Dutch Beer Review: De Prael, Amsterdam

De Prael beer

Three Dutch masters

I come to Amsterdam a couple of times a year and, as you’d expect with Germans and Belgians for neighbours, the Dutch can turn their hand to producing a decent pint. Heineken is to Amsterdam what Guinness is to Dublin, but let’s take the big boys with the Champions League-sized marketing budgets out of the equation for a second and give some airtime to Amsterdam’s brewpubs.

On previous visits I have been to Brouwerij ‘t Ij (pronounced ‘Brow-er-ay tie’) – and got the t-shirt (no, really, I have), and this week I hope to get to Brouwerij Troost, but tonight belongs to De Prael.

Brouwerij De Prael, Amsterdam

De Prael Zwarte Riek

De Prael Zwarte Riek

De Prael is based right in the heart of Amsterdam, near the Centraal Station. It’s got a really nice drop-like logo and proudly displays the three crosses of the Amsterdam flag in its wares. Contrary to what you might think, what with Amsterdam’s reputation, the ‘XXX’ is actually rumoured to be either representative of the triple threat the city faced in mediaeval times of fire, flood and plague, or an ancient lord’s personal heraldry. Whatever it stands for, it’s everywhere in Amsterdam.

I found a stash of De Prael beers at a supermarket I often go to in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport so to reward a wonderful early summer evening jog around Vondelpark I have dipped into three of De Prael’s offering.

De Prael Zwarte Riek (4.9%)

This milk stout’s name translates as ‘Black Prong’ and is as smooth as you could wish for. The nose has that sweet malt Marmite-esque-ness that is loaded with promise. The initial hit is a malt punch, but then if you allow it to swill around in your mouth you can enjoy the subtle, inoffensive smokiness and a hint of bitter hops. Absolutely first class.

De Prael Nick & Simon (6.1%)

De Prael Nick & Simon

De Prael Nick & Simon

It was the Flemish from just down the road in what is now Belgium who first introduced hops to Kent, so it is only fitting that the East Kent Golding hop has returned to the Low Countries to help produce this “Lowlands India Pale Ale”.

This is alive with active yeasts and the first thing that sprang to mind was strawberry yoghurt. Great lacing and a real fruity hum, but they didn’t hold back on the ABV. Take this one slowly!

De Prael Willeke (7.5%)

I’m sure there’s a joke here about knock-out blondes, but this blonde tripel style beer is a stonking 7.5%. It promises to be ‘warm and embracing’; this is a character-laden beer and the hops win. There’s a grassy hint in the nose and a certain raw ecology in the taste.

De Prael does a large range, so look out for them when in Amsterdam.

Madrid bar review: Fábrica Maravillas

Fabrica Maravillas

Two of Fabrica Maravillas’ beers

Many moons ago I was a student in Madrid, and I recently chronicled my 18-year struggle to find a decent pint in Spain. Thanks to the craft beer revolution, even in recession-smashed Spain there is room for disruption what was a pretty generic beer market.

The area in which we students used to stumble hang out was around Malasaña to the north of Gran Via, a veritable mess on a Friday or Saturday night. I remember it as dark place where the deep orange neon intruded upon onerous shadows. Malasaña is famous for its vibrant counter-culture and, of course, where there are hipsters there is craft beer.

The Fábrica Maravillas brewpub opened in 2012 and is a welcome oasis in a barrio drenched in lager, wine and hideous kalimotxo (red wine and cola mixed). For this alone I would salute them. I popped in to try out its range and now salute them even more.

Fabrica Maravillas Madrid

Imperial measures

The set-up is minimalist, typical of the American-style brick wall speakeasy with prices on glass rather than a chalkboard. Through the glass you can see the cisterns hard at work, another key feature of the modern brewpub. I like it. It’s akin to seeing the kitchen at Wagamama. And there’s an apparently penchant for leaving small denomination coins in the brick walls.

Talking hops at Fábrica Maravillas

I love being able to talk to educated bar staff about beer, especially in random places where I don’t expect it, as with my recent trip to Rome’s Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá. The lady behind the bar asked me what lúpulos (hops) I liked and that guided my choice of beer.

