Sunday, November 7, 2010


Frambozen (****_)
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Hi, Sean Gillies here; I've collaborated with Gabby on a few research projects such as "what's the best pilsner in Heidelberg?" and "is there a pub in London that serves craft brews and tolerates children?" I'm jumping at his invitation to try some beer blogging, and thought I might use a hometown beer event as a launch pad. Last Wednesday saw the release of New Belgium Brewing's seasonal Frambozen, a beer I always look forward too, and have long associated with putting snow tires on the car and ski tuning.

This is not fruit syrup or extract added at bottling time; Frambozen is a brown ale fermented with raspberry juice in the Belgian Framboise style. Once upon a time, I made a beer at home with frozen, whole blackberries and it was an incredible mess. Using whole fruit is, I suspect, not a practice that scales in a brewery.

The beer is clear (not refermented in bottle) deep ruby-brown with an ample and pinkish head. It has a moderate carbonation. The nose is of sour fruit with a hint of malt. Frambozen is fairly light-bodied and tart, on account of the fruit and not due (as far as I know) to any lactobacillus. While fruity, it's also very dry, extraordinarily so for an American fruit beer. The aftertaste is of toasty biscuit malt and fresh, not jammy, raspberries. There's very little hop character in this beer.

I enjoy this beer more than most of my beer-drinking friends do, most find it too tart to drink without food. At least a couple times a season, I'll ask a bartender to pour some stout on top, black and tan style, to get a sense of another take on Framboise with a little more body, more dark malt.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Straw poll: Winter ales?

A quick question for all readers (and writers) of this blog: what winter ales would you recommend? (Any thoughts on what defines a winter ale also welcome.)

Have you ever tried any of the following seasonal beers from some of my favourite breweries?
  • Box Steam, Xmas Dark Box
  • Cairngorm, Howler
  • Orkney, Clootie Dumpling
  • Ringwood, XXXX Porter
  • Vale, Hadda's Winter Solstice

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Best Pub in London? - 2

This is a follow up to our previous post, about the Bree Louise, that surprised us with the selection of real ale and ciders on offer. Even though we only had some chips to eat, others have also praised their homemade pies and I will probably go back to try them.
Despite being very busy (it was a Friday night), we had good service and managed to get hold of a table while we were still drinking our first pint. Great conversation, office gossip, news sharing and many cheers followed and here are my thoughts on some of the ales and cider I tried.

Brew Dog Punk IPA, clear orange pale ale with fresh, gently citrusy head; dry golden, a bit tingly first taste; bitter and mild on the tongue with a good mix of hops and bitterness on the swallow. And is this mix that made it my favourite of the night. As GB suggested, Punk must be a reference to the cheeky foretaste, an uncompromisingly in-your-face beer.

Tempted by the selection of ciders and because I am in a Perry-liking phase (usually Perry is too sweet for my taste), I tried Weston Country Perry. Very light, extremely sweet but eminently quaffable; like a juice you could have drunk the whole pint down at once. Not much pear in the taste, but much less harsh than an apple cider. Good, but not impressive.

Towards the end of the night, I had a dark ale with a christmasy name: Downton Chocolate Orange. Quite dark golden/brown, creamy porter aroma; shocking hit of chocolate and sweet citrus straightaway, but a bit artificial and it doesn't last, and is replaced by a very palatable bitterness; not too dark-tasting at all, but the noticeable chocolate orange hit is a pleasant surprise.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Best pub in London?

To my great delight (although also shame) I was introduced for the first time earlier this week to the Bree Louise, an amazing pub (local Camra's best last year) with a range of 16 real ales on pump or gravity cask, plus lots of ciders (*ack*). (The website sucks, so don't judge it on that.) They haven't gone to great lengths to make the pub itself beautiful either--mismatched tables and rickety chairs are over-crowded into the space, smoke from the smokers on the pavement and in the doorways carries into the bar, and there's almost nothing vegetarian on the food menu, but the range of beer and the friendly and knowledgeable staff more or less make up for all that.

When I arrived at the bar I couldn't see what was on gravity, so I asked the barmaid for "something dark but not too dark", and received a perfectly drinkable pint--but I neglected to ask what it was, so there's not much point in reviewing it.

