India Pale Ale and Double Stout

Shepherd Neame India Pale Ale and Double Stout

I can’t tell you the last time I had any beer from Shepherd Neame, it’s been an absolute age. I’m not a fan of beer in clear glass and I’ve found over the years that they just don’t produce beer to my tastes.

This pair made a bit of an impression when they were released a while back though, they were in brown glass for starters and also popped up on various beer blogs that I read. They certainly looked more appealing to me than the ubiquitous Spitfire and Whitstable Bay (the later of which appears to have undergone some sort of rebranding lately).

I happened to be in ASDA just before Christmas, as they had the best N beers for X pounds deal on and I needed some beer. Given that the Double Stout retails normally for around £2.20 odd, four of them for a fiver would be ludicrously good value, if I liked it.

I started with the India Pale Ale though, which wasn’t quite as expensive as the Double Stout. It poured a dark coppery brown, with a loose tan coloured head. The head didn’t last dropping to a thin covering, before dissipating completely. I had just washed my glass, so your milage may vary on this one. There wasn’t much on the nose to start with, some stale carbon dioxide and a faint whiff of bitter orange. Shepherd Neame India Pale AleOnce the carbonic notes had dissipated, it just meant there was even less going on.

The first mouthful felt almost thin, subsequently though, the initial mouthfeel was quite full, but a slight excess of faded carbonation made it feel a bit thin at the end. There was also a slight dusty, peppery mankiness at the death, which was a bit off putting. It was a bit of a shame, as there was some nice bitter orange marmalade notes going on underneath.

I know buying beer from the supermarket is running a bit of a gauntlet, as you haven’t a clue how old the bottle is, or how its been stored. Considering you can get Jaipur in Waitrose, Crafty Dan in Sainsbury’s and White Shield in Tesco for about the same money, I see little to recommend buying this over any of them. Unless that is, that you do all your shopping in ASDA and find you quite like it, then at £1.25 for a bottle in the current offer, it’s a steal. It’s just not for me though.

The Double Stout poured a pretty much impenetrable black, with just the faintest mahogany showing when held up to a strong light. A light and frothy tan coloured head was easily formed, but dropped back fairly quickly to a patchy covering. While the nose was mostly chocolate, with hints of coffee, it was tempered every so slightly by a bit of wishy washiness, so it didn’t feel quite as full on as it could have been. Shepherd Neame Double StoutThat said, once it had sat in the glass for a bit, the wishy washiness did seem to depart, as the nose did appear to become slightly more powerful.

I thought it felt a bit light of body in the mouth, if I’m being honest. The flavours were nice though, subtle coffee and bitter dark chocolate, with a lingering, slightly watery aftertaste. Which I think was the issue; I just found it to be a bit wishy washy. If it had had a touch more body, it would have been really really good, as right at the death, once the wateriness had gone, the flavours were fantastic.

It was a beer I desperately wanted to like, especially with that ASDA deal making it £1.25 a bottle, rather than the normal £2.20 odd, which is a massive saving. Unfortunately, as far as my tastes go, I felt it just missed the mark, so even at that price, I’d rather pay a bit more for something else..

Old Dan

Thwaites Old Dan

I saw quite a lot of love for Old Dan when it first came out, but for some reason I never bothered tracking it down to try. I thought it was about time I tried it, so picked up a bottle when I saw one in a local supermarket.

For a beer that has Bottle Conditioned front and centre on the label, it sure didn’t appear to be bottle conditioned at all. There was no sediment sliding down the bottle during the pour and none left in the bottle after the pour; just a complete absence of yeast sediment. To be honest, the first thing I thought of was that they must tank condition it and then centrifuge it, before bottling, but from the horses mouth:

Lack of yeast sediment aside, it poured a lovely chestnut brown colour with a compact head. The head didn’t last and disappeared completely after a relatively short while. The nose was all classic rich plummy stewed fruit and quite appealing. Taste wise, it was pretty much the same, full bodied, malty, with just enough of a tickle of bitterness to stop it going all sickly. The aftertaste was a lengthy affair of bitter sweet subtle marmalade flavours and was really quite moreish.

It’s a nice beer and as it’s in the ASDA buy 4 for £5 deal, pretty good value at £1.25 each if you buy four. So while it’s a nice beer and currently good value in ASDA, it’s still not really my cup of tea, I much prefer their Crafty Dan, which made the Grand Final of this years Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt.