Fabrica Maravillas Madrid

Obligatory selfie

I opted for a Citra-led Malasaña Ale over a Calypso pale ale and it didn’t disappoint. Having tried, I know Citra is a hard hop to lock down, it’s so acidic. Overplay it and you’re finished. This cloudy amber number boasts a spicy fruitcake nose and is bitter to the point of sharp.

If you’re into saisons, which Fábrica Maravillas also makes, then this might be up your street.

Next up was the American India Pale Ale, which is really malt-forward. It’s a lovely tawny-toffee colour with a floaty head that sticks around. The caramel malt really leads this one and it’s quite chewy (not a bad thing at all). The hop compliment well but sit in the background to provide the odd lemony whisper.

I didn’t get around to the others – a saison and an imperial stout among them – but I will doubtless be back and hopefully next time I’ll make it to midnight at the oasis.

How to find Fábrica Maravillas, Madrid

Spain comes to the craft beer revolution

Spanish craft beer

Spanish craft beer is in the ascendency

I love Spain. I worked out that I have lived in the country for 5.2% of my life, which includes a year as a student in Madrid and another later stint based in Valencia. Two things were sadly remiss during this time: cricket and good beer. We may have to wait a while for cricket to catch on in Spain but I’m delighted to report that good beer is here and – as elsewhere – infiltrating the mainstream.

When I was a student in the Spanish capital in the late nineties I struggled for ales. All that was on offer were the heavy lagers of Mahou, Aguila Amstel, Estrella Damm et al, and short of forking out a fiver on a bloaty pint of Guinness in one of the many Oirish pubs popping up all over the city, my only choice for a decent beer was a weekly visit to Marks & Spencer (no longer there) in the business district.

I believe this was when I began discovering wine – through sheer desperation.

Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and I am back in Madrid where an impromptu visit to the El Corte Inglés supermarket threw up not one but FOUR bottles of cerveza artesanal (craft beer) from across the country. Added to that, I’ve found a brewpub which I’m going to visit.

¡Bienvenido España a la revolución de cerveza artesanal!

Here’s what I made of the bottles I bought tonight:

Islena de Ibiza

We’re going to Ibiza…

Isleña – Ibiza (4.8%)

I love this turn of phrase tipo Ale – it’s an ale style from Ibiza designed to keep revellers refreshed. I can certainly see it doing that. It’s smooth with a nice bitter-sweet balance. Honey notes run throughout, from the colour to the nose to the taste. All the while, cheeky lemon and lime fight to be heard. Materials are sourced from the island itself and the distinctive bottle is designed to protect the beer from the fierce Spanish sun. Read more here.

Torquemada 25 – Castilla (5.5%)

Torquemada is based in Castilla y León, north of Madrid near the cathedral city of Burgos. Its 25 Pale Ale is a bitter hop fest. The nose has grassy bitterness all over it, which heightened preparedness for a bitter hop attack on the tongue. It’s a cloudy amber colour with good lacing but on drinking that bitterness really does punch hard, with the marshmallow yeastiness weighing in to take a swing as well. Boom! Read more here.

Sagra Bohio

Sagra Bohio from the historic city of Toledo

Ballut – Badajoz (5.3%)

From the west of Spain comes Cerveza Ballut, which contains miel (honey), according to the ingredients list. It’s got a Belgian feel to it – bubbly, richly amber in colour and that sharp lemon meringue nose that comes with yeasty Trappistes. The experience, however, is very different to built expectations. The texture is light, the flavour hits late and it’s definitely got notes of honey – but strangely not as much as the Isleña, for my money. The lemon is sweet and it overrides everything else. I like this one. I’m going to take my time about it.

Sagra Bohío – Toledo (10.4%)

This one comes in a posh, dark bottle that just forces you to respect it. Even before you read the strength (10.4%) and that a Michelin star chef helped design it. Sagra comes from Toledo, a wonderful medieval city south of Madrid (I recommend a day trip), and has a large line of beers. Bohío is meant to accompany any meal, in particular dessert, is a ‘triple malt barley wine’.

