#allthesaisons Burning Sky

Knowledge, understanding and skill are three words that you don’t usually see on beer labels.  However, all three are required when it comes to making the stuff and Burning Sky’s Saisons are no exception.  With a mix of ingredients, from the typical to the foraged, these complex Saisons show off these requirements beautifully.

You mustn’t forget time either, with each of the barrel aged batches the beers evolve and have subtle differences in each iteration.  You may revisit these beer in twelve months time and discover different nuances of flavour or some other characteristic that just wasn’t there previously.

But for now, we’ll enjoy them as they stand.  So pull up a chair, grab a glass, and enjoy, all the saisons.

Saison l’Automne.

Is it really breakfast time already?  Slightly sour cornflakes overwhelm your nose.  They’re drenched in spicy saison with a rose hip topping, so it’s cool to take them now.  The beautiful cereal maltiness resists diminishment and holds up well against the spice, but the spice doesn’t let go either, lick your lips, can you feel it?

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Saison yeast, hops, rose hips, cereal killer malts, what more do you want?  Who me?  Another bottle perhaps.  For now I’ll keep going with this though; a certain grape element is making itself known, not massively, but it lingers in your nose, your throat and on your tongue.  It softens, and becomes more cereal.  Breakfast indeed.

Saison Le Printemps.

Spicy, gingery, becoming saison funky, hoppy aroma hits you.  Not too heavy on the pepper but it gives a little warning of its presence.  Bready malts ensue, carrying along with them the fruits of the hops.  The beer’s fresh and the malts end up giving a satisfying, sweet, sugary, almost Loveheart tinge.

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It remains hoppy, with some lashings of citrus thrown in.  But wait, the pepper is back, it’s clinging on for dear life as the beer ends, but that warm, spicy, dry finish is so good.  And five minutes later, your lips are still peppered.

Saison à la Provision.

Bit of a tart in your hands now.  It’s still saison, but with a massive tart sourness that makes you brush your teeth with your tongue.  What else do you find in there?  Gorgeous saison yeast, beautiful bready malts, a warming spice.  White wine musk too, or is that just showing off?  The malts dominate, but don’t overpower.  The extra abv also makes itself known.  Not in a bad way, but it adds a hugging warmth that the others here don’t have.

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The finish is still incredibly tart, and the brett is there too, but it’s right at the back.  You all know it’s there, but it’s under complete control.  Just like the naughty kid who’s been sent to the back of the class.  Still mouthy and wants to make his presence known, but if he steps out of line, you know he’s gonna get it.  And get it he does from the glorious malts.  They keep him in check alright.

Saison l Été.

Who knew you could have such a thing as a gooseberry sandwich.  Well you can, and yours is served with a fresh elderflower pressé on the side.  It’s a tart awakening that’s sweet and smooth.  The beautiful malts fall neatly in line behind that gooseberry sharpness presented at the start.

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It’s luscious as it makes its way through your teeth.  But the sharpness keeps prickling away; jaws clench like a thirst quenched snare as a shoal of gooseberries meander through.  Some sour malts finish the bite as it beckons you in for more.  And as your glass becomes empty, the elderflower makes itself known.  It adds a mild floral finish to the malty saison funk.

Saison Anniversaire.

Funky, bready, white wine grape aroma.  Light herb notes with a savoury spice. Let it breathe, without forgetting to give yourself time to breathe.  Put some on your tongue.  Feel it glide around, leaving little hints of its contents behind.  Spices tickle, bubbles tickle, that wine dryness doesn’t tickle, but it mops up well leaving a nice tart bite and slightly sweet grain behind.

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Sit back, admire, but feel sorry for your empty glass.  Do it a favour and put it out of its misery.  The warmer the saison, the grainier it becomes, not in texture though.  The wine side is relaxed, becoming lemony, but retains that Chardonnay musk.  Three glasses in and things are getting a little funky.  Concentrate.  A previously hidden hoppiness is now evident, subtle, but delightful.  It does well to inhibit the musk, making this beer end just like a funky saison should.

Cuvée Reserve 2015-2016.

A relatively calm collection of earthy oak, sour grapes and apples, and bready malts sit before you.  Relaxed carbonation requires a little encouragement prior to their nasal journey.  Entry is confirmed, but due only to the funk they bring.

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Take a sip.  Lip smack like a face plant, this sour tart unleashed.  Musk, perfumes its way around, leaving trinkets, dotted of sweet malts and the sour blend.  It’s aged, grown up perhaps, but still full of the vigour of Provision.  A late spice, hearing of the funk wants in, could it be too late?  The party is drying, but the spice takes a hold.  Delicate malts are left in the wake.  Persistent are the fruits, slightly fermented perhaps, but sweet and inviting.  And the bread is there to catch you on the way down, softening the sour blow.

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So the next time you find yourself sat in a field waiting for the sun to rise, don’t think, look at that burning sky.  Think, I need some Burning Sky.

#allthesaisons Brew By Numbers

Brew By Numbers. What does that mean to you?  Well, to some it’s similar to painting by numbers, which we will now call drinking by numbers, only you have complete freedom over which numbers you choose, and all you have to do is match each one to the most suitable glass and enjoy.

For now, we have five beers and two glasses.  The beers are all Saisons, 750ml of course, and the glasses are Brew By Numbers own.

To make it nice and easy we’ll start from the beginning, and work up a little as we go along.

01|01 Saison Citra.

750 Citra

I first came across this beer around 12 months ago and it was the first Saison that made me think ‘wow, these Saisons are alright’.  Call it a Saison epiphany if you will.  It continues to blow my mind every time I drink it.  You’ve probably seen the hashtag beergasm, well, this is it for me.  Spicetastic, funktastic, citratastic and full to the brim with the Number’s Magic.

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This beer alone is the reason why I have chosen to do this with 750ml bottles.  Don’t get me wrong, the 330ml is good, but that extra volume takes it to another level.  The depth and intensity of flavour are unparalleled, and it starts with that aroma.

It hits you, and you know you’re in for a treat.  It’s classic Saison, with that funky spiciness coming from the yeast, but the hop pushes it forward.  The fruity funk delivery from the Citra completes the meet and greet, so you’d best taste it.