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…

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Too busy chatting to brewers to update the blog…

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

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Lunch is over, time to get down to business…

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Annnnnnnnnnd…

Runner-Up

Thwaites Crafty Dan

Winner

Bateman’s B Bock

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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: Serendipity and Crafty Dan

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I was very pleased to see only one clear bottle sitting on the shelves, when I first went to pick up some of this year’s Great British Beer Hunt finalists. I’m not sure I’ve had a finalist from previous years in a clear bottle that’s been any good, they’ve all seemed to suffer to a greater or lesser extent from their time in clear glass (see here, here, here and here). So while having only the one clear bottle is a definite improvement over previous years, it’s still sad to see that brewers are happily allowing their beer to go out in this kind of packaging.

Bird's SerendipityI had my fingers crossed that Serendipity would buck the clear bottle trend and actually taste of something other than boiled sweet esters. It poured a light coppery colour, with a compact white head. The head didn’t last and dropped to a covering fairly quickly. I thought there was a definite penny chew ester thing going on on the nose, but my wife didn’t think it smelt of anything. Either way, there wasn’t a lot going on, especially none of the tropical fruit aromas that the label claimed would be there.

It felt quite nicely balanced in the mouth, and wasn’t too light of body. Having said that, the aftertaste was a bit on the wishy washy side and while some might say it was refreshing because of that, for me, it just felt a bit of a watery let down. I was expecting far more penny chew ester flavour, but this was pretty subdued, although there wasn’t a lot else competing with it though, especially not the dry citrus flavour of grapefruit and peaches. While there might very well have been a bit of peach in there if you visualised eating a juicy peach while drinking it, there certainly wasn’t any citric grapefruit.

While it wasn’t as bad as I feared, it wasn’t particularly good either. I have a feeling that even if it had been stored in a brown bottle, it wouldn’t have been any better.

So the big question with all these competitions is, have I saved the best till last…? I’ve known about Thwaites Crafty Dan for a while, but I’ve not bothered tracking it down; I’m not sure why. It might be due to a preconceived idea that as a regional brewer, their output will be a tad on the conservative side and thus not very interesting. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed the few pints of Wainwright I’ve had when our paths have crossed.

Thwaites Crafty DanCrafty Dan poured a deep burnished copper brown, with a good frothy white head. The nose was interesting, with a subtle, yet distinct freshly picked green hop kind of aroma. After a while though, you could also pick out… [It’s at this point my notes just stop, nada, nothing. I tried to buy another bottle, but my two local stores were both out of stock. So I’ll have to leave it up to you to decide what else I could pick out.]

It was massive in the mouth, with a huge body and massive upfront flavour and bitterness. Waves of sweet marmalade malt and bitter orange flavour rolled through the mouth and into the bitter drying aftertaste. You could still feel bitter marmalade tingling the tongue minutes after having a mouthful, it was absolutely gorgeous.

Having one of these is an absolute must, I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t do well.

Great British Beer Hunt: Lavender Honey and Gower Gold

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

The Norfolk based Wolf Brewery had their Poppy Ale in the final of last years Great British Beer Hunt, which also happens to be a beer with honey in it. It was one of my favorites at the regional heats and given how much I liked the Williams Brothers The Honey Thief from this years competition, I was quite looking forward to trying another honey beer.

Wolf Lavender HoneyLavender Honey poured a light copper, burnt golden colour, with a loose fluffy white head. The head dropped to a covering fairly quickly. I didn’t get much on the nose, just a general fresh feeling.

It initially felt quite full bodied in the mouth, but as it washed down the throat, it felt a touch light. The honey flavour was pretty subdued and subtle, it was there, but you really needed to concentrate, especially to pick up any of the lavender. The generally honey flavour and sweetness built with each mouthful and whatever lavender quality was there, was more detectable in the aftertaste. It wasn’t particularly bitter, at least it didn’t feel that way, as what bitterness there was, wasn’t quite enough to counteract the honey flavours and sweetness.

It was quite a nice, light and refreshing beer, although I thought it could do with a touch more body and a touch less sweetness.

I’ve not had any beers from the Gower Brewery before, so I Wasn’t sure what to expect. Given the wording on the label, I was quite intrigued to see if it lived up to them. Gower Gold poured a slightly hazy light coppery amber colour, with a thick white head. It was slightly hazy, as it had thrown some sediment and I hadn’t noticed, so tipped it all into the glass. The head didn’t last and dropped pretty quickly to a patchy covering.

Gower Brewery Gower GoldAs the back label claimed that the beer had the lovely aroma of Cascade hops, I was expecting something with a pretty powerful bouquet. It didn’t really deliver, as you had to cup your hands over the glass and inhale a lungful to get any real idea of what the aroma actually was.

It felt pretty nice in the mouth, just on the lighter side of full bodied, so it was nice and juicy and refreshing. While it wasn’t overly bitter, it was balanced more toward the bitter side of things than the malt side of things. The bitterness was quite flavourful though, with subtle floral citric flavours, to complement the slightly sweet maltiness.