I’m actually quite intimidated but it dark, moodiness. “Come and drink me if you dare,” it whispers in my ear. It’s properly regal. One whiff of the nose and you pick up rich chocolate airs mixed with a strangely exotic note, like black bean sauce. It is the smoothest, creamiest beer you could wish for and there’s a hypnotic whisky slant which makes me think it’s time to call it a night.

Tomorrow I will visit a brewpub but I am delighted to see Spain coming into the craft beer fold. Spain’s beer market is ripe for disruption, despite its economic woes. I might even be tempted back here for a third stint…

Book Review: The Craft Beer Revolution

craft beer revolution bookIt is already widely recognised that the UK’s new wave of microbrewing was inspired largely by the US craft beer revival of the 70s, 80s and 90s. What may not be quite so well-known on either side of the pond is just what a struggle it was to create that US craft beer revolution in the first place. A new book out this month chronicles the many and protracted challenges US craft brewers faced as they sought to bring new varieties of beer to a market saturated by AB inBev and MillerCoors. Indeed, many battles are still being fought.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favourite Drink was written by Steve Hindy, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery, and hits the shelves later this month.

In many ways, the British and American beer drinker shares a common destiny; it was British beer and British beer enthusiasts – like the late beer writer Michael Jackson – who helped inspired the American new wave, which in turn took off over here. Thanks to tax hikes we’re both drinking less beer but, crucially, better beer than we used to. And we’re all sticking two fingers up to the big brewers or, as Hindy calls it, “the quest by a band of Davids to bring down the Goliaths”.

The Guest Ale was sent a review copy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The American Revolution

San Francisco tram

San Francisco is the birth place of the US new wave of brewers

In 1965, there was just one microbrewery in the US. In 1984, there were 18. In 2014 there are more than 2,600 microbreweries controlling 10 per cent of the US beer market. Hindy, himself a veteran at the heart of the revolution, believes microbreweries could control almost a third (30%) of the market in the next 25 years.

The book starts at the beginning of the journey, when Fritz Maytag bought and revived San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery in 1965. It covers the impact Charlie Papazian’s book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing had on inspiring a new generation of brewers to experiment firstly in their homes and later in a commercial environment.

Names pop up which have become household favourites for many of us: Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Harpoon, Dogfish Head, as well as the brew giants attempts at creating ‘craft’ beers of their own in response, such as MillerCoors’ Blue Moon.

Harpoon IPA

Harpoon IPA from Boston

Hindy sheds some light on the dog-eat-dog nature of the US brewing industry during this period of unprecedented change, from lobbyists in government to in-fighting, which contrasts with the overarching theme of togetherness among the new brewers as new organisations and conferences were formed to support the groundswell. He also credits the media and bloggers with helping spread the message of craft beer.

 

 

The Craft Beer Revolution really is a revelation and shows what a debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who fought to revive brewing in the US, which in turn helped kickstart the massive diversification in brewing which we’ve seen in Britain – now home to more than a thousand breweries.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favourite Drink is out on 20 May 2014. I enjoyed it and recommend it to any true beer historian.

Viennese Bar Review: 1516 Brewing Company

1516 canopy

The 1516 Brewing Company, Vienna.

Vienna is one of those cities that makes you feel more intelligent as you stroll its elegant streets.

It seems that every venue you pass has some historic claim to fame; the café where Freud, Trotsky and Lenin drank, or the place where Mozart, Beethoven or Strauss debuted. We even popped into some actor’s bar. “World famous in Austria,” as my colleague joked.

Left to my own devices I found myself seeking out locations where The Third Man was set, incessantly whistling Ultravox, or suppressing the teen-like urge to titter at the word kunst (art) when observing the mastery of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

It’s just as well that my Austrian colleagues were ready to show me just one of Vienna’s many fine drinking establishments to stop my head spinning in its own Viennese whirl.

