Doctoring Beer

After finding out that my tongue was intact, I didn’t want to throw away the remaining Stella and Heineken, but neither did I want to drink them. So I decided to doctor them with Pimms after seeing the idea floated on Twitter.

It turns out that lime cordial or lemonade aren’t the only things you can use to turn macro lager into something that’s vaguely palatable. The French have a thing called Picon bière, which is a flavoured bitters, that is drunk as an apéritif to accompany beer in the East and North of the country. While Pimms being a fruit cup, isn’t strictly a bitters, it does have similar qualities, evidently (I’m not sure I’ve ever had bitters before, so don’t actually know). After Yvan wondered aloud on Twitter about using Pimms in beer, I had to give it a go and see what it was like.

As we had the majority of two large bottles of Stella and Heineken left over from our, not so, blind tasting, it was the perfect opportunity to see if either would be improved with a dash of Pimms. It's not worth it, really, it's not... I did consider buying some lime cordial, but thought that might bring back too many memories of being seventeen and drinking Skol and lime; a time I’d rather forget about, if I’m being honest.

I did try doctoring a whole bottle of Budvar, but I put too much Pimms in and to be honest, it wasn’t very nice, as the Pimms trampled over everything. I found that even with Pimms added to the Stella, it was still pretty rank, but turning it into a shandy with a load of lemonade at least made it drinkable. I didn’t try putting Pimms into the Heineken, as it was drinkable as a lager tops, so it seemed like a waste of Pimms to doctor it further.

So yes, it looks like you can use Pimms to pep up an otherwise underwhelming macro lager. To be honest though, it seem a rather expensive and convoluted way of drinking beer. It would be a lot simpler and easier to just buy better beer to start with.

“Have they had their tongues cut out?”

According to a flurry of media reports at the backend of last week, drinkers can’t tell the difference between Stella, Heineken and Budvar. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with the folks in České Budějovice and they responded by questioning whether the mere 138 participents used in the blind-taste test had “had their tongues cut out?”.

Always one for a challenge, I decided to see if I could tell the difference between the three and seeing as how I already had a bottle of Budvar in the fridge, it was just a matter of purchasing the other two from a local supermarket. Now, I don’t have proper blind tasting equipment, black glasses, rooms with red lights, etcetera, so all I could do was get my wife to pour the three of them for me so I didn’t know which one was which.

If you’re going to try this yourself, I wouldn’t recommend having all three poured and lined up like I did, as you can tell which is which just by looking at them. The Stella is anemic and the lightest of the three, while the Budvar has the deepest colour and the Heineken is the one with the most bubbles. I tried to ignore how they looked and just tried to concentrate on how they smelled and tasted.

Surprisingly there wasn’t much to differentiate them on aroma, especially the Heineken and Budvar. Taste wise it was obvious which one was the Stella, it was much thinner and didn’t taste like something you’d want to actually drink. C, B, A... I was surprised by the Heineken, it was actually quite drinkable and I think if I’d done a proper blind-taste, I might have struggled initially to separate it from the Budvar. Having said that, for me, Budvar has more body than the other two and doesn’t get noticeably nastier the more you drink of it.

I’m pleased to say that, while it wasn’t exactly a proper blind test, I correctly identified the three glasses that were in front of me. Did I learn anything though? Yes, Stella really is quite nasty, Heineken smells pretty much the same as Budvar and is quite nice in small quantities and that I’d much rather drink Budvar than the other two any day of the week.

Waitrose Own Label Beers

Waitrose own label beers...

I’ve always passed over the Waitrose own brand beers, probably because they stock Thornbridge Jaipur. I thought it was about time I tried them and found out what they were like.

First up was their German Pils, which poured a pale yellow colour, that lightened, or darkened depending on what you held it up against. The head was one of those that was reluctant to get going, but then burst to life and produced a massive, very loose, fluffy white head. It didn’t last and dropped to pretty much nothing after a few minutes.

