How Bad Can It Be…? Talon Imperial Stout

I picked up this Elgoods Quintessentially English Talon Imperial Stout in the garden centre, when I picked their Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer. I’d been warned that it wasn’t very good via a Twitter DM, but Shirley third time lucky…?

It poured a deep, dark, mahogany tinged black, with a fluffy tan colored head. The head didn’t last, dropping to pretty much nothing after a few minutes or so. The nose was all bitter chocolate and roasted coffee and was pretty pleasant.

While it felt quite full bodied in the mouth, it also felt a touch on the light side for what is labelled an Imperial Stout. The flavours weren’t as clear cut as the aromas, with little chocolate or coffee in evidence, although there was a decent level of bitterness. There was also a slight sharpness to it, with maybe a hint of sourness, although not unpleasant, it was unexpected. It was really drying though, with the aftertaste having a bit of a manky quality about it, that really wasn’t that nice at all.

I’m probably being a little critical here, but if you’re going to call your beer Talon and stick a picture of an eagle on the label, then maybe the contents of the bottle should reflect the branding? A talon is a sharp claw used primarily for hunting and we all know that big birds like Golden Eagles can carry off lambs to their eyrie and what not. What I’m getting at, is that a talon is generally found on something big and powerful, this beer is neither big nor powerful.

While it wasn’t the worst beer I’ve ever had, it wasn’t exactly the greatest either. I’m not sure if that sharpness was intentional, or just a result of bad storage at the garden centre, either way, I’ll not be rushing out to buy another bottle to find out.

How Bad Can It Be…? Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer

Last week I found myself in the same garden centre where I purchased the Elgoods Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer last year. After thinking that was an abomination, I had reservations about buying the Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer which they also had on their shelves.

Since I’ll try anything once and Glyn said he liked it, I thought I had to give it a try. It poured a deep cherry red, with a shocking pink coloured head that didn’t last. The nose was all cherry, think of opening a can of those cherries you’d put on a 1980’s Black Forest gâteau and you’re in the ballpark.

In the mouth it didn’t really taste of beer at all, it was more of an overly sweet, fizzy cherry squash. If you liquidised the afore mentioned can of black cherries, I’m sure they was taste exactly like this did, except not as sweet. Did I mention it was sweet yet? As it started sweet and just got sweeter and sweeter.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as the Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer though and was crying out to be mixed with something else. I don’t know how sour their Coolship Lambic is, but I imagine that a mix of those two might work. It’s either that kind of thing, or a large chocolate stout that can dull the sweetness. As on its own, unless you like your beer so sweet it takes the enamel off your teeth, it’s really not that great.

How Bad Can It Be…? Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer

Elgoods Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer

An Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer you say…? I’d be lying if I said that I thought it was going to be any good, but I’ll try anything once.

My Dad has a thing for cacti, so when my parents were visiting over Christmas, I took him to a local garden centre so he could expand his collection. On the way to the checkout, I decided to pursue their trivial local(ish) beer selection and spotted this bottle from Elgoods. You couldn’t tell it was from Elgoods when it was sitting on the shelf though, as the branding was completely different from all their other stuff; it was only upon reading the back label, that it became clear who’d brewed it.

It poured a pin bright golden yellow, with a fluffy white head. The head was one of those that struggled to get going and never really reached the size it should have got to, it also dropped to a ring round the edge of the glass fairly sharpish. On the nose, it was all apple flavoured Chewits; think Appletiser and you’re on the right track.

The apple was right upfront and personal in the mouth too, rolling around before eventually letting a few other flavours reveal themselves. I’m not sure about the vanilla, it might have been there, it might not; maybe a hint at the start of the aftertaste, but really faint. I did get quite a bit of wheat character, but it was a bit dusty and didn’t sit particularly well with all that apple.

