Throwing Sidra

My kitchen worktop is a mess of splashed Sidra and it’s all Pete Brown’s fault.

I read Pete’s recent blog about throwing sidra in Barcelona with interest. Mainly due to the bit that said:

The idea is to throw the cider into the glass from a great height. It explodes onto the side of the thin glass, which sings with the impact. This aerates the cider, giving it a champagne-like moussy texture and softening the acidity to something pleasant.

This peaked my interest as I’ve recently made my own cider, not that I’ve actually written up what happened when I did, that’s for another day (you can see the holding page here though). I’ll admit that my first impressions of my first batch weren’t great, I think I was heard to comment that you’d need an asbestos lined stomach to drink it; it was just rather a touch acidic. So it crossed my mind that maybe I could throw my cider and it would have the same effect as Pete described.

The only problem with this, was that I only have two bottles left, of the initial carbonation test bottling I did a while back. The rest of the first batch I’d just bottled with a load of sucralose, so it needed time to condition. I’d noticed a bottle of Asturian Sira for sale in Waitrose though, so I thought I may as well buy a bottle and throw some of the proper stuff. Turns out that it’s carbonated, rather than still and not overly acidic, but there you go.

I’ll admit to not throwing it from any great height, hand eye coordination when you’ve got monocular vision isn’t the best. Even from eight to ten inches high though, it had a marked effect on the mouthfeel and taste, softening the carbonation and rounded off the acidic edges. It’s not an overly practical means of dispense for the house though, as I can’t imagine my wife would be overly impressed with me throwing cider in the living room while we watched the telly.

I think it’s definitely something I’ll try with my own cider, when I have some more in a drinkable state.

Waitrose Own Label Beers

Waitrose own label beers...

I’ve always passed over the Waitrose own brand beers, probably because they stock Thornbridge Jaipur. I thought it was about time I tried them and found out what they were like.

First up was their German Pils, which poured a pale yellow colour, that lightened, or darkened depending on what you held it up against. The head was one of those that was reluctant to get going, but then burst to life and produced a massive, very loose, fluffy white head. It didn’t last and dropped to pretty much nothing after a few minutes.

During the pour, a noble hop aroma came streaming out of the bottle, but after the pour, you had to cup your hands over the glass to really get anything. It was a sweet marmalade kind of aroma, with vague remnants of stale carbon dioxide.

It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with lots in the way of sweetness and little in the way of counteracting bitterness. There was a bit of a mouth tickle after the initial sweet onslaught, but it was brief and made little impact in the building sickly sweetness. The aftertaste was all sweetness, with vague hints of orange about it.

I normally get about halfway down a bottle of German Helles or Pils before being put off my the sweetness, but this was just too much for me right from the outset. If it had had a decent level of bitterness like Jever, for instance, it might have been OK, but it was just sweet, sweet, sweet, followed by a bit more sweetness for good measure. Really not my cup of tea at all…

To be fair, once I got to the bottom of the glass, it did feel slightly less sweet and that it had slightly more bitterness about it, but only just.

Next up was the Czech Pilsner, which poured a similar colour to the German Pils, maybe slightly more golden, with less of an anemic urine kind of appearance. The head was good and solid, with little bubbles forming the thick frothy topping. While it didn’t last very long, it didn’t disappear completely, leaving a thin skin of bubbles over the surface.

There’s only so many ways a noble hopped beer can smell, it was as you’d expect; slightly grassy, with sweet orangey malt undertones. It didn’t smell anywhere near as sweet as the German Pils, but it wasn’t overly fresh with hop aroma either.

It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with the initial malty sweetness kept in check by a nice wave of bitterness and carbonation. The sweet orangey malt soon reasserted itself, before a, slightly sweet, but at the sametime, satisfyingly bitter aftertaste lingered for a while.

I really liked this one, there was a nice balance between the bitterness and the sweet orangey maltiness, with maybe the bitterness just edging it. I thought it was dangerously drinkable and wouldn’t hesitate to buy it over something like Budvar in the future.

I broke out my proper wheat beer glass for the Bavarian Hefe Weissbier, which poured as you’d expect, a murky copper, with a large fluffy white head. The nose wasn’t overly bready, clovey or bananay; having instead a spiciness about it that I couldn’t place.