During the pour, a noble hop aroma came streaming out of the bottle, but after the pour, you had to cup your hands over the glass to really get anything. It was a sweet marmalade kind of aroma, with vague remnants of stale carbon dioxide.

It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with lots in the way of sweetness and little in the way of counteracting bitterness. There was a bit of a mouth tickle after the initial sweet onslaught, but it was brief and made little impact in the building sickly sweetness. The aftertaste was all sweetness, with vague hints of orange about it.

I normally get about halfway down a bottle of German Helles or Pils before being put off my the sweetness, but this was just too much for me right from the outset. If it had had a decent level of bitterness like Jever, for instance, it might have been OK, but it was just sweet, sweet, sweet, followed by a bit more sweetness for good measure. Really not my cup of tea at all…

To be fair, once I got to the bottom of the glass, it did feel slightly less sweet and that it had slightly more bitterness about it, but only just.

Next up was the Czech Pilsner, which poured a similar colour to the German Pils, maybe slightly more golden, with less of an anemic urine kind of appearance. The head was good and solid, with little bubbles forming the thick frothy topping. While it didn’t last very long, it didn’t disappear completely, leaving a thin skin of bubbles over the surface.

There’s only so many ways a noble hopped beer can smell, it was as you’d expect; slightly grassy, with sweet orangey malt undertones. It didn’t smell anywhere near as sweet as the German Pils, but it wasn’t overly fresh with hop aroma either.

It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with the initial malty sweetness kept in check by a nice wave of bitterness and carbonation. The sweet orangey malt soon reasserted itself, before a, slightly sweet, but at the sametime, satisfyingly bitter aftertaste lingered for a while.

I really liked this one, there was a nice balance between the bitterness and the sweet orangey maltiness, with maybe the bitterness just edging it. I thought it was dangerously drinkable and wouldn’t hesitate to buy it over something like Budvar in the future.

I broke out my proper wheat beer glass for the Bavarian Hefe Weissbier, which poured as you’d expect, a murky copper, with a large fluffy white head. The nose wasn’t overly bready, clovey or bananay; having instead a spiciness about it that I couldn’t place.

It was a similar story with the taste, it wasn’t overly anything, other than having a strong generic spiciness about it. Cloves have a really pungent and distinct aroma and taste, this wasn’t like that, it was more the spiciness you get from lots wheat or rye malt, which is a bit unsurprising in a wheat beer.

If I stuck my neck out a bit, I’d say it mostly reminded me of bubble gum, but not overly so; it seemed to be pandering to a middle ground and you could say was pretty forgettable because of it. It was nice enough, in that it slipped down without too much though, which was maybe the problem.

I had a feeling the Belgian Blonde would be similar to something Duvel, after all, it ‘s in the same style of 330ml bottle. It poured a slightly hazy golden straw colour, due to a tiny touch of sediment in the bottle. The head was white, thick and creamy and in my Duvel tulip glass, fed by a constant stream of bubbles, it remained at about a finger thick.

The nose had some spicy undertones to it, but also smelled vaguely like the Bavarian Hefe, with some banana type aromas too.

The spiciness was carried over into mouth being there both at the beginning and the end. There was also a touch of orange and a sweetness that could be the honey that was mentioned on the label. Given the ABV, it was unsurprisingly full bodied, but at the same time, there was a certain flabbiness about it, that made it feel a touch lighter of body than maybe it actually was.

It was nice enough, but it’s no Duvel.

Overall they weren’t bad. I really didn’t get on with the German Pils and wouldn’t buy it again. The Bavarian Hefe was too anonymous and I think there are better wheat beers available in most supermarkets, similarly I would buy Duvel over the Belgian Blonde any day of the week. That just leaves the Czech Pilsner, which I’d have no qualms about buying again and again, I thought it was really nice.

Update: 02/05/14
I popped into my local Waitrose in Newmarket the other morning, I needed to pick up some breakfast and lunch. While I was there, I did what I always do, which is to have a quick scan of the beer and cider shelves, to see if there’s anything new and interesting worth buying. I noticed that they had an own label Bavarian Dunkel Weissbier sitting next to their own label Bavarian Hefe Weissbier.

