Beer and football: Who does it best?

Pre-match Holsten at Hamburger SV

Laurel and Hardy, Bonnie and Clyde…beer and football; the two are made for each other. At the time of writing this I am in Hamburg, Germany, downing a Krombacher Pils, having attended a heated Bundesliga match between ‘Nordderby’ rivals Hamburger SV and Werder Bremen and reflecting on how beer is served there, while cementing my view that Brighton & Hove Albion does beer best. Read on to find out why.

Beer and football in England and Germany

The drinking culture is very similar in Germany to the English experience: Go to a pub/keller with your friends first to tank up, start chanting abuse at the opposition (sorry, ‘light-hearted banter’) and – if you’re on the kilometre-long walk from the station to the Imtech Arena, Hamburg, take a piss in the bushes in full view of the passing public. Charming.

Once you’re inside stadiums in Germany, the experience is very different. In England’s upper tiers alcohol is banned from the stands, limited to the communal areas (not the case with rugby or cricket, by the way), whereas in the Bundesliga, expect to have your view obscured on a regular basis as the beer carriers haul ass up and down the stairs pouring Holsten and the like to punters for €4-plus a shout. Just hope they’re not in the way when someone scores…

The same old, same old…

Amex Brighton

Brighton’s Amex Stadium

Unfortunately, wherever you go in the football world they seem to serve the generic big brand lagerboy rubbish, assumingly that the average football fan was born without taste buds. But, thankfully, Brighton & Hove Albion of England’s second tier is different.

Brighton is my second team so I am a bit biased, having stood for £5 at the old Goldstone Ground and even having gone to Wembley to support the team in a promotion play-off final against Notts County in 1991. The Seagulls and I go way back…but I digress. When the club moved to its wonderful new base at Falmer, it demonstrated local community spirit by stocking Harveys Sussex Best Bitter, from nearby Lewes.

I, for one, would like to see more of this sort of tie-in. Does your local club support local breweries? I have a feeling Exeter City does. Please let me know in the comments section.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013: B Bock by Bateman’s

Bateman's B BockHigh street retailer J Sainsbury is running its third annual Great British Beer Hunt, which offers winning brewers the chance to get their beers showcased in supermarkets nationwide for a six-month period from November. The three best-selling beers from each of the four regions during the three-week competition (11 Sept – 2 Oct) will go into a grand final on 4 October, where a panel of experts will select the two overall winners from a line-up of 12. The winner will be sold in 300 Sainsbury’s stores while the runner-up will feature in 150.

For the third year running, J Sainsbury’s PR team has been kind enough to send me four samples.

Following my recent review of Williams Brothers’ The Honey Thief, I moved onto Bateman’s B Bock, a Bavarian style lager beer which attained the name ‘billy goat’ from the way Bavarians allegedly pronounce Einbeck (the town where the Bock style originates) as ‘ein Bock’, hence hence the goat image (pictured).

Anyway, here it is – B Bock – an English take on the dark Bock style, one of two Bateman’s entries into this year’s contest. Although I drank this beer in the last day of August, it tasted like Christmas. The nose is one of the most pleasingly complex I have ever come across; there’s blackcurrant, sharp cinnamon, other soft fruits and dark chocolate liquor, all wrapped up in a deep, dark, cloudy russet beer.

The taste is a rather toned down take of the wonderful nose, especially that rich chocolate liquor hint.

The Essentials:

ABV: 6.0%

Look: Deep cloudy brown-red hue

Nose:  Complex soft fruits and chocolate liquor

Taste: Christmas in a glass. This had better make the final cut as it’s perfect for December!

Website:  www.bateman.co.uk

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013: The Honey Thief by Williams Bros

High street retailer J Sainsbury is running its third annual Great British Beer Hunt, which offers winning brewers the chance to get their beers showcased in supermarkets nationwide for a six-month period from November. The three best-selling beers from each of the four regions during the three-week competition (11 Sept – 2 Oct) will go into a grand final on 4 October, where a panel of experts will select the two overall winners from a line-up of 12. The winner will be sold in 300 Sainsbury’s stores while the runner-up will feature in 150.

For the third year running, J Sainsbury’s PR team has been kind enough to send me four samples.

The Honey Thief

The first up for me is The Honey Thief from Williams Brothers of Alloa, Scotland, named after the eponymous 1986 hit by Glaswegian band Hipsway. As the name suggests, honey is present, which always sets off alarm bells for me – but not this time…

Williams Brothers seem to like this competition; it’s got three entrants in this year’s Beer Hunt and was runner up with its Caesar Augustus lager/IPA hybrid in 2011. The Honey Thief is an immediate eye-pleaser, it’s richly golden, zesty in the head and there’s plenty of carbonation. The appearance is capped by a subtle jasmine nose. So far so good…and it gets better.