It was a similar story with the taste, it wasn’t overly anything, other than having a strong generic spiciness about it. Cloves have a really pungent and distinct aroma and taste, this wasn’t like that, it was more the spiciness you get from lots wheat or rye malt, which is a bit unsurprising in a wheat beer.

If I stuck my neck out a bit, I’d say it mostly reminded me of bubble gum, but not overly so; it seemed to be pandering to a middle ground and you could say was pretty forgettable because of it. It was nice enough, in that it slipped down without too much though, which was maybe the problem.

I had a feeling the Belgian Blonde would be similar to something Duvel, after all, it ‘s in the same style of 330ml bottle. It poured a slightly hazy golden straw colour, due to a tiny touch of sediment in the bottle. The head was white, thick and creamy and in my Duvel tulip glass, fed by a constant stream of bubbles, it remained at about a finger thick.

The nose had some spicy undertones to it, but also smelled vaguely like the Bavarian Hefe, with some banana type aromas too.

The spiciness was carried over into mouth being there both at the beginning and the end. There was also a touch of orange and a sweetness that could be the honey that was mentioned on the label. Given the ABV, it was unsurprisingly full bodied, but at the same time, there was a certain flabbiness about it, that made it feel a touch lighter of body than maybe it actually was.

It was nice enough, but it’s no Duvel.

Overall they weren’t bad. I really didn’t get on with the German Pils and wouldn’t buy it again. The Bavarian Hefe was too anonymous and I think there are better wheat beers available in most supermarkets, similarly I would buy Duvel over the Belgian Blonde any day of the week. That just leaves the Czech Pilsner, which I’d have no qualms about buying again and again, I thought it was really nice.

Update: 02/05/14
I popped into my local Waitrose in Newmarket the other morning, I needed to pick up some breakfast and lunch. While I was there, I did what I always do, which is to have a quick scan of the beer and cider shelves, to see if there’s anything new and interesting worth buying. I noticed that they had an own label Bavarian Dunkel Weissbier sitting next to their own label Bavarian Hefe Weissbier.

This one is also made by Arcobräu and for my money, is nicer than the Hefe. Which was a surprise, as I normally much prefer Hefe to Dunkel when it comes to wheat beers. It poured a murky brown, with a massive head that dropped to a covering after a while.

The nose was full of those Germanic wheat beers aromas; a bit of crusty bread, a touch of banana, a hint of clove and a smidgen of bubblegum. In the mouth it felt just about right, with a lightish body, but with enough flavour to carry it off, so it never felt watery or flabby. The finish was all spicy, malty and yeasty, but all nicely blended together, rather than competing.

I had this just after I finished bottling AG #10 – Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and it slipped down a treat. It’s one of those beers where is slips down so quickly and easily, that you wish you’d bought another as all gone without you realising.

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..

Bath Ales

I often wander into Waitrose or Sainsbury’s to see if they have any new and interesting beers on the shelves. After looking around, I normally pause over the Bath Ales bottles thinking that this time I should buy some, but I always end up buying some Thornbridge Jaipur or Fuller’s 1845 instead. It’s the same story when I go into Cambridge Wine Merchants on Bridge Street in town, they have a really good selection of Bath Ales, but I always end up buying some Moor instead.

I’m not sure why I pass over Bath Ales so much, I suppose it’s my love of all things Thornbridge and Moor that often means other beers don’t get a look in. There may also be some preconceived notion that they’ll be a bit on the traditional side and I’ll thus be disappointed. After all, it’s easier to spend your hard earned cash on something you know you’ll like, rather than take a chance of something you’re not sure you’ll enjoy. Nothing worse than knowing you passed up on some Jaipur or Revival while drinking an average beer.

