Refocusing

I’ve enjoyed the last few months, even though I’ve drunk amazing beer, I’ve been wandering off course again. I’m supposed to be concentrating on British bottle conditioned beer and I’m off drinking anything I can get my hands on.

BrewDog Tokyo*I’ve drank some totally awesome beer though, BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, BrewDog Tokyo*, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Mikkeller Black Hole, The Lost Abbey Serpent Stout and De Molen Amarillo to name just a few.

My physique has been suffering a bit as well, as I’ve drunk a couple of bottles of beers practically every night since the end of October, the gut has been expanding. Something had to give and my wife has been pestering me as to where all the beer has been coming from and when I’ll be cutting down. So it’s time to refocus, I’ve let my stock of non British bottle conditioned beer run down, so I have enough bottle conditioned beer to last five nights, if I drink two a night, that should last a week and a bit.

Mikkeller Black HoleSo from now on, I’m going to make a trip once a week to the beer shop and pick up a set number of bottles. I’ll still drink interesting beer, evidently the Bacchanalia is going to be getting some awesome De Molen beers (including Mikkel & Menno and I’m not missing that for anyone) in soon, but I’m going to try and focus on the other shelves and just pick British beer.

I have quite a bit to catch upon with this blog as well, my phone has loads of tasting notes that I need to upload, I just need to find the inspiration and get my finger out. Time to focus…

Iceni Men of Norfolk

Oh dear, my first really, really bad bottle of beer in ages.

Iceni Men of Norfolk, 6.2% 750ml @ homeIt poured flat with little to no conditioning and tasted really sour and off. It was heart wrenching to pour it down the sink as I’d really been looking forward to it. I’ll have to pluck up the courage to buy another one, although I may leave it for a bit.

Update 12/02/2010:

A mate bought a bottle of this last week from the same place and I finally got round to asking him how it was. He poured his away as well, similar problem, so we may have just stumbled on a bad batch, I’ll be waiting until I see this somewhere else before buying any more…

Venice

One of the perks of working for my company is the Christmas party. Each year on a Friday early in December, they fly everyone to a European city where we embark on a bit of a bender, before flying us all back home on the Sunday afternoon. This year the destination was that well known mecca of beer, Venice.

Knowing that Italy has a predilection for fizzy piss water, just look at the bog standard Peroni, I hit ratebeer.com to see if they had any listed destinations. Much to my surprise, the utterly gorgeous tourist trap that is Venice had three listed destinations. Armed with the location of the three establishments, we headed out to see what was on offer.

Forst PremiumAfter wandering aimlessly for a while, we cracked out Google Maps on my Palm Pre and found out what through the rain to the first location. Bar Al Carcan, is as described on its ratebeer.com page, it’s a cozy wee bar with six beers on tap and run by an ageing mentalist. There was no indication of any bottled beer, so we cracked into some Forst Premium, which is one of the worst excuses for a beer I’ve ever tasted.

For some reason we decided to have another beer in this place, I’m not really sure why. The mentalist old bloke behind the bar was doing massive air guitar to The Rolling Stones Paint It Black, which was distorting out of some ancient tape deck. When he wasn’t doing air guitar he was having a fag outside in the rain while trying to chat up passing women and entice firemen in for a beer.

Forst Sixtus Doppelbock, 6.5% and Forst Heller Bock, 7.5%Next up I had a Forst Sixtus Doppelbock and my mate had a Forst Heller Bock. Mine was dark, his wasn’t, they were both fizzy and sweet and not particular nice. So we decided to find some where to eat and headed off to find a restaurant. To cut a long and involved walk short, the restaurant was full, so we ended up in a Pizzeria that happened to have three different Hacker-Pschorr beers on tap. We both settled down outside to wait for a table with a hefe weisse and very nice it was too.

