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: Curious Brew by Chapel Down

Curious BrewWhen you’re confronted by the Gold Medal Winner at the International Beer Challenge 2012, you have great expectations. That is exactly what the Curious Brew from Chapel Down in Kent promises.

Curious Brew is a premium English lager and there’s one theme that runs throughout: elderflower.

The beer pours clear and pale in colour with lively carbonation at first. Once the head dies down you’re left with a busy glass which reminds you a little of champagne. Those elderflower hits I told you about start at the nose and follow through in the taste.

It’s crisp, light in body and pleasantly flavoursome without being overbearing. A real winner.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.7%

Colour:  Pale wheat

Nose: Sweet elderflower

Taste:  Elderflower

Our verdict: Crisp, floral and refreshing. A giant among lagers.

Website: http://www.chapeldown.com/Category/65-beer.aspx

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: Calvors Dark Lager

Calvors Dark LagerI like a good dark lager, I must admit. They’re like light-bodied porters. The Calvors Dark Lager is the last of the English lagers in the Calvors line which I’m reviewing (disclosure: Calvors sent me a batch) and it’s probably my favourite.

Suffolk-based Calvors has created a wonderfully drinkable dark lager. It’s effervescent to start with, although any trace of a head or any carbonation disappears very quickly. The colour is reddish-brown, like a diluted cola, and the nose is strong, sweet malts.

The taste isn’t quite so malty as the nose promises, but it has a lovely crisp texture and there’s a tiny bit of cloves in there and some clean hops. It had gone in seconds. A very, very quaffable dark lager. Well done, Calvors.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.5%

Colour:  Diluted cola

Nose: Sweet dark malts

Taste: Light malty taste with crisp pilsner undertones

Our verdict: Very satisfying experience.

Website: http://www.calvors.co.uk/lager/dark-lager.php

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

Beer Review: Calvors Amber

Calvors AmberWe’re back on the hunt for quality lager and I do believe we have found one. Last year we looked at the Calvors Premium, which impressed, and now from the same stable I’m trying Calvors Amber. Suffolk-based Calvors were kind enough to send me a batch of beer to test.

The difference between ale and lager comes from the fermentation process. Ales are made with yeast strains that ferment at the top of the wort and the flavours the beer with chemicals called esters. Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts, which don’t tend to add much in the way of flavour.

The Amber is more of a bronze colour and the head dies immediately, although gentle carbonation remains. There’s a sweet raisin and molasses nose, the body is medium-light and the flavour is rich and sweet with a toffee edge.

The essentials:

ABV: 4%

Colour:  Bronze

Nose: Sweet raisin

Taste: Subtle malt and toffee

Our verdict: Quaffable for sure. Not your everyday lager.

Website: http://www.calvors.co.uk/lager/amber-lager.php

 

Beer Review: Hopdaemon Skrimshander

Hopdaemon SkrimshanderIt’s been a while since I last sampled an English IPA; it’s not really been the season. So I dug out the Hopdaemon Skrimshander, something I picked up on a trip to Faversham last autumn.  It’s a proper Kentish beer, made from local hops.

First impression is the massive head. It dissipates pretty quickly but it’s wonderfully carbonated throughout. The colour is cloudy marmalade, not wildly attractive. It’s described as “aromatic” but I didn’t really sense much of that bar a little distant tangerine in the nose.

The taste is also rather neutral. There is a zestiness but it’s got a chewy maltiness to it that lingers at the back of the mouth for a long, long time. The hoppiness is very subtle indeed.

Overall, it’s more of the old school English-style IPAs, which is a welcome break after all that American citrus-loaded, sense-dulling hoppitude. The malt wins, which isn’t usual for IPAs, and neither is the comparative lightness of 4.5%. But there’s not a great deal of flavour, to be honest.

FYI a “skrimshander” is a ye olde term for a young seaman. So there you go, you learn something new every day.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.5%

Colour:  Cloudy marmalade

Nose: Distant tangerine

Taste: Mellow and tangy texture, not a great deal of flavour

Our verdict: Slightly disappointing, I wanted more character

Website: http://www.hopdaemon.com/beers.html

Australian Beer Review part 2: Great Beer in Melbourne

Great Britain Hotel Melbourne

The GB, Richmond

Following on from a look at the best beer in Sydney, I moved onto look for the best beer in Melbourne, somewhere where I lived for a while several years ago and which is still my favourite city in the world. The beer has massively improved since, although – for visitors – it has shot up in price. This makes having a really good beer even more imperative. We looked at a couple of great pubs and also drove out to the White Rabbit brewery in the Yarra Valley, more famous for its cracking wines than its brewpubs.