While life’s too short to drink crap beer, it’s also too short to drink the same stuff week in week out, no matter how good it is; variety being the spice of life and all that. So a few weeks back I decided to take the plunge and bought all the different Bath Ales bottles I could get my hands on, here’s what I thought of them:

Ginger Hare, 3.9%

Poured a pleasing light amber colour, with a rocky white head. The head didn’t last and while wasn’t too hard to get going, you just knew it would fade quickly. The nose was full of sticky stem ginger in syrup notes. In the mouth it was just a tadge on the too light of body for my tastes, with just a hint of wateriness creeping in round the edges. The flavours were pretty subdued, with the ginger being subtle, rather than burn your mouth off, but not too subtle that you were left wondering how much they’d actually put in. That coupled with the pleasant initial malt flavours and the lightly bitter lingering aftertaste, made for a seriously quaffable beer. One of the nicer ginger ales I’ve had.

Golden Hare, 4.4%

Poured a crystal clear golden colour, with a good fluffy white head. The head took a while to get going, but formed quickly there after. Although it hung around for a bit, it did eventually disappear completely. I didn’t get a whole lot on the nose, just some malty cereal notes. In the mouth it was pretty full bodied, and nicely balanced. There was a definite subtle cereal quality to the malt flavours, which were then replaced by a juicy mouth prickle and a soft fruity and slightly bitter aftertaste. A nice solid beer.

Gem, 4.8%

Poured a chestnut brown colour with a large rocky, slightly off white head. The head dropped fairly quickly, and settled at a thin skin over the top. Not much on the nose, except for some dark cerealish malt notes. In the mouth it was sort of full bodied, but I thought it didn’t feel as full bodied as it was, due to all the mouth watering juiciness. It was certainly a malt driven beer, with the slightly dark malty flavours running all the way through to the finish. Even the slight bitterness couldn’t quite get through the malt, even at the end. Pretty nice though.

Dark Side, 4%

Poured a near jet black, with just hints of brown round the edges. The light tan coloured head was slow to get going, but ended in a decent size. It didn’t last though and disappeared completely, fairly quickly. The nose was chock full of roasted notes, with maybe hints of coffee. In the mouth it was medium bodied, maybe a tadge on the thin side, but easy drinking because of it. It was smooth, with drying, subtle roasted flavours. It had a nice bitter tickle in the middle, which lingered in the complex roasted after taste. Very nice indeed.

Barnsley, 4.5%

Poured a lovely mahogany colour with an off white, slightly tan coloured head. The head was slow to form, but ended up quite large. Although it didn’t last long and dropped to a skin fairly quickly. The nose had some soft, subtle burnt toffee, treacle type notes. In the mouth it had a nice soft burnt toffee thing going on, which lead to a lingering stewed fruit juicy mouthwateringness (is that even a word…?). It didn’t feel particularly bitter, being mainly malt driven, but it felt like there was a bit just before the after taste cut in.

Wild Hare, 5%

Poured a deep straw colour, not quite a light amber, but getting there. The fluffy white head that formed slowly, wasn’t that big and didn’t last very long, before dropping to a ring round the edge of the glass. I didn’t get much on the nose to be honest, maybe a hint of some subtle marmalade type note, but nothing that stood out. In was initially pleasant in the mouth, but then I thought there was an odd cereal type flavour that I didn’t really like, that came to the fore. It didn’t dominate, but I found it detracted from my enjoyment of the rest too much, which was a shame. While It had quite an aggressive mouth feel, it was nicely balanced with some good bitterness that wafted down the after taste along with a load of juicy mouthwateringness. Sort of enjoyable, but disappointing at the same time.

I thought all but the Wild Hare were pretty decent, the Dark Side being my pick of the bunch; I thought it was really nice and would love to try it on cask. I didn’t get on with the Wild Hare, but I don’t believe you can judge a beer on one tasting, well in most cases you can’t, so I’ve bought another bottle to give it a second chance.

Was my money well spent though, or did I wish I’d rather bought some Jaipur or Revival? Overall I’m quite happy I tried them, I can’t say I was disappointed by any of them, other than the Wild Hare. I’d definitely give them a go if I ever saw them in a pub, especially the Dark Side. Wither I’ll be buying bottles regularly or not though, I can’t say, it will as ever depend on my mood and whim.