The spices used are really evident as you delve in, but there is a light maltiness there too.  Coupled to the yeast, this really does make for a satisfying drink.  And that hop, it just doesn’t go away.  With it’s relentless funky fruits hammering away at your taste buds, you’ll wonder why this doesn’t come in a bigger bottle.  I could quite happily take a magnum of this stuff.  Actually, no.  Make that a Jeroboam.

And that dry finish it leaves behind?  Well that’s your invitation to get stuck in with the next.

01|02 Saison Amarillo & Orange.

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The aroma, again, starts with the typical saison funk, but this time with a fistful of orange.  The taste is bittersweet orange, with the saison spice just creeping in along with a nice dose of bready malt.

It’s surprisingly quite smooth too, and doesn’t have the coarse carbonation of some Saisons.  That smoothness makes is very satisfying and so wholesome; it feels full bodied but it’s quite light at the same time.

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The finish is a mix of bread and cereal malts, and a light orange pithy bitterness.  It’s not too dry and some bananary notes also linger.  If you’ve started this off straight from the fridge, this beer benefits from being allowed to warm slightly, which really opens the beer up to release all those flavours.

01|09 Saison Hibiscus & Chamomile.

Hibiscus & Cham

Ever had a cup of chamomile tea followed by an Hibiscus Prosecco cocktail chaser?  No?  Ever thought of mixing them?  Thought not.  But if you did, you’d probably end up with something like this.

The funky Saison yeast hits you first, but it soon fades and is followed by the sweet fruity smell of the hibiscus and a dusting of orange.  The chamomile completes the breath and offers an almost savoury end prior to the tasting.

It’s similar to Prosecco, just much smoother, in the way that it’s dry and has a certain grape like character to it; The back of your mouth thinks it’s having a glass of the stuff.

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The dryness is also like chamomile tea.  It is exactly like the aforementioned mix would be on paper, although I doubt in practise it would be as successful.  The dryness extends and the finish builds for some time after.  It almost has an evolving woody note to it’s end, and it’s complexity will have you chewing your cheeks and lips to fully fathom it.  It’s definitely wood, or is it?  Could it be the chamomile?  It’s tricky to pinpoint, but it’s very intriguing nonetheless.

01|16 Saison Rakau.

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With a leisurely rush of bready malts, followed by a dash of funky yeast and the lightest of spice, this begins in a much more delicate way than the other beers here.  All the flavours are there but they’re chilled right out as they glance across your palate.  The beer is wholesome, and there’s a slightly sour kiwi fruit making it’s way along your tongue.  It leaves behind more of the earlier bread delivery, but contained within the sandwich is a splattering of grapes.

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The trail acts as a guide for the next mouthful, which after gaining a little warmth, becomes all the more exciting.  There’s more of everything; more funk, more spice, more sour kiwis rolling around your mouth, and more slices of malt too.  It’s still incredibly delicate, but if you allow it, you will become immersed in it.  Add a shade more warmth, and that bread becomes a freshly baked sourdough loaf.  Glorious.

01|17 Saison Enigma & Nelson.

Enigma Nelson

Think Saison, think white wine, think savoury.  Throw in some fruits and you’re close, but not that close.  There’s a good load of malt in there too.  Swill it, wake it up, and allow its aroma to unleash itself on your senses.  Peer through the faint banana and get yourself involved with the spice.  It’s got a kick, but you arrive at it in a more leisurely way than a hot curry.  Taste it; Cloves like a Kretek, and shouldn’t be rushed like one can’t either.

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Reminiscent of white wine, but you soon realise you have something far, far better.  There’s an increase in depth that you just don’t get with your favourite Sauvignon, but it’s hard to remember that this is actually a beer.  It has exactly the same dry finish as the wine, but with the added extras that keep your senses alive and brain ticking.  And you ask yourself, again, is this actually a beer?  You answer; it is. It’s fantastically dry, grapey, funky, spicy, murky; and an immensely satisfying offering.

For months I’ve been buying Saisons, all the Saisons in fact.  But none of them satisfy me in the way that those from The Numbers do.  I don’t know what it is exactly that makes them suit my taste, but it’s been a struggle to find anything else that comes close.  And after you’ve made your way through all the Saisons above, you’ll see exactly what I mean and you’ll be on the hunt for the rest.  And if you see a 750ml bottle, make it yours.

 

The Double IPA, is it a thing?

The early part of this year has seen some fantastic double IPAs. Some of which were seasonal brews showing their faces again, some were completely new beers, and others just didn’t quite know what they were. Or they did, except a newer, slightly different version was released before you’d even finished the last.

Now, I’m all for tweaking recipes and altering things to improve the final product, but it would seem that Cloudwater have progressed with their series of DIPAs a little quicker than everybody else; First came the original DIPA, followed swiftly by V2 and then rather rapidly by V3. V4 and V5 will soon be on their way too, but do we really need them both now?

All CW DIPA

Picture @ThaBearded1

So far, the Cloudwater DIPA series has been very successful, and each one different to the last, but I do wonder what will happen when VMax has been reached.

Moving away from Cloudwater and on to the rest of our DIPA offerings, we have the highly anticipated Human Cannonball from Magic Rock. This yearly brew has the beer geeks mouths foaming at the prospect of getting hold of it. Fortunately for me, I was one of those lucky geeks whose overcame the mouth froth, correctly engaged my talking organ and successfully purchased this beer. I also managed to fill my sweaty palms with an Un-Human Cannonball too. This, a Triple IPA has an even bigger froth factor that will make a mess out of even the hardest of beer geeks.

Cannonball Run

To get the most out of Human Cannonball and Un-Human Cannonball, you really should add the normal Cannonball IPA into the mix and take part in what is now known as the Cannonball Run. Not entirely like the film at all; no crazy doctors, no priests and unfortunately no 1980’s super hot girls in a Lamborghini either. But nevertheless, when drinking these ‘on the run’ you’ll see that these beers have everything in common with the two crazy Japanese guys in the Subaru. ‘Do sixty, sixty’ may well be your famous last words too, as you are propelled into hop heaven…..Or, it could be the that you end up in the pool after saying ‘I can’t see shit, can you?’

