US Beer Review: Samuel Adams’ East West Kolsch

Samuel Adams East West KolschIf you love to discover different beers but are at a loss as to where to begin,  may I point you in the direction of this little gem?  Introducing East West Kolsch by Boston Brewing Company (Samuel Adams).

Kolsch is a style of ale which hails from Cologne, Germany. It’s traditionally less hoppy than other German pale ales and is strictly defined by the Kolsch Konvention, an agreement between the Cologne Brewers Association.

In 2011 Samuel Adams attempted to put its own version of Kolsch on the map. In keeping with strict Kolsch brewing traditions, top fermenting ale yeasts were used and afterwards  the  brew was stored at cold lager-like temperatures to help impart a crispy after-taste.

It pours the colour of light straw chamomile tea. There’s not much head to speak of and the carbonation appears relaxed. It smells like elderflower cordial but there’s a definite jasmine kick as well which I imagine comes from the process of aging the beer on a bed of Jasmine Sambac, a night-blooming Asian flower.

First sup confirms that in terms of flavour, this one is all over the map. I get honey, caramel, lots of heavy jasmine, elderflower and the lemony taste which I assume is contributed by the Alsatian Strisselspalt hops. There’s a faint bitter aftertaste but nothing that detracts from the wonderful floral flavours. Any lingering maltiness  is swiftly drowned out by the prominent jasmine notes.

Verdict: Pleasantly unusual. It might have been developed in Cologne and brewed in Boston but this beer is more like a summer day in an English country garden in a bottle. You have mellow hoppiness and fruitiness but it is the floral taste which dominates. This is better than soda if you want something refreshing and at 5.1% ABV you can happily enjoy a few. Samuel Adams recommends it be enjoyed with trout but I’d agree that it pairs with any seafood dish you might be enjoying on your travels. Frankly I’d gather this one by the caseload.

Beer Review: Panther Fine Extra Stout

Panther Fine Extra Stout

“The bitterest pill is mine to swallow…” (The Jam)

Bali Hai’s Panther Fine Extra Stout is the second stout I’ve tried in Indonesia following Storm’s Black Moon Iron Stout. I’ll be honest, for a country where the temperature rarely drops below 30°C I’m surprised that the stout style is quite so popular. India Pale Ale was, of course, designed for just this climate two hundred years ago, so how come all I can find in Jakarta stores is either generic, mass-produced lagers or random stouts?

Anyway, my hopes were high for this one, given it won several Australian beer awards, albeit way back in 2005. All I can say straight off the bat is those Aussie judges must have been big Vegemite fans, because this is one grainy malt fest!

There’s a red hue in the blackness when held to the light, probably coming from the crystal malts which accompany the pale and chocolate malts in this brew. The nose is quite sweet but again clouded in smoky maltiness and yeast undertones.

The texture is interesting: it’s light yet chewy and almost grainy. It’s light with a bubbly mocha head and the body is lightly carbonated, but it never impacts your nose like zesty beers can. There are flashes of sweetness but this is possibly the bitterest stout I’ve ever tasted. It’s certainly not unpleasant, but I am kind of surprised it won awards.

The essentials:

ABV: 5%

Colour:  Jet black, mocha head

Nose:  Smoky malt

Taste: Malt, malt then more malt

Our verdict: The bitterest, grainiest stout I think I’ve ever tasted.


Beer Review: Ikea Öl Mörk Lager

Ikea Ol Mork LagerHave you been to Ikea lately? Next time you do, make sure you come away with a bottle of its Öl Mörk Lager (Dark Lager). It’s surprisingly good! It’s a dunkel style beer brewed by the Krönleins Bryggeri in Halmstad, Sweden, a family-owned brewery that’s been running since 1836, so they know what they’re doing. (I should have re-named this article “How many umlauts can you get into a single English language post?”)

It’s heavily carbonated, like a cola with a really active and bubbly head that lingers. The nose is distinctively charcoal from the heavily roasted malts. As well as a cola colour, it has a cola texture to match, and as the light head dissipates you get a really tangy, malty experience.

Not too bad at all. At the time of writing it had a score of 3.09/5 on Untappd so the general consensus is that it’s OK.

At least you don’t have to put the thing together yourself and there were no parts missing!

The essentials:

ABV: 4.7%

Colour: Black with white bubbly head

Nose:  Charcoal

Taste: Tangy maltiness, no real hop experience.