Advent Beer – Vintage Ale 2011

The more observant of you will notice that I’ve jumped straight from the 2009 Vintage Ale, to the 2011 Vintage Ale, completely bypassing the 2010 version. This wasn’t intentional, but I didn’t get my finger out last year and by the time I got to Waitrose, they only had one bottle left. I didn’t worry, as in the last few years they’ve had the old version in the shop a few weeks before the new vintage comes out. Except that this year they didn’t, so I’ve only got the one bottle and I’m not drinking it until I can find another two or three, so a trip to the brewery shop might be in order.

Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much I can add to what’s already out there about Fuller’s Vintage Ale, even this latest edition. Des de Moor has a fantastic article on his website from a recent vertical tasting of all the Vintage Ales. Definitely worth a read, especially if you’ve been storing bottles for a rainy day like I have.

My notes said it poured a burnished brown, with a slightly off white head. The head was initially quite sizeable, but dropped back fairly quickly. I didn’t really get much on the nose, but I was suffering with a cold, so your mileage may vary. You could tell it was a Fuller’s beer right from the initial taste, due to all that spicy, pithy orange character that is prevalent in a lot of their beers. I didn’t really get any hop character at all, it seemed to be all malt, but not in a bad way, as it wasn’t cloying and overly sweet.

To be honest, it’s just another classic Fuller’s Vintage Ale, all be it, a young one that needs time to mature and develop. Give it a few years and it’ll be even more gorgeous.

Does Familiarity Breed Contempt, Or Is It A Safety Blanket?

Way back at the end of July, I won a Don’t Drink Hophead t-shirt from Dark Star via Twitter. The idea appeared to be to get people wearing the t-shirts at GBBF, as some sort of reverse psycology subversive stealth marketing. One thing I didn’t expect I’d get while wearing it was abuse from other GBBF punters. Most of which was good natured, I have to say, but there were a few people who made it be known, in no uncertain terms, that they thought Hophead was shite.

Their complaints seem to be along the lines of it’s not what it used to be and this got me thinking. I came up with three possible reasons for their complaints, one, the beer has actually changed for the worse over time. Two, they have drank so much of it, that they have now become so used to it and are thus ambivalent toward it. Three, they have under gone some level of Lupulin Threshold Shift and can’t taste the hops anymore.

Let’s look at each of these points, firstly, has the beer actually changed for the worse over time? I doubt it, but like all real ale, it’s susceptible to variations in malt and hops from year to year, so I would think the recipe gets tweaked every now and again to compensate. It’s also at the mercy of pub landlords and we all know they can fuck up a perfectly good beer and make it taste like shite. However, I really doubt Dark Star would deliberately modify one of their flagship beers to make it taste worse, as it just doesn’t make good business sense.

Secondly, have they become ambivalent to it? I know that I go through phases of drinking certain styles of beer or certain beers, but then I want a change and I don’t go back to those beer styles or beers for ages, if ever. Take BrewDog Punk IPA, I’ve drank loads of it, it’s still the beer I’ve checked into more than any other on Untappd. It’s not a bad beer, but I’m just so over it, it doesn’t excite me anymore, that coupled with their legendary consistency issues and knobend (IMHO) marketing and I’d rather spend my money on another brewers beer.

I’ve also drank loads of Thornbridge Jaipur and I now ration it, so that it doesn’t go the same way as Punk IPA. If I’m in Waitrose, which I’m not that often anymore, then I might buy one if I see it, but gone are the weeks of drinking it endlessly. So it’s perfectly possible that these people have drank so much Hophead, or had too many duff pints, that they’ve become ambivalent to it and in some cases quite anti the beer.

Finally, could these punters have suffered from the mythical Lupulin Threshold Shift? While this last point is slightly tongue in cheek, it’s certainly possible, as one of the most vocal abusers works in a Cambridge pub and I know he’s a bit of a beer geek and has tried all sorts of exotic beer. Maybe Hophead is now too subtle for him and he craves more bitterness, more ABV or more of something else. Having said that, he was highly critical, scathing and negative about practically everything, so you have to take these things with a pinch of salt…

For the record, I’ve only ever had a half of Hophead, it’s not a beer I’ve come across very often, in fact, I think I’ve only ever seen it for sale twice. I really liked it and I can see why lots of people hold it in such high esteem. I’d love to try some more, but I always feel that I’m missing out on something if I don’t try beers I haven’t had before. There’s something to be said for the familiarity of a certain beer though, a know quantity, especially with some of the shockers you end up trying in your quest for the next great beer.

