Advent Beer – Special

This is the last of the dusty unloved bottles that Ed at the Bacchanalia gave me for free. I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the bottles of Sharp’s beer that I’ve tried so far. It’s just a shame that we never really see anything other than Doom Bar round these parts and then only once in a blue moon.

It poured a auburn brown, with a slight orange hue, at least that’s what it appeared to be to me. the head was off white and easily formed, but, it was formed from rather large bubbles and thus didn’t last. In just a few minutes, it had dropped to a few patches and then a few minutes later, to a ring round the edge of the glass. I didn’t get much on the nose, if I’m being honest. there was maybe some of that general bottle conditioned musty, yeasty type aroma, but it wasn’t very strong.

It felt quite lively in the mouth and was borderline for just turning into a mouthful of bubbles the moment it hit the tongue. So you could say it was a touch over carbonated. At first I thought it was a bit dull, that there wasn’t really anything going on. I thought about it for a bit and let the beer come to me and reveal itself, after all Sharp’s are known for balanced beers, I wasn’t expecting a hop bomb or anything.

After leaving it for a bit, it had just come out the fridge after all, it revealed itself in all its glory. A lovely biscuity malt base laid the foundations for a nice fruity tingle of hops. The main flavour appeared to be a subtle bitter orange kind of thing, at least that’s what my brain was telling me it was. Although I think it might have been slightly more complex than that. The after taste was lingering and juicy with a nice bitterness, that meant you could still taste it minutes later.

It was very nice, with wonderful balance between the malt and hops; never too malty, never too bitter and ridiculously drinkable. I imagine that it’s pretty special indeed, when served from cask.

Advent Beer – Single Brew Reserve 2009

Last night along with the Cambridge Moonshine Second Quarter, I had Saturdays Advent Beer too. I didn’t pick it at random, as I didn’t want to end up with a big bottle of De Molen or one of the Hardknott’s. I want to enjoy these beers, not get rat arsed on a school night… This is another one of those beers that was sitting all dusty and unloved in a box at the Bacchanalia and which Ed was very generous in giving to me for nowt.

It poured a crystal clear burnished coppery brown, with a decent head. The head didn’t last though and dropped to a patch covering fairly quickly. There didn’t appear to me much sediment at the bottom of the bottle after the pour, obviously, you mileage may vary if you manage to find a bottle of this. I didn’t think there was much on the nose to be honest, vague hints of a marmalade type note maybe, but nothing much else.

It felt quite lively and effervescent in the mouth, at least to start with, as it calmed down a bit by the time I got to the end of the glass. If I’m being brutal, which I am, I found it a touch thin and a bit one dimensional. Now don’t get me wrong here, it was perfectly balanced and an absolute joy to drink, with juicy subtle flavours that were reminiscent of marmalade. While there may have been a brief hint of stewed plums at the start, it just tasted the same the whole way through the mouth and down the glass, there just weren’t any other intertwining flavours.

  • RateBeerSharp’s
  • Single Brew Reserve 2009, 4.3%, 500ml

It pretty much set out it stall at the start and that’s all there was, which I thought was a shame, as good as it was and it was good, I think it would have been spectacular if it had revealed a bit more…

Advent Beer

I’m quite annoyed. On Tuesday a load of posts on this blog were missing, vanished, disappearing into the ether. I luckily managed to recreate them via Google cache and wrote a couple of new posts, one detailing what had happened and the other the list of my advent beers. So imagine my surprise this morning, to find that both the explanation and advent beer list posts were both missing. In their place, the original missing posts and their comments were back, but it meant that I had to recreate this list from scratch, as I couldn’t find a cached copy on line. My hosting company hasn’t responded to my query about why it’s happened yet, which is most unlike them, hence my annoyance.

Anyway, it’s December, that means that it’s time to do some more advent beer. Last year I modified the list half way through, hopefully I wont be doing the same this year, but I am going to Paris this weekend, so some French beer might suddenly appear next week. So without further ado, here’s the beers on my advent beer list, they will be drank in some sort of random order, that days beer being pulled from a hat.

