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.

Beer Review: Barnsey by Bath Ales

Bath Ales BarnseyWest 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.

Very satisfying.

The Essentials:

ABV: 4.5%

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.

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

Beer Review: Coffee in the Morning by Tap East

Tap East Coffee in the MorningOnce 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?

The essentials:

ABV: 5.7%

Colour:  Jet black, light head

Nose:  Black malt

Taste: Coffee and dark, rich malts

Our verdict: Deceptively strong, smooth and very satisfying.

Website: www.tapeast.co.uk

Beer Review: Mikkeller Oyster Stout

Mikkeller Oyster StoutI 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!

Skål!

The essentials:

ABV: 4.1%

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?

Website: www.mikkeller.dk

Beer Review: Cornish Mutiny by Wooden Hand

Wooden Hand Cornish MutinyI 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.

The essentials:

ABV: 4.8%

Colour: Murky brown

Nose:  Sweet toffee and biscuit

Taste: Chewy caramel

Our verdict: Chewy, sweet and very easy to drink. A winner.

Website: http://www.woodenhand.co.uk/

Beer Review: Raspberry Wheat by Whitstable Brewery

Whitstable Brewery Raspberry Wheat beerFollowing 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…

The essentials:

ABV: 5.2%

Colour: Cloudy red

Nose:  Yeasty like Belgian ales

Taste: Bitter yet sickly sweet fruit mixture

Our verdict: Not for me.

Website: http://www.whitstablebrewery.info/

US Beer Review: Three Philosophers Quadrupel Ale by Ommegang Brewery

Three Philosophers Quadrupel Ale OmmegangSunday 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.

Beer Review: Magic Rock Dark Arts

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.

The essentials:

ABV: 6.0%

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.

Website: http://www.magicrockbrewing.com/our-beers/

Video: A Day with Sambrook’s Brewery, South London

Sambrook's Brewery Battersea

Sambrook’s Brewery, Battersea

Sambrook’s Brewery in Battersea, South London, is one of the UK capital’s most recent – and fastest growing – breweries. Set up in 2008 by former Deloitte accountant Duncan Sambrook with a little help from ex-Ringwood Brewery managing director David Welsh, Sambrook’s Brewery beer is found throughout South-West and East London, with brands such as Wandle and Junction.

Sambrook attended the Brewlab brewing start-up course (University of Sunderland) prior to setting up his brewery, a course I myself attended this summer and have been experimenting in the kitchen with increased success since. Someone I met on the course mentioned he had volunteered at Sambrook’s Brewery so I got in touch and asked them if they would mind me coming down for a day with my camera to see how they work. Thankfully they did, so here’s the result: A day in the life of Sambrook’s Brewery.

NB: It’s a little noisy in parts, as you can imagine. Big thanks to the team at Sambrook’s Brewery for letting me come in and spend the day with them, it was really good fun and inspirational for someone like me who aspires to brew professionally one day.

US Beer Review: Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale by Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

Anderson Winter Solstice Beer

Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice – for the deep mid-winter

During the Summer Solstice this year I was conveniently  positioned at that Mecca of mystical sun-worship, Stonehenge. It was fantastic despite the bus loads of cagouled camera-toting overseas tourists and the sea of packed lunches and flasks of tea spread out by the natives.

Alas, the days are now short and dark and I find myself days away from the Winter Solstice. Ideally I’d be in County Cork by the Drombeg Stone Circle for this occasion but snowy Pennsylvania will have to suffice. My thirst for a decent beer remains unchanged and so it’s with some delight I stumble upon an aptly named beer from a brewery this side of the pond. Enter Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale by Anderson Valley Brewery.

The Californian valleys are renowned for yielding fine wines but back in 1987 they gave birth to one of America’s first craft breweries. Anderson Valley Brewing Co. started out with the noble idea of creating fine porters, ales and stouts producing a modest 600 barrels of beer in its first year. Today they produce over 36,000 barrels annually in an environmentally friendly way using a photovoltaic solar array to provide half of the company’s electrical needs. So, literally it seems, my ale has been kissed by the sun gods.

It pours a cloudy reddish mahogany colour with a tan head that lingers. A spicy sweet caramel aroma beckons as you pour. First sup delivers sugary notes of vanilla and honey cleverly blended with superb mellow spiciness of nutmeg, clove and a hint of cinnamon. Dark fruit flavours and toffee malts are also present. A very low-key hoppiness lingers on the palate. It’s moderately carbonated making it an easy one to down.

Verdict: Absolutely first class! Perfect balance of sweet and spice like a fine fruit cake in a glass. At 6.0 % ABV it’s  a wonderful companion to a heavy Christmas dinner. I’ll be back for more. This ale has some serious gravitational pull.

Japanese Beer Review: Hitachino Nest Beer

Hitachino Nest beer

Hitachino Nest Beer for sale…

There’s more to Japanese beer than Asahi (brewed under license in the UK by Shepherd Neame). I recently visited the JiBiru bar off Singapore’s busy Orchard Road shopping street and was instantly drawn towards the cartoon owl that represents Hitachino Nest Beer, showing how susceptible I am to the power of marketing (even though I work in the industry).

The Hitachino Nest Beer line is crafted by the Kiuchi Brewery in Naka, Japan, which has been making beer, sake and shochu – another distilled Japanese fortified drink made from sweet potatoes, barley or rice which typically weighs in at 25% ABV – since 1823.