Bailey, of Boak and Bailey fame, commented on my bemoaning of Free Houses that serve the same beer as tied pub in the same locale. He relates a tale of locals haranguing the Landlord:

And, a bit of insight – we were in the George Inn at Middlezoy in Somerset last year where the landlord had gone to a lot of trouble to get local beer from Moor, Butcombe and (I think) RCH, but was being harangued by his regulars: "Get London Pride on!"

He explained that it cost more for him to buy, had to travel a long way and that he liked local beer.

They didn’t care. "Get London Pride on!"

This got me thinking again, while familiarity can breed ambivalence and contempt, maybe it can also act as a safety blanket. Bailey’s comment reminded me of an incident at my wedding, I’d gone to the trouble of getting in a couple of polypins of beer from the local Milton Brewery and was quite chuffed to have some decent beer to offer the guests. I told my parent’s next door neighbour, who I’ve known since I was a child and so was a guest, as I know he likes his beer. I was shocked at the time by his reply, as he said he’d rather just have a few pints of John Smiths, as this is what he drinks down the pub on his weekly outing with his friends.

To him, the constant nature of John Smiths is a safety blanket. He goes out once a week and knows that the few pints he has, will all be the same and will all taste the same as they did last week and the week before that. If they choose to go to another pub and it serves John Smiths, he knows it will taste the same there, he has his safety blanket. He’s not interested in trying different styles of beer, chopping and changing between pale and hoppy, stouts, lambics and the like. Maybe he doesn’t want to run the risk of having a bad pint, he’s only out once a week after all, so just wants to enjoy himself with a known constant.

I used to have a regular beer too. When I was a student at Heriot-Watt, I lived just off Leith Walk for a year and we used to frequent Robbie’s. The round was two pints of Scrumpy Jack and a Harviestoun Ptarmigan and we were in there so often, we didn’t need to ask, just a nod and the drinks were poured. I couldn’t tell you what other beer they sold, I only had eyes for Ptarmigan 85/-, as it was called back then. I don’t go to the pub often enough to have a regular beer anymore and the pubs I like to frequent, don’t normally have a regular beer either, which suits me just fine.

I started this blog because I’d got stuck in a rut, I was drinking the same old beers at home, week in week out. I suppose drinking them week in and week out was a safety blanket of sorts, I knew what I was getting. However, I can’t remember the last time I had a bottle of Adnams Explorer, Fullers Discovery and Wychwood WychCraft at home. I wouldn’t say that familiarly bred contempt, I’ve just moved on, my tastes have since changed.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with this blog, I feel like I’m rambling, so I think I’ll try and conclude.

Just because one person likes to drink John Smiths at the exclusion of everything else, doesn’t make them a bad person who has no taste, they just want something different from you and me. Also, just because a beer tastes different to how you remember it, doesn’t necessarily meant that beer has changed. Our tastes can change over time, the change can be quite subtle, or happen in a heart beat. Just because we no longer drink a certain beer due to our tastes changing, doesn’t suddenly make it inferior or bad, just different.

If I were to make a point though, I suppose it’s that everyone is different and wants different things from beer. Just because someone wants something different from you doesn’t mean their wrong, or that you’re wrong. I don’t think there is a right and wrong when it comes to beer, just a difference of opinion.

My opinion? I’ll be drinking Hophead at the next available opportunity. I’m a sucker for reverse psychology…

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.

The Session #45 – Wheat Beer Availability in Cambridge Supermarkets

The title makes this post sound like it’s a thesis or something, it’s not, it’s my first post for The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday. If you’re not familiar with The Session, then head off here to learn more:

The SessionThis months topic is, Wheat Beers, which just happen to be one of my favourite styles of beer. When I first moved to Cambridge, I drink an obscene amounts of Hoegaarden, it was about £3.20 a pint, almost twice as expensive as all the cask ale on offer at the local Hogshead. I thought I was being cool and trendy, in reality I was being royally ripped off by InterBrew, for what is essentially an average beer.