After the really nice pizza and not so nice fries, we decided to try and find Il Santo Bevitore, which the ratebeer.com page positions away on the top left of Venice. I can assure you that the location of this place on Google Maps is incorrect, as there is nothing but residential buildings in that area. After an hour of wandering around in ever widening circles, we decided to get out of the rain and have a beer in the first place we came to.

Pedavena Birra Pedavena, 5%I can’t even remember the name of the place we ended up, but it did have a full size papier-mâché horse and rider next to the bar. We ordered the one beer they had on tap, which was some totally forgettable insipid piss water. By this time I didn’t really care, it was late and I was wet and sober, it could only have been worse if I’d fallen in a canal. We were both fed up with our inability to find Il Santo Bevitore, so we decided to head back to the hotel, of course that meant that we walked right past the place as it turned out to be just round the corner.

Why Google Maps thinks it’s where it thinks it is, I’ve no idea, but it’s not, it’s totally in a different place. Il Santo Bevitore is also a totally different kind of place, as they had Sharps Doom Bar on hand pump and McEwans Lager on tap, amongst other things. Two pints of Doom Bar were ordered and hungrily consumed, it was just a shame that the beer was just past it’s best, but you could tell that if it had been a few days earlier that it would have been a cracking pint.

We both decided that enough was enough and headed back through the rain to the hotel. Neither of us fancied trying to find the third pub, especially as Google Maps put it out on the edge and we didn’t fancy playing hunt the pub again.

Ciney Brune, 7% and Scottish & Newcastle Slalom Lager, 9%We ended up back in Il Santo Bevitore on the Saturday as we happened to be wandering past. My mate fancied trying the Scottish & Newcastle Slalom lager, which was a hefty 9%. If you are wondering what this beer is, then I can tell you that it was tramp juice on draft, utterly, utterly horrible and an affront to cooking lager, never mind beer.

Saturday night was spent at the black tie dinner with a free bar, but the choice of beer was more fizzy piss water, so I had a few spirits and tumbled into bed at some ungodly hour. My mate, who’d drunk most of a bottle of Lagavulin, looked a tad worse for wear in the early afternoon as we were leaving, it has to be said.

All in all Venice is crap if you like your Ale, if you like cooking lager and tramp juice, you’re well served. Personally I’d head for Il Santo Bevitore, as they also has some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager along with a few other bottles.

Marks & Spencer Scottish Ale and Cornish IPA

The last two Marks & Spencer”s beers I have are a bit contrasting, one being a Scottish Ale, you would expect to be leaning more to the malty end of things and the other being an IPA, to lean more to the hoppy end of things.

The Scottish Ale, is certainly more malty than hoppy and is really quite a nice strong session beer kind of thing. It has a nice smooth mouth feel that is then treated to a spicy, fruity after-taste as the spices cut in. It’s nice, but wither I’d go out of my way to buy more is another matter.

I was a tad disappointed by this one, I quite like the St Austell Brewery beers, so was hoping for something special. It’s was very well conditioned, a tad too much I think, as it had a very effervescent, mouth feel that was a tad overpowering. I was expecting more hops on both the nose and taste, but they weren’t there in any abundance, which was a shame.

I probably shouldn’t judge any of the M&S beers I’ve had so far, on only one bottle. There’s so many factors involved when drinking beer that can affect what you think of it, so I’ll probably have to come back to them in a while and see if my thoughts have changed. One thing I would say though, is that it’s great to see a major high street retailer going to this much trouble over a beer range, they really should be applauded.

P.S. My notes don’t mention if these are bottle conditioned or vegetarian/vegan, I’ll have to check next time I’m in M&S…

Marks & Spencer Bavarian Winterfest Wheat and Belgian Cherry Wheat

After a hard hour of cycling home into a howling gale, I was just after something uncomplicated and simple, so I decided to crack open a couple of wheat beers. It’s been so long since I had a wheat beer, my glass was all covered in dust and needed a wash.