This one is also made by Arcobräu and for my money, is nicer than the Hefe. Which was a surprise, as I normally much prefer Hefe to Dunkel when it comes to wheat beers. It poured a murky brown, with a massive head that dropped to a covering after a while.

The nose was full of those Germanic wheat beers aromas; a bit of crusty bread, a touch of banana, a hint of clove and a smidgen of bubblegum. In the mouth it felt just about right, with a lightish body, but with enough flavour to carry it off, so it never felt watery or flabby. The finish was all spicy, malty and yeasty, but all nicely blended together, rather than competing.

I had this just after I finished bottling AG #10 – Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and it slipped down a treat. It’s one of those beers where is slips down so quickly and easily, that you wish you’d bought another as all gone without you realising.

Indian Summer and Wojtek

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

The only good thing about beer in a clear bottle, is that you can see the colour, which in the case of Elgoods Indian Summer, was a typical golden straw colour. Other than that, clear bottles are the devils work, so we just have to hope that the bottles in store aren’t light struck in any way. The off white head was decent, but didn’t last, dropping to a covering fairly quickly. The nose was chock full of Rhubarb and Custard penny chews crossed with Pear Drops, which I have to say I’m not a big fan of in this type of beer.

When I was writing the review of Tempest’s Brave New World IPA the other day, I also said it had an aroma of rhubarb and custard sweeties, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that I think they smell the same. They don’t though, in the case of the Tempest you could tell all that aroma was from the hops, in the case of this beer, you can’t. I don’t know if it’s from the yeast, oxidation, skunking, or actually from the hops used. I have my suspicions, but until I can either smell a wet dog, a bunch of geraniums or some modelling dope, I’ll be keeping them to myself.

In the mouth it felt full bodied, with a solid, if slightly sweet, malt backbone. It was quite well balanced, with the bitterness cutting in mid way and intertwining with the maltiness to leave a juicy, sweet and slightly bitter aftertaste. As I said previously, I’m not a big fan of beers that smell like Rhubarb and Custard sweeties, as I find they end up leaving a manky taste in the back of the mouth. It’s something that builds and builds with each mouthful and in some cases can leave the mouth feeling either like you’ve licked an ashtray, or burnt the roof of the mouth in some way.

While I didn’t quite get the burning sensation, the back of my mouth was left with a manky taste that was a cross between ashtray and cardboard, which wasn’t so good. I think that without the flaws this beer would have been pretty forgettable, it was one of those that you pour into a glass, have a couple of mouthfuls, then pick it up again only to find it almost gone, with no recollection of having drunk most of it.

A green bottle this time, so marginally better than the other entries in clear glass, but still liable to skunking. Beartown’s Wojtek poured a very similar colour to the Elgoods Indian Summer, although it didn’t appear to be quite as clear, it wasn’t hazy in any way, it just wasn’t crystal clear. The white coloured head was easily formed, although it didn’t last and dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. I struggled to pick anything out on the nose, even when taking in a lung full. It wasn’t that it didn’t smell of anything, it was just so faint and nondescript, that I couldn’t place it.

It initially felt quite heavy in the mouth, almost too full of body, but this became less noticeable after a while. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of the taste, it felt like it had been hopped as a lager, but over the top of a golden ale. There was quite a bit of upfront bitterness that carried right through the mouth and lingered long into the aftertaste, but it reminded me strongly of the bitterness you’d get in a Czech pilsner like Budvar. While there was malt in there, it always seemed to be just underneath the bitterness, struggling to break through and reveal itself. The aftertaste was all bitterness though, lingering for ages and leaving the mouth all juicy.

This beer perplexed me somewhat, as I really didn’t know what to make of it, was it trying to be an ale or a lager, it seemed confused. Having said that, I quite liked it, in fact, I think I’ll have to buy some more, just to see if I can figure out what’s going on.