The beer is smooth bodied and has a wonderful balance of sweet chewy malts, some floral hops and the honey itself arrives very late and only subtle, which is welcome as many honey flavoured beers overdo it for me.

I think there’s something for everyone in this beer and would not be surprised if this makes the final cut.

The Essentials:

ABV: 5.2%

Look: Rich amber

Nose: Jasmine/orange blossom

Taste: Excellent balance of sweet malt, hops and late honey hit

Our verdict: Wonderfully balanced golden beer which doesn’t overbear the drinker with honey. Very easy to drink.

Website: http://www.williamsbrosbrew.com/

Great British Beer Festival: Six-Second Reviews

JW Lees Moonraker

JW Lees’ Moonraker. Hardcore!

A group of us went down to the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London last night and it’s well worth a visit if you’re in town. If you’re familiar with Vine, Twitter’s six-second looped video app, then you’ll know how challenging it can be to fit a decent amount of content into just six seconds. However, this is exactly what we did last night, fitting beer reviews into just six seconds of footage!

After a few messy efforts, we finally got there. Here are a few of the best survivors…

 

Gary on Great Orme’s Welsh Black

Gordon on Harveys’ Lewes Castle Brown Ale

Gordon on Oliver Breweries’ Winter’s Wolves dark ale (US)

Gary on Marble Brewery’s Ginger Marble

Welsh Beer Special: Purple Moose

Purple Moose Brewery

The Purple Moose beer range reviewed here

I came across Portmadog-based brewer Purple Moose this summer when I was walking in Snowdonia. Beer is the perfect relaxant after a hard day’s hike and scramble on the Snowdon Horseshoe so there we were in a Beddgelert campsite toasting the day’s exertions with some cwrw Cymreig da (fine Welsh ale) from Purple Moose. Iechyd Da!

Here’s the lowdown:

Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale (3.6%): This is an extremely sessionable golden-style ale. There’s a little Crystal malt in the mix to give an amber edge to it and it’s pretty effervescent. The hop mix is an interesting blend of Pioneer for bittering, and Styrian Golding and Lubelski aromatics from Eastern Europe.

It won Gold in the Champion Beer of Britain Competition “Bitters” category in August 2012, an accolade well earned.

Purple Moose Glaslyn Ale (4.2%): Named after the river Afon Glaslyn, which runs from Snowdon to Purple Moose’s home town of Portmadog, this beer is bitter style which promises fruit in the flavour and a “well-balanced hoppy finish”. The nose certainly promises to deliver on the fruit front with a floral lemon note while the colour is murky deep amber, more typical of the bitter style.

The taste also errs towards malt in the taste and there’s a prominent bitter hop finish. For me, a bit of an identity crisis here:  a beer that smells like a golden but delivers like a bitter. It definitely works for the first pint.

Purple Moose Madog’s Ale (3.7%): Back to the light stuff and the (again murky) red beer Madog’s Ale. Not just light in ABV but also in body. The thin head dissipates quickly and left me with a rather underwhelming experience: a middle of the road bitter that failed to ignite my senses although it certainly stays true to the “bitter” category.

I would rather session with the Snowdonia Ale, given the choice.

Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose (4.6%): I loved the deep, dark, woody colour straight off the bat. There is something powerful in the hue and if we “vote with our eyes”, as they say, then this wins. Toasty malt wins in the nose and follows through in the bready taste. There are distant raisins in the mix, a hint of coffee if you’re searching for it and a tidy bitter finish. Another, please!

Beer Review: Ben Nevis India Pale Ale

Ben Nevis IPA

The Ben Nevis IPA

The Traditional Scottish Ales (TSA) Brewing Co. has pulled one out of the hat here in the Ben Nevis India Pale Ale. The Ben Nevis stays closer to the traditional British-style India Pale Ale (IPA) style in the manner of, say, the Worthington White Shield, than the very zeitgeist American-style, hopped-up IPAs that fellow Scots Brewdog tend to emulate.

For our international readers, Ben Nevis is Scotland’s – and the UK’s – highest mountain. I’ve climbed it twice and I could have done with one of these at the end, rest assured!

The Ben Nevis IPA weighs in at a comparatively light, session strength 4% ABV. It’s not pale either; more of a ruby/woody colour. The nose is dominated by caramel malts mingled with a little bitter hop.