Our verdict: For what it is, not bad at all.

Beer Review: Storm Brewing’s Black Moon Iron Stout

Storm Brewing Iron StoutWhen my partner’s contract took her on extended periods to Jakarta and Singapore I feared the worst – that on my visits to the tropics I would not be able to get my hands on any decent beer. I’m delighted to report I was wrong!

While I envisaged a tea total month taunted by a generic beer counter of Heineken, Guinness and Indonesia’s Bintang, I was delighted to discover Storm Brewing of Bali. The brewery uses English recipes handed down over the last century, which includes a golden ale, a “bronze” ale and a stout. And it’s the stout which I had, as apparently alien as it was welcome in Jakarta’s oppressive 33°C and 75% humidity.

The “Black Moon Iron Stout” is jet black with a humble bubbly brown head and a wonderfully smoky nose. Storm uses pale, crystal and chocolate malts, as well as the bittering hop Styrian Golding. There’s a malty chocolate coffee hit and it’s thick too, medium-to-full bodied. Overall, it’s like an alcoholic version of the hardcore caffeine bomb Javanese coffee you get served out here.

At 5% it’s not too heavy going. They had that whole “Arthur’s Day” thing going on here pushing Guinness not so long ago, but why anyone would want to drink Guinness when there’s Storm’s Iron Stout available in supermarkets and bars, I’ll never know. That’s the power of marketing for you.

The essentials:

ABV: 5%

Colour:  Jet black, mocha head

Nose:  Smoky malt

Taste: Instant coffee and chocolate malt hit. Quite smooth and very tasty!

Our verdict: I’m delighted to have my ignorance of Indonesia beer so wonderfully dismantled.


Beer Review: Innes & Gunn Blonde

Innes & Gunn BlondeYou need to be in a certain kind of mood to drink quality craft beer, I believe. Preferably, treat the bottle in isolation and never chew gum less than an hour beforehand! This is my view of Innes & Gunn’s line. They’re often so strong and rich that you can only take your time and enjoy the beer in perfect isolation.

This was the case when I reviewed the Innes & Gunn Oak Aged Original and it was the same for the Innes & Gunn Blonde, which is matured in American oak barrels to impart a vanilla flavour.

First up, it’s a very attractive colour indeed. It’s a rich Pilsneresque gold with a lager-like nose to it. This immediately spells “crisp” to me and it is a really light-bodied product. There’s a well-rounded vanilla and pine hit, just in short bursts, and stronger than it seems while you drink it. Not as much character as I expected to be honest. It was like a flavoursome golden ale and not as rich as the Original has set me up to hope.

Still, it’s a top draw product and the quality shows, so definitely worth a spin.

The essentials:

ABV: 6.0%

Colour: Pilsner-like golden colour

Nose:  Sharp and lager-like

Taste: Vanilla, pine, a little maltiness

Our verdict: The promised vanilla comes through prominently. Pleasant and light ale.


US Beer Review: Saranac Pumpkin Ale by Matt Brewing Company

Saranac Pumpkin Ale review

Saranac Pumpkin Ale. Spooky!

October: Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness…and pumpkin ale! This month my search for contenders for title of the best pumpkin ale continued leading me to sample Saranac Pumpkin Ale. It was my birthday after all so I chanced it and grabbed the six pack.

Shame on me for having not noted this historic brewery before now. Nestled at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in central New York State, this family run brewery has been crafting speciality ales for more than a century to some pretty high standards. The Matt Brewing Company boasts its brews are crafted “from the spirit of clear lakes, open skies and breathtaking mountain vistas”. Sounds the ideal rural setting  for a pumpkin ale so let’s take a slice of this tempting piece  of Americana:

The Saranac Pumpkin Ale pours a russet amber colour with a one finger pure white head. I get a whiff of malt, spice and vanilla as I pour. Not detecting much pumpkin yet but it’s a pleasant aromatic mix for the nose.

First supp delivers decent spicy notes upfront. It’s a typical pie spice mix of clove, cinnamon, and vanilla but there’s a definite taste  of pumpkin that stays with you until the light bitter finish kicks in. I can detect the wheaty, bready flavour  delivered by the Maris Otter (pale) malts and there’s a noted crispness which is contributed by the Cascade hops.