First up was a Seasonal Guest, the Bavarian Winterfest Wheat Beer, which pours a dark cloudy brown, with a fat light tan head. The colour reminded me of Schneider Weisse and the nose had all the usual wheat beer banofee notes going on, although I though there was a tad too much yeast on the nose and on the palette. It’s okay, in the same way that most wheat beers are okay, but the yeasty taste was a bit too off putting for me, but that might just be due to lack of having had any for a while.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Arcobräu, Moos, Germany
  • Bavarian Winterfest Wheat Beer, 5.2%, 500 ml

Next up was the petite Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer, I’d heard it was sweet and right enough, it’s really sweet. It pours a pink cherry colour with a cherry coloured head. The nose is all cherries and the taste is super sweet cherries with a lingering drying finish. Probably a bit on the sweet side for me, so not a beer I’d probably go out of my way to have again.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Huyghe, Melle, Belgium
  • Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer, 3.5%, 330 ml

The Bavarian Winterfest Wheat Beer is cloudy, so it’s up to you if you include the yeast or not, I did, maybe it would have been better without, I may have to buy another one to find out. The Bavarian Winterfest Wheat Beer is also Vegan according to the label, where as the Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer is only Vegetarian.

Marks & Spencer Southwold Winter Beer and London Porter

The Southwold Winter Beer has a Seasonal Guest label around the neck, so I’m assuming it will disappear at some point, most likely in the Spring. It’s brown, malty, but a bit too carbonated for my taste and that’s about all I can say. I drank it a couple of hours ago and already I can’t really remember much about it, which is either good or bad, depending on your point of view.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Adnams, Southwold
  • Southwold Winter Beer, 4%, 500 ml

My idea of a Porter, is a black beer with overriding roasted notes that keep any maltiness in check. The bottle for this says there are 7 different malts, so I was expecting something black and roasted. It pours a very deep brown, it’s not black, as you can just see through it. The taste is initially roasted, but quickly dissipated by the malt, although there is a small lingering roasted tatse that lasts. I’d say it’s not nearly as good as the big bottles of Meantime London Porter you get in Sainsbury’s, but it’s not bad.

Neither of these beers are bottle conditioned and the London Porter is Vegan.

Marks & Spencer Sussex Bitter and Yorkshire Bitter

I decided to start drinking some of the beers I picked up in Marks & Spencer the other day. I’ve been having quite a few higher ABV beers recently, so felt a couple of beers with a slightly more sensible ABV were in order. I settled on a couple of the bitters, mainly as they appeared to be more of a session type beer, rather than challenging beer.

First up was the Sussex Bitter as it had the lowest ABV at 3.8%, it poured a light colour and is a typical session bitter kind of beer. I wasn’t that impressed to be honest, it seemed to be lacking something, it was bitter in a session bitter kind of way, but it was just missing some sort of spark. It was okay, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Hepworth Brewery, Horsham
  • Sussex Bitter, 3.8%, 500 ml

Next up was the Yorkshire Bitter, at 4.6% ABV it’s not quite the session beer that the Sussex Bitter is. It’s also not quite as bitter, I found it to have much more of a malty characteristic, with a bit of bitterness at the end. It was quite morish and I thought much better than the Sussex Bitter.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Cropton Brewery, Cropton
  • Yorkshire Bitter, 4.6%, 500 ml

Both of these beers are bottle conditioned and the Yorkshire Bitter is vegetarian.

Pitfield 1896 XXXX Stock Ale

I’ve bought plenty of Pitfield beers in the past, but for some reason I’ve never bothered with the 1896 XXXX Stock Ale. I decided that since I’d have to tick it, as it’s mentioned in the Good Bottled Beer Guide, I bought a bottle, as I only see it occasionally.

It poured without much of a head and the initial impression I got was almost lambic like, as there was a sourness to both the smell and taste. This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, I’d thought it would have been a full bodied strong tasting ale, but I thought it concealed the fact that it was 10% very well. I’ll have to get another one, as other than the slight sourness, I can’t really remember much…

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.