The first place I went to was the excellent The Local Taphouse in the trendy St.Kilda suburb. Like many craft beer outlets, it offers tasting “paddles”, which is a good way to taste the wide range on offer. There was a mix of Australian, European and American beer on offer, and one of the Aussie ones really stood out. For my sins, I have since lost my notes – a victim of living out of a suitcase, alas. But definitely factor The Local into any visit to Melbourne.

The Great Britain Hotel, Melbourne

The next night I went along to the Great Britain Hotel, my old (almost) local in the Richmond suburb, near the Melbourne Cricket Ground. While I should be wary of pubs with the name “GBH”, it’s a really funky setting; it’s dark and refreshingly cool inside (the mercury hit 36°C that afternoon) and there’s also a great little beer garden with plenty of shade.

It was here that I was drawn to try Piss Beer, on name alone, and the wonderful Mountain Goat Hightail Ale, an English-style amber ale loaded with fruity notes. I let mine warm up a bit – they do like their beer cold in Australia, hence the ubiquitous stubby holder at barbeques.

Also on offer was the brilliant Dark Ale by the White Rabbit brewery from Healesville, about an hour’s drive north-east of Melbourne. We drove out there and only had time for a couple, but this video catalogues how we got on. Enjoy:

Australian Beer Review part 1: Great Beer in Sydney

Lord Nelson Sydney

Zesty jetlag cures at The Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney

Australian beer just goes from strength to strength. When I first went to Australia for a year on a working visa in 2002 I had to content myself with pretty generic lager brands and find a decent one to stick with, which for me was James Boag’s from Tasmania (which I still quite like chilled on a roasting hot day).

Fast-forward 11 years and it’s a world away. The choice across the country is incredible, micros have sprung up all over and flourished, and beers are finding their way overseas. Two years ago I visited – and was blown away by – the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle, Western Australia, famous for its crisp and fruity Pale Ale, which is now available in bottle shops across the country. Time for a proper Australian beer review on TheGuestAle.com

Where to find great beer in Sydney

In my latest visit to Australia I went to both Sydney and Melbourne on the search for great beer. At The Rocks in central Sydney I found some cracking brewed-on-site beer at the brewpub Lord Nelson, the oldest pub in Sydney, and nearby a great selection of local and wider Australian beers at Harts Pub.

In this video post filmed at Harts we review a selection, including Rocks Brewing Company’s The Boxer (red ale), The Hangman (American pale ale), The Governor (golden) and The Butcher (porter), as well as some other great craft beers from the Great South Land.

The only downside for visitors from the UK is that the price of a pint is around A$9 or £6! Twice what we fork out for in “Rip Off Britain”, so count your blessings next time you’re down the Dog and Duck…

Also look out for an upcoming video on TheGuestAle.com’s visit to the White Rabbit brewery in Victoria.

 

American Beer Review: Groundhog Brew by Straub

Groundhog Brew by StraubIt’s been frigid this February in Pennsylvannia.  Temperatures  have barely crept above minus six degrees Celsius all
month long and anything above freezing feels like an absolute heat-wave.  Last week they pulled the famed Groundhog from his slumbers in Punxatawney and against all odds he failed to see his shadow and predicted that spring is just around the corner!  As I defrost my frozen kitchen pipes I have to chuckle at the old rodent’s  sense of humour. At least that’s something to smile about and so, it seems, is the limited edition  beer brewed for the occasion!

Introducing Groundhog Brew from a long established brewery in these part, Straub. It was 1872 when their founder, German-born Peter Straub arrived in St Mary’s PA with his authentic knowledge of craft brewing gleaned from Wuerttemburg in the old country.  Since then Straub has remained a devoted brewer of some high quality and innovative craft ales.

This one pours a deep coppery amber with an off-white head and decent lacing. First whiff delivers the grassy hop aroma of those specially imported German hops. The initial sup offers up quite a plethora of flavour: chocolate, toffee, dark fruit and deep malts. (By the way, there is absolutely  no hint  of any groundhog flavour to report!) There’s a good, clean aftertaste that lingers that’s slightly, but not unpleasantly, bitter.

Verdict: All in all, I suspect  that the Groundhog is onto something by getting his name on this one. After all if you can’t predict the weather accurately you might as well back yourself up with a dead certain winner on the ale front. I’d pair this with a nice hot German sausage and kielbasa dish. With ale this good I can endure another six weeks of ice, wind & snow. Now bring me another, throw another log in the fireplace and just shut the door on that draft.