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.

Free Houses

I went out for dinner in Saffron Walden with my wife a few weeks back and we managed to squeeze in a quick pint in The Old English Gentleman before heading to Dish for some food. I’d never been to a pub in Saffron Walden before, so had to do a bit of googling to find somewhere that looked like it would server decent beer and was relatively near the restaurant. When we got inside I was disappointed to see that the beers on offer were, Adnams Bitter, Woodfordes Wherry, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Exmoor Gold.

Personally I thought the selection of beer was ridiculously safe and boring, I could probably get the Adnams and Woodfordes beers in a number of other pubs in Saffron Walden (this is obviously conjecture as this is the only pub I’ve been to in the town, but hear me out), I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sheps Spitfire as well. One of the main issues I have was the diversity of the selection; Adnams Bitter is brown and 3.7%, Woodfordes Wherry is golden and 3.8%, Shepherd Neame Spitfire is brown and 4.2% and finally the Exmoor Gold is, unsurprisingly, golden and 4.5%.

There was no mild, no stout, nothing that was pale and hoppy and nothing that could be considered strong. Like I said, I thought it was a safe and boring selection and worryingly, it’s a trend I’ve seen in a number of other free houses near where I live.

The Black Bull in Balsham, is in the next village and generally has three cask ales on. I’ve been in there when the selection has all been sub four percent brown bitter, but similarly I’ve been in when they’ve had pale and hoppy beer from Oakham Ales on. However, every time I’ve been there, they’ve also had Greene King IPA on, even though there is a Greene King pub, The Bell, less then two hundred metres up the road.

Similarly, The Three Tuns in Great Abington, a 10 to 15 minute drive away, is a free house and while it’s food led, it’s still a locals pub as well. I was in there a few weekends ago picking up a take away, they do excellent Thai food and I noticed that they only had two cask ales on, instead of the normal three. Yet again, one of those ales was Greene King IPA, but I’ve seen the usual bitters from Adnams, Woodfordes et al when I’ve been in before.

I can sort of understand why these pubs have the beer they have, The Black Bull probably wants to temp drinkers from The Bell, so has their usual on tap all the time, just in case they fancy a change of scenery. The Three Tuns, being food led, probably doesn’t want anything outlandish to scare the diners, so sticks to what most people will know. I’m sure the cricket teams who frequent the bar after a match just want something to slake their thirst before heading home.

At the same time, in this kind of financial climate where hundreds of pus are closing all over the country, I really don’t understand it. Surely you want to differentiate yourself from your competition, so people will come to you because you offer something that those pubs around you don’t. I can get Greene King IPA in literally hundreds of local pubs, including my local, which is about fifty metres from my front door. Why would I want to travel to the next village, or further away, to drink the same beer in a different pub?

I’m not expecting every free house to be like The Euston Tap, or even The Cambridge Blue. So maybe someone could explain the rational behind free houses offering very similar beers and the same beers as tied pubs in the same locality, because I just don’t get it.

The Cambridge Blue Summer Beer Festival

The Cambridge Blue has its summer beer festival next week, with a wide range of beer from all over the country, you can check out the beer list here. While I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no beer from Thornbridge and only a Mild from Marble, I think there is probably still enough beers of interest. Assuming they’ll be on when I go and I’ll probably pop in one lunch time as well as an evening session, there are beers I want to try from Hawkshead, Humpty Dumpty, Saltaire and Summer Wine.

The Cambridge Tap

I received and email last week from Bert Kenward, the Cambridge CAMRA Summer Beer Festival organiser. He’d just had the Cambridge Beer Festival Twitter account followed by @CambridgeTap1 and was wondering if I’d heard anything online. Intrigued, I fired off a tweet to Yan Pilkington, who I know was instrumental in setting up both the Sheffield and Euston Taps, so was bound to be involved in this new venture.

https://twitter.com/#!/RecentlyDrunk/status/80669567239733249
https://twitter.com/#!/PivovarYan/status/80712358992949248

While the range of British beer in Cambridge pubs is very good, it’s still quite conservative and there is practically no international beer on draft, certainly none from US or new wave European breweries. Taking nothing away from pubs like the The Cambridge Blue (10 to 14 beers on hand pump, German ales on keg, plus over a hundred bottles in the fridge), but Cambridge is finally going to get a pub that will be stocking a wide range world class beers from both Britain and further a field. Practically all Cambridge pubs are on the conservative side, there’s not much in the way of new wave, progressive beer around, especially from European or American brewers…

https://twitter.com/#!/CambridgeTap1/status/80755114293465088
https://twitter.com/#!/CambridgeTap1/status/80905488929271808