The next DIPA scored very highly on DIPA night. Not on your average Clintons sourced calendar, but on the Twitter calendar, it’s there alright. The score this beer received was 55|01. Quite a strange score that, I hear you say. Well yes, but then there’s more to the beer than just the score.

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55|01 is actually the first DIPA from Brew By Numbers. They’ve really made us wait for this, and you know what? I’m glad. No rush, no fuss and no V’s. Just a DIPA exactly the way it should be; extra everything, and a little of the BBNo magic too.

Born To Die from Brewdog may well have you thinking of Lana Del Rey, but you must stop, and stop now! Too late, it’s already dead. You spent too long thinking about Lana and now the beer is dead.

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Like all it’s predecessors it only had a short life, limited to weeks, and all the while you’ve been procrastinating about Lana, this poor beer has been gradually fading away without you even realising it. Shame on you!

As the hop fade of Born To Die was irreversible, this next beer is too. Irreversible is the DIPA from Twisted Barrel Ale, who are touted as being more folk than punk.

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Picture @Sparkyrite 

So as they sit on opposite corners of the ring, will they slog it out? Or will they embrace and just hug it out with a beardy cuddle? There might also be a rabbit thrown in for good measure. That’s not an elephant in the room, that’s a folking rabbit.

So, what do you think.  Is the DIPA a thing?

Tapstone, Opium Wars. A beer on the silky side of hoppiness.

Brewer of, perhaps, the most interesting beer at the recent CAMRA Festival of Winter Ales in Exeter, is the Tapstone Brewing Co, and that beer is Opium Wars.  Billed as ‘An unfined dark brown beer.  Strong hop aroma and citrus flavours and a lingering finish’ it is in actual fact an oily, black IPA.  Unfortunately by the time I’d managed to get myself to the festival, this beer had run out.  However, on further investigation I discovered that the Tapstone Brewing Co is based in Chard, and I have just started a new job working out of, you’ve guessed it, Chard.  So, off I went to find the brewery and get me some of that beer.

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Chard is not a big place, and neither is the industrial estate on which the brewery is based, but could I find it?  Eventually after driving round and round for the whole of my lunch break, I saw a clue.  A white van parked outside a nondescript unit with beer casks peeking out of it’s open door.  This has to be it, and there it was.  The unit door was open so in I walked, to find James Davies, the brewer.  After a quick introduction, I was led into the business part of the brewery.  Not big either, but all the kit was there and the room smelled absolutely incredible.  I’m sure James’s nose has become accustomed to the smell, but it was a glorious dose of fruity tropical hops, and I was in heaven.

At the rear of the brewery are the two main vessels, and contained in one was the next batch Opium Wars.  Still conditioning, I was told it wouldn’t be ready for a couple of weeks.  We discussed pumps and flow rates, and agreed that I should return after said conditioning time had elapsed.

A few weeks later I returned to the brewery.  When I arrived James was casking up a new, low abv beer, called Zen Garden.  At 3.6% this is the lowest strength beer that the brewery has produced.  The aim was to create a massively hopped, light beer with a decent body.  And after a quick taste, I can confirm that it’s pretty much met that mark.

Zen Garden

We picked up from our previous conversation and began to talk oxygen and the way that it affects beer.  James’s desire to rule out any oxidation that could occur is evident when you see just how full my bottle was.  But even filled to this level James isn’t satisfied.  As in his mind, the bottle should be filled to the brim, to fully preserve all the hoppy goodness contained within and prevent any oxidation from occurring.

Now, back to the main reason for my visits, Opium Wars.  This beer never usually reaches bottles, in fact, none of Tapstone’s beer usually ever makes it into bottles.  So I have been very fortunate to be able to obtain this bottle and I am also very grateful.

Let’s start with the label.  With its simple graphics and just enough information to tell you what’s inside, it’s like what you’d expect to find on a white label promo record.  And during my record collecting days, these ‘white labels’ were the hens teeth and most collectable of all records.  I’ve still got boxes of vinyl, all doing exactly what I’m not going to do with this beer, ageing.

Opium Wars

The beer, pours a very dark brown with its grassy, roasted chocolate notes making their way around the room and deep into your nostrils.  As it’s luscious, slick, velvety body lands on your tongue, your senses are kicked into life by the light citrus, cherries and bitter chocolate contained within.  And the presence of the dark chocolate leaves behind a sublime bitter finish that just lingers, and lingers, and lingers.

This is a truly stunning example of a black IPA, it’s not just an unfined dark brown beer with a strong hop aroma, citrus flavours and a lingering finish.  No, this is much, much more than that.  The depth of the flavour and complexity are outstanding.  It’s balanced too.  The aroma hits you first and that flavour just drags you in.  Not to mention the feel of the thing.  It’s absolutely magnificent.

 

Black Tor Brewery – The bottled beers.

Set in the beautiful Teign Valley, just outside of Exeter and right on the edge of Dartmoor, is the Black Tor Brewery.  Recently under new management and in the process of rejuvenating some familiar recipes, along with adding in some new ones, Black Tor are ready to deliver some fine ale, to not just their local Devonians, but to as far a field as their beer may be requested.  As Jonathon, the head brewer, personally delivers casks of beer to pubs dotted about the South West and further afield when called upon.

Using traditional brewing methods, along with combining local and natural ingredients supplied by Tuckers Maltings, Black Tor are producing some fantastic classic ales, which, offer a nice distraction to the rat race that is the world of Craft Beer.  And sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and relax with a fine ale instead.  Just take a minute, or twenty, and sit and ponder over the exquisite, deep, and long lasting flavours that a proper hand crafted ale can give up.  Take your time, enjoy, and savour every last drop.  You mustn’t forget, that traditional ales are the heart of our country, and deep in the depths of our counties, there’s many a fine brew being laboured over as we speak.

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In addition to the well travelled casks, Black Tor are now offering their beer in bottle conditioned form.  I was fortunate enough to be able taste a sample of Raven whilst on a recent work call to the brewery, and I was delighted by the fact that this beer would be available in bottles along with two others, Devonshire Pale Ale (DPA) and Pride of Dartmoor.