1516 Brewing Company

1516 Brewing Company Eejit

1516 Brewing Company’s ‘Eejit’

On a bend in the Schwarzenbergstraße in Vienna’s first district is the 1516 Brewing Company, a brewpub with a distinctly international feel. Not only do accents vary from the German and English-speaking worlds (including the Anglophone bar staff), but the beers also take characteristics from all over the world.

From its extensive beer menu I overlooked the nods to the New World by opting for a traditional Austrian lager beer, a nice crisp Helles Vollbier that reminded me of my place in the world. It is just a relative hop, skip and jump across the Czech border to Plzen, the home of the Pilsner style.

I then migrated onto Weisse (white) beer, a hop-forward, Cascade-loaded meringue fest.

The obsession with hops followed through into the Irish style stout named ‘Eejit’ (idiot), which prompted a brief episode of Father Ted flashbacks. This was, again, hopped up and felt more like one of those black IPAs. In true Austrian style it came with a humungous head. Great aroma though, plus great depth.

There was another one after that but by then I wasn’t paying too much attention. Rest assured that, like Austria’s favourite son, I’ll be back.

Let’s remind ourselves of that Orson Welles quote from The Third Man (below). Look out for the beer ad behind…

How to find 1516 Brewing Company

Beer Review: 60°North and Skipper’s Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

60°North by Lerwick Brewery

60°North by Lerwick Brewery

What comes to mind when you think of Shetland; The eponymous detective series, perhaps? Stunted ponies and burning Viking boats, maybe? What about beer?

I recently interviewed Shetland’s Lerwick Brewery about the challenges of making and distributing beer from an island closer to Bergen, Norway, than it is to Edinburgh. The company was kind enough to send me some samples of its 60°North and Skipper’s Ticket beers.

Firstly, I’m really impressed with the branding. Both beers come in slick 330ml bottles which remind me of those other brewers from the far north, Einstök Ölgerd from Iceland. So, the eyes are impressed. What about the taste buds?

60°North (4.8%)

This is Lerwick’s golden, Pilsner-style lager beer, and is named after the latitude of the Shetland Isles. Perle hops are deployed at the bittering stage and that old mainstay of Pilsners – Saaz – are used to add aroma and flavour. Wonderfully effervescent, this beer is wonderfully crisp, clear and light bodied for its strength. You can really tell the quality of the water. This is one of the most pleasant lagers you could wish to find.

Skipper's Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

Skipper’s Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

Skipper’s Ticket (4%)

Named in honour of Shetland’s fishermen and mariners, Skipper’s Ticket is a red ale made from Scottish barley malt combined with a hop mix of Williamette and Savinski Goldings. Whereas the crisp clearness complements the 60°North Pilsner wonderfully well, the Skipper’s Ticket lacked a bit of body for me. Some nice spicy nutmeg notes in there but I would have liked a little more oomph.

That’s just a taste thing. With no isinglass, both beers are suitable for vegans.

Hungarian Beer Review: Stari Sörfőzde

I highly recommend a visit to Budapest and, while you’re there, be sure to check out some Hungarian beer (“sör”), of which there is plenty, believe me. Hungary has a proud brewing tradition, although its market is largely dominated nowadays by light lagers created by corporate brewers.

Stari hungarian beerSo, the Stari Sörfőzde selection I came across in the spectacular citadel on the Buda side of the Danube was quite a bonus. Stari is a small brewery in the town of Tapolca, part of a wider catering operation, but it makes some pretty handy sör, including a Weissbier (wheat beer) style, an “Irish Red” and fruit varieties, such as Plum. I picked up these five bottles. From left to right they are Premium Pils, Meggysör (fruit beer), Plum, Irish Red, White Horse (Weissbeer).

