Advent Beer: Wychwood King Star

Wychwood King Star

It’s been a few years since I last did Advent Beer, so I decided to attempt it again this year, as the old blog had died a bit of a death. Some constraints though, the beer must be from UK breweries, come in a can and I can’t have tried it before.

I wasn’t sure I could be bothered to do this, as I’m not really sure I can be bothered to blog about this kind of thing. It’s more of a personal challenge, rather than task in evangelising about good beer.

So yesterday I traipsed round a few supermarkets looking to see what would fit the constraints, not much was the answer. This Wychwood King Star was the first thing I came across in the, not very local, Morrisons, so it’s up first. I’ll start by saying that I can’t ever see myself buying it again, it wasn’t terrible, but I didn’t think it was particularly good either.

It was ever so slightly hazy in the glass, it smelt fresh, with a hint of something round the edges (lemon drops maybe). It was quite full bodied in the mouth, and not particularly refreshing or clean tasting. There was something about that aftertaste that grated; it was a weird combination between a slight yeast tang and some sort of mild hop flavour. It didn’t get any better as it warmed up, with more of a cereal flavour coming through.

All in all, I wasn’t impressed, it really wasn’t for me. A quite disappointing start the whole Advent Beer thing.

Brasserie Larché

Beers from Brasserie Larché

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we stopped overnight at Beaune on our way to our villa near the south coast of France. The Carrefour there seems to have been an aberration, as none of the other supermarché we visited appeared to have any local beer, yet here was beer from not one, but two local microbreweries.

This, unfortunately, gave a false impression of what we’d find for the rest of the three weeks in France. It was pretty much as expected, just familiar major brand beer from the multinationals. We didn’t get the chance to stop anywhere in the North of the country, where it may be different, but in the South two years ago, it was pretty much a good beer desert.

I have no idea why Brasserie Larché have Thomas Becket branding all over their beer and their website isn’t exactly a mine of information on the matter either. The history of a 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t really interest me in any way, but it does seem a bit bizarre for a French microbrewery to use it for their branding.

In a similar manner to the Brasserie de Vézelay beers, the Carrefour had loads of these beers, both in 330ml and 750ml bottles. As I picked these up on the way back home, I couldn’t afford to buy them all in 750ml bottles. I would have preferred to, as I think beer tastes better out of a bigger bottle; something to do with beer conditioning better in larger volumes.

As is my want, I started with the blanche, It poured a slightly hazey, light straw colour, with a fluffy white head. The head dropped to a good covering fairly quickly. There wasn’t much on the nose, in that it wasn’t very aromatic. Taking in a lungful brought some lemony aromas and might be hint of spice.

It felt a touch over carbonated in the mouth, as there was quite a lot of mouth prickle from the carbonation, which was also feeding the head. It was quite pleasant tasting though, light in the mouth with some nice lemony, orange type citric flavours. There wasn’t really anything in the way of spice though, at least not that I could detect, not that it mattered. It was just a nice and pleasant beer that slipped down easily and quickly.

The blonde poured a slightly hazy amber colour, with a good, slightly off white head. The head dropped to a covering fairly quickly. The nose wasn’t very powerful, I didn’t get an awful lot to be honest, other than a slight sweet yeastiness. My wife on the other hand got honey and all sorts and upon inspection of the label, we were delighted to discover that it’s secondary fermented in the bottle with honey; thus proving she has a far superior olfactory system than me.

In the mouth is was pretty full bodied and quite sweet. An initial mouth prickle from the carbonation gave way to barrage of sweet malt and honey flavours. These carried on long into the aftertaste, with a distinct sweet honey flavour asserting itself at the death. There was some bitterness that was evident in the middle, that was desperately trying to keep everything in check and while it just about managed it, it succumbed to the sweetness.

I thought it was OK, my wife really liked it and after a couple of gulps, offered to finish it off.

When the cork came out of the bottle of l’embrasée (the burning) there was quite a loud phzzzzt, so I was quite surprised when the contents didn’t come flying out of the bottle too. It poured a chestnut brown, with a very loose tan coloured head. The head was very, very easily formed, but didn’t last and dropped to a ring around the edge of the glass pretty quickly.

I didn’t really get anything on the nose at all, maybe the hint of some stewed plums or something like that, but that was about it. It was ridiculously lively in the mouth, turning to bubbles on the tongue almost immediately. While there was a certain bitterness to it, it didn’t feel particularly bitter, but I think the carbonation was scrubbing most of it from the mouth. Other than that, it mainly tasted of rich stewed fruit, in a good way though, like from a rumtopf.

