Great British Beer Hunt: Wayfarer IPA and Barney’s Brew

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’ll admit to getting myself into a bit of a confusion with the Orkney Wayfarer when I first saw all the Great British Beer Hunt bottles sitting on the shelves of my local Sainsbury’s. I still remember the Atlas Brewery from when it was a stand-alone affair and not a sub-brand of Sinclair Breweries. So when I read the press release with all the finalists and just saw Orkney Brewery Wayfarer IPA, I thought that it was a new beer from Orkney, forgetting that I’d actually had it on cask last year in Cambridge. I’ve always quite liked the Atlas stuff, I used to pick up the odd bottle or four when I went home to visit my parent in Fife, so I was quite looking forward to trying this one.

Orkney Brewery Wayfarer IPAWayfarer poured a burnished light copper colour, with a decent white head, which dropped to a good covering and lasted. The nose was very pleasant and quite complex; while there were definite citric notes, these were playing second fiddle to some sort of floral notes that I couldn’t quite pin down. It wasn’t quite the full on fruit salad, and while not massively powerful, was quite inviting.

It felt pleasant in the mouth, with a nice upfront slightly orange floral taste, to balance the malty sweetness. For me though, that’s when things started to go downhill a bit, as something just started grating. I’m not sure if was the wheat, which was clearly discernible, or a general lack of cohesion, but it just didn’t deliver. It had a nice level of bitterness, but the floral flavour, wheaty feel and, slight grainy texture, just wasn’t working for me at all.

I’ve had beers that have had a massively floral hop flavour and they’ve left my mouth screaming in pain, I’m not sure what causes it, or why it happens. There is a certain English brewer whose beers do this to me without fail, so I generally avoid them; this beer was bordering on doing the same. Which, I assume, is why there was something grating, as my taste buds were just screaming a warning at me.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s not a bad beer, it’s just not for me and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people out there who’ll really like it.

Next up, is the only beer from Northern Ireland to make the final, I’m not sure how many were entered into the regional heat, so have no idea if this is a coup, or no surprise. Barney’s Brew claims to be a wheat beer, with added coriander, cardamom and black pepper, which is so far from being my thing it’s untrue.

Hilden Brewery Barney's BrewIt poured a light golden copper, with a decent, just off white head. Even though the head looked substantial, it dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose was ridiculous, it smelt like someone had dropped the contents of their spice cupboard into the beer; it absolutely stank of coriander.

Unfortunately the spices weren’t limited to the aroma. When I said this kind of thing isn’t my thing, I wasn’t joking, I positively hate this kind of beer. It totally reminded me on Umbel Ale and I hate Umbel Ale. It was all coriander, with a faint hint of cardamom and a lingering manky dusty black pepper aftertaste. The juicy orangey malt flavour just couldn’t compete and with each mouthful, the taste buds were battered a bit further into submission by all the coriander. I thought it was hideous, absolutely hideous.

I’m not saying it’s a bad beer, enough people at the regional heats must have liked it for it to get this far. All I’m saying is that massively spiced beers like this, are really, really not my cup of tea at all, I hope it never darkens my door again.

Great British Beer Hunt: Windermere Pale and Gonny No Brew That!

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’ve been a bit tardy in getting these Great British Beer Hunt reviews up on the blog, and have a bit of a back log, so here goes. I wasn’t planning on cracking into them last Thursday, but I had an enforced cycle home, due to the car having to stay in the garage overnight, while they source a replacement part. By the time I got home, I was utterly shattered and decided that I was going to have a beer.

Hawkshead Windermere PaleI’ve not had many beers from the Cumbrian based Hawkshead Brewery, but what I’ve had from them has been pretty good. So I decided to start my reviews of the twenty finalists, with their Windermere Pale. It poured a deep straw colour, or a light burnished copper amber if you prefer, with a good white fluffy head.

It smelt absolutely lush, with tropical fruit notes and that definite overly ripe mango that you get from Citra hops; which were just the right side of the cat wee notes you can also get, if you use rather a lot of it. In the mouth it was perfectly pitched body wise, neither too full, nor too light; perfectly quaffable infact. It didn’t feel overly bitter, as there wasn’t a massively bitter bite to it, the bitterness built and lingered the more you drank.

