set up as two groups of 5, one grouping at either end of the ramp, sometimes there might be one or two particularly popular guests ales that put in an appearance at both ends but even then that is still 6 different beers for you to try. This week I was lucky as it part of was Wetherspoons beer festival and as such there was a very varied selection of ales, milds, porters and more! Now obviously not every week is going to be part of the beer festival but even so the beer selection very rarely dissapoints. So overall the decor is stunning, the location is very handy and easy to get to and the beer is good, on the downside it does get very busy, the football fans of a weekend can be a real nuisance and it isn’t really somewhere you would want to take a family into. Overall I would have to give the Hamilton Hall a very solid 3.8 out of 5, it isn’t perfect and wouldn’t be my first choice of pub however if you want a good selection of beer at excellent prices (particularly by city standards) then you wont go far wrong.





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








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