Chalky’s Bite

I was in the Bacchanalia a few weeks back and noticed a box of dusty bottles sitting next to the counter. I went digging and came up with a few Sharp’s bottles of stuff that I’ve heard about, but never seen. Ed, being the generous chap he his, said I could have a few, so look out for some more reviews of Sharp’s beer in the future. First up though, we have Chalky’s Bite, a beer that is naturally flavoured with wild fennel.

It poured an, almost, crystal clear light amber. I say almost, as a tiny touch of sediment got in the glass during the pour. A very off white, almost tan coloured, head was easily formed, but it was very loose a dropped very quickly to pretty much nothing. I didn’t get much from the nose and not for want of trying. I’m sure there was some malt character and maybe a touch of the fennel, but it was all so faint, I couldn’t really be sure.

Taste wise it was a revelation, with a nice full body and a relatively smooth mouth feel. There was a bit of effervescence about it, but it was soft, rather than harsh. It was all underpinned by a subtle fruity, juiciness and had a nice bitter prickle leading into the after taste. The after taste lingered and lingered and seemed to change flavour as it went, initially fruity with some yeasty hints, finally ending up with what I can only assume was flavours from the fennel.

I really enjoyed this beer, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I just wish it had come in a larger bottle as I was really disappointed when it was all gone…

Monsieur Rock

I’ve been meaning to write about Sharp’s Monsieur Rock for ages, I bought a case and split it with a few friends, so I had four bottles. Every time I’ve opened one, I’ve sat down to try and blog about it and every time I’ve failed. It’s like I’ve been bewitched by its smooth subtle charm and rendered powerless by the beguiling crisp bitterness of the Saaz hops. Instead of the noise of me banging away on my computer keyboard while taking notes, every time I drank this beer, there was just the sound of silence, as I savoured every last drop of every bottle.

Sometimes a beer comes along that requires you to put everything down and allow yourself to be seduced by its charms. A beer that you feel sad once you realise that you’ve just finished it, A beer that you really, really wish you hadn’t split a case of with anyone. For me, this is one of those beers.

Molson Coors Push Cask

In my review of Worthington’s White Shield last year, I stated that given the choice between it and Fuller’s Bengal Lancer, I would probably choose the Bengal Lancer. I had the chance at the weekend to drink both and I’m not sure I still stick by that statement.

Fuller's Bengal LancerI really like Bengal Lancer, there’s just something about the marmalade taste that you get in certain Fuller’s beers, that strikes a chord with my taste buds. I also really like White Shield though, that sulphurous nose and pleasing bitter tickle it gives your tongue is so morish.

When I find myself in a shop that sells both, I’ve found that I’ve only been buying White Shield. I’d love to try both on cask, I recently just missed some cask White Shield at The Mitre in Cambridge. Hopefully it will be more of a regular occurrence down these parts, as Molson Coors seem to have been on a bit of a cask crusade over the last few months.

Firstly, at the end of last year, they opened a brand new new brewery at the National Brewing Centre, called the William Worthington’s Brewery. This new brewery has taken over from the old White Shield Brewery and will be producing lots of different Worthington’s cask and bottled ales.

Worthington's white ShieldSecondly, they announced just last week, that they were buying Cornwall based Sharp’s Brewery, home of Doom Bar. I’ve only ever had the one pint of Doom Bar, it was in Venice, of all places and wasn’t particularly good. I’m not particularly qualified to talk about if this is a good match, or what the ramification are, if you’re interested in that, Pete Brown has an excellent article.

Thirdly, it was announced today, that they are also to produce 16 seasonal cask ales and they’ll be available to Molson Coors independent on-trade customers. I hope there’s at least one of those in Cambridge, as I’d quite like to try some of the beers that have been announced, especially the extensions to the Worthington’s range.

After seeing White Shield nearly disappear (I didn’t see a bottle for ten years) and the Worthington’s brand being nearly ruined by some cream flow rubbish (remember the "It’s a man thing" adverts…?), it’s really great to see a major player in the UK beer industry pushing cask again. I hope that all this activity can be sustained and promoted correctly, so that it makes an impact and takes cask ale into places where it might not have had much exposure.