I then ordered a pint of the Dark Star Festival, which is a clear dark ale with a scent of fruity sap; it's a little tart, but has a good strong bitter flavour and a very satisfying swallow. This could easily become our regular evening beer. (But not tonight.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

TW1 Beer Tasting (3)

Slightly different proceedure this time: there were six of us tasting (as opposed to three at the previous TW1 sessions), so the aggregate scores are all sucked toward the average by the fact that tastes differ. Beers will be ranked here according to the group preferences, but comments and stars mostly refer to my own tastes and favourites

Innis and Gunn Rum Cask (****.): not really a microbrew or a real ale, but we finished the night with this drink and it took everyone's fancy very nicely. It's a slightly darker beer, about the colour of an Irish setter, with an oaky, whiskey aroma; it has a dark sweetness, not the stickiness of rum, but more the smoothness of a good bourbon. Refreshing despite a strong aftertaste, and very quaffable. Could happily drink this all night. It was SC's favourite. Group score: 26/30 (extrapolated)

Box Steam Funnel Blower (*****): a very dark beer with a chocolatey odour, a sweet and smokey first taste, and a hint of vanilla in the swallow. My personal favourite of the night, a dark porter, stronger than expected, and up there for me with the most drinkable stouts; also ES's joint favourite. (Has anyone visited Box Steam in Wiltshire?) 23/30

Whittington Cat's Whiskers (***..): a dark, russet-vrown ale with lots of loose yeast in the bottle (I don't know if this is typical of the beer, or if it got shaken up on opening, but it slightly decreased my enjoyment of it); the head is both smoky and fruity, and it tastes like a good traditional pub bitter, if a little bit harsh to my throat. This was RV's joint favourite of the evening, however. 22/30

Cheddar Ales Totty Pot (****.): one of my favourites, a very dark, almost opaque beer with a smoky bacon aroma, smelling more like a stout than a porter. A beer for a winter evening, with a sweet but very bitter first taste, a signicant kick of spiciness--a hint of liquorice and roasted cardamon. This should certainly be a more mainstream beer, in my opinion, and I'm going to look out for Cheddar Ales in future. RV couldn't stomach the smokiness, and singlehandedly brought the score down several points. 21/30

Hercule Stout (***..): a Belgian dark ale, but with much less flavour than expected; thick and dark but almost odourless; tones of smokiness, but not too much even for the non-fans of dark beer among us; sweet and subtle on the finish. Quite drinkable, but sadly not very memorable, although SC and RV liked it better. 20/30

Chimera Honey Blonde (**...): one of the beers that didn't really work for me at all, although Chimera is a great label and I normally enjoy honey ale. This was very light, with a hint of lemon and apple in the aroma; a crisp clean bitterness in the aftertaste. Looking at the overall scores, everybody either loved or hated this--it was RV's other favourite, and MR also liked it a lot. 18/30

Vale Edgar's Golden (***..): another one that divided the group (with only myself thinking it average), this outing from TW1 favourites Vale is a clear light ale, sweet but gentle tasting with the slightest hint of honey; slightly watery on the finish, with strong hops but not much else. 18/30

St Peter's Mild (***..): Again, not a bottle conditioned ale and widely available in supermarkets, St Peter's are nevertheless reliable and serve a good variety of beer styles. The Mild is fairly dark, more brown than red, with a mildly smoky odour; it has more stout bitterness than sweetness in the flavour, and is light but drinkable. Everybody scored this completely average. 18/30 (extrapolated)

Cropton Balmy Mild: I sat this round out, but I'm told that this misty amber ale was hoppy with a caramel aroma and hints of chewy toffee in the taste; a bit smoky on the swallow, but overall a little weak. RV reported a cloying aftertaste of processed sugar that spoiled it a bit, but RP liked it a lot. 17/30 (extrapolated)

Duchy Organics Old Ruby Ale (***..): a promising dark amber beer the colour of brandy, with a deep malty and musty aroma; it gave a sharp and very bitter first taste, but on the swallow a slightly unpelasant flavour of decay and too much yeast; average to slightly below average for everyone (ES didn't like it at all). 16/30

Thwaites Very Nutty Black (***..): another more mainstream beer, nonetheless pretty smooth and drinkable (a particular hit with those who don't taste to smoky ales so much). This "export strength" version of the Nutty Black ale is dark, but with a rich ruby, almost cola-like glow with held up to the light; it smells slightly but really not very nutty, and has a smooth and unremarkable ale flavour; it's refreshing and dark, but not overwhelming in any sense. RV liked it, but most of the rest of us were underwhelmed. 16/30