All of the trio are staple brews and offer a good insight to the brewery’s work, and I’m sure, once you’ve managed to empty your glass, slowly, you’ll be on the hunt for more.

So let’s get started shall we?  Pull up a chair, preferably your favourite one, set the dog on it’s bed and go.  Grab yourself a bottle of Raven and a glass.  Crack the top, release that gentle fizz, and now pour.  Nice and slowly, leaving the sediment behind, or not, its your choice after all.  Now sit down, put your feet up and admire that glorious, glowing, reddish copper liquid before you.

Raven

Allow your nose to take in the sweet caramel and berry aroma, breathe deeply now, we’ve only just begun and you’re in for a treat.  Follow that aroma, and dive in for a taste.  The smooth caramel butteriness develops into some further summer fruits, leaving you with a medium bitterness that just craves another gulp.

DPA

When you’re ready to move on from the Raven, it’s time to get acquainted with the DPA.  Offering another fantastic show of colour, the DPA sits before you proudly showing off it’s rich golden depth.  The aroma starts off a nice hint of caramel with a dusting of a fruity funk.  And it’s the gorgeous caramel that initiates the soft mouthfeel, leaving you with a lightly bitter and bready finish.

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And if you’re ready for your final instalment of the evening, then reach for the Pride of Dartmoor.  That beautiful, deep, autumnal glow lets you know that something good is sat before you.  With it’s grassy, biscuity aroma leading on to a taste that’s almost like a toffee apple, the soft mouthfeel leaves you with a lovely toffee taste and a light bitterness in the back of your mouth.

As is often the case with bottled ales, I do feel that they have lost a little something in the bottling process.  The Raven, at least, has a slightly fuller flavour when drawn from the cask, and it’s a shame that the same flavour profile isn’t present in the bottle.  But, all in all, these three are really nice ales, and Jonathon should be commended for his efforts in taking the brewery on and the work he has done in order to make these beers available.

He has the enthusiasm and also the will to create something good, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his brewing venture and also to thank him for providing the beers that enabled me to write this post.

Visit the Black Tor website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

2015, my year in beer. Part two.

As it happens, the European Beer Bloggers Conference was in Brussels at the end of August, and I just had to go. But prior to that my wife had organised a surprise visit for us to Belgium earlier in August. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma. Should I really go to Belgium twice in a matter of weeks? Yes I said, and off we went.

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Learning from the visit to Budapest, I took notes at every opportunity; whatever was in my head, at any given time, I wrote down and took a photo wherever I could. And this left me with a diary of thoughts over the days of our holiday. These thoughts were expanded upon and formed the series of posts that became Saisons in the Sun.

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I loved writing these three posts, as I felt they really captured exactly what we experienced during our holiday and were a complete departure from anything I had written previously.

Whenever I read anything that Adrian Tierney-Jones has written, I get the impression that he has also written down exactly what is in his mind at that precise moment in time, and he has effortlessly transcribed those thoughts into blog posts and articles that just keep you wanting more.  It’s a fantastic way of writing and I have to say I love it.  Some of what Adrian writes is like poetry and it’s fascinating to read!

A week or so before the conference, I glanced over the list of attendees and recognised a few names of people who I followed on Twitter and whose blogs I had read. I was really looking forward to it, but I was daunted by the thought of having to write about it afterwards; as apart from the Russian Doll post, everything I’d compiled so far had been off my own back and for me.

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This fear soon went as the conference began, as during the registration period I was greeted by a fellow blogger who mentioned they had read my ramblings and said they really enjoyed reading it! This was totally unexpected, but I really appreciated it and it made me feel at home.

Looking round the room I saw two familiar faces, well the faces of two familiar names to be precise. Matthew Curtis and Chris Hall. Chris, a prolific beer writer, who, works for Brew By Numbers, had assisted me with me some information for Citra Session, so it was great to meet him and be able to thank him in person. And Matthew, well, he is a beer writing machine, who has the enviable ability to produce consistently good work, time and time again.  It was a pleasure to meet him here too.

There were so many really great people in attendance at the conference, so many in fact, that I didn’t get the chance to speak to half of them! But those who I did mange to collar were all decent people and all there for the same reason; to share their love of beer and writing about it.

Two people who really stood out over the weekend were the Irish Beer Snobs, that’s Mr & Mrs Irish Beer Snob, Wayne and Janice to be correct. The pair of them, like beer encyclopaedias, but great fun at the same time. Not that I’m saying everyone else was boring, because they weren’t, but I felt we were on the same level. And I’m sure Wayne downed a pint of the black stuff whilst nobody was looking!

Another thing that really struck me was the distances that some people had travelled to be there. I thought I’d had it bad having to get up at 4am to get into London to catch the Eurostar to Brussels, after having only five hours sleep the night before! But no, there was a certain Brazilian journalist who trumped my journey.  Another absolutely top man who was always outside smoking, so who knows what he ended up writing!!

During the conference sessions I made an incredible amount of notes in a bid to try and capture everything that had been discussed. But looking back over these, I realised that what I should have done was just pick two or three subjects and concentrated on getting as much information as possible about the chosen matter. As when I was at home, I really struggled to make any sense of what had happened over the weekend.

I knew I had to write something, but just didn’t know what to write about! Then it struck me, during Jean Hummlers outburst, he insisted that, us, as bloggers, should be more truthful about what we write and be critical about things we didn’t like or don’t agree with, just making sure that we did it in a constructive manner.

The whole weekend had been dominated by sour beers and the brewing industry in Belgium. I had some strong feelings about the sour beers I’d tried, so along came Hop Head, Sour Saint. I’m still unsure about whether publishing this was the right thing to do, but I felt I had to get it off my chest. Who knows, maybe the right sour beer could end up being my next Saison.

My second conference related post discussed contract brewing, which is a subject that a lot of writers know a fair bit about. After reading a few of the posts that other attendees had written, I decided that I would try and do something a little different and add in some non-conference material. I didn’t want my post to be a carbon copy of the conference session, so by talking to a local nano-brewery I was able to give my post a little twist. Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful is what I ended up with.