In Pyraser Of Pilsner

I started this blog as I was stuck in a rut, week in week out I was buying and drinking the same beers from the local supermarket. I’d like to think that in the two years since I started this blog, things have changed, they certainly had last year judging from the stock take that I did. I’m not doing a similar stock take this year, probably, not because I think it will show me reverting to my old behaviour or anything, more that things have changed.

There has been a seismic shift in my mental state about my obsession with beer, I’ll be covering it in another blog. It centres around The Box Of Delights Demons that I have at the Bacchanalia and how that and other factors have created a self sustaining cycle of destructive behaviour. That blog will be necessarily dark, this one should be the complete opposite, as it’s about an awakening, basically the realisation that I like lager*.

I’m not sure when this new found love of Pilsner has come from, it’s sort of sneaked up on me a bit. It’s not like I’ve never drank lager though, although I think we can except the Skol & Lime from my later teenage years from this discussion. Till now, it’s mainly been bottles of Budvar, Karen, my wife, got me into that as we sat on various Cambridge commons and greens on balmy summers evenings when we first got together. I tried others, but I didn’t really get on with Pilsner Urquell, really, really didn’t get on with Staropramen and pretty much hated everything that came out of Germany, especially Jever.

I suppose I can trace the tipping point, to the day I bought some Bernard Nefiltrovaný ležák for Karen at The Euston Tap. Of course I had a sip and was blown away at the amount of flavour that it contained. When I found myself back in The Euston Tap a couple of months later, it was one of the first beers I went for before getting stuck in on the stronger stuff. Since then I’ve been buying copious quantities of Pilsner, both filtered and unfiltered, in bottles from the Bacchanalia whenever they’ve had some in stock.

Stand outs for me this year have to be Italia, the Thornbridge collaboration with Birrificio Italiano, Brewers & Union Unfiltered Lager by Collective São Gabriel and Hopfenpflücker Pils by Pyraser. The later I’ve really been taken with and while we speed head long into Winter and strong, dark beer territory, I for one wont be giving up on the Pilsner in the coming months. I’m really looking forward to next Spring when our extension is complete and I can sit with the doors open and enjoy a cool, clean flavoursome, preferably, unfiltered Pilsner, with the evening breeze wafting into the house.

* I’m of course not talking about any old Lager, you wont suddenly see me necking cans of Carling or Stella any time soon…

How Bad Can It Be…? Kaiserdom Pilsener and Dark Lager Beer

Time for another installment of How Bad Can It Be? This time, it’s two beers that I picked up from a local Tesco, Kaiserdom Pilsener and Kaiserdom Dark Lager Beer. They looked like relatively cheap Euro lagers, so I thought I’d give them ago and see what they were like.

As it turns out, the brewery is from Gaustadt, which is now part of Bamberg, in the Bavaria region of Germany and can trace its history back to 1718. It also appears that the brewery isn’t part of some multi-national behemoth, which is quite cool, but has been run by various generations of the Wörner family for over a century.

I decided to try the Pilsener first, it poured a crystal clear insipid yellow, with a fluffy white head. The head dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. It smelt fresh with some subtle grassy notes.

It had a fairly light mouth feel, without too much malt character. The main flavour reminded me of the cereal notes that you get in industrial lager, luckily this didn’t last long. A bitterness eventually cut through and lingered long into the after taste. It wasn’t really bitter though, it was just enough to cut through the initial flavours. By the time I got to the end of the bottle, it had all gone a but watery and flabby. The cereal notes were more prevalent and it it wasn’t hanging together very well.

The Dark Lager Beer poured a really dark, dark brown, so that it appeared almost black. A large tan head was easily formed and just like the Pilsener, dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. It smelt dark, with very vague roasted notes and an almost yeasty edge

It was very smooth in the mouth, with subtle roasted flavours, all washed down with a slightly drying yeasty finish. There wasn’t any noticeable bitterness, in either the fore or after tastes. Again, it got a bit a bit watery after a while, although not quite to the same extent as the Pilsener.