Suthwyck Old Dick (***..): this rich, golden-blonde ale has a hoppy odour, a sparkly, slightly rancid first taste, and a heavy aftertaste that reminded more than one person of the distinctive smell of asparagus-wee. Reactions were mostly average, but MR hated this and brought down the aggregate score quite heavily. 15/30

Kloster Andrechs (****.): we're now at the bottom of the pile as far as the group assessment went, but I did rather like this fine example of a German Doppel Bock styled dunkel. It is dark brown in colour, with an earthy, olive aroma, a thick and almost syrupy smell of malthouse; a lovely malty sweet taste with a struby bitter finish. This beer lost points because most people, although admitting it was very nice, didn't think they could ever drink a whole pint of something this chewy. (RP absolutely hated it, it has to be said.) 14/30

Quintine (***..): we started the evening with this attractively labelled Belgian white-beer, and most people were pretty disappointed. It certainly wasn't terrible, but this cloudy golden beer with odours of fruit and ammonia had a tangy first taste, both bitter and sweet, and a lot less flavour to it that we expect from a Belgian; very little on the swallow, and not much distinctive about it at all (RP was most vocal in his disappproval). 14/30

Black Isle Red Kite (**...): I love the Black Isle brewery, but this soft amber ale had an aroma like peach ice tea, a fizzy, sweet and mild first taste, and lingering sweetness on the swallow. Everyone was pretty underwhelmed (although ES and SC were more forgiving than the rest of us). 14/30

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Just to prove that we drink Belgian/Low Countries beer as well as British real ale, here are a couple of tastings (and snapshots) from tonight's visit to the theme pub:
I hope we'll have more Belgian tasting notes (from people who know what they're talking about) soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bottled beer tasting: Twickenham

As before, three of us tasted a variety of bottled real ales, made notes and gave an overall score out of 5. (Where 5 was, "this is a great beer I would actively seek out, recommend to others, and could drink all night"; 4 is "this is a good beer I'd enjoy drinking more of right now"; 3 is "this beer is fine, I'd happily drink it in a pub"; 2 is, "fine, but wouldn't seek it out, or choose it in a pub unless it was all they had on" (Guinness and London Pride are here); 1 is "not very nice at all, would never choose to drink this"; 0 (rare) is "I couldn't even swallow the first mouthful, vile vile vile.") I'll give my score out of five (as an icon), and the aggregate score out of 15.

Twickenham Ales, Naked Ladies: we got a four-pint bottle of this one from  the cask in, and it lasted well even 24 hours later. A bright, clear golden colour, hoppy nose, taste like a West Coast microbrew with hints of grapefruit. A bit hoppy for my taste, and kind of mainstream, but a big hit overall. (Shame about the laddish name.) Aggregate 11/15. My score: 4/5.

Hogs Back BSA: (We'd forgotten we had this last year too.) Very clear coppery coloured; smooth drinking, slightly fizzy. Aggregate: 9. My score: 3.

Laverstoke Organic Ale: tacky cartoonish label; a fruity nose and slightly insipid colour; almost like wine; very bitter, a little woody and buttery on the finish. Aggregate: 10.

Cropton Yorkshire Ale: malty and peaty, with an odour like broken thistles; deceptively light; like a German bock; some green sappy sweetness. Not bad, but not great by Yorkshire standards. Aggregate: 9.

Black Swan Mild: dark ruby coloured, very sweet aroma, a smoky first taste but slightly harsh roasted flavour; hint of flame-dried raisins. Aggregate: 11.

Box Steam Brewery, Funnel Blower: billed as a porter, but almost stout in stature. Honey, treacle, chocolate and butter in the flavours, but not without bitterness. Bit of a bite. The group's joint favourite of the night. Aggregate: 14.

Tewdric's Tipple: fruity aroma with a very hoppy taste, but smooth and not too much hops on the swallow; tastes include moss, ocean, and flower. Aggregate: 13.

Meantime Wheat Beer: tart and fruitier than expected, too sweet, cooked for too long, lots of banana and bubblegum. Perhaps unfair because we weren't in the mood for wheat beer, but not a great example of the style. Aggregate: 7.

Meantime London Stout: nice and smoky, very good stout; coarse, rough and authentic. Would drink more. Aggregate: 12.