After the conference I settled back into my normal routine and wondered where to go next with my blog. It was then I discovered a new bottle shop was due to be opened in Exeter. This was quite special as up until now there really wasn’t anywhere in the City Centre that offered a decent selection of craft beer in the form of a dedicated bottle shop. As I mentioned in my post about Hops & Crafts, Whistle Wines used to be my port of call prior its closure. Even though the selection was limited to a few local breweries, the choice was good, and I paid a visit pretty much every Friday on my way home from work. It was a shame when the shop closed, but the Whistle Wine Club is still extant for the wine lovers amongst you.

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Chris Harper, of Hops & Crafts however, has done a fantastic job of filling the gap that Whistle Wines had left and I can see myself becoming one the regulars, as the shop is still on my route home from work!

On top of consuming and writing about beer, one thing that had caught my eye was beertography.  I was intrigued by this new ‘thing’ as previously, I, like many others had just placed a glass next to the beer, and snap!  But during the year and through the course of creating my blog, I had taken quite a few photos of beer.  Some of these were just a photo of the beer, but some were a bit different.  Lots of people were trying new things with beertography and I wanted a bit of this too.  Chris, @mindlesspizza is a dab hand at this, and you really must check out his efforts. His bokeh like rendering of the background is fantastic which really makes the subject stand proud.

I’d seen the floating can trick, with the can held on to the edge of the glass by the ring pull.  I even did it myself.

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But I’d yet to see somebody do it with a bottle.  So I set up this shot ready for Craft Beer Hour when Moor Beer Company were hosting and, contrary to popular belief, did not use Photoshop.  I might even do this one again but use a bottle of their Illusion instead!

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Following this I took a few more shots that weren’t just of the beer, or they were, but I still tried to add a little twist to each one.

I’d had a bottle of Buxton Brewery Two Ton for a couple of weeks and liked the sound of Wonton, Two Ton.  So took this.

Wonton Two Ton

I also managed to grab a few bottles of Yellow Belly and Yellow Belly Sundae.  For quite rare beers photos of them were everywhere, but seeing the mirror on the Sundae bottle gave me an idea.  I positioned a bottle of Yellow Belly just out of shot but captured its reflection in a carefully placed mirror to make it look as if it was preying on the Sundae.

Sundae Bloody Sundae

On top of this, Craft Beer Hour has been a fantastic thing throughout the last year.  I always enjoy grabbing an early week beer and sitting down to take part.  Craft Beer Hour has really opened my eyes to a lot of previously unknown breweries and beers.  It’s also brought a lot pot people together to talk, and share their common love of beer.  It is fantastic and I commend Tom for all his efforts in setting it up.

Further thanks has to go to Tom, for one week when the Electric Bear Brewery were due to host.  They are a fairly young brewery and their beers are currently confined to the beautiful city of Bath.  However, in the week prior to their hosting I was asked whether I’d like to play a proper part in the next Craft Beer Hour.  How could I refuse?  I loved being part of CBH and was more than happy to help.  That help involved being kindly sent a few sample beers from Electric Bear with the premise of talking about them and playing a part in CBH.

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This was fantastic, as with my electrical connections and background I had some great ideas for some photographs.  I had no idea which beers would be sent out but I knew that my workplace would play a big part in preparing for the evening.

I wanted to give each shot some relevance and a link to something beyond the beer.

Edison, their Czech style lager, is a crisp pilsner hopped with Hallertau, Perle and Saaz which ends up being a nice dry pilsner with a citrus finish.  And with Edison being the electrical link here I used an Edison style lamp as a prop for the shot.

Edison

Following this was Elemental, a session strength IPA jam packed with US hops and balanced with pale malts.

The prop here was a ceramic insulator from a high voltage substation, and before you ask, yes I do have lots of these and the one in the shot lives in our front room.

Elemental

The final beer for the evening was the truly fantastic Cherry Blackout.  Morello cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate, there is nothing about this beer that’s not to like.

Out came the candles and some cherries to complete the shot.

Cherry

To finish off my year I paid a visit to the Black Tor Brewery.  Based in the Teign Valley just outside of Exeter, they are producing some fine traditional ales in a bid to resurrect the historic name of the Gidley’s brewery.  My work brought me here to repair a water pump, well beer pump, one that transferred the beer from the copper, through the heat exchanger and into the fermenters.  The pump was duly fixed and I was offered some refreshment.

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No coffee here, just an approximate third of their beautiful Raven.  Which, hopped with all English hops, Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles, is a rather fruity and easy drinking session ale.

And that concludes my 2015.  Let’s look forward to 2016 and all the good beer that it will bring.  Cheers!

 

Saisons in the sun, part three. Bruges

The four phoned man is back with us this morning, which makes for an interesting air at my birthday breakfast. More guests have spied his cellular antics and appear curious.

Following breakfast we make our way to the station, via taxi of course. The train to Bruges arrives, we board and depart on the perfect geometry of the track beneath the birdsnest of the catenary. Precisely 1 hour and 6 minutes later we arrive and all around is the smell of chocolate.

Wandering away from the station and down the quaint cobbled streets some kid rattles past on his monkey bike. Nearing the centre, the clatter of suitcases on the cobbles fade and is replaced by the ringing of bicycle bells and horseshoes.

An awning shouts ‘beers’, I respond, ‘ok in a minute!’ We enter the beer shops and I feel like a kid in a sweet shop, my wife is one as she enters a chocolatier. I’m slightly overwhelmed by the choice so we continue our stroll.

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Further towards the centre of Bruges, a West Highland Terrier reminds us of home and we sit for a drink. A light, malty Bruges Blonde from the barrel it is, along with her kir royal.

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A sign in a shop window proclaiming ‘There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy’ catches my eye. In Belgium, beer is all of them, and as I pick up two bottles of Westmalle Tripel for €1.50 each, this is confirmed.

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Taking on water as we walk away from the square we happen across a bar of 400 beers going by the name of Cambrinus. Quickly I establish my choice of Forestinne Ambrosia. A spicy, piney, speciality amber beer. At 7.5% it’s pure nectar.

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Our seat at the bar is booked all day……

Hopus, as chosen by my wife, is next. 5 hops, 8.3%, flip top bottle and sexy glass, I’m all over it….

