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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

Bermondsey Arches Breweries.

My wife’s birthday falls far too close to Christmas. I’ve put in numerous requests for it to be moved, but every year it ends up being too bloody close. I’d love for there to be a bit more time between the two, but no, I have to deal with it.
So, this time we had a few days planned in London to celebrate and I wanted to get to Bermondsey and visit The Kernel, Brew By Numbers and Anspach & Hobday, and she’d have to just deal with it.

I’ve wanted to go to Saturday at The Kernel for a few years now, and I was fully primed to take the opportunity whilst we were in London. Initially, I hadn’t realised just how close The Kernel was to a few other breweries. This had now worked to my advantage and my day was planned around visiting the three breweries all within spitting distance of each other. The wife and I went our separate ways at Victoria and I made my way on the tube to Bermondsey.

Now I’ve always promised that I would never do the whole ‘this beer tasted like this’ and ‘the smell reminded me of blah blah blah’, but, as you read on, you’ll realise that you cannot come to Bermondsey, drink it’s beer and contemplate writing about it without doing the whole…..

First up was the Kernel, handily only a few minutes walk from the tube. I opened up my day with the single hop Mosaic pale. Straight from the brewery, you cannot get any fresher than this. And this freshness is what my whole day was about. Like my experience of Punk IPA on draft, except this is brewery fresh beer. This is something I’ve never had the honour of sampling to this extent before and a visit here will open your eyes, and mouth. This is not just a swift two thirds with your mates, this is an experience, as you are about to find out.

Back to the Mosaic, visually a light, and slightly cloudy straw colour with a faint green hue. Fresh tropical fruit smell and a really clean but slightly dulled citrus taste. After taste similar to refreshers sweets and it leaves your tongue buzzing, and craving another sip,well mouthfull! This I could drink all day long.

Mosaic is definitely one of my favourite hops, along with Fuggle, but that’s just a name thing. Although Mosaic is a fairly new hop, I can see this becoming a classic very quickly.

This was followed by the New Zealand Cascade pale. This is a lot more bitter than the mosaic and has quite a tang to it. It’s palette scrubbing and very refreshing. You receive a light tickle on the roof of your mouth from the carbonation, but this softens out with the more you drink and it keeps the taste buds alive.
My first Saturday at The Kernel did not disappoint.

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Brew By Numbers were my second brewery of the day. And what can I say, the staff here are awesome, not that the Kernel’s weren’t, so friendly and welcoming. It was like being on a beer date; I was introduced to their beer, and then I lost my BBN virginity. And it was their Session IPA, Citra that took it.

This had pretty much run out on arrival but I got the end of the keg as a taster. Oh my word. The aroma this beer gives off is amazing, I could stand here all day and just sniff this; if this beer was glue, then I’d get what all the fuss was about. Fresh citrus, pineapple and some further tropical fruitiness bunged in; it’s just sublime. Tasting is like a breathe of fresh beer air. It’s clean, smooth and immensely satisfying with a slightly bitter end.

Why on earth would you drink lager when you can have this? At 3.9% it’s lighter than your average lager but not even the best lager can compete! I say best lager on the loosest possible terms. Are there really any good lagers out there? Or have I just not found them yet?

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The traditional porter is so earthy, has the aroma of black coffee and a hint of light soy sauce. The coffee gets deeper on initial tasting then tails off into a gorgeous bitter chocolate finish. Love it.

The black IPA with Yakima valley hops, this beer is sublime. Coffee in colour with a fine light brown head. Visually like a porter, but it’s in disguise; It’s much fresher, brighter in the mouth and less viscous. Quite a fruity finish and so refreshing at the same time.I will always hark back to the first time I tried Yakima hops at the Meantime Brewery in their Yakima Red and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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And I can’t forget to mention the scotch eggs that are available. Scotch egg and a beer? Perfect. Also, you pay a £3 deposit for your glass. This means you can return the glass for your tube fare or take it home and add it to your collection!

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Final brewery of the day was Anspach and Hobday. And their triple hop pale was the beer of choice. Served colder than at BBN, The aroma is outstanding, more complex and fruity. This makes it a lot more punchy on the nose. In the mouth there’s a nice fruity bitterness with a fresh cut grassy edge. Colder is much more refreshing. Same Citra hop as BBN, but with Mosaic and Simcoe added, and brewed to a slightly higher abv. This definitely has more grunt to it. Maybe it’s the temperature or the additional hops, but with the greater bitterness this is much more satisfying. Another fantastic all day beer with an after taste that lingers for a long time, all the way back to Victoria from Bermondsey in fact, and beyond.

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My visit to the three breweries was fantastic, if you are ever in London and you need to lose the wife for a few hours, (don’t let her read this) then you must head over to Bermondsey, on any Saturday, and sample some proper brewery fresh beer.
Don’t forget to also bring a bag that’s actually capable of carrying as many bottles as you can possibly fit in it. The bottle choice offered by all the breweries is quite spectacular, and can offer a slightly different range of beers to those available on tap.

Hanlons bar and restaurant open for service!

So last Friday night saw the opening of the bar and restaurant at Hanlons Brewery. This is a new venture for the brewery and one I had been looking forward to for a while. As you’ll know, I’ve always loved their produce and this was a chance to sample their brews, at source, and also to taste some food cooked with their beers. I booked my place, yes a lone place, but one where I knew I was never going to be alone.

