Advent Beer: Harbour Little Rock IPA

I’m always keen to try beer from Harbour. So when I saw this on the shelves in Cozzi & Boffa, I knew it had to make the Advent Beer selection.

It poured a slightly hazy chestnut brown, with a thick off white head. The haze appeared to be caused by minute suspended particles; it would have been a real looker without them. There was no mention on the can of any sediment, nor a warning to pour carefully.

There wasn’t much on the nose, just some subtle crystal malt type aromas. There was the feeling of hop aroma, but it was too subtle for me to pick up.

The first few mouthfuls were quite disappointing. Lots of slack crystal malt caramel type flavours and not a lot else. It wasn’t that it was lacking body, it was just quite mouth-watering, which had the side effect of making it feel a bit on the light side.

There was a quite a bit of prickle in the mouth, with the caramel flavours then asserting themselves. After washing out a bit, the aftertaste was quite long, with sweet caramel flavour and some bitterness.

It felt like the was a hole where the hop flavours should’ve be. The initial prickle, then all the sweet malt flavours, then where I was expecting the hop flavours and bitterness to show, there was just an absence.

Bitterness did build though, mouthful by mouthful, as long as they weren’t too far apart. There just wasn’t enough of it, especially with the finish being so sweet.

  • RateBeerHarbour
  • Little Rock IPA, 5.5%, 330ml

All in all, a bit of a disappointment, it was just lacking something. Hopefully with the arrival of Stuart Howe, Harbour will be back to producing the top quality beer in 2017.

Cleaning Bottles

Soaking bottles...

Stripping empty bottles of their labels can be a bit of a chore. If you want your homebrew to look the part though, it’s a chore that has to be done. Here’s a few techniques that are working for me.

If only everyone used the same kind of glue and label material, stripping them from bottles would probably be a lot easier, as there would be one commonly know way of doing it. As there appears to be almost the same number of glue and label combinations as there are breweries, it can take a while to work out the techniques required for each type. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth trying to strip the labels from certain bottles, as the level of effort required is just too high. This poses a problem, as if you only ever drink beer from breweries that use a glue that could survive a nuclear explosion, then you’re a bit screwed.

Bottles stripped of labels... In certain circumstances it’s worth taking the pain though, especially if you are after a particular bottle shape or size. Take the Thornbridge bottles, I’ve given up on taking the labels off those, as they are nigh on impossible to get off cleanly and thus require lots of extra clean up. There are loads of beers I drink that come in 500ml bottles, where the effort to remove the label is much, much less, so I just use those instead; I’m particularly thinking of German beers here. I take the pain when it comes to Moor bottles though, as I want that particular bottle shape and size; at least I did before they changed it. Getting the labels of those is a complete bitch, but worth it.

No matter what kind of bottle you have, a good long soak in hot water is a good starting place. You could, if you wanted to, put your bottles into your homebrew boiler and hold them at simmering point for twenty minutes or so as well. The idea here, it to soften the glue and if you’re lucky to have the labels float off without you having to do anything; German bottles are great for this. If you’re going to simmer them, just make sure they are completely submerged, otherwise you run the risk of getting a tide mark on the neck of the bottle, which can be brutal to shift.

Scrubbing the sticky off... Once the glue is soft, it’s time to remove the label. If you’ve simmered the bottles, they’ll be hot, so take the necessary precautions, or let them cool down first. Labels on BrewDog and Hardknott bottles come off quite easily after a soak, just try and be consistent with the pressure you use to pull them off, as stopping and starting can lead to lines of adhesive being left in the bottle. The Ridgeway Querkus bottle in the photos, has a clear plastic label on it, it came off without a fuss and left pretty much nothing behind it.

Some labels will come off and leave a very sticky patch of glue, or label base behind them, I’m looking at you Thornbridge. The Harbour Brewing bottle in the photos did a similar thing, but it wasn’t quite a sticky as some. You might also get bottles where the label and glue part company, the label floats off while the glue stays on the bottle; a bit like the Brasserie Larché bottles I brought back from France. In some cases the film of glue left behind can just be wiped off, in other cases, it’s worse than the sticky label backing on Thornbridge bottles.