Finally, I was lucky enough to get hold of a bottle of Celebration Shield, which was brewed for the opening of the new William Worthington’s Brewery. Also in the box was a bottle each of White Shield, Red Shield and P2, so I have to say a big thank you to Kristy McCready from Molson Coors for sending those through (you should follow her on Twitter, she’s not your average corporate drone).

The Regal & The Blue

Highgate Black Pig, Moorhouse Amber Rambler, St Peters Old Style PorterI had a bottle of BrewDog Sink the Bismarck! that I needed to give to a friend, I would have given it to him earlier, but I’ve been away working in Rome. As it would happen, Wetherspoon’s have their biannual beer festival on at the moment, on it was agreed that the hand over would happen in The Regal in Cambridge.

Sharp's Gentle Jane, Ramsbury Gold, Fremlins BitterNormally I wouldn’t go anywhere near The Regal, I’d rather stab a fork into one of my eyes. It’s the largest pub in the UK (at least I think it still is), capable of holding around 1,600 people intent on getting wasted on cheap booze. I was prepared to make an exception in this case, just on the off chance they had any of the festival specials on, they didn’t, so we may as well have just met up in The Live or The Blue, never mind.

The only good thing I can say about The Regal and Wetherspoon’s in general, is that they do three third pints for the cost of a pint, during their festivals. This meant I was able to try six beers instead of three or four, this kind of thing would really be handy and other festivals and is to be applauded.

Salopian ProhibitionThere beer they had on was a bit hit and miss, the Highgate Black Pig reminded me of a not particularly good homebrew and the Fremlins Bitter was forgetable. The St Peters Old Style Porter was plesant as was the smoky Ramsbury Gold. Pick of the bunch was Moorhouse’s Amber Rambler which was really nice and fruity, the Sharp’s Gentle Jane was a close second. I didn’t fancy trying the other three beers they had on and we all decided to head to The Cambridge Blue for some better beer.

Oakham CitraThe Blue was quite busy, but luckily a table magically became free just as we entered. I decided to try a Salopian Prohibition to start with and am really glad I did, it was excellent. The c-hops weren’t over the top, they were perfectly blended with the rest of the beer, I should really have had another. Instead I went for an Oakham Citra, which I have to say was a complete chore to drink. The hops were way over the top, which left the beer with a really cloying manky hoppyness that I really didn’t get on with.

Beer of the night has to be the Salopian Prohibition, it was excellent, I’ll definitely be having another one of those if I see it again.

The Pickerel Courtyard Ale Festival

I ended up in The Pickerel yesterday evening, it wasn’t my choice, I wanted to go to The Castle. We were in town for a curry, it was a friends 40th birthday and we were eating at The Maharaja on Castle Street. One would have thought the stumble across the road and into the excellent Castle would be a forgone conclusion, but no, for some reason everyone headed off down the hill and into The Pickerel.

Much to my surprise and delight, they appeared to have a beer festival on, so forsaking the bar, I headed out to the courtyard to see what was on offer. Unfortunately, not much, as it turned out. To be fair it was the last day of their first ever festival and they still had some Sharp’s and Saltaire on, so it was looking good.

Sharps 6 Hop IPAIt stopped looking good the moment my Sharp’s 6 Hop was placed on the makeshift bar. It had zero condition, so no head or liveliness and to be honest was like drinking some flavoured water. Two friends who had also forsaken what appeared to be the obligatory pint of Stella, couldn’t finish theirs and ended up ordering Guinness from the bar.

I however, am made of stronger stuff and went back and got another pint of flavoured water, this time a Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale. Again, it had zero condition and was flat as a pancake, which was a shame, as you could tell that with a bit of condition it would have been stunning.

Saltaire Cascade Pale AleI can’t help but think that The Pickerel has shot itself in the foot by serving substandard real ale. There must have been more than just the two in my party who were put off by the flat lifeless beer on offer. I feel it was a mistake to keep the beer in an unheated courtyard store room where it couldn’t come into condition due to the weather. Maybe next time they could keep the beer a bit warmer by heating the room, or hold the festival at a warmer time of year.

They should be applauded for at least holding a festival, which had some cracking beer judging my the menu. I just can’t help but feel it’s an opportunity wasted though.