I’m sure some people will find it massively bitter, but it’s more of a flavourful bitterness, rather than a tooth enamel stripping bitterness. This is a seriously nice beer and I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t a contender for the overall win. What a beer to start off with!

I mentioned earlier that I’d had an enforced cycle home. This wouldn’t have been an issue, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d already swum 4.8Km that morning and cycled 27Km that lunchtime, so I was a bit knackered. I was also suffering some serious DOMS from a gym session on the Tuesday night, so I headed off to have a rather hot bath with a bottle of Williams Brothers Gonny No Brew That!

Williams Brothers Gonny No Brew That!It was at this point, that I realised just how bitter the Windermere Pale really was, as the Gonny No Brew That! pretty much tasted of nothing but some red fruits. I was slightly disappointed, especially given the back label proclaiming it contained "hops, hops and more hops!". As my bath progressed though, the beer revealed itself more and more as my palate slowly adjusted.

Anyway, it poured a every so slight hazy copper colour with an slightly off white head; which dropped fairly quickly to a thin covering. The nose was initially a bit subtle and hard to pin down, but then after you’ve been sniffing a Citra laiden beer, that’s no great surprise.

It felt quite full bodied for it’s strength and tasted mainly of a fruity red berry flavour. It wasn’t overly bitter, to the point where I mused on my Untappd checkin about the lack of hops. Chris Williams replied, saying that it’s massively dry hopped with Amarillo and they kept the kettle hops low, to keep the bitterness low. All of that said, it did taste bitterer the more I drank, so it was most likely the influence of the Windermere Pale. So I have to reserve judgement on this one, it’s possibly good, just how good I’m not sure. I have another bottle, so will update this post when I’ve drunk it.

Update: 19/09/2013
So I’ve tried another bottle of the Williams Brothers Gonny No Brew That! and I have to say, that it’s less a case of Gonny No Brew That! and more a case of Gonny Brew Rather A Lot More Of That Please!. It was like a totally different beer, so I’m not sure if it was just the Windermere Pale or actually a bit of a duff bottle.

The aroma still wasn’t overly powerful, but it did have some nice subtle orangy notes to it; which is at least consistent with being hopped with Amarillo. It was also had a nice bitterness to it, right from the off and lingering into the aftertaste. It was just a really nice, pale and hoppy beer and I could quite easily drink a lot more of it.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again, the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 finals are underway, with the final twenty beers on the shelves of stores nationwide for the next three weeks. The format is similar to last years, but with five beers from each of four regions, rather than four beers from five regions. Which also means that the top three beers from each region will progress to the grand final, meaning twelve, rather than last years ten, will battle it out on the 4th of October for a guaranteed, minimum six-month listing in stores nationwide.

The pricing of the bottles in store has also changed this year. Last year, it was buy three for £4, with each of the beers having an variable individual price if you didn’t want to buy three. This year, all beers appear to be a flat £1.50, which makes some of them absolutely ridiculously good value for money. It’s also good the see that only one of this years finalists is in a clear bottle, so a definite improvement there.

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 1

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 2

This year the regions are broken down as follows:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • B Bock — Batemans
  • Black Pepper Ale — Batemans
  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

As in previous years, the beers aren’t in the main beer section of the store, you’ll find them in the season aisle; this causes the same confusion every year, but there you go. I’ll be posting reviews of all of the beers as and when I try them, and I’ll be blogging live from the grand final on the 4th of October.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles on the shelf of my local store.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Grand Final

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

I haven’t had time to write up my day at the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Grand Final yesterday and now it’s the weekend and I have two young kids, so it’ll have to wait until next week. In the mean time, here’s the results:

Winner
Bateman’s Mocha

Runner-up
J.W. Lees Manchester Star Ale

Congratulation to them, not the result I was expecting, but I did say that I thought the judges would have different palates to mine. Here’s a few photos I took during the event:

Signage...

All the grand finalists out for tasting...

Reacquainting myself with one of the grand finalists...

Everyone getting ready for the presentations...

The winners getting their trophy...

Had to try the winner again, still don't like it...

J.W. Lees' certificates...

The winners...

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.

Great British Beer Hunt: Willy Nilly and Scarborough Fair IPA

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

So we get to the final two beers in this years competition, have we saved the best till last…?