It took a while for the @CambridgeTap1 Twitter account to get going, but at the end of last week they tweeted a hint about the location they are going to develop. This caused a deluge of emails, as a few of us tried to work out where they could be talking about. It didn’t help that I’d been told the The Mitre had shut and was to reopen as a poncey pub, evidently it’s already reopened and isn’t poncey, besides, it doesn’t have "a cracking south facing beer garden".

https://twitter.com/#!/CambridgeTap1/status/81662301521981440

I think the main things that has a lot of us thrown, is the comment about the "stuning (sic) building with buckets of history", which sort of rules out a location in the new station development, as that is flattening wast swathes of real estate, so there wont be much left that has buckets of history. Since all the other Taps (Sheffield, Euston and York) are either, in, or next to a station, I can’t for the life of me think where they may be talking about, I can’t wait to find out though…

The Golden Pints 2010

Originally I was going to do my own round up of the year, I didn’t do one last year as I felt that I’d not been blogging for long enough. This year I felt that I had drank enough to have some thoughts I wanted to share, but then Andy and Mark posted about The Golden Pints. So I decided to combine my thoughts and The Golden Pints categories for this post, hence why I’ve given my top three beers and then a few highly recommendeds.

Now, I don’t normally hold much truck with lists and stuff, they are very personal after all and never seem to align with my view of things. So take this lot with a rather large pinch of salt, it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

Best UK Draught Beer
  1. Thornbridge Bracia
    I had this at the Euston Tap the day after they opened, it was truly magnificent and while I’ve only had a ½ pint, it stood head and shoulders above anything else I had this year.
  2. Thornbridge Seaforth
    Supposedly an all English version of Jaipur and on this tasting in January, better than its stable mate. Utterly sublime…
  3. Thornbridge Kipling
    Beer of the festival at the Cambridge CAMRA summer beer festival and just about as perfect a beer as you can get for an early summers evening in a crowded tent.
Honourable mentions
Hopshakle Resination, Oakham Chinook, Thornbridge Raven
Best UK Bottled Beer
  1. Thornbridge Halycon 2009
    It took me a while to get hold of, but once I did, I bought every bottle I could find. Only one other beer has come close all year, including foreign imports.
  2. Moor Fusion
    The only beer to render me utterly speechless this year. I couldn’t take notes, I was so blown away…
  3. Marble Dobber
    You can keep your Punk IPA and your Jaipur, this is now my "go to beer".
Honourable mentions
Hardknott Infra Red, Hardknott Æther Blæc, Moor JJJ IPA, Cambridge Moonshine Transforming Tomorrow
Best Overseas Draught Beer
  1. Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
    Stole my heart when I was in Rome earlier in the year and when I went back recently, it was just as good.
  2. Mikkeller I Beat yoU
    To be honest, it could have been any one of about 10 Mikkeller beers in this slot, but this was the last beer I had in Rome recently and it was an absolute hop monster.
  3. Grassroots Broken Spoke Blackened IPA
    A massive US West coast style IPA, but black. It messed with my senses and tasted sublime. Could have been any of the three Grassroots beers I’ve tried this year though, all of them were spectacular, the Rye Union Porter especially.
Honourable mentions
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, De Molen Rasputin, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Bernard Unfiltered, Hornbeer Black Magic Woman, Birrificio del Ducato Bia IPA, Birrificio San Paolo Ipè (Extra Hop)
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
  1. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666
    Possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. Along with the Thornbridge Halcyon, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
  2. Stone Arrogant Bastard
    I waited 13 years to try it after first seeing an (empty) bottle, it was so worth the wait.
  3. Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Simcoe
    Like drinking liquidised lychees, I’d have drunk more if it wasn’t so expensive and hard to get hold of.
Honourable mentions
Birra del Borgo Duchessic, Saison Dupont, Jandrain Jandrenouille IV Saison, Odel IPA, Dogfish Head Paolo Santo Maron, Hornbeer Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, Nøgne Ø Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue John John Dead Guy Ale
Best Overall Beer
So hard to choose between Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 and De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666. But if I really had to choose between the two, then only as I had more of it, Thornbridge Halcyon 2009.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Anything by Marble.
Best UK Brewery
  1. Thornbridge
    They’ve produced the best UK beer I’ve had this year.
  2. Marble
    Catching Thornbridge up fast, Dobber is sublime.
  3. Moor
    I just wish I could get a moor regular supply…
Honourable mentions
Hardknott, BrewDog, Adnams, Fuller’s
Best Overseas Brewery
  1. Mikkeller
  2. De Molen
  3. Birra del Borgo
Honourable mentions
Grassroots, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Stone, Hornbeer, Amager
Pub/Bar of the Year
  1. Brasserie 4:20, Rome, Italy
    Possibly the best pub in the world and fantastic food too.
  2. Bir & Fud, Rome, Italy
    The best pizza I’ve ever had, all washed down with lots of amazing Italian craft beer.
  3. Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Rome, Italy
    Could also lay claim to being the best pub in the world, it certainly has the nicest landlord I have ever met.
Honourable mentions
The Euston Tap, London; Cask Pub & Kitchen, London; The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge
Beer Festival of the Year
  1. Cambridge CAMRA Summer beer festival
    Only as I’m now a fully paid up member of the foreign beer bar team…
  2. The Cambridge Blue Winter Festival
    Thornbridge Jaipur, Seaforth and Raven were all on sparkling form.
Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bacchanalia, Cambridge
Online Retailer of the Year
myBreweryTap and BEERMerchants
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher
Best Beer Blog or Website
  1. Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile
  2. The Reluctant Scooper
  3. Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Best Beer Twitterer
The HardKnott’s (@HardKnottDave and @HardKnottAnn); it’s like a Twitter soap opera…
Best Brewery Online
Adnams
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…
Continue to try new and interesting beer and widen my horizons by trying new styles and retrying those styles I think I don’t like.
Open Category: Best Landlord
Manual from Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Within two minutes of meeting me was giving me free beer across the road in Bir & Fud. On subsequent visits, he opened things like Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and gave me bottles to bring home. The nicest beer person I’ve met all year.