While the Pilsener wasn’t bad, it’s not a patch on something like Pyraser Hopfenpflücker Pils, or even a Budvar. The Dark Lager Beer was the better of the two, not as insipid as the Pilsener, but still miles away from being as good as something like Bernard Černé Pivo 13°. Would I buy either again though? Certainly not the Pilsener and probably not the Dark Lager Beer either, unless there wasn’t anything else…

Great British Beer Hunt: Frederic’s Great British Alcoholic Ginger Beer and Worcester Sorcerer

Alcoholic ginger beer has been really big over the last year or so, I’ve reviewed a couple, so it was no great surprise to see one the shelves as part of Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011.

Robinson’s Frederic’s Great British Alcoholic Ginger Beer poured a surprisingly deep brown, practically every other alcoholic ginger beer that I’ve had, has been much lighter in colour. I did manage to coax a decent head during the pour, but it didn’t last and dropped to a thin line round the edge of the glass. There was surprisingly little ginger on the nose, it was there, but quite subtle.

This has to be the oddest alcoholic ginger beer I’ve had, it didn’t seem to know if it was a beer with added ginger or a ginger beer. There was a solid malty backbone and a not particularly fiery ginger aftertaste, but it was all a bit disjointed.

It was initially malty, but then it switched to being gingery, with out any real integration between the two, it was like the two main flavours hadn’t been melded together in any way. If they had integrated the malt and ginger flavours together, so it was both at the same time, rather than one, then the other, it might have worked a bit better.

There was more going on too, after the initial maltiness, there was a sprightliness just before the ginger cut in, that carried a weird odd taste that I couldn’t quite identify. This flavour got much, much worse when it got warm to the point of swamping most of the ginger, and if I’d had more than a couple of mouthfuls left, I’m not sure I’d have been able to finish it.

  • RateBeer Robinson’s
  • Frederic’s Great British Alcoholic Ginger Beer, 3.8%, 500ml

Sadler’s Worcester Sorcerer poured a lovely amber colour with a very loose cream coloured head. The head dropped to a blotchy covering fairly quickly and lasted most of the way down the glass. I didn’t get much on the nose, there was something subtle going on, but I just couldn’t place it. If I was being generous, then there may have been a hint of grass, but not the same grassiness that you’d get with a Jever or Budvar, for instance.

It’s not often I read the back of a bottle and agree with the tasting notes, but the ones on the back of this bottle were spot on. It wasn’t quite smooth in the mouth, there was what felt like a bit of soft loose carbonation rolling over the tongue. When that had dissipated, it was all warm juicy toffee apple malts and a lingering slightly bitter sweet aftertaste.

I quite enjoyed it, even though I’m not the biggest fan of malt led bitters. I did find the initial soft carbonation distracting though and I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if that hadn’t have been there.

My First GBBF

Don't drink Hophead...

It’s amazing how time flies as it’s now been over a week since I went to the trade session of the GBBF, my first ever visit. I’d been saying that I’d go since 1999, so it was about time really. I had to get a later train to London than the friends I was going with, that coupled with the fact that I was getting my trade ticket from @jamesbwxm, who wasn’t going to get there until 13:00, all meant that I had time for a quick half in The Euston Tap before I had to head to Earls Court. I was after a nice cool unfiltered Bernard, but the Thornbridge Versa caught my eye and I plumped for a half of that and very nice it was too.

Sandstone Sweep and Hardknott Sooty...While standing at the bar I noticed someone a few places down who looked vaguely familiar, it turned out to be Richard Burhouse from myBreweryTap and Magic Rock Brewing fame. This was the first opportunity of the day to put a face to someone who I only know from social media, or being a customer of. I joined Rich and his colleagues outside to finish our beers and then headed to Earls Court with them on the tube.

This turned out to be a shrewd move as we got there before @jamesbwxm, but Rich had a few spare tickets, so I managed to sponge one off him, for which I’m most grateful. Once inside I realised that I knew a few of the orange shirt wearing stewards from the Cambridge beer festivals, so I went one way, while Rich and co went the other. I never saw them again, which meant I couldn’t buy them a beer, maybe next year.