If you’re lucky, all you’ll need to do after getting the label off is to give the bottle a wipe with a cloth and you’re done. If you still have any adhesive, or sticky label backing on the bottle, it’s time to use a bit of elbow grease. I’ve tried in the past to use one of those green scouring pads, but they just get clogged up and become next to useless. Clean and ready to use... I’ve also used the metal scouring pads, which suffer from the same problem, but only if used without first applying some washing up liquid to the bottle. That appears to be the key, dunk the bottle in some water, apply a bit of washing up liquid and scrub away. You should eventually end up with a clean bottle.

You may find that with some bottles, like the aforementioned Moor ones, you can’t get the labels off for love nor money. I’ve found that when the labels have had a really, really good soak, that you can rub them off with the back of a knife. Or, if they’re ultra stubborn, the sharp side of a good chopping knife. It’s a lot of effort, but if you really want that size and style of bottle, you’ve no choice. You’ll most likely have to scrub the bottles quite a bit after the scrapping of the labels too.

Have you found a better way to get the labels off bottles…? If so, please let me know!

Update

I have tried BrotherLogic‘s oven method and can confirm that it works, sort of. I set the oven to 120°C, popped the bottles in and gave them ten to fifteen minutes. Then using a sharp kitchen knife, it was easy to pick a corner of the label off the bottle and then pull the rest of using my hand. Depending on the bottle though, the label would either come off cleanly, or leave all the glue behind it. I’ve found that this is the only easy way to get labels off Prosecco and Cantillon bottles, for example. I’ve also found this this method doesn’t necessarily mean that labels on Moor bottles will come off, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I have no fucking idea what glue they use, but I really wish they’d use a different one…

Update

Thornbridge's new embossed bottles...Just a quick update about Thornbridge bottles, as they’ve changed. There are three labels on a Thornbridge and they’re all different, it’s the back label that seems to cause the most grief, the residue left by the other two cleans up with minimal fuss. However, they’re now using custom embossed bottles that have the Thornbridge T embossed around the shoulder, so if you don’t like using embossed bottles, you’ll have to find another source for this style.

Update

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I stumbled across this, I think someone tweeted about it, but it’s been ages. Anyway, evidently peanut butter will remove label glue from your bottles, this I had to try. So I popped into a local supermarket and bought their own brand smooth peanut butter, I wasn’t about to waste my decent wholenut chunky on an experiment like this, and gave it a shot.

As you can see from the photos, it didn’t really work. I did pick the bastard of all bastard bottles though, as they were from Oakham Ales. The labels on Oakham bottles come off really easily, but the glue, my [insert favorite diety here] the glue! One bottle can clog a metal scourer, no matter how much washing up liquid you use. They’re a complete nightmare, which is why I choose them for this experiment.

The peanut butter did take a bit of the sticky off, so they weren’t quite as sticky to the touch, but they still required an obscene amount of scrubbing to get all of the sticky off. The bottles then required a good clean, as peanut butter is oily and the bottles had an oily residue left on them, even after all the scrubbing.

I’m in no rush to try this technique on any other kind of bottle, especially when other labels come off so easily. Your milage may vary though, as there are a few US based websites promoting the technique. Maybe their peanut butter has something else in it that helps, I don’t know…

Update

The Ormskirk Baron has tweeted me a couple of times with his technique, which is to pour boiling water into the bottle and leave it for a bit. He (and a few others to be fair) claim this is all that is required and that the label and glue will them come off. Can’t say I’ve had much luck with this to be honest, as the labels either rip, or leave the bits of glue behind.

I’m also not sure about the environmental impact of having to boil the kettle lots of times if there are more than two or three bottles to de-label. Kettles aren’t exactly the most energy efficient and I can fit a whole box of bottles into the oven in one go, where I’d have to boil the kettle a minimum of four times (my kettle holds 1.7 litres, so depending on the bottle size).

Again, your mileage may vary and it might work better with certain bottles over others, you’ll just have to try.

Live Blog: Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Grand Final

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’m currently sitting on a train on my way to London, for the Grand Final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013. I’m going to attempt to live blog the event, so updates might be a bit patchy and at the death, will probably appear on Twitter before they appear here. The format for the day looks similar to last year; turn up and drink some beer, have lunch while drinking more beer, find out who wins while drinking beer, then stand around chatting while drinking the winning beer until we’re thrown out, where upon we decamp to the pub.