  • RateBeer Elgoods
  • Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer, 4%, 330ml

I didn’t quite know what to make of this beer, I couldn’t decide between it being not my thing or it being an utter, utter abomination; I’m tending to the later though. In the vast, vast majority of cases, I’d rather my beer tasted of malt and hops, not of apple flavoured Chewits. To be honest, I’m really glad that I didn’t buy this myself, I slipped it amongst my Dad’s cacti and got him to pay for it, as I’d have been a bit annoyed if I had.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Round-Up

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Today sees the grand final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt and I’ll be there! So while I drink free beer, eat cheese and listen to Jolly Olly, you can see if you agree with who I’d like to see in the Grand Final. Firstly though, you might want to re-familiarise yourselves with what I though of each of the entries, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, then you can get a quick overview of nearly all of them on Landells’ Rock n Roll Beverage. Here’s the links:

The format of the competition has slightly changed for this year, so instead of the top ten going through to today’s Grand Final, it’s the top two from each of the five regions. While this at least guarantees that the whole country has representation in the Grand Final, it could mean that some beer that deserves to be in the final isn’t. I don’t think that’s going to be the case though, as to be honest, quite a lot of the beer in this years competition wasn’t that great, at least in my opinion.

I can only comment on the bottles that I’ve bought, as with everything on this blog, the reviews I’ve given these twenty beers are just my opinion. You may very well find that you don’t agree with me and that the bottles you have bought tasted completely different. Based on my reviews though, here’s who I’d like to see in the Grand Final:

Scotland
Williams Bros Brewing Co. – Prodigal Sun
Harviestoun Brewery – Wild Hop Gold

South East (East, Home Counties, South Coast)
Sambrooks Brewery – Pumphouse Pale Ale
Wolf Brewery Ltd – Poppy Ale
South West (Wales / West Of England)
S A Brain – Willy Nilly
Wye Valley Brewery – Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale
North England
Wold Top Brewery – Scarborough Fair IPA
Beartown Brewery – Wojtek
The Midlands
Blue Monkey Brewing Ltd – 99 Red Baboons
Ridgeway Brewing Co. – Ivanhoe

I’ve no idea who’ll win, as the Grand Final judging panel will no doubt be a diverse bunch and I doubt they all share my tastes. For me though, there were three standouts, Harviestoun’s Wild Hop Gold, Sambrooks’ Pumphouse Pale Ale and Wold Top’s Scarborough Fair IPA. The Scarborough Fair IPA was my favorite, it beat the Wild Hop Gold, mainly due to it having the bitterness that I thought the latter was lacking.

By the time you’ve read this far, I’ll know who the Grand Finalists are, so you may want to check my twitter feed, as I’ll be trying to keep it up to date with developments. To be honest, I’m quite excited, I can’t wait to find out who’ll win.

Lemon Head and Snowy

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Nethergate Lemon Head poured a surprisingly dark copper, I was expecting something much lighter, especially since it’s supposed to be a golden ale. While the off white head was easily formed, it wasn’t very large and was very loose, so it dropped to a thin patchy covering pretty quickly. You could smell massive lemon and ginger notes streaming from the glass during the pour, very reminiscent of the aroma of bashed lemon grass. After sitting for a while though, it all changed and the lemon departed to leave just a strong ginger aroma on the nose.

In the mouth I thought it was a bit of a disaster. It felt a bit thin, with some initial lemon and malty flavours, but they were squashed pretty sharpish by some harsh ginger flavours. There was then a carbonic prickle that ran right from the inside of the lips to the back of the mouth and then faded into a manky aftertaste. The aftertaste tasted initially like flat carbonated water that had been lightly flavoured with some ginger cake. Once that had passed, the mouth was left with a juicy lemon water feeling, with only the subtlest hints of ginger.

It was all just a bit jarring, flipping from flavour to flavour with little integration or continuity. The fizzy water gone flat after taste was really disappointing too, as I’m sure it would have been slightly nicer if those overly forced carbonation remnants hadn’t been there.