Taste-wise, the nose pretty much sets you up. I think of all the beers I have ever tasted this strikes the perfect balance of yeast, bitter hop and sweet malt flavour, all in equal measure and all vying for supremacy on your tongue. The result is a wonderfully playful, effervescent beer that should appeal to most beer drinkers’ palates.

Good work, TSA.

The essentials:

ABV: 4%

Colour:  Ruby, woody

Nose: Strong bitter hop and caramel malt

Taste: A perfect balance of yeast, sweet malts and bitter hops

Our verdict:

Website: http://www.tsabrewingco.co.uk/bottled-beers/

 

 

Matson’s Beer Triple Header (New Zealand)

Matsons beer new zealand

Matson’s Beer

My international beer quest continues having discovered Matson’s beer of New Zealand’s South Island while shopping in Singapore this week. So, here I am holed up in my hotel room by a tropical storm sans parapluie with little else to do but watch BBC iPlayer and drink Matson’s beer.

What I like about Matson’s is that it’s committed to supporting local producers and avoiding unnatural ingredients. I picked out the Matson’s Lager, Matson’s Pilsner and Matson’s Classic Draught and here’s what I made of them:

Matsons lager

Matson’s Lager

Matson’s Lager (4.5%)

A wonderfully smooth experience. It’s got an amber honey colour to match its honey taste. There is pumpkin in the nose and the smoothness of the experience is quite surprising. There is a little maltiness in there and cheeky late hoppiness from locally-grown Hallertau hops, a great hop for lager.

This beer won bronze at the New Zealand beer awards 2002.

Matsons Pilsner

Matson’s Pilsner

Matson’s Pilsner (4.8%)

This European-style pilsner is made with pilsner malt and Czech Saaz hops, the perfect hops for this style of beer. It’s a little darker than straw colour, with a similar hoppy-honey nose as the Lager. The taste is far more complex, however, with an instant hit of hops, raw pale malts and that ever-present honey.

That bombardment of flavour dissipates and leaves a cheeky honeydew melon taste lingering on the tongue as its passing gift.

Matsons Classic Draught

Matson’s Classic Draught

Matson’s Classic Draught (4%)

This is Matson’s take on the “classic New Zealand draught” beer, so here I was hoping it tasted a lot better than the big brand “piss” I drank when I was in South Island many years ago. It is heavily carbonated with a deep red-brown hue and a rustic yeasty head, which isn’t actually that attractive for my money. Really old skool.

It is smooth as silk, really sweet too: caramel with a cheeky late bitter twist from the hops. This beer won bronze in the New Zealand Hop Marketing awards 2002 and silver in the New Zealand brewing awards 2006.

So, no golds, but this bridesmaid doesn’t need to be the bride to excel. Good work, Matson’s!

Swiss Beer Triple-header

Zurich beer hall

Zurich’s Rheinfelder Bierhalle

I have an international role, which means I get to mingle with colleagues from across the world and they, once they hear I have a beer blog, often proudly show of their local fayre. See recent posts “What beer to drink in Brussels” and “San Francisco beer” for more. This week, it was Zurich’s turn to show off the best Swiss beer.

My colleague Stephan took me to one of its traditional bierhalle (beer hall) to sample the local Feldschlösschen Dunkle Perle. The Swiss pub is laid out like something of a bingo hall. No cliquey tables and caverns here, just long wooden benches forcing you to be sociable with your neighbours, which invariably works better once the beer is flowing.

Feldschlosschen dunkle perle

Feldschlosschen Dunkle Perle

The dunkle [pictured] is a dark and moody maltfest, while the regular premium beer was another crisp interpretation of its kind. The stand-out beers for me were the ones I took away with me.

Rugenbräu Eiszapfen Bier (5.2%)

This “Festbier” is a leftover from the winter selection and I can see why it would suit the festive period: it’s sweet and, despite being unspectacular as a flavour experience, it is stupidly quaffable.

It has a light toffee colour and little to no head, so is not aesthetically pleasing either, but it does have rich caramel notes similar to an English ale and is light bodied. The honey and toffee overtones are contradicted – rather than complemented – by bitter hops late on the tongue. The flavour lingers, so eventually you do get a balanced experience.

Swiss beer

Refreshing Alpine brews…

Hell Quöllfrisch (4.8%)

As you would expect from a Hell, this beer is very pale and its colour is appropriately backed up by its lemony nose. It has a rather “numb” flavour, but there are late clove spice hits that linger. Again, unspectacular as a standalone beer but a crisp and clean drinking experience.