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Next, I ask the bar man for his recommendation and end up with a truly breathtaking hoppy blonde. Triporteur from Heaven. With a bucket load of familiar hops in a Belgian blonde, I have a new favourite colour…….I later discover that the hops are East Kent Golding, Styrian Golding and Cascade.

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We thank our host and continue to stroll around the back streets of Bruges. I vape and she enters a vintage shop, bicycles whizz past. Tourists litter the place as we admire the passing swans.

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Further along, I hear the cry, ‘do you want more beer?’ as we come across the beer wall. Hmmmm, thinking time required.

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At least I’ve found my beer scooter.

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I take a Westmalle Dubel, place myself adjacent to the canal and end up discussing the history of the Kwak glass with some Americans who happen to land next to me. They were in search of some English beer of all things, so I imagine they were pretty disappointed with the Belgian treats they brought to their table.

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Leaving the Americans behind to ponder their next move, we enter the Bottle Shop, stock up and continue on.

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Further stocking up takes place at Brown Sugar as we head back to the station via a quick caffeine boost and a top up of the draw.

On board the air conditioned comfort of the double deck 18.08 from Bruges, we head back to Brussels.

To be continued when I return to Brussels at the end of August for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. #EBBC15

Part one here, part two here!

Saisons in the sun, part two. Brussels

At breakfast there’s a guy on the table next to us with four dissimilar mobile phones! Do you really need that many phones? I’ve heard what having two phones makes you, but four?  Could it be one to call his mum, one for his wife, another for his girlfriend, and the other?  Who knows……

After breakfast we make our way to the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle and have a good wander round. There’s lots of eclectic stuff and a good mix of everything.  We could have stayed here for hours discovering all the little trinkets and oddities that are on offer.

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Chandelier spare parts, tools and beer glasses dotted about the place. Guys selling rugs laid on the floor for all to walk over, which was unfortunate and hardly fair when they’re being sold!

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After meandering through the stalls we take a refreshment break. A glass of Grimbergen Blonde, with its sweet, soft, yeasty, bananary tinged character offers up a good time to reflect on the previous few hours perusing.

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With the Grimbergen departed and after a further few hundred yards of energy expulsion, we plant ourselves outside La Brocante. Funky jazz band jamming we order up lunch and drinks.

My fruity wife decided she’d take a cherry beer and ended up with Kriek Boon which she was impressed with, but left her thirsty, not necessarily for more, but for water! I on the other hand had Delta from Belgian Beer Project. A Belgian IPA, the aroma of which is difficult to separate from the mix of food, coffee and surrounding cigars. Similar to a classic IPA but which has much more of a tang and yeasty character. It’s bitter but feels quite sour at the same time.

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Following this and preceeded by the words ‘excellent choice’ was a Westmalle Trappist Tripel, and I can’t see us moving for at least half an hour. My wife’s eyes shot out and brows hit the clouds when she saw it’s 9.5%. It is after all a fairly substantial beer for only 2pm. But then this has to be the most drinkable beer of this strength I’ve had the pleasure of drinking. I was so in awe of this beer that I completely forgot to fathom its taste; instead I just admired the creation that sat before me and settled right into it.

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Walking through the streets towards Place de la Chapelle Kapellemarkt, we come across two guys walking with a music box blasting out reggae tunes, who in England would probably be accused of being a nuisance, brighten up the light drizzle now descending upon us.

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After our Bob Marley moment we head back to the hotel stumble across the Leffe Cafe, but I receive the look that says no more beer, for now. I don’t mind though, a 2cv is spotted opposite so I take that instead.

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We head out for the evening, and no messing we head straight to Le Cirio; one of the oldest bars in Brussels. The Belgians are reknown for having a glass for each beer and here of all places is where they appear most proud. On display are glasses for almost every conceivable Belgian beer. It must be pretty hard work for a new employee to find their feet, or glasses as it were.

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Here I find myself getting acquainted with a nice blonde, a Ciney blonde in fact. Another Lambic is in order for my wife; much like a cherry tart this one.

Ciney blonde

Sat people watching we see something drastically unsettle the couple opposite; both drinks are necked, one being a Westmalle Tripel too! Something has obviously bothered them and they’re off……

We are too, for dinner, but at a more leisurely pace.

To be continued in part three.

Part one here!

Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra!

Over the Easter weekend, four of us made the journey to Budapest. This is somewhere that I’ve not been to before and my only knowledge of the place has been learnt from watching the Formula 1 when it’s been to the Hungaroring. Now I could bore you with my, ahem, encyclopaedic knowledge of F1, but, in true Murray Walker style, I need to interrupt myself and talk about our holiday.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, but that didn’t stop Ryanair from blasting out a fanfare on landing. As if to say, “We made it, aren’t you lucky we survived?” Well yes, clearly, but was it really necessary?

By the time we arrived at the hotel, time had ticked on a fair way so it was straight to bed for a good nights sleep all ready for the first day!

Conveniently, our hotel was situated right next to Keleti Station, which boasts train, tram and metro services, so off we walked to our first destination which happened to be a local flea market. This ended up being presented like a typical car boot sale but without the cars. Quite a lot of local tat but strangely an awful lot of English music and DVDs; legitimate copies of course.

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One stand however did catch my eye, one that was riddled with model trains! This takes me back to my childhood, I used to love my train set. I sometimes wish I still had it all, set up in the loft, but unfortunately for me my wife has decided to turn the loft into a guest room! And now the only thing I get to keep up there, among the random boxes and Christmas decorations, is my little stash of Jaipur X, just don’t tell any guests it’s there!

Once I’d stopped reminiscing, we wandered off through City Park and found a little, well, fairly well established market next to Vajdahunyad Castle which offered some amazing looking fare! My wife had been fascinated by Chimney cake, so to keep her quiet we found a vendor and she indulged.

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A little further through the market I caught my first glimpse of Hungarian Craft Beer. It’s only about 11am, so lets get a beer.

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The choice was superb, and though the menu was partly written in English, even I struggled to choose something to quench my morning thirst. I decided on the Lehmann Haziser, a nice crisp and fruity pilsner which went down really well on the fresh but sunny morning.