To be honest, I’m quite surprised by some of the beer we’ll be drinking, as the final twelve are quite different from those I mentioned in my round-up. They are:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

The region I’m least shocked at is the West, as I had a feeling that’s how it would turn out. I’m agog that the Hawkshead Windermere Pale didn’t make it through in the North region though, as that semed to be the popular choice amongst the people I’d been talking to and I thought the two Maxim beers were forgetable. While I’m secretly glad that Ridgeway didn’t make it through the East region, I’m also a bit annoyed, as it means that both the Batemans beers are through. I know that this is all a matter of opinion and that I don’t like spiced beers, but I was really shocked that the Hilden Barney’s Brew made it through in the Scotland and Northern Ireland group; I’ll be avoiding that like the plague laster on.

So, I’m nearly in London. Update will come as and when, so check back…

image

Too busy chatting to brewers to update the blog…

image

image

The judges have all finished, the votes are being counted. It’s time for lunch…

image

image

image

Lunch is over, time to get down to business…

image

image

Annnnnnnnnnd…

Runner-Up

Thwaites Crafty Dan

Winner

Bateman’s B Bock

image

image

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Round-Up

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Today is the last day of this years Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. So if you want your favorite to have any chance of reaching Friday’s grand final, you’d better pop into your local store and clear the shelves. That is, if they haven’t been cleared already, as I’ve been trying to get hold of some more Harbour IPA and Thwaites Crafty Dan, but both my local stores have been out of stock for some time.

The format has been tweaked again this year, with the beers coming from four regions, rather than five. This means that the top three beers from each region go through, so there will be twelve rather than ten beers contesting for the Sainsbury’s listing on Friday. Unlike last year, where I thought a lot of the entries weren’t so good, this year has seen some pretty damn good beer, from all over the country. Before I try and predict which ones will make it to the grand final, you can read what I thought of them by clicking on the links below:

Now for the standard disclaimer. I can only comment on the bottles that I’ve bought (or been sent, although I bought all of them anyway), 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; that’s fine, beer is like art, it’s just a matter of opinion. Based on my reviews though, here’s who I’d like to see in the grand final, not that I’d necessarily put all of these beers forward given the choice:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

If attending the last couple of grand finals has taught me anything, it’s that the judges and I don’t agree. So while I’d love to see something like the Harbour IPA, Thwaites Crafty Dan, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Harbour Porter No. 6 or Hardknott Infra Red win, I’m not even going to stick my neck out. What will be, will be.

I’ll be attempting to live blog from the grand final on Friday. The last time I tried to live blog, I ended up consuming a ridiculous amount of beer, taking twice as long as normal to cycle home, crashing the bike on the driveway and sleeping on the sofa. I think this attempt will go slightly better, although I may end up just posting stuff to twitter

Great British Beer Hunt: Querkus and Porter No. 6

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’ll be honest and say that my heart sank a bit when I saw that Ridgeway Querkus had made the final of the Great British Beer Hunt. It’s not that I don’t like Ridgeway as a brewery, I’m just not the biggest fan of oaked beers and I positively dislike smoked beers. To say I had a few preconceived ideas about how this one would go down, would be an understatement.

Ridgeway QuerkusIt poured a serious deep reddish tinged brown, so it sat black in the glass. The light tan head that sat on top, while easily formed, dropped fairly quickly to a covering, before parting to the edges of the glass; it eventually disappeared completely. The nose was very complex, but at the same time, very simple; just a subtle waft of wood smoked treacle.

In the mouth it wasn’t nearly as full bodied as I was expecting, it wasn’t that it was wishy washy, there was just a refreshing juiciness running underneath all the other flavours. You could possibly argue the case that it could have benefitted from a touch more body, and maybe you’d win that argument, maybe you wouldn’t.

The smoky flavours made themselves know right from the off, but they didn’t dominate, it wasn’t that they were subtle either, just perfectly pitched. While the majority of the smoked flavours dropped away, they were joined by a subtle woodiness and a touch of mouth prickle, before a lingering juicy, slightly smoky aftertaste. Yes, there were other flavours in there too, like a touch of roasted coffee, but they were playing second fiddle; for me it was all about the woody smoke flavours.