Verdict:  A decent contender for one of the top Pumpkin Ales. You can tell it’s a quality product as it has solid flavour throughout. The pumpkin itself really features well in this one and isn’t killed by an over-abundance of other spices. At 5.4% I’d probably sup it with a meal. In my case it was sushi and it went down a treat. Nicely done but hurry go and grab it and enjoy it now  because it’s  a “limited release”. And watch out, because at the stroke of midnight this beer may well turn back into a pumpkin.

European Beer Review: Mélusine by Brasserie Mélusine

Melusine by Brasserie MelusineThe European beer odyssey continues. A friend and fellow quality beer aficionado came back recently from a family holiday in the Vendée, France, with a local craft beer from Brasserie Mélusine.

I love its branding and Brasserie Mélusine develops organic craft beers with spring water and local produce, such as the honey in the Mélusine beer that my friend kindly brought me back. Its produce is top fermented, unfiltered, unpasteurised and re-fermented in the bottle. That means yeast is reseeded before bottling to aid further fermentation in the bottle, which also increases shelf life.

The Mélusine beer had a cloudy apple juice colour and not as much head as I’d expected. There was a real spicy clove note from the yeast, which was pleasant and typically European, as was the ABV – 6.5% – those crazy mainland Europeans brewers just don’t seem to want to make anything less than 5%. The body is fairly light on the Mélusine and it’s only slightly carbonated.

The apple juice look followed through in the flavour, with a baked apple taste coupled with a rich malted caramel taste. I didn’t pick up much of the honey apparently used in the brew, but overall a good stab and great to see independent breweries taking off in France.

The essentials:

ABV: 6.5%

Colour: Cloudy apple juice

Nose:  Yeasty clove

Taste: Apple and malted caramel

Our verdict: Very European and certainly not a beer one could quaff.





Beer Review: St Stefanus Blonde

St Stefanus Blonde

St Stefanus Blonde: Watch that head go!

Like Audrey Hepburn or Jean-Claude Van Damme, the St Stefanus Blonde is a Belgian legend. The monks of Sint Stefanus have been making beer since 1295 and I’m sure this would have provided a challenge at a silent monks’ feast. The St Stefanus is an end-to-end, high class product. The personal signature of the brewer on the bottle alongside the date of release is a nice touch, as are the distinctive bulbous 33cl bottle or the champagne-style 75cl vessel which I was sent by its PR team (thanks, guys).

The St Stefanus Blonde is bottle fermented so one needs to handle with care and let it settle. I sat mine down for a while, took the wiry mesh off the top and left the room to get my camera. There was a ‘bang!’ and I returned in haste to find that the cork had shot out! I didn’t lose too much, luckily, and it was time to tuck into the beer itself.

Tasting notes: St Stefanus Blonde

There’s a rich marmalade colour to it and one of the liveliest two-finger heads on the planet (especially after the eruption). In the nose you can make out orange peel and the presence of the three yeasts that St Stefanus uses, although for me that was a very clove-like on the nose. It’s got a typically sweet Belgian beer nose and nice lacing too.

The bottle fermentation enables the drinker to choose whether s/he wants to drink its young as a fresh and fruity ensemble or later on when the aromas develop.  I got somewhere in between with it having been bottled in January 2012 and best before around February 2013. I found it crisp, tangy and creamy, which I wasn’t expecting, mostly malt, spiced fruits and a little banana. I thought it would be sharper but not at all complaining.

St Stefanus brewers' note

Nice touch: the brewer’s note on the St Stefanus Blonde

Strangely, I have actually done a St Stefanus beer review (albeit briefly) before at De Hems Dutch bar in London, although my friend Gary describes it as “gassy, but in a good way”.

Would be great at Christmas, although I found it very filling/sickly after 40cl or so…

The Essentials:

ABV: 7%

Look: Deep marmalade (without the bits), zesty head

Smell: Orange peel, cloves

Taste: Crisp yet creamy, malty with a little spiced fruit.

The verdict: Top marks for presentation, interesting character but a little sweet on the palate for me.


Beer review: Willy Nilly by SA Brains

Willy Nilly beer SA BrainsI’m in Wales right now and the country’s most prominent brewer is probably SA Brains. It has entered its Willy Nilly beer into the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012, which ends on 3 October (just made it!). Named after the nosy postman in Welsh legend Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood”, the Willy Nilly is a ruby ale exclusively available in Sainsburys (at the moment).