What beer to drink in Brussels

La Chouffe beer

La Chouffe

As I write this I am enjoying a small glass of Leffe and awaiting my Eurostar at Brussels Midi station. It’s actually really nice in that sweet, clovey, characteristically yeasty familiarness that we know most quality Belgian beers to be.

Think “Belgian beer” and at one end you may think the genius of Trappiste monks, and at the other the ubiquitous Stella Artois. My Brussels-based beer connoisseur colleague tried to convince me that the Stella Artois in its home town of Leuven is worth trying. I’m not so sure, but I was happy for him to introduce me to a sample of other local delights, starting with La Chouffe.

La Chouffe

Coming in a 750ml bottle, this unfiltered blonde beer was made for sharing. Rumours that the Belgians can hold their consistently strong beers in by nursing one per night are wide of the mark, but visitors could be caught out.

La Chouffe is 8% ABV and is horribly easy to drink. Weirdly, it reminds me of a cider. If you “drink with your eyes”, so they say, then you’re psychologically teed up to think “cider” when you see the green La Chouffe bottle with its garden gnome cover. As it happens, it even looks a little like a cider, smells like a cider and tastes – you guessed it – like a cider. I think it’s just the fruity yeast that makes it that way. The colour is probably from a caramel malt mix that gives it a rich, deep amber colouring.

La Chouffe was gone pretty quickly and followed with a Gueuze, which I found remarkably similar.

Trappistes Rochefort

Trappistes Rochefort

Rochefort

Time for something dark and moody; the Rochefort. At 7.5%, this is another heavyweight that deceives with its smoothness and ease to drink. It’s a murky dark colour, south of a porter in darkness but pretty brown. The head is an inch-thick froth that carries the last drops of the brown beer in its caverns. It’s delightfully tantalising to look at.

The experience is different from the sweet La Chouffe and Gueuze. It’s malty and there’s a cheeky amount of bitterness, but nothing major. If you like your porters, this is for you.

Pauwel Kwak

Pauwel Kwak beer glass

Pauwel Kwak in its unique beer glass

I’ve reviewed the Kwak beer before, but wasn’t willing to give up my shoe – the traditional deposit – to receive it in its traditional bulb glass and wooden holder [pictured]. It’s all brilliant marketing, because it gets us talking about Kwak, but aside from that the Kwak is, in its own right, a truly impressive beer.

It has a rich, ruddy complexion with a floaty head. It’s got an almost sickly sweet caramel quality to it and just nudges towards a fuller body. This is no session ale, this is one to be nurtured for an hour or so over good conversation and the hum of international politics in the air. When in Brussels…

US Beer Review: Anchor Brewing Special, San Francisco

San Francisco tram

San Francisco has drawn a number of brewers to the Bay Area

San Francisco is possibly my favourite US city and I happened to be there on business this week. As well as being introduced to the impressive bar-cum-off licence, the City Beer Store, by my US colleagues, I also felt it would be conspicuous of me not to review beer from San Francisco’s most famous brewer, Anchor Brewery.

Despite tracing its roots back to the 19th century, Anchor Brewing was at the forefront of the revival against the generic mass-produced beers of the 1970s. In the UK, we are probably familiar with the Anchor Steam brand, but in San Francisco I got hold of some other bottles to review…

Liberty Ale

Anchor Brewing’s Liberty Ale was first brewed in 1975 and uses classic two-row pale malts and whole cone Cascade hops, and it’s those fresh, aromatic hops that give Liberty Ale a really fruity nose, almost gooseberry.

It’s a lovely golden amber colour with a strong, frothy head, probably a result of the “bunging” carbonation process. The taste is a really refreshing lemon sherbet and I can just imagine how this 5.9% strength beer would have impacted drinkers in the ‘70s who had grown accustomed to average big brand lagers.

Anchor Brewing

Liberty Ale, California Lager and Porter

Anchor Porter

Anchor Brewing claims its Porter, introduced in 1972, was the first modern American porter. The Porter combines four types of malt – roasted pale, caramel, chocolate and black – to create a pitch black beer with a slightly reddish hue under lights. It also has a thick, frothy head, the type that gives you a proper moustache.

It’s sweeter than expected; smooth and oily, a little like a subtle oyster stout with coffee hints, and it feels light even though it’s 5.6%.

California Lager

Anchor’s California Lager is quite a straight-forward lager. It’s a highly carbonated, yeasty zest and slight whisky hit. Reasonably strong at 4.9% and really quite quaffable.