The Pils is clean and crisp, possibly the only one of the five one would want to drink in bulk. While fruit beers in general don’t typically hold much appeal for me, the cherry-rich Meggysör does at least have an air of authenticity about it. The Plum tasted more like marzipan, in my view, very yeast and fruit-forward. The White Horse was light and very agreeable while the Irish Red was a little heavy going. In short – try them all, but the Pils is the cleanest. Here’s a six-second overview:

 

Icelandic Sagas: Einstök Ölgerd beer

Einstok BeerMy beer drinking has taken something of an Arctic turn this week. Firstly, I interviewed Shetland’s Lerwick Brewery, but tonight I’m taking my taste buds even further north – 65° North, in fact – to Akureyri in Iceland, and the Einstök Ölgerd brewery.

I had never thought of Iceland as much of a beer location; the price of importing ingredients and then exporting the finished product must be astronomical. But today, I found Einstök Ölgerd beer at an off licence in Kent and the price was no different to that of a good US import bottle.

Einstök is based just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle and claims to have access to the “purest water on earth”. So, let’s put the beer to the test:

Einstök Icelandic White Ale (5.2%)

This beer seeks to emulate the Belgian witbier tradition and won Gold at the LA International Commercial Beer Competition 2013. Expectations were high.

Einstok white ale

Einstok Icelandic White Ale

It promises orange peel and coriander – signature themes in witbier – but they’re very subtle. There’s an over-riding lemon theme, from nose to taste, and even the mid-cloudy lemon meringue colour. Coriander and pine are present but in the background. There’s a lovely initial zesty carbonation to it, and while the head dies, there is a crisp cleanliness to it.

Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale (5.6%)

Here’s the “Viking version of the Pale Ale”, combining American Cascade and Northern Brewer hops. It’s pleasing to the eye thanks to its rich toffee colour. Sweet malt comes to the fore up front, followed by a crisp, bitter hop bite. This bitter hop mingles for quite a while, so this is very much a beer of two halves. Fantastic!

This is where to find which stores near you sell Einstök beer.

Skál!

New Brewers: Lerwick Brewery

Graham Mercer Lerwick Brewery

Graham Mercer, Lerwick Brewery

We’re looking to celebrate the UK’s new wave of brewing by meeting a young brewer each month. First up is Lerwick Brewery from the Shetland Islands. Sitting on the latitude line of 60° North, the Lerwick Brewery is based at the very edge of the UK. It was established in 2011 by the Mercer brothers – John, Graham and Jimmy – and they reckon that the brewery’s location, combined with clear water and fresh air provides the vital ingredients to brew beer with individual character and a unique dimension.

The Guest Ale caught up with Graham Mercer, distribution manager for Lerwick Brewery, to learn more, and we’ll be reviewing Lerwick Brewery’s beers in the coming weeks.

Introduce us to Lerwick Brewery: how long have you been going and what inspired you to brew?

Lerwick Brewery has been three years in the planning – we started selling beers just last summer.  The inspiration to start came from a combination of things.  I’ve been working closely with my brothers John and Jimmy for many years and, having built up another business to a £10m turnover, we were looking for a new challenge.   We are born and brought up in Shetland so know that it has plenty of pure, fresh water and a perfect ambient temperature for brewing.

It was John who first mentioned the idea – many years ago he worked on the design of the cooling system in the Guinness Brewery in St James’s Gate, Dublin and he always retained an interest in brewing.  So, before we knew it, we were installing equipment into our new plant in Lerwick and receiving our first order of hops.

What are you brewing right now?

We launched with two beers last summer and are concentrating on getting those into the Scottish and wider UK market.

Our golden, Pilsner-style lager beer, 60°North, describes the latitude position of the Shetland Isles.  Bittered with Perle and flavoured with Saaz hops, it pairs well with a wide variety of foods: fish and shellfish; chicken and gammon; smoked salmon; hors d’oeuvres and goat cheese – plus spicy dishes from around the world.   It is best served at 8-9°C in a classic Pilsner flute to capture the sparkling effervesces and colours of the beer while maintaining its head.