It was with some trepidation that I approached Cotleigh Snowy, the final clear bottled entry in this years competition, I really wasn’t that impressed with the other two and was hoping that this one wouldn’t exhibit the same issues. Unfortunately, just like the Indian Summer and Horizon, it had similar Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drop aromas. I’m sure my description of Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drops can’t be right, I might have to invest in some 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol capsules to train myself to what skunked beer really tastes and smells like, but until I do, Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drops will have to suffice.

While the previous two beers in clear glass were really pale and golden, this one was more of a copper colour. A white coloured head was relatively easily formed, but it did fizz a bit while pouring and it dropped to a patch and then a ring round the edge of the glass fairly quickly. As stated, this beer had some Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drop aromas, they weren’t as bad as the Indian Summer or the Horizon, but they were there. Once you got past those though, there was a maltiness that revealed itself, with subtle hints of marmalade even.

In the mouth the Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drop flavours weren’t really there, they were, but just really subtle and quickly swamped by other flavours. There was quite a bit of flavourful malt to start with, which was a good foundation for a pleasant wave of bitterness that swept through the mouth. There was unfortunately a bit of cardboard after that, which luckily faded quickly and left the mouth with a slightly juicy, subtle bitter orange marmalade aftertaste. Once all the flavours had gone however, the back of the mouth was left with a really nasty flavour.

I almost want to say that the throat was left feeling like you’d licked an ashtray, as that’s not quite right. I’ve smoked the odd *cough* cigarette *cough* in my time, so I know that dry buzzing nicotine throat thing that you can get. I’ve also had some KeTo ReAle and KeTo RePorter from Birra del Borgo, both of which are brewed with tobacco and gave me that same back of the throat buzz. This on the other hand didn’t give any sort of buzz, it just left the throat really dry with a similar manky ashtray like flavour. Really, really not that pleasant at all.

Great British Beer Hunt: Horizon and Poppy Ale

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Wadworth’s Horizon Golden Ale, is another entrant to the competition in a clear bottle, so again, while it shows off the colour beautifully, it can lead to light struck beer, unless they’ve used stable hop extract. The colour was a definite light golden hue, quite pale and bordering on the colour of slightly dehydrated wee. While the head was easily formed, it disappeared pretty sharpish, leaving only a faint ring around the edge of the glass.

My first though as I poured it, was the similarity in aroma to the Elgoods Indian Summer. It had the same Rhubarb and Custard crossed with Pear Drops estery thing streaming out of the glass. I’m not sure the nose was quite as powerful as the Indian Summer, it appeared fresher and the penny chew notes were fainter and more subdued. There was hint of something else around the edges, but it was too fleeting and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

In the mouth things weren’t so great, it felt like it had been slightly over carbonated, so that the liquid was just turning to bubbles on the tongue as you rolled it around the mouth. It had a good body about it, neither too thin nor too thick, but there wasn’t a lot of malt flavour to support the hops and it all felt a bit unbalanced. The penny chew flavours were evident pretty early on in the taste, disappearing under a pleasant enough bitter mouth prickle. The after taste wasn’t so great, all the flavours seemed to drop out after the mouth prickle and while the mouth was left feeling quite juicy, there was also a bit of a manky taste left behind.

It wasn’t quite an ashtray flavour, but it was along those lines, maybe there was a bit of cardboard in there too. Either way, it was quite off putting and was a disappointing end to what would otherwise have been an unchallenging and pretty forgetful quaffer.

Wolf Brewery’s Poppy Ale poured a very pale golden colour, with a slight haze, so pale, that you wouldn’t look twice if you’d poured it by accident instead of a Pilsner. The fluffy white head was easily formed, but it dropped fairly quickly to a very thin covering. The nose was subtle, which is another way of saying that there wasn’t much of one. If I’m being generous, I’d say it was delicate, with very subtle honey notes.

In the mouth it probably felt slightly less full bodied than it actually was, there was a certain watery, juiciness that crept in around the edges, which made it feel a bit thin at the end. There was a nice soft maltiness at the start, which was replaced by a pleasant bitter mouth prickle, before the honey took over. The aftertaste was all honey, with some subtle lemon thrown in for good measure. The mouth eventually was left with a lemon tinged bitterness that slowly dissipated over a few minutes.