Brains Willy Nilly poured a slightly red tinged chestnut brown, the level of the red varying depending on what light or surface it was held against. A tan coloured head was easily formed, but it was very loose and foamy and dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose wasn’t the most powerful, but it was there and distinctive. Mostly it was just general fruity malt type notes, but they had a certain red berry quality to them, red currants, or some sort of red hedgerow fruit.

It felt like it had quite a nice body to it, while it could maybe have benefitted from just a bit more weight, it was fine and didn’t feel watery or thin in any way. It was quite nicely balanced, with strong fruity malt flavours, think red berries and stewed fruit, and a nice mouth tingling bitterness to counteract them. The aftertaste was a nice combination of both and while it initially left the mouth all juicy and watering, it ultimately left it feeling dry and slightly dusty.

My main beef with this beer though, was that it should have been bottle conditioned. I thought the force carbonation was just a bit too much and nearly ruined what should have been a nice soft and warming beer. The natural carbonation of bottle conditioning would have been perfect with those flavours, giving them just enough life and spark to stop them becoming jumbled. I just think that the bitterness that swept through the mouth would have had less of a carbonic edge to it and would have been better integrated into the beer, if it had been bottle conditioned. Otherwise, it was a perfectly decent beer and better than I was expecting.

I was a bit apprehensive about trying Wold Top’s Scarborough Fair IPA as I’d heard good things about it. But I’d also heard good things about their Golden Summer, which was in last years competition, and I didn’t really see what the fuss was all about, so I was hoping that this one would live up to the expectations I had.

It poured a lovely golden colour with a loose white head. The head was pretty decent and appeared to be quite solid, it fell slowly to a patchy covering and then a ring round the edge of the glass. Evidently this beer has Maize in it to aid head retention, on this showing, they need to add a bit more, as it didn’t last all that long. There wasn’t much on the nose, if I’m being generous, I’d say that taking in a lungful was similar to walking past a breakfast table that had some grapefruit halves laid out on it waiting to be consumed. There was maybe the merest impression of grapefruit, but it could have been anything slightly citric.

It wasn’t as full bodied as I was expecting from the ABV, it certainly didn’t feel like a 6% beer in the mouth. It was quite fresh tasting, even though there wasn’t an awful lot going on in either then malt or bitterness departments, it was still quite nice. Initially there were some pleasant soft and subtle grapefruit and mandarin type flavours, before some nice bitterness prickled the mouth and delivered it into a mouth wateringly juicy and nicely bitter aftertaste. Eventually the mouth was left with some pleasing marmalade flavours, but in a refreshing way. Having said all that, I think I might have drank it a bit cold, or my palate took a bit of time to adjust from the Willy Nilly, but the more I drank it, the more it gave and the more it gave the better it got.

It wasn’t a brash in yer face from the get go type of beer, it took its time to lay a solid foundation in the mouth and then when you weren’t expecting it, it kicked the overdrive pedal on and turned the amp up. The bitterness increased with each mouthful and the marmalade changed from Tesco Value Shredless to a decent bitter Seville oragne Olde English Thick Cut, everything just increased in intensity. It still wasn’t a brash showoff, just a beautifully composed and balanced beer.

I was initially going to write this off as another beer that didn’t quite make the grade, but I’d so glad it proved me wrong. While it might at first seem a bit restrained, stick with it, as it’s a really, really nice beer. Hopefully it’ll do well, I think it’s one of the best in the competition.

Great British Beer Hunt: Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale and Ivanhoe

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale, is another beer that is only through to this stage in the competition due to replacing another. This time though, there’s no expulsion due to already having a listing with another retailer, simply that due to unforeseen circumstances, Posh IPA from Yeovil Ales has left the competition. Their loss is Wye Valley’s gain, although with a name like that, I’d have quite liked to try it.

I didn’t realise that this was a bottle conditioned beer and nearly turned it upside down to when getting it out of the fridge. Luckily I didn’t, but as there was hardly any sediment in the bottle, I’m not sure it would have mattered much anyway.

It sat in the glass a luscious chestnut brown colour, which to be honest given the name, came as no surprise. I’d have been quite shocked if it had been anything other than that burnished brown. It looked lovely sitting there with lots of little bubbles streaming up the side and a nice light tan coloured head sitting on top. The head was easily formed, but didn’t last, dropping to a thin covering after a few minutes. I didn’t get much on the nose, there was a vague dark malty sensation, but that was about it.