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After a little more walking, the health app on my wife’s iPhone 6 is going hell for leather now, we made our way down into the more central part of Budapest. Taking the walking option was quite nice, the architecture is special and there was quite an abundance of Metro stations along our chosen route, but we strutted on.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm and couldn’t decide whether to buy a jacket, get something to eat and sit inside or remain outdoors. Common sense reigned supreme and we sat outside with some hearty food and a drink. We had stumbled across what could almost be described as a Christmas market, like we’d have at home, except this one was open when we needed it to be.

Diced pork knuckle with new potatoes and a pint of Borsodi was the order of the moment, which was immensely satisfying, and extinct just as rapidly as the snow storm that had brought us here.

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Following a rather aimless walk we stumbled across a bar called Csendes. This place has to be unique. Where else can you enjoy your drink whilst sat in a bath tub, other than at home of course. And my choice of beer; Soproni Demon. This was delicious, really smooth and malty, with a whole load of liquorice chucked into it’s deep, dark redness.

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On to the evening, and my wife, being the organised soul that she is, had found somewhere for us to partake in some supper. Sophie and Bens Bistro on Kaldy Gyiula utca was it, and on entering we were greeted like friends and shown to our seats, which we could choose, not that they were quiet, we were just given the choice instead of being told, ‘you will sit there’ and’ sit down now’

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The decor was smart and not excessive, but the choice of food on the other hand did make us stop and think for a while. So whilst we made up our minds, we ordered drinks, standard. Being the inquisitive one amongst us, I decided to opt for the drink with the most bizarre name, Rothbeer Pyromania. Even the waiter said, you do know this is a dark beer? Well I didn’t, but now I really want it. And boy did it live up to it’s name. (By this point I had clearly become adept at choosing the dark beers, and purely by chance I had picked another fantastic beer.) Beautiful copper red colour, sublime caramel and smokey, open fire-esque flavour. I was not expecting this at all. Forget the food, I’m on this all night.

But let’s not dismiss the food too quickly, the hand cut chips were truly breathtaking, and the burgers were simply to die for. This place really proves that it’s not that difficult to deliver outstanding food in the form of something as simple as burger and chips.

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The next day we decided to do some touristy stuff and headed for the funicular railway that led up to Buda Castle. Unfortunately for the iPhone we decided to use the Metro to get a little closer to our destination.

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From the top of the hill you get a superb view of both Buda and Pest; the two towns separated by the mighty Danube. Apparently we’d consumed too much alcohol by this point so coffee it was. Actually quite nice too, and feeling refreshed by our caffeine buzz we headed back down the hill and on the hunt for some lunch.

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Almost by chance we found a place called The For Sale Pub, which as it happens, isn’t. The interior of this place is interesting to say the least. Hand written notes in every conceivable language litter the walls and ceilings, and even a few cigarette packets too.

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We managed to get a table and sat for lunch. And I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a menu with quite so many choices, well over 120 in fact. We eventually ordered, and whilst we waited, consumed the numerous monkey nuts that sat in the middle of our table. Now like any good Briton, we placed the spent shells in the candle containing bowl on the table, only to be told to throw them on the floor! Was this really the normal practice we should adopt? It seemed so, and became quite amusing just launching the shells floorwards.

Once we’d fought our way through the mountain of food that we were dealt, we found ourselves on the hunt for a dessert. The New York Cafe was the place to head, and head there we did. The approach to the Cafe was like any normal walk to an eatery. But on arrival we found ourselves gazing skywards and totally awestruck by the chandeliers and ceilings.

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We’d only come here for pudding but somehow I managed to shoehorn a beer into our appointment. Yet another dark beer, Staropramen Dark. Now this was a perfect match with the chosen chocolate dessert.

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Later that evening we headed back out for a few drinks and possibly some food. We headed back to the area around Sophie and Bens where we found quite a swanky wine bar. I had no choice but to drink some wine as that’s all they sold! I’m just glad I avoided the embarrassment of asking for a beer; after my wife asked for a cocktail I kept my mouth shut!

Next stop was a proper bar, that sold proper drinks. And I was rather intrigued by a local beer; Tavoli Galaxis. This appeared to be a single hop IPA hopped with just Galaxy. Now this, after the wine was like a breath of fresh air, and the bartender described it as a Hungarian hand crafted beer. Now this I really like. Single hop beers can really be let down by their malt content but this, this is immense. I really struggled to take it slowly, and just craved more.

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So how on earth do you follow this? Easy as it happens. We venture into what would appear to the only craft beer bar in the whole of Budapest. There may be others, but I couldn’t find them!

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Lehuto, on Hollo utca. Quite a small place, down a few stairs and fairly well tucked away. You really need to know this place is here or you’d just pass it by. Now if I said the previous bar was a proper bar, then I was wrong, Lehuto is a proper bar. It felt like a home from home, beer menu up on a chalk board and a huge bottle list on the wall.

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I was like a kid in a sweet shop, where on earth do you begin with such a choice? Well, I opted for the Zodiak Rye IPA. Not too strong and tasting was sublime. Really citrusy with a light bitterness and quite full at the same time. This was an awesome opener to what would become my evening. Following this I went for the Zodiak Rye stout. At 8.2% it looks to be quite a substantial drink, but you are greeted by a chocolatey, fruity beer that’s so easy drinking at the same time. But you daren’t spill any, it’s so viscous it would be like the Great Molasses Flood of Boston re-enacted here in Budapest!

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So how do you follow two great beers such as these? Well, the Kaltenecker Chopper IPA is exactly how I did it. Gorgeous biscuity, caramel and grassy aroma, coupled to a bread taste which is light and so smooth. For an IPA from the bottle it’s good and malty and the hops add a nice bitterness to it. This is a truly satisfying and wholesome beer.

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I could have stayed in Lehuto’s all night, but I couldn’t be selfish so we pressed on to our last bar. Again I opted for the Galaxis, but more important here was the music. The song playing was Dirty Vegas, Days Go By. I absolutely love this song, I’ve not heard it for years and it really made my night in a bizarre kind of way.

I say it was our last bar, but on the way back to the hotel we were seduced by a place, the name of which I forget, but the drink we consumed will never be forgotten. I won’t go into it too much and will just leave you with one word, Unicum…..