It is a really deep russet colour, rusty almost. There’s a distinct orange peel and champagne nose and it comes with an excitable, bubbly head. It’s smooth and light-to-medium bodied, which is good if you’re into your session beers, because that’s what this strikes me as – at just 4% it’s eminently quaffable.

Can you remember the Skips advert from the 1980s (or was it the 90s?) where the kid goes “frizzly on my tongue!”? Well, it’s kind of like that. It dances, it prances, it glances off your tongue. Awesome. Oh, and aside from the texture it’s got a lovely sweet malt flavour.

Yeah, all the ingredients of a good session ale. Looks good, smells good, tastes good, and although the Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt ends imminently I think SA Brains should market this one whether they win or not. It’s top notch!

The Essentials:

ABV: 4%

Look: Dark rust

Smell: Orange peel on Champagne

Taste: Sweet malt

Our verdict: Cheeky texture, good colour, and all-rounder in the session category without standing out.


Kent Beer Festival, Bricklayers Arms, Putney

Kent Beer Festival 2012 PutneyIf you’re based in or near London, make sure you get yourself down to the Bricklayers Arms in Putney before 30 September 2012 for the Kent Beer Festival. There’s a cracking selection of beer on offer.

I went along last night (26 Sept) for the first night of it and some of the “green hop beers” – beers made with new green hops that have not been dried in the traditional brewing style – weren’t yet settled and ready, but there were still some awesome Kentish beers on tap. All under a wonderful canopy of hops!

My highlights included:

Whitstable Brewery Oyster Stout (4.5%): This was by far my favourite. Top notch stout, wonderfully medium-full bodied, slightly creamy texture and wonderfully oily taste. So much chocolate flavour from the malts.

Kent Brewery Zingiber

Kent Brewery’s US-inspired Zingiber

Kent Brewery Zingiber (4.1%): An American style pale ale with a massive ginger onus. The nose really is fruity and enticing; it’s a beautiful straw colour with a wonderfully bubbly head. The flavour really brings out the American floral hop notes with the ginger.

Tonbridge Brewery Coppernob (3.8%): Copper is the colour, for sure. Wonderfully rusty coloured bitter with a sharp rustic hop note in both the nose and the flavour.

Old Dairy Brewery Silver Top (4.5%): Another cracking creamy stout, this one with a sweeter liquorice flavour and chocolate.


Meet the Brewer: Adnams Beer Tasting Evening

Fergus Fitzgerald Adnams

Adnams’ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald

It took a while, but after a cracking beer tasting session with the head brewer, The Guest Ale has finally been won over by Suffolk brewer Adnams.

I have a lot of beer drinking friends from East Anglia who have grown up with local brewer Adnams and whose opinion on beer I respect highly. However, despite having reviewed a few Adnams beers I’ve never really been bowled over by its products, until my fellow beer blogging friend Tony from The Alternative Tipple invited me along to Adnams’ beer tasting at the company’s Bloomsbury store in London this week.

Adnams’ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, creator of many of the Southwold beer maker’s newest titles including the new and exciting Australian style Topaz beer, was on hand to talk a small band of 20-30 visitors through the Adnams line.

The Adnams Line

We ran through a large number of the Adnams line, including Broadside, Gunhill, Southwold Bitter, the blue bottled Spindrift and Ginger Beer. But the most exciting for me were Innovation – a fruity number which combines Boadicea, Columbus and Styrian Goldings hops – and the Ghost Ship pale ale, which is wonderfully well-rounded.

Adnams is one of those brewers with an instantly identifiable signature yeast strain, which runs through its brands and has been in use since 1943. Other brands such as Harveys and Shepherd Neame also have their own distinctive yeasts which make their beers instantly identifiable.

Adnams seem to be doing the right things: stores in London, catchy branding, meeting the public and educating them on what makes beer so great and special. Fergus is a wonderfully personable and erudite chap and is really passionate about his beer, which is essential as we all try to convert the British drinking public away from lager and appreciate the wonders of beer.

Adnams has now added three seasonal cask beers: Topaz Gold – using Australian hops, English Red and Shingle Shells. I was fortunate enough to try the Topaz Gold and, believe me, it is special. I recommend Adnams’ beer tasting nights to anyone.