Hop Pickers Harvest and IPA

During my lunch break a few weeks ago, I decided to pop into the Cambridge Wine Merchants store on Bridge Street in Cambridge. I hadn’t been in it for a few years, so I wanted to check out what sort of beer selection they had these days. It looks like they carry a few bottles, both local and from further afield. To be honest, some of the selection was a tad boring and safe, some Marston’s and Samuel Smith’s, but I did pick up a few bottles from Fox.

Fox Hop Pickers HarvestThe Fox brewery has been going since 2002 and is based in an out building of the Fox and Hounds pub in Heacham, West Norfolk. I’ve not come across many of their beers before, I’ve had a couple at The Cambridge Blue in Cambridge, the 60 Minute IPA needed more hops, as did the Grateful Deaf Hop Heads Delight. Knowing this, I picked two beers to drink that should have had good hop character.

First up was Hop Pickers Harvest, which appeared to be some sort of fresh hop beer, so I was hoping for some big hoppy notes and flavour. It poured a slightly hazy light copper, with a huge, very loose, off white head. There was lots of bubbles in the glass, which were keeping a good finger of head going. I was going to say it smelt grassy, but I wasn’t so sure on subsequent sniffs, it was pretty dull considering there are supposed to be fresh hops in it. I also got a bit of malt, some lemon and some carbon dioxide.

The mouth fell was very, very rough, there was far too much carbonation, so I let it sit for a bit to calm down. When I came back to it, it was better, there was a softer mouth feel and hints of biscuit and caramel. It’s wasn’t overly bitter, but it was well balanced and the lingering bitterness was pleasant. However, there was a lingering metallic carbon dioxide taste, which I found quite annoying.

  • Fox
  • Hop Pickers Harvest, 4.2%, 500 ml

Fox IPANext up was the IPA, which is supposed to be based on a 19th Century recipe. It poured a slightly hazy copper. The head was really hard to form and very small, it dissipated to a wisp over the surface relatively quickly. There didn’t seem to be a lot of condition, which would probably explain why it was hard to form any sort of head. It smelt malty, that was it, quite disappointing that there wasn’t at least some hops on the nose.

It tasted malty with some biscuity flavour going on. It wasn’t particularly bitter and other than the buscuity flavour, there wasn’t really much going on. There was a taste lingering around the edges that’s I didn’t find very nice and as I got further down the glass, it got worse. I ended up really not liking this beer much at all.

Overall I’d say the IPA was a disappointment and the Hop Pickers Harvest would have been much better if it had less condition. I do get the feeling that they’re a bit shy with the hops though, as both could have done with a few more, especially the IPA.

Upcoming Cambridge Beer Festivals

There appears to be a few beer festivals happening in Cambridge next month. While in The Cambridge Blue last Friday I noticed a poster advertising their Octoberfest, which runs from Thursday the 7th to Sunday the 10th. There will be around 70 odd German ans 20 odd British "German Style" beers on offer, plus German food.