Venice

One of the perks of working for my company is the Christmas party. Each year on a Friday early in December, they fly everyone to a European city where we embark on a bit of a bender, before flying us all back home on the Sunday afternoon. This year the destination was that well known mecca of beer, Venice.

Knowing that Italy has a predilection for fizzy piss water, just look at the bog standard Peroni, I hit ratebeer.com to see if they had any listed destinations. Much to my surprise, the utterly gorgeous tourist trap that is Venice had three listed destinations. Armed with the location of the three establishments, we headed out to see what was on offer.

Forst PremiumAfter wandering aimlessly for a while, we cracked out Google Maps on my Palm Pre and found out what through the rain to the first location. Bar Al Carcan, is as described on its ratebeer.com page, it’s a cozy wee bar with six beers on tap and run by an ageing mentalist. There was no indication of any bottled beer, so we cracked into some Forst Premium, which is one of the worst excuses for a beer I’ve ever tasted.

For some reason we decided to have another beer in this place, I’m not really sure why. The mentalist old bloke behind the bar was doing massive air guitar to The Rolling Stones Paint It Black, which was distorting out of some ancient tape deck. When he wasn’t doing air guitar he was having a fag outside in the rain while trying to chat up passing women and entice firemen in for a beer.

Forst Sixtus Doppelbock, 6.5% and Forst Heller Bock, 7.5%Next up I had a Forst Sixtus Doppelbock and my mate had a Forst Heller Bock. Mine was dark, his wasn’t, they were both fizzy and sweet and not particular nice. So we decided to find some where to eat and headed off to find a restaurant. To cut a long and involved walk short, the restaurant was full, so we ended up in a Pizzeria that happened to have three different Hacker-Pschorr beers on tap. We both settled down outside to wait for a table with a hefe weisse and very nice it was too.

After the really nice pizza and not so nice fries, we decided to try and find Il Santo Bevitore, which the ratebeer.com page positions away on the top left of Venice. I can assure you that the location of this place on Google Maps is incorrect, as there is nothing but residential buildings in that area. After an hour of wandering around in ever widening circles, we decided to get out of the rain and have a beer in the first place we came to.

Pedavena Birra Pedavena, 5%I can’t even remember the name of the place we ended up, but it did have a full size papier-mâché horse and rider next to the bar. We ordered the one beer they had on tap, which was some totally forgettable insipid piss water. By this time I didn’t really care, it was late and I was wet and sober, it could only have been worse if I’d fallen in a canal. We were both fed up with our inability to find Il Santo Bevitore, so we decided to head back to the hotel, of course that meant that we walked right past the place as it turned out to be just round the corner.

Why Google Maps thinks it’s where it thinks it is, I’ve no idea, but it’s not, it’s totally in a different place. Il Santo Bevitore is also a totally different kind of place, as they had Sharps Doom Bar on hand pump and McEwans Lager on tap, amongst other things. Two pints of Doom Bar were ordered and hungrily consumed, it was just a shame that the beer was just past it’s best, but you could tell that if it had been a few days earlier that it would have been a cracking pint.

We both decided that enough was enough and headed back through the rain to the hotel. Neither of us fancied trying to find the third pub, especially as Google Maps put it out on the edge and we didn’t fancy playing hunt the pub again.

Ciney Brune, 7% and Scottish & Newcastle Slalom Lager, 9%We ended up back in Il Santo Bevitore on the Saturday as we happened to be wandering past. My mate fancied trying the Scottish & Newcastle Slalom lager, which was a hefty 9%. If you are wondering what this beer is, then I can tell you that it was tramp juice on draft, utterly, utterly horrible and an affront to cooking lager, never mind beer.

Saturday night was spent at the black tie dinner with a free bar, but the choice of beer was more fizzy piss water, so I had a few spirits and tumbled into bed at some ungodly hour. My mate, who’d drunk most of a bottle of Lagavulin, looked a tad worse for wear in the early afternoon as we were leaving, it has to be said.

All in all Venice is crap if you like your Ale, if you like cooking lager and tramp juice, you’re well served. Personally I’d head for Il Santo Bevitore, as they also has some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager along with a few other bottles.