Skipper’s Ticket – named to indicate the importance of mariners to the livelihood of the Shetland Islands – is a rich chestnut-red ale with fruity flavour and spicy notes. Scottish barley malt and Perle, Williamette & Savinski Goldings hops combine to create a smooth, yet refreshing, beer.  Its mellow, balanced flavour perfectly complements traditional hearty British dishes: mixed grill; roast beef, lamb, pork and chicken; steak and kidney pudding; shepherd’s, cottage and (obviously) steak and ale pies.  Best at 11-13°C, served in a tulip glass to trap and enhance its aromatic essential oils, it is a delicate twist on a traditional style comes in a 330ml bottle at 4.0% alcohol.

With no isinglass, both our beers are suitable for vegans.

What have been the key challenges getting up and running? 

Shetland is right on the edge of the UK, closer to Bergen than it is to Edinburgh.  In many ways it is the perfect location for brewing – for example, with an ambient temperature of 8-12 degrees, we don’t have the same refrigeration problems which many brewers face, and the water is soft and of excellent quality.  However, because of our remoteness, we are subject to the highest transport costs in the UK, and we have to take account of that in the way we do business.  We have to move beer in bigger quantities than most breweries, to keep transport costs down and we have partnered with Valhalla Brewery in Shetland to share shipments of supplies (hops, barley, etc.) into Shetland.

We also have 10,000 bottles in stock on the mainland so that we are able to respond to demand in a timely fashion.   We know the vagaries of the Shetland weather all too well.   Planes can be grounded at short notice and ferries prevented from sailing, so having a stock of beer outside Shetland is key.

The guys from PBC (Brewery Installations) who came to install the equipment into the brewery certainly got more than they bargained for when they came up to Shetland.  The January weather took them by surprise.  I remember they got the ferry – which is a 12-hour crossing from Aberdeen – and really struggled with sea sickness on the way.  By the time they got their sea legs, it was time to berth and they had real trouble getting their ‘land legs’ back, so it felt like the ground underfoot was continually moving.

I did feel for them as January crossings can be quite lively.  I’m sure they wished we had set up in June, July or August instead, when the balmy days mean that the sea can be flat calm and crossings wonderfully smooth.  I’m pleased to say they did a great job, nonetheless and I’m sure they had lots of stories to tell when they got back home to Bury.

What advice would you give any aspiring brewer looking to start out?

Don’t feel like you’re on your own – make contact with fellow brewers and people in the industry.  Everyone in the industry is so helpful – from the associations to brewers, suppliers and the wide range of companies involved in the industry – and they won’t hesitate to give you guidance where you need it.   We have not been short of advice since we set up.  Everyone has been so helpful and open.  There’s very little sense of competitiveness.  Companies’ recipes, of course, remain closely-guarded secrets, but dos and don’ts and best practice are widely discussed.   So do make the most of your fellow experts.

 

 

Beer Review: Mr Trotter’s Great British Chestnut Ale

Mr Trotter's Great British Chestnut Ale

Mr Trotter’s Great British Chestnut Ale

The good eggs at Lancaster Brewery were good enough to send me a couple of bottles of Mr Trotter’s Great British Chestnut Ale. This nutty beer is classic pub fodder at the spot-on session beer strength of 4% ABV, plus it goes handily with Mr Trotter’s pork crackling.

As a vegetarian, that’s no good for me, but in all seriousness, a history lesson from Rupert Ponsonby, one of the brains behind the beer: “Before hops arrived in Britain in the 1500s, brewers would have used all manner of odd sounding ingredients to reflect the seasons and spice up the cereals such as barley/rye/wheat/oats used in their brews. So using chestnuts feels like a wonderful not to the past, with flavours that should appeal to those who don’t often choose a glass of ale.”

The beer is a lovely rich tawny colour,  with quite a sweet caramel – almost syrupy – note coming off the nose. Ingredients include a Maris Otter barley base, coupled with English-grown Bramling Cross and Cascade hops. It definitely has a bitter note but it ultimately pretty well-balanced. Reminds me a little of a light Old Speckled Hen.

This is my six-second Vine review:

Retro beer ads from days gone by

Hofmeister Lager ad

George the Bear from the 1980s Hofmeister campaign (via YouTube)

I had a flashback recently to a TV commercial I remember as a kid for Hofmeister Lager, memorable for its catchphrase ‘Follow the Bear’. As I work in online marketing myself, it got me thinking about some other retro beer ads of yore and also a look at how beer branding has evolved.