As I said at the start, I had some pretty preconceived ideas about how this one would go down and they were wrong. I can imagine that some people will hate this beer, I didn’t though. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I really quite enjoyed it.

  • RateBeer Ridgeway
  • Querkus, 5.8%, 330ml

It only seemed natural to have the other Porter in the competition on the same night, to see how they stacked up against each other. In a similar fashion to their India Pale Ale, I’d heard good things about the Harbour Brewing Co. Porter No. 6 on Twitter and Untappd, so I was really looking forward to it.

Harbour Porter No. 6While it initially looked jet black sitting in the glass, it was in reality, just a seriously, seriously dark reddish brown; which became evident the moment you held it up to a light. The tan coloured head was relatively easily formed, and dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. There wasn’t a lot going on on the nose, just a faint whiff of some generic plummy, stewed, dark roasted malt notes.

It was big and bold in the mouth and felt pretty much all of its strength. The malt flavours were very nice; smooth and warming, with some vinious fruity flavours to go with main thrust of dark chocolate and roasted coffee. The aftertaste was eventually bitter, but it started out with a treacle, molasses type sweetness that balanced nicely with the bitter flavours.

It really opened up and revealed the depth of its flavours as it warmed; this is not a beer to consume direct from a cold fridge. It’s a very, very nice beer and an absolute ridiculous bargain for only £1.50; If I were you, I’d buy lots of it. A must try if you like your beer dark.

Great British Beer Hunt: India Pale Ale and Infra Red

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Harbour Brewing Co., who are based in Cornwall, but I’ve never crossed paths with any of their beers, so I was very pleased to see two of them in the final of the Great British Beer Hunt. I decided to start with their India Pale Ale, as there had been lots of positive posts about it on twitter and untappd, so was looking forward to trying it.

Harbour Brewing co. India Pale AleIt poured a slightly hazy, light brownish, deep amber amber colour, with an off white head. The head dropped to a thick covering fairly quickly. While it wasn’t the smelliest beer I’ve ever had, once you got your nose right into it, there was a lovely, thick, dank hop aroma.

It wasn’t as full bodied as I was expecting, it felt quite light in the mouth and definitely didn’t feel like it was over five percent. There was a nicely orange, grapefruit marmalade kind of flavour to start with, that wasn’t overly cloying, or bitter. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was wonderfully balanced, just tending to bitterness in the lingering citric aftertaste.

It’s less of a slap you around the face hop bomb and more of a subtle beer, that beguiles you more and more with each mouthful, until you’ve totally and utterly fallen under its spell. It’s a very, very nice beer indeed and I’d be surprised if it didn’t do exceedingly well. Definitely one you should put in your basket.

I’ve had plenty of Hardknott Infra Red before, I first blogged about it way back in 2010, when it was a very limited bottling run. Back then Infra Red was hand bottled, capped and labeled into 500ml bottles, these days, Hardknott’s fancy bottling machine can churn out thousands of capped and labeled 330ml bottles a day; It’s amazing to see how far Dave and Ann have come in those short years.

Hardknott Infra RedIt poured a reddish brown mahogany colour, with a very lively pale tan coloured head. This bottle was possibly a touch over carbonated, as the head stayed at a good finger for ages and was fed constantly by bubbles rising up the side of the glass. The nose was all caramel malt, with very little else going on.

It was a bit lively in the mouth, from all the carbonation, which was a bit of a shame; although it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the taste. It didn’t taste how I remembered it though, I was expecting much more of an aggressive biscuity, crystal malt mouth prickle, but it was more of a smooth, rich, red stewed fruit affair. There was a bit of a prickle, towards the end of the mouth, just not as much as I remember there being.

The bitterness, while there, wasn’t overwhelming, even though there was quite a bit of it. It cut through the initial maltiness and left as pleasant, fruity bitterness lingering in the mouth. You could still taste it, minutes after having a mouthful, so I suppose some people will probably find this to be bordering on too bitter for them. While it’s not the beer I remember and my judgement might be clouded by my memories, it’s still a plenty tasty beer.

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.