It was lovely in the mouth, soft and smooth, but with enough life to separate the flavours on the palate. While it felt like a malt driven beer, it also felt pretty well balanced, with a subtle bitterness that worked with all the malty flavours, but still left the mouth with a pleasing juicy bitterness. There wasn’t a lot going on flavour wise, it was all very subdued and subtle, but there was definitely some dried fruit flavours in there, think of things like raisins and figs and you’re in the right ball park.

I really liked this beer, it was warm and inviting and the kind of beer that just comforts you after some shitty weather on an Autumn day and allows you to switch off. It wasn’t challenging, it wasn’t genre busting, it was just a bloody nice beer; it might very well have been a case of time and place, but I really liked its simplicity.

Ridgeway’s Ivanhoe got through to the Grand Final in last year’s competition, so I’m a bit perplexed as to why it’s back in this years competition. Personally, if I ran the competition, you wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter a beer that had been on the store shelves, let alone the Grand Final in a previous year, obviously that’s not the case, so here it is again. One has to wonder why, when it didn’t win last year, what’s changed to make the brewer think it’ll win this year? You can read what I thought about it last year here and see if a year has made any difference to the beer or my thoughts on it.

It poured a marmalade coloured brown, with a decent white head. The head didn’t last, dropping to a covering within a few minutes. There wasn’t much to the nose, at least that I could detect, without taking in an absolute lungful. If I’m being generous, I’d say that there was some faint fresh smelling, slightly orangey, cereal grainy type aromas, but very faint.

It felt pretty nice and full bodied in the mouth and was soft and smooth from the bottle conditioning, but with enough life to keep things interesting. It felt reasonably well balanced, with a decent malt backbone and a nice bitterness that swept through the mouth, before lingering long into the after taste. It wasn’t overly flavourful, with the orangey hints to the maltiness, you could maybe even call them marmalade flavours, being quite subtle; although they got a bit stronger the longer it sat in the glass. The bitterness was slightly fruity and complimented the malt flavours pretty well, leaving the mouth with a nice soft, gentle bitter juiciness that took a long time to fade.

  • RateBeerRidgeway
  • Ivanhoe, 5.2%, 500ml

It’s a nice beer and it’ll probably do well, but I don’t think it should be there and that disappoints me, as I’d have liked to tasted the beer that I think should have been in its place.

99 Red Baboons and Double Espresso Premio Caffè Birra

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Blue Monkey aren’t a brewer you see much of down these parts, I think I’ve had a couple of their beers in places like The Cambridge Blue, but can’t be sure. If Twitter is anything to go by, they have a pretty good reputation, so I was pretty pleased to see a bottle of theirs through to this stage of teh competition, so that I could finally get to try one of their beers.

99 Red Baboons poured a near impenetrable black, although when held up to a light, it revealed itself to be a very, very dark reddish brown. The tan coloured head was formed without much fuss, starting off slowly and building towards the end of the pour. It looked quite compact and steady, but dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. I didn’t get much on the nose, in fact, there was so little, I thought for a moment that it smelt of nothing. Just at the end of a lungful though, I could a slight roasted note, there one millisecond, gone the next.

The body had a nice weight to it, it could easily have been a bit lighter, but it felt nice and substantial. There was the impression right at the start that there would be a load of roasted flavours, but they never really materialised and there was always a feeling that they were just underneath everything, but refusing to come out and show themselves. Except right at the end of the aftertaste, like a flasher exposing themselves, some roasted flavours made an entrance for a bit of an encore. It was quite nicely balanced, probably tending just toward the malty side overall, with soft, smooth chocolatey flavours. While the bitterness was quite fruity and juicy, it also felt like there was a bit green and vegetal character in there too, not much, but that’s the impression I got.

I thought this was quite a nice beer, not perfect by any means, but certainly miles better than some of the others we’ve tried so far.

Traditional Scottish Ales don’t have the greatest of reputations, some folks on online claim that the beers they contract brew for others are better than their own. However, I’ve always found their bottled beers to be fine; they’re not exactly genre busting, just decent middle of the road beers. I especially like their Glencoe, which is an Oat Stout, which I can get in my local Tesco, so I was quite looking forward to this one.