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I arrived and felt at home instantly, it was so nice to walk up the stairs and into a bar packed full of people there for the support of the brewery. I headed to my table, yes, I had a whole table, all to myself! Where else can you go and receive this kind of attention? Well clearly lots of places, but they won’t have the character, nor the ambience, of being sat deep within in the brewery, surrounded by vats crammed full of the exact reasons that brought you there. Looking out from the bar you can see right down into the brewery, and when you take your seat down there, being surrounded by blue lights, makes you feel like something really special is happening, and it is, just peer up through the windows above, and it’s all right there, but all around you, something is brewing.

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The nights food was a set menu, as will be the plan for the following weeks, but this is a set menu that you’ll love. Steak and ale pie cooked with Port Stout, served with Yellow Hammer bread! I say it was served with bread, but to be honest it was served with butter and a side of bread. Imagine your student days, where you don’t have a butter knife, so are forced into serving a whole block of butter with your bread; It certainly beats the poxy cube you receive with your toasted tea cake on a traditional coffee morning. Anyway, back to the food. I was so ready for this, and nothing was going to stop me from enjoying it. It was like something my nan had cooked, so amazingly homely, comforting and of superb quality. For an opening night, Hanlons really have set the bar high, good luck chaps, lets hope you keep this up for the foreseeable future.IMG_2537

And coming away with some Hanlons goodies really topped the night off.

Beer & Bacon I hear you say?

So last Saturday and Sunday, this happened. The inaugural Beer and Bacon Festival in Topsham. I had my instructions which were to not get drunk. Well, I’m sure I could cope with that. All I want is a tiny little taste………of as much beer as I can lay my hands on! The food was good too, but much of it resembled something like a Peppa Pig jigsaw. Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon. Who doesn’t? But the real reason for the visit was the beer after all.

Now on stepping up to the bar I see a few names I recognise and some I don’t. The Exeter Brewery and The Exe Valley brewery were present along with Branscombe Vale Brewery who brought with them Branscombe Mild. Now this beer is something of a rarity in these parts as apparently us southerners don’t drink a pint o mild any longer and most of it ends up a little further north!
Hanlons were also here, unfortunately their Copper Glow had all been drunk but the Port Stout was still on. Now if you like a good malty, toasty, chocolatey stout, this is one for you. It’s not heavy at all and the tickle of port and fruitiness of the hops just finish it off nicely.

Now, tucked in the corner of the main marquee I made a truly fantastic discovery; The Occasional Brewing Company. These guys have only been around for a matter of weeks, but they really know how to brew something special.  When I saw a chalk board with the words Hop, Porter, IPA and Fragaria, I knew walking away would be a mistake.

Small batches, rammed full of passion, knowledge and the odd fake moustache, have lead to some truly outstanding and unique beers. It’s so refreshing to see a new, local brewery, so excited by their work.

The flavour the OBC have managed to cram inside their beers just blew me away. The pales’ are all so fruity and bitter, and their dry crispness really makes for a clean drink. The porter, which I will add was supplied with a full background talk on its history, is sublime. Massive fruit notes but malty and toasty at the same time. Really quaffable and oh so addictive!

I was intrigued by the Fragaria, as not only had I never seen a beer by that name, but if I’m honest I’m not sure I’d even heard the word before? Fragaria, a genus of flowering plants in the rose family known as strawberries for their edible fruits. Now that’s all well and good for the biological geeks, but what about the beer? I’ll be honest I’ve never been a fan of fruit beers, but this is different, very different. Forget Frulli and all the fruity wheat beers, this has a refined taste of strawberries with a subtle hint of vanilla coupled to a fine stout base. All of this makes for a beer that’s in a league of its own. It’s just sweet enough without being overpowering and the smoothness of the vanilla and stout really make this beer a joy to drink.

Right, that leaves just one more Occassional Beer. The horrendously massive Imperial IPA. I truly believe they lost count of the number of hop varieties they crammed into this beer. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they forgot they had this brewing, and ended up with the truly breathalyser insulting 9.6% ABV when they realised it was still there! Now for me, this is what it’s all about. Unashamedly, almost offensively, massively hopped pale ale. Surprisingly darker than I expected, but still with a glorious deep golden hue. This beer is immense, like the Yorkie of beers; no balls, need not apply. This is a brew to savour, if you can manage to not sup it all up at once. Your heart will race as it sets your buds on fire. All those hops really set it off and you actually end up with a very drinkable beer. The aftertaste almost burns as it sets your mouth alive. And all of that happens long after the aroma rids you of all known nasal ailments.
I’m so impressed with the Occasional Brewing Company, you now have a customer for life.

Brewery saved!

Well its been a while since my last post, sorry guys. So whilst i’ve been away I’ve been pretty busy discovering new beers and new tastes. Theres a lot to talk about including a tour of the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich but first I feel I need to keep things local. As you’ll know from my last post O’Hanlons Brewery have gone through some change and are now defunct. But fear not they have been reborn under the Hanlons name. A local chap, who was a longtime fan of the brewery, heard of their trouble and stumped up to save them. Now brewing at a new site just outside Exeter, Hanlons have continued with what O’Hanlons started. All the favourites remain and The Hammer has a new lease of life. It’s fantastic that the beers brewed can continue in their life and have not been allowed to be a thing of the past. I wish the new owners well and hopefully they can keep the locals happy with some familiar beer. Continue reading