Beer Review: White Lady by Cairngorm Brewery

Cairngorm Brewery White LadyMy odyssey through the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 continues with the White Lady wheat beer from one of my favourite parts of the UK, Cairngorm. I’d very much like to know if Cairngorm Brewery’s White Lady is named after the famous chairlift, in which case that must be a world first.

It’s a Bavarian style wheat beer presented in a rich, dark treacle colour thanks to the use of roast malts. There’s a zesty head with hints of raisin, coriander and toffee in the nose, and the beer is smooth but is surprisingly light bodied.

Flavour-wise, the White Lady is tangy and sweet malts linger at the back of the throat. It’s got some character but not much sign of wheat.

I may be wrong, but I don’t fancy this one for the final of the Great British Beer Hunt 2012.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.7%

Colour: Dark treacle

Nose:  Raisin, coriander and toffee

Taste: Light bodied, sweetly malted with a touch of coriander

Our verdict: Middle of the road wit beer. Fairly sound as a session beer.


US Beer Review: Iron City Amber Classic Lager by Pittsburgh Brewing Company

Iron City Amber LagerHear ye! Hear ye! There’s a new lager in town! It’s called Iron City Amber Classic lager by Pittsburgh Brewing Company. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this little new-comer! I’ve asked for it at a number of local beer distributors in the Steel City region without success. But today  is my lucky day!

Pittsburgh Brewing Co. has been brewing in the Pittsburgh area  for 150 years. You have  to hand it to them: They have survived the Civil War, two World Wars and Prohibition and yet remained in business dedicated to their cause of brewing innovative beers in this city. I’ve already reviewed one of its staples, Iron City Light, but today I look forward to the christening of one of its newest family additions.

The label boasts that it’s “hand-crafted with the finest Bavarian hops and two-row malted barley”. It pours a stunning deep bronze with a one finger tan head that sticks around.  The distinct aroma of sticky toffee hits the nose immediately. A harder sniff swamps the nostrils with complex notes of cola, caramel, boiled sweets and fruits. Plenty of promise!

The first sup doesn’t disappoint. In fact, there’s a wallop of flavour up-front which delivers a keen blend of caramel, peanut, roasted malts, nutty, coffee, butterscotch, honey and a pleasant cereal aftertaste. It’s hard to decider the hops in this medley but that’s not a bad thing. There isn’t even a hint of citrus, which I applaud.

Verdict: A decent, well-crafted, sweet and ambitiously flavoursome amber  lager. I’d pair it with a Primanti Brother’s Sandwich (a Pittsburgh Traditional sandwich where they add the chips in amongst the bread with all the other ingredients) whilst watching a Steelers American Football game on the box. Complex, strongly flavoured, distinctive and works the taste-buds up into a frenzy. It’s as unique as the city it was brewed in. In  short, it’s  a champion!

US Beer Review: Samuel Adams’ Belgian Session

Samuel Adams' Belgian SessionI spent some in Belgium back in 1986 but I wasn’t old enough to sample the beer. That’s something I regret as Belgium produces more than 1,100 varieties of beer including some of worlds finest, such as the Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren and Gulden Draak strong pale ale.

Belgium’s rich brewing  history begins in the time of the first Crusades when the low alcohol beer was far more sanitary than the drinking water. This was helped by the moderate climate which is favourable to the growing of cereal malts in the region.

For the first time this year Samuel Adams included a Belgian Session Ale in its Summer Styles variety box. The Boston brewery boasts that it’s blended with top-fermenting Belgian yeast,  Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble hops for floral affect and American Ahtanum  hops for citrus zest.

How does it measure up? It pours a medium amber colour with a thin white  coat of a head. A sniff delivers a subtle bouquet of sweet caramel and bready malts to the nose. First supp presents a decently complex variety of flavours although no one flavour in particular dominates, as is typical of the style.  I get a  banoffee pie taste with interesting grassy and spicy top notes-  cloves, fruit and a little vanilla as well. Those aforementioned hops are present but not as over-powering as I’d expected. In fact, they are barely detectable.

Verdict: I’d expected a little more in terms of flavour but it’s a beer well done. It’s mellow but complex enough.  At 4.3% ABV it’s an ideal lunchtime ale as you can slowly enjoy a couple of these and still navigate your way back to the office. Bravo!