I will cover that in another post, but in the meantime, here are some classic beer ads*, and I’m sure I’ve missed plenty so do please add your suggestions in the comments box.

Hofmeister Lager (1980s)

 Guinness (1995)

Heineken “The Water in Majorca” (1985)

Castlemaine XXXX (2000s)

 Ruddles County Ale (1994)

Carling Black Label “Dambusters” (1980s)

Guinness (1998)

 San Miguel (2006)

Boddington’s (1990s)

Caffrey’s “Strong Words, Softly Spoken” (1990s)

Castlemaine XXXX (1992)

Murphy’s (1990s)

Foster’s (1992)

*All content available via YouTube.

French Beer Special: La Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or, Paris

Brasserie La Goutte d'Or beer

Brasserie La Goutte d’Or Selection

I’ve always said that the only thing that holds France back from being the ultimate country was its lack of decent beer. On a recent visit to Paris, that barrier was eliminated all thanks to La Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or.

France: culture, wine, language, beaches, mountains, great trains (Paris besides), nonchalance, chocolate, cheese, cheese and yet more cheese. I can’t get enough of the place. However, previous visits have always left me a little dry in the throat. ‘Mmm, nice Bordeaux,’ only gets you so far if what you really crave is the aromatic hum of hops or the comforting chew of caramel malt. Despite a couple of fair efforts from the likes of 2 Caps’ Noire de Slack and Blanche de Wissant in Northern France, an area which has a fairly healthy brewing scene, I’ve not really come across anything in France that blew me away.

That was until I was in Paris pre-Christmas for a few days. On the famous Rue Lepic in Montmartre, just up from Amelie’s Les Deux Moulins café, I popped into a store mostly to hunt for cheese. Lo! There, modestly sitting on a shelf in the corner, were three 50cl bottles shaped mysteriously like vessels designed to host beer…

Brewed right there in the 18th Arrondissement, sat three of the four beers created by the nearby La Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or (The Golden Droplet). Founded in October 2012, the Brasserie distributes across Paris as well as hosting tastings on its own site. I came away with the Ernestine – the first French IPA I have ever tasted – the smoky Charbonnière and the smooth Château Rouge.

Ernestine (5.5%)

Ernestine is an interesting interpretation on in the India Pale Ale style. Weighing in at 5.5%, the Ernestine contains an African influence through the cheeky addition of rooibos (red bush) and cola nuts. It’s got a real toffee nose to it, a rich caramel colour which was reasonably transparent. There’s a really spicy taste to this one – lots of black pepper and ginger – with a late bitter hop bite at the back of the tongue. A little too sharp for my taste but pleasant enough.

Rue Lepic Paris

Epicerie Du Terroir, Rue Lepic, Montmartre, where I stumble on La Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or beer

Charbonnière (7.5%)

Named after coal, as you’d expect, the Charbonnière is a smoky number with a cloudy cola colour. It’s got the nose of a musty hotel room, but don’t let that put you off. The yeast is really bananary and it mingles with a really bitter hop. It’s full bodied and full flavoured, and certainly repeats well!

Château Rouge (6.5%)

The “Red Mansion” is actually a cloudy honeycomb colour. It’s a caramel malt-forward beer with a toasted marshmallow nose to it. There’s a hint of spicy cinnamon and, again, the trademark bitter hop finish. It has lovely lacing too, this one.

The only one I couldn’t find was La Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or’s blonde beer Myrha. I will just have to go back and complete the set! In the meantime, here’s where to find the bar when you’re next in Paris:

Beer Review: Saison by Partizan Brewing

 

Partizan Brewery Saison

Partizan Brewery Saison

Saison is a beer style we’ll be looking more closely at in 2014, but it’s something we’ll see a lot more of going forward as brewers experiment with their own Saisons, this year’s de rigueur beer.