Ian, Terri (from The Cambridge Blue), Toby and Bov....My first impressions upon walking in the hall aren’t fit for publication, they involved quite a bit of swearing. I knew it was going to be big, but I just didn’t realise how big. While I managed to get a free program, got to have some benefit to the CAMRA membership, I didn’t bother consulting it, I just went for a quick wander around the cavernous interior to see what was where.

I really wasn’t sure what I was going to drink until I got there, I was conflicted between trying all the British cask ale that I can’t normal get in Cambridge, or drinking the more esoteric world beers that I’d probably never see again. Given the vast size of the hall and the weird way the beers were distributed amongst all the bars, what’s wrong with alphabetical by brewery anyway…? I decided to try two British cask beers that I really wanted to try and then move onto the world beer.

Andy Mogg, Craig Garvie and Simon Johnson...After wandering for a while, I eventually ended up on the bar that had the festivals sole Moor beer, shame it had a "not on till later" sign, so I headed for the Thornbridge bar and had a half of Chiron (how are you supposed to pronounce that…? Ch-ee-ron Ch-iron, Ki-ron…?). Once I had a beer, I set off to find my friends, which turned out to not be that difficult. There were in one of the seating areas in a small enclave of Cambridge beer festival people, so I could finally dump my rucsac and get some suggestions for beers to try.

It was at this point I started to recognise people I only know via Twitter and other social media, wandering around. I’m not going to name check everyone, but it was nice to met you all. I think it’s human nature to form preconceived ideas about what people are like and I have to admit that I’m quite bad at doing that. I expected quite a few people to be taller, smaller, fatter, thinner, grumpy, cheery, you get the picture, so it was nice to have the vast majority of my preconceived ideas shattered. I’d like to say everyone I met was really nice, but after insulting both Jonathan Queally and Adrian Tierney-Jones within thirty seconds of meeting them, it wasn’t surprising they both looked at me like I was a creature that had just appeared from a black lagoon…

In need of more beer...In the end I split my drinking mainly between the Czech beers and the US cask beers, with the odd European thrown in for fun. I had tastes of loads more, some were fabulous, some a bit meh, one even looked like someone had been sick in the glass. I did plan of buy some of those I tasted, but for some annoying reason they took two of the US cask beers off, even though they weren’t finished (those would have been the Stone SoCal and the Green Flash Palete Wrecker).

Eventually it was time to leave, where the time had gone I have no idea. Loads of people had decamped hours before to Cask Pub & Kitchen, but we needed to head back to Cambridge. I was getting a lift home, so there wasn’t the opportunity to hit one of the excellent London pubs. We had to make do with a sneaky half in The Devonshire Arms before heading home.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my first visit to GBBF, but I’m still not sure what I thought of it, I’m not sure if I actually liked it or not. I certainly enjoyed myself and I drank some cracking beer, but then I didn’t have to pay to get in, it wasn’t massively crowded and I did have access to a seat. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed myself as much if I’d had to pay to get in and it had been really, really hot and busy.

A fridge full of Budvar...I suppose I’m a small event kind of person, I’d never do the London Triathlon for example, I’d rather do the Bedford Classic, it’s smaller and more intimate. I think I feel the same way about the GBBF, it was too big for me, too much aimless wandering around trying to find the beer I wanted to try. I’m sure the organisers have their reasons for setting it up like that and for splitting up Bières Sans Frontières into four separate bars, I’d just do it differently (I know I’m not the only one who thinks that putting all the UK beer out alphabetically by brewery would be a better idea).

The range of beer was fantastic though, as were the people I met (when I wasn’t insulting them) and I did have a good time. I’m just not sure if I’m being overly critical of what I thought about it because I’ve never been before and it didn’t quite meet up with what I was expecting. I suppose the only way to find out, is to go back next year.

These are the beers that I actually bought while at the GBBF: