I 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.
Colour: Diluted cola
Nose: Sweet dark malts
Taste: Light malty taste with crisp pilsner undertones
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.
We’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.
Nose: Sweet raisin
Taste: Subtle malt and toffee
Our verdict: Quaffable for sure. Not your everyday lager.
It’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.
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
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:
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.
It’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.
West is best. I love the West Country. If the great cities, friendly people and awesome beach culture weren’t enough of a draw, there’s also the beer…
We’ve looked at Bath Ales’ Gem before, so now we’re looking at another of its flagship ales, Barnsey, a deep mahogany-coloured bitter which combines Chocolate and Crystal malts to a Maris Otter pale malt base. Bramling Cross provides the hop content.
It looks appetising enough, like a good old-fashioned best with a head like the surface of the moon. It’s a toasty marshmallow head with a popcorn nose. Mmm. Yeasty.
The sweet nose contradicts the bitter taste. There’s a lot of bitter hoppiness going on, which is good. There’s a real woodiness to it too.
Look: Dark mahogany
Smell: Butterscotch popcorn
Taste: Bitter hops
Our verdict: Very pleasant. Just above the standard 4% maximum for a “session ale”, but I could definitely build an evening around this one.
Once again The Rake bar in London’s Borough Market served a newbie for my taste buds. Tap East is a microbrewery and brew pub on the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford, East London: AKA that stop you got off at for the Olympics.
I wish I had known it was there as I have little reason to venture out that way now. Luckily, east came south and The Rake had Tap East’s Coffee in the Morning stout on draught. I’m in a stouty mood just now – it must be the weather – and this hit the spot.
It’s pitch black with a light off-white head. Massive black malt nose, not really a big whiff of coffee there, but the coffee flavour rushes in to fill the expectancy void in droves when you taste it. It’s very “warm”, very satisfying and rich. There are deep coffee notes – quite rustic ones as they come with an iron tang – but there’s a long-lasting flavour.
The smoothness disguises its premium 5.7% strength. You could get carried away with this. It’s smooth, not sharp, and there’s a long lingering flavour. More coffee, anyone?
Colour: Jet black, light head
Nose: Black malt
Taste: Coffee and dark, rich malts
Our verdict: Deceptively strong, smooth and very satisfying.
I was at the Craft Beer Co. off London’s Hatton Garden the other day. I love the selection there and decided to splash out £3.95 on a half of Oyster Stout made by surely Denmark’s finest brewer, Mikkeller. Mikkeller’s beer really is reassuringly expensive; you know when you spend your hard-earned cash on a Mikkeller beer that it’s going to be worth it.
I’ve got a soft spot for Oyster Stouts, one of my favourites being the Whitstable Brewery Oyster Stout (from the cask), but the Mikkeller Oyster Stout tops that, in my view – and not just because it cost me a king’s ransom.
There’s a really silky mocha head crowning the wonderfully tar-black beer and that head has a wonderfully roasty, yeasty nose.
Texture-wise, it’s smooth yet surprisingly light bodied. I’ve seen reports of one oyster per litre in this one and there certainly is a late oily oyster hit with a fishy edge on the palate. It lingers, that flavour, boy does it linger!
If it were a little thicker then I think I would have been in stout nirvana!
Colour: Pitch black with mocha head
Nose: Roasted coffee
Taste: Long-lasting oyster hit
Our verdict: One of the best. Silky smooth, bags of flavour and character, tastes good, looks good – what more could you ask?
I do like Cornish beer. They always seem to major on malt and throw in just enough cheeky hopiness to give it a zesty kick. Wooden Hand is one of the newer brewers in Cornwall, formed in 2004 but growing fast. I picked up this bottle of its malt-fest Cornish Mutiny at a Tesco near Polzeath.
The Cornish Mutiny is a dark murky brown colour with very little carbonation. There’s a very sweet toffee nose to it and a heavy biscuit edge. It’s fairly bitter too.
It’s fairly light-bodied despite being a healthy 4.8% in strength, making it very easy to drink. It’s chewy, extremely quaffable and for those that like malt, you’re in for a treat.
Thumbs up from me.
Colour: Murky brown
Nose: Sweet toffee and biscuit
Taste: Chewy caramel
Our verdict: Chewy, sweet and very easy to drink. A winner.
Following my predilection for the Whitstable Brewery Oyster Stout I overcame my disdain for fruit in beer and opted to try its Raspberry Wheat beer. I find it a very acquired taste and the very thought of red fruits in beer serves up sickly-sweet thoughts of Früli.
The Raspberry Wheat is certainly sweet, something you instantly suspect as you pour out the cloudy red fluid into the glass. It comes with a rustic yeasty nose and there is some light carbonation although the head dies quickly.
Taste-wise it’s sharp. You can pick up the raspberry but there’s a medley of fruits that come to the fore. I picked up some gooseberry but otherwise I found this a bit of a bitter syrup. I’m going back to steering clear of fruit in beer…
Sunday nights in January find many of us expats over this side of the pond sitting down to enjoy another thrilling episode of Downton Abbey. Such a rich and decadent evening of entertainment deserves a truly magnificent ale to match it. Enter something equally enthralling, complex and exciting. Enter Three Philosophers Ale by Ommegang Brewery.
As an interesting aside, Ommegang Brewery began in 1997 in Cooperstown, NY in a purpose-built Belgian farmhouse replica. The brewery is situated on an area that in the 19th century was the Mecca of hop-growing in the States. rather like how Kent is to England I suppose. Its Three Philosophers Ale is a “Quadrupel” ale following the bold, complex and strong Belgian style. It’s boasted to be “98% ale and 2% Kriek”, a cherry infused beer. In any case, it won the 2006 World Beer Cup Bronze Medal so I suspect we are up for some first class honours here.
Does it live up to its promise? It first pours a deep ruby-brown with a light tan head and good lacing. There’s a strong aroma of bready notes as it pours which are rounded out with a sweet spicy whiff.
First sup completely engages you. There’s banana and dark fruit notes, caramel, spice and a woody taste. Then comes the lingering syrupy cherry tartness that clings to your palate and a slight alcoholic burn as it goes down.
Verdict: Never a dull moment with this one. It’s a heavy blend of intriguing flavours and pleasantly sweet yet creamy. The 9.8% ABV should be enough to warn you that this one should not be rushed. Enjoy and contemplate this- it borders upon genius.
Lovely pump clip. Unfortunately, I prematurely deleted my own image of the Dark Arts.
It’s dark, artistic, magical and it totally rocks. Dark Arts Surreal Stout by Huddersfield brewer Magic Rock Brewing is one of my favourite of its genre on the market. I first sampled it at Brighton’s Cask (whatever happened to that place?) and was blown away. I used to be skeptical about stouts but it’s exciting numbers like the Magic Rock Dark Arts that brings me back to the black stuff.
No quarter asked or given, Dark Arts is a 6% heavyweight. There’s a bonfire in the nose, leading you to expect a backstreet fighter of a stout, something rough and ready. Instead, it’s silky smooth with a big hunk of black malt with hints of coffee, liquorice and raisin.
There’s a slick mocha lacing to this oil-black beer and it’s an all-round winner for me. Seek it out. If you like your stouts to be rich and indulgent then this one is for you.
Colour: Black with a lovely brown head
Nose: Smoky black malt
Taste: Complex coffee and chocolate, spicy hop finish
Our verdict: Wonderful, complex, bold. A real dark art.