The ambrée poured a slightly haze light marmalade colour, with a slightly off white cream coloured head. The head dropped to a good half finger fairly quickly, but lasted from there quite well. There was a definite note to the aroma, I’m not sure I can describe it. It didn’t feel like it was from the malt or the hops and I think the back label says it had honey in it, so it might have been from that.

It was quite effervescent in the mouth, almost turning to foam as it scoured the tongue with a carbonic edge. Sweet malt flavours, with a slightly grainy edge, lead to a sweet drying finish. It didn’t feel bitter, it might have been the carbonic scouring at the start, stripping the bitterness, but it felt like there was some there, just not up front. A bit disappointing really.

Finally, the brune poured a deep chestnut brown, with a good tan coloured head. The head dropped fairly quickly to a patchy covering and then a few splodges round the edge of the glass. There wasn’t a lot on the nose, some brown malt notes, but nothing powerful.

In the mouth it was all about the malt flavours, at least once you got past the slight over carbonation. An initial prickle of bitterness gave way to a rising sweet, dark fruity maltiness that lingered long into the, slightly drying aftertaste. I didn’t think it was too bad.

I found it interesting that, while Brasserie de Vézelay had modern, clean branding and Brasserie Larché had, what I’d term, more traditional, messier branding, they both pretty much brewed the same styles of beer. A blanche, blonde, ambrée and a brune; it’s a bit like traditional British breweries all doing a mild, bitter, best bitter and stout. I wonder if the French have similar stylistic straightjackets that they feel they have to produce the same styles of beer.

La Marrouge

Brasserie Bourganel La Marrouge

The villa we stayed in for our holiday was in a sleepy, spread out village called Flayosc. It was a bit of a beer desert, with only macro-lager stubbies from the usual suspects available to buy in what passed for the local corners shops. The nearest Carrefour was a fifteen drive away in Draguignan and didn’t sell anything of interest beer wise.

I don’t drink wine, but the rest of the party did, so one day we popped into the local wine co-operative to check out what they had. It was like a slightly posher Adnams Cellar & Kitchen, with lots of local products to go along with all the wine. Some bottles of beer in a corner immediately caught my eye and after a bit of translating, we worked out that they were made with local chestnut flour.

I thought it was just the Italian’s who brewed with chestnut flour, but there you go. Luckily for us the villa had internet and wi-fi, so I was able to find out a bit more about the beer and who brewed it. I was slightly disappointed to find that it was brewed by Brasserie Bourganel, who were about a three and a half hour drive away, so not exactly local; there went any chance of a brewery visit.

Still, it was nice to have access to some beer that wasn’t brewed by a faceless multinational and that at least has some local produce in it. Brasserie Bourganel La Marrouge I did consider buying some of the chestnut flour to use in a homebrew when I got home, but it was very expensive.

So what about that actual beer then? It poured a colour that wasn’t quite dark enough to be a chestnut brown, and was a touch too dark to be considered any shade of copper. Think of a reddish brown colour and you’ll be nearly there. It had one of those bubbly heads that froth and foam up the glass, before dying back to nothing. Other than that, it sat limpid in the glass.

There was a definite, not normal, note to the aroma. Not in a bad way though, just in a way that meant I had absolutely no idea what it was. I can only assume that was the chestnut flour doing its thing until told otherwise. It was very smooth in the mouth, with pleasant malty flavours upfront and a tingle of bitterness at the death. There was also a nice chestnut flavour running through the middle, which was pretty nice.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d always thought that chestnut flour in beer was an Italian thing, but if you find yourself down near Flayosc then pop into Le Cellier des 3 collines and buy some, it’s very nice. If you like your wine, they also do excellent Rosé, try the Vitis 5.

Brasserie de Vézelay

Beers from Brasserie Vezelay

I spotted these on our very first day in France. We stopped at Beaune for the night and popped into the local Carrefour to pick up some water and other sundries for the following day. I found loads of these bottles, both in the main beer aisle and in the local produce section. So I picked up a few to take down to the villa and then bought some more as we passed, three weeks later, on the way back home.

I was quite excited to see what appeared to be a local microbreweries beers in one of France’s major supermarkets, I thought this might bode well for the rest of the holiday. It was just a shame they didn’t have any of the IPA, which appeared to be the only other beer being brewed at the time. Brasserie de Vézelay Blanche Bio I thought the branding looked very slick with the thin diagonal labels and I had high hopes, especially as two of them appeared to be organic as well.

Evidently, the Blanche is a Bavarian Hefeweizen, I could have sworn it was a Belgian Wit. The bottle opened with a very loud phzzzt, but didn’t explode out of the neck. It did turn to foam as it poured into the glass though, resulting in ⅓ beer to ⅔ foam. The nose was slightly spicy, slightly wheaty and chock full of carbon dioxide.