It was quite a nice beer, just balanced the way I prefer, with more flavour from the hops, than from the malt. While it’s more solid than stellar, it’s certainly one to try if you haven’t already.

Great British Beer Hunt: Devon Dreamer and Reindeer Droppings

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I choose to drink these two together, as they appeared to be the only two bottle conditioned entries in this years Great British Beer Hunt. Both breweries are old hands at the competition, with Hunter’s having their Full Bore reach the grand final, in the same year that Ridgeway won with Bad King John. After that final, I had a few more of the Hunter’s bottles, which I found to be good solid beers, if lacking the necessary to really excite a beer geek.

Hunter's Devon DreamerDevon Dreamer on the other hand, has Citra in it, according to the back label; that alone should be enough to excite a few people. It poured a very slightly hazey marmalade amber colour, with a loose off white head. The haze was due to a bit of the sediment getting into the glass, mainly as this bottle was a touch over carbonated, so some of it got lifted from the bottom of the bottle when I cracked it open.

I was surprised that there wasn’t much in the way of an aroma, I was expecting a hint of ripe mango at the least. You could tell it was a touch over carbonated in the mouth, as it was tending to soft bubbles the moment it hit the tongue. Flavour wise, it was nice enough, in a subtle and well balanced kind of way, although it did had a nice bitter tickle about it. The effect of the Citra was muted, but definitely there, lending a slightly tropical flavour to the end of the mouth.

Given the other Hunter’s beers I’ve had, this one is certainly more adventurous. Although I have a colleague at work who wasn’t too impressed as he was expecting more Citra influence. As with rest of the beers I’ve tried from them, it’s not going to get a beer geeks heart racing, it’s just a good solid effort. If you like your beer on the well balanced and subtler side of things, but fancy something with just a bit more, then this might just be for you.

Let’s get the branding of this beer out of the way first. I don’t like it, but then, I don’t like the branding on any of Ridgeway’s Christmas beers Santa’s Butt; Bad Elf; Seriously Bad Elf; Criminally Bad Elf; etc. In my opinion, they’re all badly named and have bad artwork. I know they’re mainly for the US market and that you couldn’t even get them over here a few years ago, but still, I hope that the US drinkers don’t think all our beer is branded like that.

Ridgeway Reindeer DroppingsI remember at the regional heats last year, I asked a chap why he’d picked Bad Elf out of all those on offer. He said it was due to the comedy label, I could have cried. But then, that’s part of the competition, it’s not just about the beer in the bottle, it also about what’s on the bottle. So it’s definitely a case of each to their own with regards that that…

Reindeer Droppings poured a copper amber colour, with a good thick white head. The head dropped to a covering fairly quickly, but hung around for a bit before dissipating. I mentioned at the start, that this was bottled conditioned, you can’t tell from the bottle as it doesn’t mention it. Luckily, the yeast was all stuck to the bottom of the bottle, but I can imaging that some people won’t be as gentle when handling and pouring their bottles; I hope it doesn’t detract from their enjoyment.

There wasn’t a lot on the nose, just some subtle marmalade malt notes. The flavour was pretty one sided, with subtle sweet bitter orange flavours, leading to a slightly dusty, yeasty lingering aftertaste. There was a decent bitterness to it, but it didn’t feel particularly bitter, partly due to the sweetness and partly the slight dustiness from the yeast character.

The export version of this beer is 6% ABV, I can’t help but think that one of those would have been a more enjoyable experience. While it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me, it was just a bit, well, meh.

  • RateBeer Ridgeway
  • Reindeer Droppings, 4.7%, 500ml

Great British Beer Hunt: Black Pepper Ale and B Bock

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’d not been looking forward to this pair of Great British Beer Hunt entries, so I decided to try them on a single night and get them over and done with. It’s not that I dislike Batemans, I’ve drunk my fair share of XB and XXXB over the years, I’m just not a fan of gimmicky beers and I’m definitely not a fan of Bock beer; that much should be obvious from the name of the blog.

Batemans Black Pepper AleI started with the Black Pepper Ale, which poured the colour of a good Olde English Marmalade and had a loose tan colour head sitting on top. The head dropped fairly quickly to a patchy covering and then to a ring round the edge of the glass. The nose was interesting, with subtle marmalade malt notes underneath a powerful ground black pepper aroma.