This was one of my favourites in the regional tasting, it’s easy drinking, light, with a nice bitter edge and then that lovely honey. It’s not perfect, I do think honey works better in dark beers, it can be quite a powerful flavour for a light beer to carry. I have a feeling that this will not be to everyone’s taste, as I think some people wont get on with the honey in the aftertaste.

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.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Yesterday saw the finalists in this years version of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt hit the shelves of 300 Sainsbury’s stores nationwide. They should be in the seasonal aisle of your local store, if you’re lucky to live near one, until Tuesday the 2nd of October, with the Grand Final taking place in London on Friday the 5th October.

This year’s twenty finalists, four more than last year, have been split into regions. The top two performing beers form each region will go forward to the final, where two overall winners will be announced. The winners will receive a guaranteed minimum six-month listing in stores nationwide from November. The twenty finalists, which are currently on a 3 for £4 offer, are:

Scotland

Traditional Scottish Ales – Double Espresso Premio Caffe Birra
Brewed with double strength coffee beans which give this beer a unique character. A superb silky texture. Great with a good steak or beef dish.
Williams Bros Brewing Co. – Prodigal Sun
A delicate, fruity and aromatic blonde beer. Enjoy with fish and chips.
Cairngorm Brewery – White Lady
Bavarian style wheat beer, with additional hints of roasted malt for colour. Brewed with orange peel & coriander to give fruit flavours with a hint of spice. Good with curries, spicy food, or with barbecue dishes.
Harviestoun Brewery – Wild Hop Gold

A simple malt background and earthy English hops overlaid with citrus and spicy character from the Citra and Simcoe hops. Complements spicy foods such as Thai green curry.

South East (East, Home Counties, South Coast)

Sambrooks Brewery – Pumphouse Pale Ale
A fine citric aroma leads into sweetish cereal notes then hoppy marmalade tones. Drink with barbequed meats.
Wolf Brewery Ltd – Poppy Ale
A delicately flavoured golden ale infused with honey and fruity hops. A must with a variety of world cheeses.
Cotswold Brewing Co. for Beer Counter Ltd – Bad Elf
A light bright and floral pale ale with a bit of a punch. Try with a Thai curry.
Nethergate Brewery – Lemon Head
Lemon and ginger combine to create a wonderful zesty beer. Ideal with spicy food.

South West (Wales / West Of England)

Cotleigh Brewery – Snowy
A straw coloured golden winter ale made with pale Flagon malt and Goldings hops for a full bodied long lasting and morish ale with hints of citrus fruits. Delicious with fish.
S A Brain – Willy Nilly
A distinctive ruby ale with a traditional rich hop aroma, complemented with a fruity and more-ish finish. Goes exceptionally well with chicken.
Wadworth Brewery – Horizon
Pale gold colour with zesty, citrus and hop aromas and a crisp, tangy finish on the palate. Goes well with any spicy food.
Wye Valley Brewery – Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale
A bottle-conditioned brown ale with a fruity aroma and rich full flavour. It features raisin and malt sweetness and a rounded roast-grain finish.

North England

Batemans – Batemans Mocha
A rich smooth coffee and chocolate beer made with real Arabica coffee and Belgian chocolate
JW Lees – Manchester Star Ale
Hefty body and a deep smoothness. Malt, caramel and unsweetened dark chocolate flavours with modest hopping for balance. Fruity alcohol with a long lingering finish of ripe fruit. Great with game.
Wold Top Brewery – Scarborough Fair IPA
Strong and well hopped with a pale Wold grown malt base, a triple hop blend and maize for good head retention. Serve with hot, full flavoured foods
Beartown Brewery – Wojtek
A powerful, deep golden beer full of character. Tremendous with spicy sausages.

