Old Chimneys Good King Henry

Old Chimneys is a small craft brewery out near Diss in Norfolk, that brews an interesting selection of ales. The selection that the Bacchanalia had a week ago was amazing, it was mostly gone when I popped in at lunch today. Last time I was in I mentioned to Ed that I’d seen one of their beers in the RateBeer Top 50 (it’s at number 41), but I couldn’t see it on the shelf. Luckily for me he had it stashed in the store room, so I managed to get a bottle of the original Good King Henry and a bottle of the 2007 Special Reserve.

The Good Bottled Beer Guide only mentions the original in so far as to set the scene for the special Reserve. This was brewed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the brewery and has evidently taken over entirely from the original. Both are bottle conditioned, so I’ll tick them both and say that maybe the book should have mentioned that you can still get the original…

I thought I try using the RateBeer rating sheet but couldn’t work out what to do about the taste, most of the other stuff was okay. It pours really, really dark brown, essentially black, but not like the black of a Porter, the head is good, a very dirty tan, that falls away to leave a covering. It’s not flat, but it’s not fizzy in any shape or form and is quite easy to drink given the strength. I quite liked it, you can get better reviews on the RateBeer review page.

Oh my giddy Aunt! This beer is really something else, it’s like a whisky infused Christmas pudding that you can’t get enough of. It pours pretty much the same colour as the original, but without much head at all. It’s oily and slick and has alcohol notes pouring out of it in all directions. How they have managed to blend in the oak conditioning notes with the rest of the beer is truly remarkable. I’m not a big fan of beers like Innis & Gunn, or the BrewDog Paradox line, I find the flavors imparted by the oak casks to be too dominant, this beer on the other hand manages to strike exactly the right balance for me, perfect. I’ll definitely have to get some more to lay down for a few years to see how it develops.

It’s definitely worth tracking down a bottle or two of the Special Reserve to try, as long as you’re not a shrinking wall flower. A top choice to kick of my beer ticking adventure…

Marks & Spencer

Until now, I’d always thought that the M&S beer range was crap, there never seemed to be anything in my local store when I had a look, or if there was, it didn’t look like it was worth buying.

There have been a few articles lately about Marks & Spencer’s revamped beer range, Jeff Evans (he of the Good Bottled Beer Guide) and Steve Williams have both blogged about it. So, with my new sense of being adventurous and the fact that I was in town at lunch, I decided to pop into the Market Square store and see what they had to offer.

I didn’t take notes and you wont be able to make out much from the photo, but there were thirteen beers on the shelf, plus a few ciders. Most of the beer was from the UK, plus a handful of world beers. As far as I’m aware, it’s not the full range, I’ll have to dig a bit and find a list and then try and track them all down. I bought four of the bottle conditioned UK beers to try next week, so I’ll post with thoughts at a later date. I would say that it’s great to see a high street retailer going the extra mile to get engaged with brewers and provide such a selection, especially of bottle conditioned beers.

False Start

So my project to tick all the bottles in the Good Bottled Beer Guide, didn’t get off to the best of starts. One of the four bottles, while still a nice drink, wasn’t even bottle conditioned.

So what was the issue…? Mainly that I have no idea how to describe how a beer smells or tastes and if I don’t write it down straight away, I certainly can’t remember the next day.

I don’t want to turn myself into a ticker, who’ll obsessively track down beers just to say they’ve tried them and I also don’t want to turn myself into some sort of beer version of Jilly Goolden. Having said that RateBeer has a single page document that contains loads of keywords that you can use to describe things like the smell, clarity, taste etc. I might have a try with that for a bit and see how we get on. I’m sure with a bit of practice we might be able to train our nose and palate to identify things.

So far, apart from the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, everything I’ve drank in the last week has been new, which is a great start, even if most of the beers haven’t been for my project. There is a downside at the moment, I’m writing this in bed while suffering from some lurgy that has laid three quarters of the house low. So it’ll probably be late next week before we can start properly, I may even have a trail run with some other beers I’ve got to see if I can manage to take notes…

The Live & Let Live Beer Festival

The Live & Let Live on Mawson Rd is one of the best pubs in Cambridge, it has a large selection of real ale and cider on tap and a choice of foreign beers. Once a year they get in a few extra beers, ciders and bottle and put on a small festival.

Once a year they get in a few extra beers, ciders and bottle and put on a small festival. I’ve never managed to get to one before, but the offer of a lift home was to good to pass up, so I wandered down there after work to meet up with some friends.

On the way, I decided to pop into the The Jug & Firkin (it’s really called the Bacchanalia) to get some bottles to take home, I needed some that are mentioned in The Good Bottled Beer Guide to start my project with. I can’t remember a time when I’ve gone in there and been so spoilt for choice, it was ridiculous, I was like a kid in a sweet shop, at Christmas, after winning the lottery. I’ve decided to do a photo blog of all the beers I drink in the future, so you’ll be able to see what I brought home in due course.

In the mean time, here’s what I consumed at The Live:

Leasons Learned

I’ve dallied with homebrew on a number of occasions, none of which produced anything worth drinking, which is probably why I moved onto other things.

This summer I had a go at some Elderflower Champagne, it was a bit of a disaster but it got me thinking about brewing beer again. It just happened to be a coincidence that Brew Your Own British Real Ale by Graham Wheeler had just been updated and reprinted, so I picked a recipe and started brewing.

The first brew was a Timothy Taylor Landlord clone and the second a Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby clone. It was amazing how easy it was to slip into brewing again, but it’s not been without its issues. A few things have been learned so far:

  1. Always make sure that you have everything you need before you start, this applies to each stage of the process and not just to the main boil and fermentation. So when you come to bottle your beer a couple of months after putting it in a cask to condition, make sure you have something to prime the bottles with so you don’t have to raid your cupboards for what ever sugar you have lying around.

  2. When doing a boil with a lot of grain, it’s wise to contain the grain in some sort of bag. Failure to do this can result in your boiler tap getting blocked and force you to bail out the boiler and strain through a sieve. This means that you don’t get to use the grain and hops as a filter bed and can thus leaves your beer looking rather less than clear.

  3. Even with dark beers, i.e. stouts and the like, it can be worth putting some Irish Moss in near the end of the boil, especial if you’ve just suffered from the second item. While most of the bits should settle out during fermentation and conditioning in a separate cask, there’s no harm in helping the process along a bit.

  4. Ensure that all of your equipment is in good working order and that small children can’t reach the taps of your conditioning cask as it nestles under the kitchen table. Also ensure that when you are working at said table, you don’t accidental kick the tap and cause your beer to slowly leak out all over the floor. I’ve found that while my wife is very tolerant of my brewing, she’d prefer the kitchen floor not to be a sticky mess that smells of beer all the time.

Playing It Safe

I’ve been playing it safe recently when it’s come to the choice of bottled beer I’ve been drinking. I could point to various reason why this is, but it essentially boils down to playing it safe.

For example, I’m a big fan of Lambic beers, especially anything from Cantillon, I can’t tell you the last time I had one it was so long ago. This problem extends to practically all bottle conditioned beers, as I don’t have room to store much beer at home I tend to buy stuff to drink that night. Bottle conditioned beer isn’t in a fit state after being bounced around in a pannier during the hour it takes me to cycle home, hence the playing it safe.

I have decided that enough is enough and I’m going to take a stand and stop playing it safe. It’s time to stop drinking golden blonde beers like Fullers Discovery, Adnams Explorer and Wychwood WychCraft, it’s also time to stop picking up three or four BrewDog Punk IPA’s when they’re on special. It’s time to start trying new beers and it’s definitely time to get back to drinking beer that is bottle conditioned.

I need a project, something that will challenge me to try new beers from breweries I didn’t know existed. I need something that will force me to stop buying beer in Tesco and start visiting the Jug & Firkin¹ again (I think I’ve been in Cambridge long enough to keep calling it by its original name). I need something that will get me excited about beer again and I have got the perfect thing in mind.

While I like trying beer from all over the world, we have such a large choice here in the UK, that I thought I should really do something that expands my knowledge and appreciation of it. So I’ve bought a copy of the seventh edition of The Good Bottled Beer Guide by Jeff Evans (published by CAMRA) and I intend to try all the beers listed in it. This is a long term project as there are hundreds and hundreds of beers listed, I’m sure some of the beers will become unavailable as the brewery will close, for example, and new breweries will open or existing breweries will produce new beers, so it will probably turn into something quite fluid over time.

To keep me honest and on the straight and narrow I intend to document my progress through the book in this blog. Exactly what format that will take is yet to be decided, as is how I plan to work my way through the list, alphabetical, by beer style, random…? One thing is for sure, it’ll be a very tasty journey.

¹ Now called Bacchanalia