Double Espresso Premio Caffè Birra poured a jet black in the glass, only showing the slightest of brown colours when tilted and held up to a light. The deep tan coloured head wouldn’t have looked out of place on a cup of coffee, although I’m sure the head on a coffee would have lasted longer than this one, as it dropped to nothing within a couple of minutes. The nose was immense, with massive hazelnut coffee aromas piling out of the glass. It was almost reminiscent of Camp Coffee, so those hazelnut aromas might very well have been chicory, but it’s a long time since I smelt any of that stuff.

It was quite thick in the mouth, almost oily, with a massive body and lots of flavour. Again, the hazelnut / Camp Coffee aromas were present in the taste, in a massive way, pretty much wall to wall full of the stuff. There was some bitterness to it, but it was difficult to tell if that was from some bitter roasted malts, or from some hops, either way, it was a massively malt led beer. In a similar way to the Batemans Mocha feeling like it had used synthetic chocolate, this also felt like the coffee flavours weren’t quite natural, they were just too big and bold and in yer face, not integrated with the rest of it. They also felt a little on the chemically side, just not real, but then I don’t drink coffee, so I’ve no idea what kind of variety of flavours you can get from a cup.
Once it had sat for a bit, the flavours became even more in yer face and jarring. There was a lot of rediculously sweet chocolate in there as well, but again, in the same way as the Batemans Mocha, it just tasted wrong.

I’m not sure what to say about this beer at this point, I didn’t want to like it, but there was something about it. It certainly not the best coffee beer I’ve had, in fact it’s a long, long way down that list, but it wasn’t that bad and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who’ll like it.

Prodigal Sun and Mocha

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

I’d been looking forward to this one, as I’m a bit of a fan of Williams Brothers and their beer, so I bought two in anticipation of it being great. Since then I’ve read a few comments about it on Twitter and in blogs, mostly about the fact that it tastes like raspberry jam; since I love raspberry jam, I’ve been eager to crack into one, not sure why I’ve wait so long.

Billed as an Aromatic Golden Ale, I was surprised to see it pour a red tinged brown colour, it certainly wasn’t golden. A loose white head was easily formed, but dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. It certainly lived up the aromatic part of its billing, the nose was substantial and pretty complex. It was quite thick with general red berry type notes; I’d love to say what kind of red berries, but I couldn’t pick any one particular type out.

The initial taste in the mouth wasn’t so great, it felt a bit light of body and had a slightly carbonic edge to it. Then the raspberry jam cut in and it was like drinking a liquidised jammy dodger, it was most unusual. The mouth was then treated to quite a cutting bitter sharpness, that rolled around in a slightly watery, carbonic fashion for a bit. It was hard to know if this was from the carbonation or from the hops, but it didn’t feel particularly integrated with the rest of the beer. The aftertaste was slightly sweet, but at the same time not so sweet and mainly tasted of red fruits, but not raspberry in particular, just general red fruits.

I was picking hops while drinking this, so I wasn’t drinking very quickly and it took well over an hour and a half to finish. In that time it changed, all the carbonic edges disappeared and it became more integrated, slightly softer and rounder and the flavours flowed all the way through without interruption. It was a much better beer having sat for a bit, but it was getting a bit flabby as I finished it. I’m still not sure what to make of it though, it was odd, but not necessarily in a bad way.

The first thing I noticed as I inspected the Batemans Mocha bottle, was the little picture on the back label telling me to Serve in a large wine glass, I used my dimpled mug thank you very much. Who do Batemans think I am, Zak Avery? I also noticed that it’s a Vegan beer, with the The Vegan Society trademark logo on there as well, which is quite nice to know.

It poured a serious dark reddish brown colour, not quite what I would describe as mahogany as it was maybe a bit too dark for that, but pretty close. While the tan coloured head was a decent size, it wasn’t until I’d poured about half the bottle that I realised that the head wasn’t really forming. A swift bit of high pouring later, a semi-decent head was formed, shame it dropped to a thin patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose was rather intense, in fact, it absolutely reeked, mainly of chocolate, but with a little bit of coffee hiding around the edges. It was also really annoying, as it smelt exactly like a kind of chocolate I know, but I just couldn’t remember which one, my mind went blank. Unfortunately for me, it just reminded me of the kind of chocolate that I don’t like, I prefer mine to be dark, intensely bitter and complicated, this was all sweet and sickly.