The Midlands

Castle Rock – Screech Owl
A pale amber beer with a distinctive rich pungent hop. There’s fresh upfront bitterness, smooth citrus and a long hop finish. Drink with Lamb Dhansak.
Elgood & Sons Ltd – Indian Summer
A Premium style pale ale, with a golden hue and refreshing slightly sweet palate. Ideal accompaniment for summer foods, fish & curry dishes.
Blue Monkey Brewing Ltd – 99 Red Baboons
A dark and interesting ale, combining fruity hoppiness with a dark, malty side. Great with roasted meats and game.
Ridgeway Brewing Co. – Ivanhoe
An old fashioned, balanced, 100% English, red ale which is neither malty sweet nor overly bitter. Try with good nutty English cheddar cheese.

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt beers on the shelves

I said it last year and I think it’s worth repeating again, I think that this is competition is a great thing and we should all applaud Sainsbury’s for doing it. I was lucky enough to attend one of this year’s regional selection heats and it was really interesting to chat with the members of the public who had been invited along to try all the beers and pick their favourites. I think it’s fantastic that one of the big four supermarkets is engaging with its customers in this way and I’m really looking forward to trying all the beers.

Beer Swap: What I Sent

I’ve made my selection and the courier has picked up the box, so it’s about time I revealed what I sent to my beer swap recipient. I had a hard time choosing these beers, mainly as a lot of the local breweries don’t bottle their beer. I also had a bit of a wobble when I found out that my recipient was the head brewer at the Coach House Brewing Company, nothing like a bit of pressure. I pretty much knew what two of the beers were going to be, the main issue was what the other two were going to be.

First up was a beer from my local brewery, Cambridge Moonshine, who are now based in Fulbourn, just outside Cambridge. They have quite a range of beer and there is always something in The Bacchanalia to pick up, but I have found the quality to be variable. I plumped for the Chocolate Orange Stout, mainly as it’s one of their best beers, but also due to the fact that it’s slightly different

Old Chimneys Good King Henry Special ReserveSecondly I picked Old Chimneys utterly excellent Good King Henry Special Reserve. This little monster is the highest rated British beer and in the top 50 overall on RateBeer and for good reason too, it’s sublime. I’ve had most of the Old Chimneys bottle range and this is by far and away the best beer they do.

You could argue that I should have sent a bottle from the City of Cambridge brewery, however, they now have their beer contract brewed by Wolf. I decided that Wolf were too far away to be called local so decided to discount them.

Iceni Men of NorfolkI’d picked up a couple of bottles of Iceni Men of Norfolk, one to evaluate and one to send if the first one was any good. It was good, but I thought it was lacking a bit of condition, hopefully an extra couple of weeks in the bottle will have resulted in a bit more condition.

When I bought the Men of Norfolk, I also bought two bottles of Humpty Dumpty’s EAPA. The first was really lacking in condition, it was a shame, so I felt I couldn’t really sent it as I couldn’t guarantee that the second bottle would be better. Furthermore, the Norfolk coast really isn’t that local to Cambridge, so with two things against it, I drank the second bottle myself, it was really quite nice.

Oakham JHBThis left me with one bottle to get and I was a bit stumped. I could have gone down the easy route and picked up another bottle of Cambridge Moonshine, but I didn’t want to risk a bad bottle. In the end I went into The Bacchanalia and picked up a bottle of Oakham JHB and Crouch Vale Amarillo to evaluate. Both were really, really nice, so I decided to go back and get a bottle of the JHB to send.

Horror of horrors, both The Bacchanalia and the local Tesco were out of stock, which threw me completely. It was back to the drawing board, as I thought that Crouch Vale were a bit too close to London to be local to Cambridge. I picked up a couple of bottles of White Park beer, they’re just the other side of Bedford, but both had far, far too much condition that ruined them somewhat.

It was getting desperate and I toyed with sending Elgoods Black Dog, but the other three beers were all dark and I wanted to send something pale. Luckily Waitrose came to the rescue as they had some JHB in stock, so I managed to get a bottle to send.

I hope my recipient likes and enjoys the selection I have sent, I certainly enjoyed picking them.