Cambridge CAMRA are holding their fourth Octoberfest on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. They hope to have all five* of the 2010 Munich Octoberfest beers from Augustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. Plus local breweries Cambridge Moonshine and Milton are evidently providing Octoberfest style ales. Finally:

Hopshackle is hoping to produce us a Hacker-Pschorr style Octoberfest beer, this harks more back to the days when Octoberfest beers were darker than the blond versions of today.

Which sounds pretty awesome! I’m hoping to work all day Saturday, so if you’re around pop in and say hello.

Finally, I was walking past The Pickerel on Saturday and noticed that they has a poster up advertising their second Courtyard Ale Festival, which is running between Wednesday the 13th and Sunday the 17th, so it clashes a bit with the CAMRA festival. I just hope that it’s not too cold for them and thus the beer is in better condition than their last festival.

*There is no mention of any beer from the sixth Munich brewery Hofbräuhaus.

Manchester Bitter and Lagonda IPA

Marble Manchester BitterThere’s been a lot of love for Marble in the blogosphere recently (see here, here and here) and while I’m a bit late to the party, that’s only due to The Bacchanalia only getting a delivery of Marble beer (cask and bottle) the other week. I had a couple of halves of Summer Marble in The Cambridge Blue last week, it was the first time I’d had any Marble beer, it was superb and meant I was really, really looking forward to cracking into the bottles I’d bought.

First up was Manchester Bitter a pale golden straw coloured bitter with a twist. It poured with a fluffy, easily formed, white head that slowly dropped leaving plenty of lacing on the glass. There was a bit of malt on the nose, but it mainly smelt fresh with maybe a touch of grassy hop. There was something else lingering at the edge though, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’d like to say it was something tropical, but I’m just not sure.

The beer had absolutely fantastic condition, I’m not sure you could get any better to be honest. The mouth feel was nice and smooth, the body full and perfectly balanced. There was a really nice bitterness that came in and lingered long into the after taste. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, I’ll definitely be buying more.

  • RateBeer Marble
  • Manchester Bitter, 4.2%, 500ml

Marble Lagonda IPAI was going to have the Tawny No. 3, but changed my mind at the last moment and plumped for the Lagonda IPA instead. It poured a rich straw colour with a tightish white head that slowly dropped to a blotchy covering. I’m not sure what it smelt of, maybe a bit of biscuity malt. Just like the Manchester Bitter, there is something else there, tantalisingly close, that I just can’t quite but my finger on and verbalise.

It was smooth in the mouth, not as big as I was expecting, almost not full bodied enough. The taste is great though, while I couldn’t place what was going on in the Manchester Bitter, this one was all restrained and subtle bitter orange marmalade with hints of grapefruit. The after taste lingered marmalade notes for quite a while.

  • RateBeer Marble
  • Lagonda IPA, 5%, 500ml

To be honest I was so blown away by the Manchester Bitter that I’m not sure I enjoyed the Lagonda IPA as much as I should have. Given the choice, I’d buy the Manchester Bitter over the Lagonda IPA any day of the week though.

Both beers are Vegetarian Society approved and the Lagonda IPA is organic.

The Cambridge Blue

It was the summer beer festival at The Cambridge Blue last night, so I met up with a friend for a few beers. If I’m being honest, I was a bit disappointed as a lot of the beer I wanted to try wasn’t on. I know they have to keep some back for later in the week, but practically everything I wanted to try wasn’t there.

  • RateBeer Oakham
  • Lady Gwydir, 4% (1/2 pint)
  • Had a slight spiciness to it, other than that it was pleasant enough.
  • RateBeer Oakham
  • Inferno, 4% (1/2 pint)
  • I was a bit meh with this and the Lady Gwydir, I may have been dehydrated, so I should really give both another chance.
  • RateBeer Dark Star
  • Sunburst, 4.8% (1/2 pint)
  • To be honest, I preferred the one I had from a bottle earlier in the year. It seemed to have a bit of a haze, so not sure if it was on its best form really.
  • RateBeer Abbeydale
  • Deception, 4.1% (1/2 pint)
  • Very pale and it tasted very thick with hops. I had an Oakham Citra that tasted similarly thick with hops earlier in the year and had better on a subsequent tasting, so I’ll hold judgement on this till I can try it again when it’s in better form.
  • Fox
  • 90 Minute IPA, 6% (1/2 pint)
  • I had high hopes for this one and to be honest, if you give your beer the same name as something from Dogfish Head it better live up to the expectation. Initially I thought it was too malty and not bitter enough, it did grow on me, but it needs more hops.
  • RateBeer Acorn
  • Conquest, 5.7% (1/2 pint)
  • I think this is the first beer I’ve had from Acorn and I was quite impressed, it was really nice.

Thornbridge St PetersburgOakham Lady GwydirAbbeydale Deception