This evening I trialled the Amarillo hop-based Saison from Partizan Brewing, which tasted something like Hoegaarden crossbred with fruit punch. Partizan is just one of phalanx of new wave of London brewers, based in Bermondsey, and I picked this Saison up at RealAle.com’s corner shop in St Margarets, in between Twickenham and Richmond.

First up, Partizan’s Saison is a feisty bugger! It effervesced like one of those flu recovery vitamin tablets in cold water to start with. The head soon dissipates but it great fun to watch. The nose is a veritable feast of tropical fruits – I got grapefruit, lychee, some lemon zest in there too, a little black pepper too.

The colour is a cloudy lemon curd loaded with bubbles and the taste follows through on the nose – tropical fruit throughout with a lingering flavour and subtle bitterness at the back of the tongue.

Partizan’s Saison weighs in at 7.2%, right in the Saison strength ballpark. You won’t be drinking too many of these in one go so enjoy!

The essentials:

ABV: 7.2%

Colour:  Lemon curd

Nose: Tropical punch

Taste: Grapefruit, lemon, lychee – you name it!

Our verdict: Hoegaarden’s lovechild with fruit punch

Website: www.partizanbrewing.co.uk

Where to find good beer in Singapore

Hitachino Nest Pale Ale

Japan’s Hitachino Nest Pale Ale at JiBiru

As the global craft beer revolution continues unabated, we take a look at where to find great beer in Singapore, both domestic and imported.

I have heard Singapore described as the “easy introduction to Asia”. It’s easy and cheap to get around, contains both colonial and contemporary architecture and history, and exposes the traveller to Chinese, Indian and Malay culture, food and language. It’s a well-functioning Asia in a microcosm and English is the core language. I am lucky to go to the “Lion City” quite regularly with work, so have tapped up the best places to get good beer.

Many expats are drawn from across the world to work in a safe, burgeoning economy with minimal unemployment and impressive growth potential. These expats – and plenty of locals too, by the way – cherish good quality beer. There’s a big home brewing scene partly driven by the price of alcohol. While income taxes are low, alcohol is taxed quite handsomely. As a result, you can expect to pay S$10 (about £5) a pint as a minimum. This means it is even more important to make sure you drink something worth the price.

Happy Hour?

There’s a certain irony about the term “Happy Hour” when the starting price is £5-a-pint, but the afternoon is often Happy Hour, when beer prices in Singapore will be at their lowest. The price then goes up later in the evening – sometimes more than once – so be careful not to order on the cusp on the changeover to avoid unnecessary debates with waiting staff. Even better, have a liquid lunch rather than a big night out.

Best beer bars in Singapore

Brewerkz beer Singapore

The Brewerkz tasting mat

While some beers are imported – like pretty much everything in the island state – there is also a good set of locally-brewed beer. The most familiar brand is the lager Tiger Beer, of which you can buy a four-litre tower to economise on a big night, but there are a couple of local brewers of note.

Brewerkz: Set up by a couple of North American beer aficionados, the Brewerkz brew pub is located in a former dock building by the river. It creates a number of different styles in its on-site brewery; including English-style bitters, India Pale Ales, porters and New Zealand-style pale ales.

RedDot BrewHouse: RedDot was Singapore’s first locally-owned microbrewery when it was set up in 1997. It’s just down the water from Brewerkz in Boat Quay and does a great line in Pilsner.

The Pump Room: Clarke Quay is pumping of an evening, and nowhere pumps harder than The Pump Room. Its Golden Ale won a few awards across Asia last year and everything is brewed onsite.

JiBiru: A good place to coincide a shopping trip with some imported beer is JiBiru outside the 313 Somerset shopping centre on the world-famous Orchard Road shopping street. It’s a Japanese themed bar with great value food and a number of Japanese beers, such as Hitachino Nest Beer, and European beer such as Brewdog’s Punk IPA and some Belgian brands.

If you want a quiet night in, Thirsty is an off licence in the shopping centre off Clarke Quay which stocks all manner of bottled beer from around the world, although prices are still pretty high for those of used to protesting a £3 pint. Expect to pay double that, even for a local beer.