Moorlands Old Crafty Hen: a rich, fruity and strong ale; great with cheese; majestic; cognac-coloured, smooth, mature and even a little decadent. Not a session ale, perhaps, but the other joint favourite of the night. Aggregate: 14.

Otley, O-Garden: a wheat beer; fruity, spicy, herby; with coriander, grass and holy fuck but nutmeg! Trying too hard to be clever, overall. Not bad beer if you drink it without smelling (but then you can drink vomit if you don't smell it). Aggregate: 5.

Suma, Long Wall Mouse: clean fruity aroma; hoppy and spicy; bitter with touch of tannin; "lively little wench". Aggregate: 10.

Vale, Wychert: a robust-smelling ale, with a sharp first bite. A timber-framed beer with early malts but rounded hops; well-crafted and solid. Aggregate (extrapolated): 12.

Black Isle Scotch Ale: a malty and fruity organic ale, very quaffable. Aggregate (extrapolated): 13.5.

Brakspear Organic Ale: floral, strong tasting, very drinkable ale. Aggregate (extrapolated): 11.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Great British Beer Festival 2010, tasting notes via Twitter (2)

Earl's Court: Saturday daytime session

  • Kelburn Misty Law: nice dusty aroma like good Scottish 80/- . Sweet, bitter and very quaffable;
  • Kingstone 1503 Tudor Ale: very raisiny dark ale. Hint of home-roasted malt. Authentic mediaeval flavour
  • Goff's Jouster: amber, almost odorless, malty and fruity, smoky in the finish.
  • Stewart's Edinburgh No 3: dark premium ale, slight aroma of slurry, but very smooth and delicate flavour. Unusually woody.
  • O'Hanlon's Port Stout: rich, very clean, less raisin than you might expect, can't taste the port.
  • Caledonian Mexican Bandit: very hoppy and fruity head, orange or lime. Much less flavour on the sip or the swallow, though.
  • Belhaven 70/-: clear coppery coloured, apricot/caramel scented, startlingly fruity flavour with a bitter, metallic chlorophyll finish
  • Sulwath Solway Mist: slightly cloudy, very sharp, hoppy aroma, sweet, earthy, almost sickly flavour, woodsap finish.
  • 2nd opinion on Solway Mist: very fruity, with hints of elderflower, grapefruit, honey, lemon & ammonia.
  • Barngates Red Bull Terrier: dark red, clean sweet smelling, charcoal flavour and very bitter finish
  • Yates Sun Goddess: whiskey colored, fresh and sour aroma, delicate & sparkly tasting with hoppy finish
  • Barlow Carnival Ale: deep golden colored, tart hoppy aroma, very clean IPA taste, with rough peppery finish
  • Richmond Swale: looks and smells like an old brown ale; gently sour foretaste, very smoky finish.
  • Bollington Oatmeal Stout: bacon and prune flavours, very little roast to it, green but promising stout
  • ending the session with a Banks Mild: predictable, full-flavoured, rich and slightly sweet. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Great British Beer Festival 2010, tasting notes via Twitter (1)

Earl’s Court: Wednesday Evening session
  • Downton Chocolate Orange Delight. Surprisingly non-gimmicky and palatable. Smooth, sweet.
  • Cairngorm Black Gold: slightly peaty, smoky, quite sweet, a hint of liquorice and the familiar Cairngorm grapefruit/elderberry mix
  • Highland Orkney Blast: very hoppy, very bitter, almost lime in there, slightly sweet but some hints of camphor
  • Brewsters Hop a Doodle Do, less hoppy than expected, a rounded beer
  • Daleside Old Legover: yeasty, almost bready aroma, flavour is a nice mix of smoky, sweet malt and bitter.
  • Glastonbury Lady of the Lake: strong, fruity nose, a little tart, hoppy and malty at the same time, light and throaty.
  • Beowulf Strong Mild: lovely, rich dark aroma, but very strong, almost syrupy taste. Great old ale, but not a session beer...
  • Nottingham Rock Ale Mild: gentle aroma, slightly disappointingly mild, a bit of peat, raisin and plum. "smells like a tube station"
  • Salopian Shropshire Lass: fruity and hoppy, full-flavoured, a little bit lambic, a little tart. Pleasant, though.
  • Abbeydale Doctor Morton's Milk of Amnesia: light and wheaty, but unexpectedly smoky. Belgian. Banana. Yeasty.