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Our final day was to be cut short by the fact our plane left during the afternoon, but fear not we had a place to eat lunch all pre booked. It was just a matter of finding it. Now I thought Lehuto was easy to miss but this place, Zeller, was even easier to pass by. But we’re so glad we didn’t. We lowered ourselves into the restaurant from the street via a number of stairs, and oh my were we in for a treat.

We were shown to our seat, a nice booth, by a simply perfect waitress. If I could have taken her home, I would have. She was French but living in Budapest, and the warm feeling she created inside made the walk all the more worth it. And I wasn’t the only one who felt it.

We were offered a glass of their own sparkling wine, which was similar to a Prosecco. This was absolutely delicious and the elderflower flavour was just sublime.

The food menu was concise enough to offer a good choice, but not so much that you were left struggling to decide what to eat. I opted for the fish of the day, which was salmon served with pak choy. When the food arrived it was like looking at a photograph, the presentation was perfect and the portion size was just right.

All this and they even manage to squeeze in the own brand of beer; Zeller Sor.  Advertised as Irish Red, it is in actual fact Stari Ir Voros.  This beer is beautifully buttery, caramelly and so smooth; being served in a wine glass really sets it off too.

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It’s not hard to understand why Zeller, according to Trip Advisor, is the number one restaurant in Budapest.  The whole experience from start to finish is so relaxing and enjoyable, and we found ourselves never wanting to leave.

But leave we must, and off back to the hotel we headed to pack for the journey home.

The flight home was, again, pretty uneventful, all except for the landing.  We swayed from one side to the next and came in at a fair lick.  The thrust reversers were working overtime, and we only just managed to scrub our velocity before reaching taxiing speed and making the sharp turn off the runway.

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Now I know what the fanfare is for…..

A Date with The Russians

I’m not one to cheat, but when your wife goes to Berlin for the weekend and you have some ladies saved for an evening together…… Well, you just have to oblige and take advantage of the situation. (Now you must realise that I’m not actually going to cheat and the ladies in question are the four Brewdog Russian Dolls).

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So, phone off, lights dimmed and John Legend setting the mood, I collect the Dolls from their hiding place.

I’ve never been great at judging a book by it’s cover and I would always get sucked in by some pretty pictures to then realise what I’d actually bought was a pretty poor and expensive leaflet.

But, on this occasion, I was anything but let down. The artwork just jumps out and pulls you in, and I mean it drags you in. If you’ve read about the Dolls but haven’t tried them by now, then you are really craving them, and the artwork just adds to the fascination. Miles away from being just a beer label on a generic four pack, it doesn’t need an aged He-Man wannabe prancing around a studio glacier to sell it, this is art.

What Brewdog have done is made everybody who loves their beer become completely infatuated by it, and the artwork is almost collectable. I mean you’re not just going to see these ladies put out for recycling now are you?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even want to open these. They have been in my beer box since Christmas and I wanted to hoard them and guard them forever. Every time I went to grab a beer, I’d check to make sure they were still there. No one else would drink them, but I saw myself as their guardian, protector almost.

But as I’ve said, my wife’s in Berlin and I have a date….

So just what are the Dolls. Are they quads? Two pairs of twins? Or just sisters? Well, although they share the same DNA, they are anything but identical.  The same hops and malts may be used in each beer, but they’re blended in different quantities to give a different, and progressively higher ABV for each iteration.

So, lets get ourselves acquainted shall we….

The Pale. She’s not necessarily one to play it safe, just measured, balanced and in control. You could hang out all day and she wouldn’t put a foot wrong or say anything out of place. But she knows just how to keep you from straying.

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Pours with a light golden colour, nice and clear. Has a good and fine head that quickly diminishes.
The aroma is delicate and citrusy that’s ever so lightly peppered. You really have to chuck your nose in to get at it, but it’s good. It opens up nicely on tasting, being really fresh, crisp and bitter. This is a good classic pale.
It’s lush and velvety in the mouth, with quite a similar finish to Dead Pony, only slightly softer on flavour.

The IPA. She’s definitely a step up. Got a cheeky side. Like a drunk student moving for-sale signs, she can have fun but she knows when to call it a night.

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Just a whisker darker than the pale, with a slight cloudiness caused by suspended bubbles. More intense aroma, more proud, and it’s all about the citrus fruits. This really reminds me of candied orange and lemon segments. The bitterness has increased and tasting is of creamy orangeyness. It’s far from being pure OJ, but it’s there alright. And that orange flavour lingers right in the back of your throat too.

The Double IPA. Now things are starting to get interesting. She’s bitter, a bit twisted. Constantly in your face and ensures that you take the rap whilst she carries on.

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Again we’re going darker in colour, similar aroma to the IPA, just a smidge more of it and hunting isn’t necessary; we’re making real progress now. The orange is tangier and now slightly marred by the creeping malt presence. The malts are starting to give off a mild honey note which makes this sweet on the tongue. Still very bitter but the sweetness balances it nicely. There’s also a good chunk of caramel coming through. The increase in viscosity since the Pale and IPA is noticeable but it’s far from being chewy; just a good round texture. This is an excellent Double IPA, which offers a slightly different take to what I’m familiar with. But go careful though, we’ve left the session drinks far behind now….

The Barley Wine. Well, imagine Shirley Manson fed purely on a diet of Buckfast; Indefatigable, unashamedly full on and certainly not one to bring home to meet your parents.

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Much much darker now, with the presentation being a deep reddish brown. Pours with the same fine head as all the previous Dolls, just slightly slower, and with nothing in suspension, due to the further increase in viscosity. The fruitiness of the aroma has dulled and very is close to becoming overpowered by the extreme maltiness. Exceedingly sweet, with an intense hit of malty, toffee-esque, jammy alcohol coming through. It almost has a whiskeyness creeping in around it’s depths and because of this, you’d best take your time…..

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Having these beers just sat there waiting was hard. They were like the actress with seductive glasses, you know the one, who when she removes them becomes the star? Yeah. Except in this instance, she was keeping them on and withholding her secret, a secret that I was so desperate to reveal. And now, with the glasses removed, I can assure you it was worth the wait.