In the mouth it instantly turned to foam, which meant that if you took a large mouthful, it was practically squirting out of you nose and ears. The ridiculous level of carbonation made it hard to determine exactly what the beer tasted of, all I got was some sweet orange rind and a vague tickle of a coriander type spice. The Carrefour must have ad a bad batch, as the bottle I bought on the way down did exactly the same thing as this one, which was bought three weeks later.

Next, I decided to drink the Blonde, mainly as I prefer to go from light to dark when drinking multiple beers. It poured a light copper colour, with a compact, slight off white head. The head didn’t last, and dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. I didn’t get a lot on the nose, just a faint whiff of orange. It was nice and smooth in the mouth, with a good level of body about it.

However, it was pretty one dimensional, as there wasn’t a lot of bitterness, so it was all just sweet orangey malt from start to finish. There was a brief tickle just before the after taste, which left the mouth nice and juicy, but it all left me just wishing it’d had just a bit more going on. I don’t know if this was an old bottle, hence the last of perceived bitterness, or if it’s just like that. Either way, while it was nice, it was ultimately unsatisfying.

The Ambrée poured a burnished copper brown colour, with a light tan coloured head. The head didn’t last and dropped almost immediately to a ring round the edge of the glass. There wasn’t much on the nose, although I did get a faint whiff of penny chew.

It was pleasantly full bodied, with the initial sweet maltiness being usurped by a tickle of bitterness, before some red berry fruit malt flavours wrestled back control. The after-taste was juicy, leaving the mouth watering with faint red berry flavours. It was perfectly pleasant, but nothing to get overly excited about.

Last up was the Brune, which poured a chestnut brown colour, with a reticent tan coloured head. The head dropped away almost instantly, and couldn’t even be arsed to leave a patch or a ring round the edge of the glass. The nose carried the faintest whiff of peat and caramel, but was otherwise pretty non-existent. In the mouth it felt a touch shy of being full bodied enough, as it just had a touch of wateriness round the edges. The main flavour was a peaty smokiness, that while not unpleasant as it wasn’t very strong, was pretty solitary and not really backed up by anything else; meaning it was pretty one dimensional. I had high hope on the initial sip, but they were dashed the more I drank, it wasn’t bad, just not particularly great.

Like most beers you buy in the supermarket, these weren’t bad, but they weren’t particularly great either. While it was nice to see something local and that was obviously from a microbrewery, none of them were without fault. This just highlights one of the issues with buying beer from a supermarket, you have no idea how the beer has been treated. It may well have left the brewery in tip top condition and been ruined by incorrect transportation and storage. It may have sat on the shelves, under strong lights and warmth for too long, there’s just no way of knowing. I’d try these beers again if I saw them, crossing my fingers while I did so.

Brasserie Grain d’Orge

Brasserie Grain d'Orge

I think I picked these up in a Carrefour in Fréjus, on the French South coast (it may have been in Trans-en-Provence though, I can’t quite remember). It took a while to work out who brewed them, as Brasserie Grain d’Orge isn’t some little microbrewery and shouldn’t be confused with the similarly named micro in Belgium. The brewery appears to have originally been named something else, but was bought out by Brasserie de Gayant, purveyor of La Goudale, and renamed. Evidently brewing ceased on the original site in 2005 and it’s now just used as a logistics base.

Neither of these beers are what you’d call craft, but they make a change from macro lager stubbies. I think they look pretty good in their swing top bottles, which I still have and use for keeping my sloe gin in. As a homebrewer, I’m always happy to see beer in 750ml swing top bottles, as they’re easily reused.

The Giant is, according to the website, a recreation of an original recipe from 1898, when the brewery was called Desruelle-THEETTEN. It poured a crystal clear amber colour, with a good fluffy white head. The head lasted for quite some time, before dropping to a patchy covering.

While the nose wasn’t overly powerful, once you got your face into the glass, there was quite a lot going on. I thought there was sweet grainy malt notes, with a hint of orange about them. My wife sniffed it, sniffed it again, wrinkled her face up and said whisky.

It was quite full bodied in the mouth, with enough fusel alcohol to feel all of its strength. There was a bit of effervescence up front, which swept the sweet malt flavours through the mouth, past a tiny hint of bitterness and into a lingering sweet after-taste. It wasn’t bad, just really, really sweet.

Evidently this triple, is a secret of the monks and bottle conditioned. It poured a really pale golden tinged yellow, almost looking lager like with its large fluffy white head perched on top. The head dropped fairly quickly to a good covering.