The bottle came with a sachet of pepper to sprinkle on top of the beer, I didn’t use it to start with, as I wanted to get a feel for the base beer. It was nothing special to be honest, a pretty bog standard bitter, without much in the way of the bitter; all malt and no interest. Orangey malt flavours dominated, with a slight hint of mid-mouth bitterness, before an sweet, slightly dusty aftertaste.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the packet of pepper, was I just supposed to sprinkle it on top, or to mix it in; initially I just left it sitting on top. This had the obvious effect of making the pepper aroma even more pungent, but did pretty much nothing for the taste. So I mixed it in, although this again, didn’t really have any effect on the taste, which was a shame.

I thought this beer was going to be an absolute horror show, but it wasn’t quite that bad; I just found it boring and I doubt I’ll be seeking it out for another taste. The notes on the bottles claimed it would be clean and beautifully balanced, I didn’t think it was either of those things; it was far too malty to be balanced and too dusty, with too much character from the Batemans yeast to be clean. Finally, I’m sure some people will love the gimmick of the pepper sachet, but I don’t think it needed it, it just needed to be a bit less boring.

  • RateBeer Batemans
  • Black Pepper Ale, 5.1%, 500ml

The B Bock poured a rubyish mahogany colour, with an exceedingly loose tan coloured head. The head frothed, foamed and disappeared completely, within a minute or two. There really wasn’t much to the aroma at all, some slightly stale carbonic notes and a hint of the malt and yeast that were used in the brewing process.

Batemans B BockIn the mouth it was exactly as you would expect, full bodied and sweet, with that unmistakable Batemans character. It was almost like drinking an amped up version of the Black Pepper Ale, without the black pepper, or any hint of bitterness. There’s nothing much else I can say, it was just malty and sweet and got maltier and sweeter with each mouthful.

Working behind the foreign and bottled beer bar at the various Cambridge beer festivals, I’ve tried a fair few Bocks and Doppelbocks in my time; mainly so I can give the festival goers an honest opinion if they ask what one’s like. This beer is about as far from any German Bock, or Doppelbock, as I’ve ever had, it’s tastes like an overly malty English Ale, which I’m putting down to the use of the Batemans house yeast, rather than the use of a proper lager yeast.

To say that neither of these beers floated my boat, would be an understatement. I’m not saying they’re bad, they’re not, they’re just not for me.

Great British Beer Hunt: Hipsway and The Honey Thief

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I had to review these two bottles together really, as Williams Brothers Hipsway is named after an Eighties Glaswegian band of the same name and The Honeytheif was the first song on their eponymously named debut album from 1986. I find it quite interesting that the punters at the Great British Beer Hunt regional heat liked both of them enough to get them through to the final; different, but connected.

Williams Brothers HipswayI decided to start with the Hipsway, a beer that is cold conditioned on an infusion of whole hops and strawberries. It poured a slightly hazy amber colour, mainly as the bottle had thrown a touch of sediment and I didn’t notice until it was all in the glass. The loose white head didn’t last and dropped to a patchy covering fairly sharpish. The nose was interesting, as you could smell the strawberry, it was subtle, but there, lending a nice sweet fruitiness to the aroma.

It was quite full in the mouth, with a soft and delicate mouthfeel that wrapped the palate with comforting flavors. The malt profile felt quite neutral and well balanced with a subtle fruity bitterness, that was pitched so as to be almost unnoticeable after the initial prickle. Everything about it was subtle and soft, even the strawberry flavours were subtle.

Imagine having a strawberry coulis, jam packed with strawberry flavour. Now imagine how your mouth tastes a few minutes after your last mouthful of it, that’s what the strawberry flavour in this beer was like. It was almost like it was the last vestiges of the strawberry flavour, there and then gone. It was an interesting beer with some interesting flavours, but given some of the other beers in the competition, it’s a solid effort, rather than a spectacular one.

The Honey Thief poured a pin bright straw colour, with a solid white head sat on top. While the head dropped to a covering fairly quickly, it looked pretty nice and appetising sitting in the glass. The tasting notes on the back of the bottle claimed that there would be lemon and gooseberry notes in the aroma, there might very well have been, buy my olfactory senses couldn’t pick any of that up.

Williams Brothers The Honey ThiefThey did pick up a hint of honey though, which was unsurprising given that the lingering aftertaste of this beer, is all about the honey mummy. It started out with an initial citric bitter prickle, before giving way to a fruity maltiness and finally that honey tinged, pleasantly bitter aftertaste.

Honey beers can be quite divisive, most fall into the love or hate category. I like mine to have a powerful honey flavour, like Thornbridge’s sublime Bracia, which is brewed with Italian chestnut honey. I don’t know what honey Williams Brothers used in this, but it ticked all my boxes. I thought it was really, really nice, with the honey working really well with the flavour and bitterness from the hops.

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.