I don’t get to the pub much these days, so the majority of my wheat beer drinking is confined to the couch. While it’s not as social as the pub, I can at least drink what I want, up to a point. While I’m not constrained by whatever the publican has in stock, I am constrained by what I can buy locally, which for the majority of people, means the supermarket.

Cambridge isn’t particularly blessed when it comes to supermarket choice, we have far, far too many Tesco stores. Of the big four supermarkets, that would be Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, we have all but a Morrisons in Cambridge, the nearest one is 20 minutes drive to the West, not really practical if you’re on Shanks’ Pony or a bike. By far the best supermarket in town, in my opinion, is Waitrose, the quality of the food is better, as is the extensive range of beer. So how do these supermarkets rank as far as wheat beer availability goes?

Tesco
Hoegaarden Witbier
Tesco Finest* Belgian Wheat Beer
Erdinger Weißbier
Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier
Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier
ASDA
Hoegaarden Witbier
Erdinger Weißbier
Sainsbury’s
Erdinger Weißbier
Schneider Weisse TAP7 Unser Original
Grolsch Weizen
Edelweisse Wheat Beer
Hoegaarden Witbier
Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier
Waitrose
Hoegaarden Witbier
Erdinger Weißbier
Witrose Bavarian Weissbier
Witrose Bavarian Dunkel Weissbier

Sainsbury’s has the largest selection, but as you can see, there is quite a bit of duplication going on, if you’re a fan of Hoegaarden or Erdinger, then you’re in luck no matter where you shop. It’s interesting to note how few Belgian wheat beers there are, they’re mostly German style, which is a shame as I’m quite partial to a Belgian Wit.

Of course, you could just shop locally and avoid the supermarket like the plague. The Bacchanalia on Mill Road is one of the best beer shops in the country and has an amazing selection of beer from around the world. The selection changes as deliveries come and go, but there is always a great selection of wheat beers from the UK and abroad.

White Shield

Worthington's White ShieldIt’s over a decade since I last had a bottle of Worthington’s White Shield, I bought one as I’d heard the yeast was good for use in homebrew. I can remember really not liking it, however I can’t remember exactly why I didn’t like it. It disappeared from the shelves soon after, so not liking it was a bit of a moot point really.

I tried to get hold of a couple of bottles earlier this year as I was thinking of doing a homebrew clone and I wanted to know what it tasted like. I couldn’t find any locally and baulked at buying a couple online due to postage cost, so I put that idea to bed and did a brew based on Old Peculier instead.

If I’d gone to the Burton twissup, I’d have got a tour round the White Shield brewery and I’d have got to met Steve Wellington, the brewer, c’est la vie. Anyway, to cut a rambling story short, it turns out that one of my local Waitrose stores are now stocking bottles of White Shield, so I popped along the other week and picked up a couple.

Worthington's White ShieldThe first bottle poured a dark amber with a large fluffy off white head. There was a serious amount of bubbles feeding the head and it looked like a jacuzzi going on in the glass. The nose was all sulphurous, the infamous Burton Snatch. Although there was possibly a hint of fruity malt hiding in there too.

For the amount of bubbles, the body was surprisingly smooth, I was expecting it to be rougher. It was quite full bodied, with a malty nutty taste. It wasn’t as bitter as I was expecting, although I’m not sure what I was expecting to be honest. There’s was enough bitterness to counteract the maltiness though. The after taste was all subtle lingering marmalade and really quite pleasant.

After having two bottles, one after the other, I have to say that I quite like it. Having said that, if given the choice between this and say, Fuller’s Bengal Lancer, I think I’d take the Bengal Lancer

Prospect

Hepworth Prospectthis is another beer that I picked up earlier in the year, when we were visiting a friend near Lewes. I’d popped into the local Waitrose to see what they had and picked up four Hepworth beers. This is the only one that was bottle conditioned.

It poured a lightish copper, with a hard to form loose off white head that slowly dropped to a covering. It smelled grassy and fresh, with hints of biscuity malt. The initial fruity maltness was taken over by some fruity grassy hops that then blend into a fruity after taste togeather with the malt.

It was a well conditioned, pleasant, if unspectacular ale. To be honest, I think I preferred a couple of their non-bottle conditioned beers to this one.