It was interesting on the nose, giving both the perception of being powerful, with strong sweet light malty notes and at the same time, of being light and fresh; which I can only assume is from a touch of hop aroma.

It was pretty full bodied in the mouth, but not overly so. It was sweet mainly and got sweeter the more the bottle emptied. There was a touch of mouth burn from the alcohol and slightly warming after-taste, which was a bit grainy and sugary. The mouth was left with a faint spicy orange taste to accompany the slight alcohol burn. Not bad, but nowhere near the best Triple I’ve ever had.



I went to the South of France on holiday two years ago, and brought back quite a bit of beer with the intention of blogging about it. While I took photos of them all and copious notes, I never quite got round to uploading them to the blog.

Mostly we drank stubbies, but I managed to find some slightly more interesting stuff in some of the supermarkets and wine co-operatives that we passed though. It’s not that what we found was exciting or innovative, it just made a change from the range of industrial offerings all the supermarkets appeared to share.

I thought about uploading all of these last year, just in case it was still relevant for anyone else going on holiday in that part of the world, but again I didn’t extract my finger. Rather than leaving all the notes on my Google Drive for posterity, I’ve decided to upload them all over the rest of the week. I imagine that things might have changed down that way in the last two years; the supermarkets maybe stocking different beer, some of the breweries may no longer exist, etc, etc…

If those blogs help someone, then great, if not, then at least I got my finger out, eventually.

AG #15 – Kuiper Belt: Pluto – Charon Binary


Ah, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men… Again. Sometimes it seems like my adventures in homebrewing take two steps forward and then immediately, three steps backwards. I was hoping to have at least six to seven brews completed by this point in the year, not my first.

Brewing in the winter hasn’t been particularly good for the shed, as without an extractor system, the condensation is horrific. So I made a decision not to brew again until I’d bought and fitted an extractor system, expecting to have it all done and dusted in a few weeks. Fast forward to August and the system was still sitting in a box in the corner of the shed, although I’ll blame my lack of action on the fact that I finally decided to get a new job and not that I just couldn’t be arsed.

AG #15 - Kuiper Belt - Pluto - Charon Binary

It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to brew, I’d just been putting all my energy into the new job, so there was just a general lack of arse about beer, brewing, the blog and various other things. The lack of homebrew started to grate somewhat though and I figured that drinking various Greek lagers for two weeks on holiday, would see me desperate for something with hops in it upon my return; so I finally extracted the finger and got the extractor system fitted.

I’d love to say that the brew went swimmingly, but it felt like I’d forgotten pretty much everything, including the fact that my thermometer was knackered and that I don’t have a PH meter. It didn’t help that my main boiler burned itself out and welded its plug to the socket, while bringing the mash water up to strike temperature. I’d been wondering what the burning smell was and it wasn’t until I filled the mashtun and saw the blackened element, that I realised what had happened. I’m just glad that I had two boilers, as it meant that I could continue using my old one and complete the brew.

My old boiler is a litre or so smaller than my now defunct main boiler, so it meant that the first part of the boil was squeaky bum time, as it looked like it was going to boil over at any second. I really need to get my new EcoKeg brewery built, so I have a boiler large enough to hold over thirty litres, so I end up with a decent amount in the fermenter; 18 to 19 litres just isn’t enough. I might try a double brew next time, just so I end up with twenty five litres in the fermenter.

The rest of the brew passed without incident and I closed the door on the brew fridge, with eighteen and a half litres of wort in the fermenter at around half past one. The beer wasn’t quite the one I was planning on brewing, but I still need to buy a couple of things before I can brew my White Shield inspired effort. Since this was going to be a cobbled together brew, I decided to try using Vienna Malt again, but without all the other highly flavoured malts, so I could determine if I liked it as a base malt. I also decided to try using a different brand of yeast, to see what it was like too.

Update: 07/09/15
Two weeks of drinking various Greek lagers, did indeed see me return with a craving for some hops, who’d have thunk it! The beer had happily carbonated in the shed while we’d been away, although I’d neglected to print and apply any labels. the Vienna malt certainly makes its presence felt, lending a sweetness and distinct flavour to the beer. The homegrown Cascade hops maybe weren’t quite up to the challenge of competing with it and the yeast though, as there’s just not quite enough flavour from them to balance it out.

The Mangrove Jack US West Coast yeast is an interesting one though, I was expecting it to be very similar to US-05. I’m not sure if there was a slight issue with the brewing process, the fermentation, or if the yeast is just supposed to be like that, but you can definitely taste it in the beer, it’s not as clean as I was expecting. As I said though, it maybe there was an issue with the brewing process which has thrown this flavour, rather that it being the fault of the yeast. Only brewing with it again will answer that question though.