It felt relatively full bodied, but not as full bodied as it could have been, I’m not sure if there was a lack of a bit of body, or the perception of a lack of a bit of body. To me, this beer was all about the chocolate, with pretty much no coffee at all. It reminded me in some ways of Rogue’s Double Chocolate Stout, with the chocolate flavours being almost synthetic; I think that’s what I couldn’t put my finger on with the aroma, it wasn’t an actual bar of chocolate it reminded me of, but another beer. There was a bit of effervescent bitterness around the mouth before the sweet chocolate aftertaste cut in and lingered for an absolute age. Right at the death I think I managed to find a bit of coffee flavour, which was a bit disappointing. Having said that, the coffee in the aftertaste increased the more I drank, so by the end, there was a noticeable coffee flavour, but it still wasn’t as much as I was expecting.

Not really my kind of beer, the chocolate flavours were too much and there wasn’t enough coffee.

Great British Beer Hunt: Pumphouse Pale Ale and Manchester Star Ale

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Sambrook’s Pumphouse Pale Ale wasn’t supposed to be in the final twenty, but was a late replacement for City of Cambridge Atom Splitter, which was given the heave ho due to already having a listing somewhere else. It poured a light copper colour, certainly not the golden the bottle stated, with a very loose white head. The head started out nicely compacted, but morphed into large bubbles and then collapsed to a patchy covering within a couple of minutes. There didn’t seem to be a lot going on aroma wise, not until you took in a lungful anyway. Then some really faint and subtle malty marmalade notes made themselves known, but other than that, there was nothing much.

It felt nice in the mouth, medium to full bodied and nicely balanced between the malt and the hops. What was really nice to see, was little to no real influence from the way the beer had been bottled, no overly forced carbonation remnants here. In fact, it was nice and soft in the mouth, with all the prickle feeling like it was coming from the hops, rather than from the carbonation. The bitterness started pretty much immediately and weaved in and out and around the malty flavours, never dominating and never being dominated and lasting long into the aftertaste. I really liked the flavours in this beer, especially the aftertaste, it was all soft and gentle bitter orange marmalade, with a bit of added spiciness and sweetness towards the death.

A really, really nice pale ale and a crying shame it only got in due to another beer being kicked out. Given some of the beers I’ve tasted so far, it would have been a travesty if this hadn’t been in the final twenty, quite possibly my favorite so far.

According to the side of the bottle, JW Lees Manchester Star Ale is a recreation of a recipe from 1884, when the brewery was only 51 years old. It poured a pretty much impenetrable mahogany brown, even holding it up to the light only allowed for fleeting glimpses of the colour. Having said that, once you got down the glass a bit, it became slightly less impenetrable, especially as the glass tilted for your next mouthful and you could easily see the mahogany colour in its full glory. The tan coloured head was really easy to form and got quite large, quite quickly. It didn’t hang around though and dropped fairly sharpish to a thin covering, before dropping to a ring round the edge of the glass.

The nose was massive, there were even hints of roasted chocolate during the pour, but once it was all in the glass, it was like sniffing a stewed fruit pudding that had bitter dark chocolate grated all over the top of it. The longer it sat in the glass however, the less intense it appeared to get and you really had to start taking in a lungful to get at the aromas.

This beer was only ever going to be full bodied and it felt massively chewy in the mouth and massively sweet as well. The sweetness pretty much ran all the way though from the moment it hit the tongue, till the aftertaste had died, definitely not a beer to drink if you don’t like sweet things. It felt quite soft in the mouth, with lots of rich dark stewed fruit; think plums, figs and stuff like rumtopf (without the rum) and you’re getting close. I was going to say that the fruit segued into some bitter dark chocolate flavours, but it was more like the fruit was smothered in a dark chocolate sauce, but think Cadbury’s Bournville, rather than Valrhona Abinao. The mouth was then treated to a nice wave of bitterness that prickled the cheeks, before being subjected to another load of lingering fruity sweetness.

  • RateBeerJW Lees
  • Manchester Star Ale, 7.3%, 500ml,%, 500ml

An interesting beer, big, bold, massively flavourful and ridiculously sweet. I have a sweet tooth, but this was borderline too sweet for me and just left me craving something pale and bitingly bitter. I was also quite surprised at how little roasted character there was, I was expecting a bit from from all those chocolate flavours, but it was just all soft and sweet.