Beer Review: Dead Pony Club by Brewdog

Dead Pony ClubThe modern, American style hop-fests that Scottish brewer Brewdog produces may not be to everyone’s liking. Those who favour malt-dominated ales and lighter weight beers may be averse to Brewdog’s strong, hoppy beers unleashing their floral notes on the Great British drinking public. However, for a gentle introduction to Brewdog’s line, look no further than the Dead Pony Club.

While a massive leap from Brewdog’s near alcohol-free Nanny State, Dead Pony Club is still quite light at 3.8%. After all, we’re talking about the brewer that created the nuts strong Sink the Bizmarck at 41%.

Dead Pony Club pours a rich amber-toffee colour and fizzes out of the bottle like a real livewire. As you would expect from a “California Pale Ale”, there is familiar grassy hop nose with just a hint of gooseberry fighting to be heard.

The taste is sharp and zesty, and is a more or less toned-down version of the nose…and it repeats well too! It’s relatively smooth going and I must say it might rival the delicious 5am Saint as my favourite of the Brewdog line.

At 3.8% the Dead Pony Club really is a soft introduction into Brewdog and UK takes on American revival beers.

Beer Review: Bath Ales Dark Side

Bath Ales Dark SideI revel in the opportunity to visit Bath and I happened to be there again this week. Cue the opportunity to pick up another Bath Ales beer from Waitrose – this time the Bath Ales Dark Side stout.

Up front, this is as close to a session ale as a stout could possibly ever be. It’s a nice round 4% ABV, bang on session strength, and it’s light-bodied and smooth, not the heavy “stout plug” types of the traditional black stuff. I think this is the quickest I’ve ever drank a stout!

I feel like I’m drinking Marmite. It’s really heavy with black malts and benefits from a good balance of Fuggles hops but the malt fest stays on your taste buds for an eternity. It pours with a wonderful white bubbling head which sticks around for a while and creates good lacing. The nose is rather wheaty, but the taste is all malt with a hint of those Fuggles hops.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.0%

Colour: Pitch black with creamy white head

Nose:  Wheaty

Taste: Rough malt and bitter hop

Our verdict: One of the easiest stouts you could ever wish to meet

Website: http://www.bathales.com/our-ales/aid/dark-side/

Beer Review: Curious Porter by Chapel Down

Tucked away down a country lane outside Tenteden in Kent is the Chapel Down winery. Not only does it make wine, but it also does a very passable line in craft beer. We already reviewed the Curious IPA, but tonight is the turn of the Curious Porter.

The bottle conditioned London style Porter is matured in oak, giving it a woody feel and mountains of character. You can see the crystal malts come through in the reddish hue, the chocolate and black malts in the strong sweet Marmite nose, and the bitter Admiral hops fighting through to make themselves known.

It’s wonderfully balanced and smooth, not too smoky, not too burnt, just a right balance of those black and chocolate malts with the bitter hop. A near perfect partnership!

There’s a really impressive lingering coffee taste on the tongue. This beer won’t let you forget that you’ve drank it…

Magnificent!

The essentials:

ABV: 5%

Colour: Black with reddish/brown hue

Nose: Sweet oily Marmite

Taste: Smooth, sweet, smoky treacle

Our verdict: Definitely one of my favourite porters to date and well worth the drive to get it

Website: www.chapeldown.com

Beer Review: Exmoor Beast

Exmoor Beast beer

Dark and menacing: The Exmoor Beast

Wow. I just had my head blown off by a beast of a beer from the West Country. Exmoor Ales’ Beast weighs in at a hefty 6.6% (geddit?) and is named after the oft-spotted mythical (or real?) beast of Exmoor.

This beer is sinister. It’s dark ruby, almost blood-like in colour with a lovely creamy mocha lacing, almost like a porter. The Exmoor Beast gets that colour – and its molasses and raisin nose, I imagine – from its use of Chocolate and Crystal malt. Challenger and Goldings provide the bittering and aromatic hop content.

The taste is filling and deeply satisfying. It’s full bodied and it displays powerful cinnamon spice and clove hits with an oily aftertaste that’s almost reminiscent of an oyster stout.

Despite its name and fearsome cover image, I reckon the Exmoor Beast would work really well as a Christmas ale.

The essentials:

ABV: 6.6%

Colour:  Blood-like dark ruby

Nose: Molasses and raisin

Taste: Spicy, biscuity

Our verdict: Very satisfying but one is enough

Website: www.exmoorales.co.uk