Its signature beer is the Hitachino Nest White Ale, but it also makes stouts, pale ales and ginger ales. In Singapore the price of beer is positively Scandinavian (often north of £5 a pint) but varies according to the time of day. Luckily, as it was lunchtime, the price was at its lowest, so I took a spin of the famous Hitachino Nest White Ale and also the Hitachino Nest Pale Ale. This is what I made of them:

Hitachino Nest White Ale

Hitachino Nest White Ale

Hitachino Nest White Ale

This multi-award winning wheat beer comes spiced with coriander, nutmeg and orange peel, and looks every inch a Belgian-style witbier with its lemon meringue complexion and thick head. There’s a subtle clove nose and smooth, yolky, almost buttery taste, which implies to me that a great deal of the flavour comes from the yeast strain.

The big foamy head soon dissipates and the Hitachino Nest White Ale is extremely quaffable, despite its 5.5% strength. It’s definitely one I’d go back to on my next visit to Singapore, although the price tag would keep consumption to a minimum.

 

 

Hitachino Nest Pale Ale

Hitachino Nest Pale Ale

Hitachino Nest Pale Ale

It’s actually not that pale, this English style pale ale. It’s an altogether more ruddy, rich copper colour and it’s malt that dominates this time, not yeast. The nose is lightly malted with that subtle signature clove yeast fighting to get heard.

The Hitachino Nest Pale Ale is pleasantly smooth and medium bodied with a fairly rich biscuity after taste, again pointing to malt emphasis and I did not pick up much of the hop characters I was expecting. Big head, big character, decent strength (5.5%) – a £5 pint of this certainly went to my head on a hot day and I was grateful for it.

I very much look forward to my next visit to JiBiru.

Related: Review of the Brewerkz brewpub, Singapore

US Beer Review: Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre

Dogfish Head Raison D'etre

Dogfish Head Raison D’etre. What winter was made for!

There are only three things I just can’t stand about Pennsylvania: they are December, January and February. Otherwise I have no complaints. So I’m always looking for something to lift the winter blues and tonight I think I just found it….

Typically at  this time of year I should  be sampling the Christmas ales with their predictably spicy palate. Tonight I passed that up in favour of a Belgian style dark beer from those brewing masters at Dogfish Head. I spotted it and had always wanted to try it. Bring on the Raison D’Etre mahogany ale!

I tend to gravitate towards the Belgian dark ales as they lack bitterness and can be remarkably and pleasantly  smooth. This offering claims to be brewed with Belgian “beet sugars, green raisins and a sense of purpose” and is typically strong in alcohol content (8.0% ABV!).  In fact this mahogany ale won American Beer of the Year in Malt Advocate magazine in January 2000. I had heard it was good but how good…?

Well…to start out  I love the pour. Barely any head and no lacing at all. Meanwhile a sweet aroma of caramel and a hint of sandalwood greets your nostrils. It’s a glorious hue. Dark mahogany with a hint of ruby and very cloudy. Full of promise.

First sup doesn’t disappoint. I get a wonderful array of warm flavour: brown sugar and grape/raisin definitely dominant but with  subtle notes of dates, plums, sandalwood and a mildly spicy Belgian malty aftertaste. Nothing overpowers the taste buds but its a complex little number that keeps you guessing. Best of all, hardly any hoppiness.

Verdict: A dangerously excellent ale. The high ABV and awesome taste-factor make this a devil to resist. The smooth finish is nothing short of amazing. For safety’s sake pair  it with a heavy meat dish. It was deliberately brewed to compliment a  wood grilled steak and has the grapey taste of a Bordeaux wine. Who needs a spiced up Christmas ale when you can have this superlative gem? This is what Winter was made for! Just make sure you sup it slowly.  Very slowly. Remember Winter is a loooong season in these parts…

Watch Dogfish Head’s own video of the Raison D’Etre

Pub Review: Brewerkz, Singapore

Brewerkz Riverside Point Singapore

Brewerkz at Riverside Point, Singapore

When the mercury nudges 30°C in the humidity of Singapore, it’s time to cool off with a nice refreshing beer. Surely the best setting in town to do this is down at Brewerkz on Riverside Point, a colourful setting on the water set up by two beer acifionados keen to replicate the North American brewpub scene in arguably Asia’s most liveable city. The brewpub’s onsite system now produces more than 2,500hl of beer every year and the company has won numerous awards across the globe.

Unfortunately, alcohol is not cheap in Singapore, so it’s important to drink the good stuff. I set about with a tasting palate to sample as much of the range as possible. Here goes…

Brewerkz IPA: Rather fittingly I kicked off with a beer originally brewed for the hot British colonies. In my view, the Brewerkz India Pale Ale (IPA) differs slightly from the über-hoppy American interpretation of the style, leaning as it does on English hop varieties Pilgrim (dual purpose) and Fuggles or Goldings. It had a bit of a pear nose for me with a very clean, pilneresque finish, although quite hefty at 6% ABV so not one you could quaff too much of.

Brewerkz beer

Brewerkz’ tasting palate

Oatmeal Stout: I’m a big stout and porter fan so saved this one for last – and it didn’t disappoint! Loaded with character, the standout for me was its smoothness. It’s got a wonderfully smoky malt nose and beautifully balances body with flavour, giving a grainy coffee feel with a distant hint of chocolate. Again, Fuggle and Pilgrim hops are used but it’s the malts and oat smoothness that really shine through. Incredibly drinkable for a 6% beer.

Pacific Pale Ale: I was drinking with some New Zealander friends so no wonder they made for the beer with a Kiwi logo on it. It’s got a very Southern Hemisphere flavour to it: quite lagery on the nose, cloudy, deep amber hue and a grassy nose coming from the floral New Zealand Pacifica hops. Not one for me but my Kiwi friends stuck with this 5% brew all night.

Brewerkz Pacific Pale Ale

Brewerkz Pacific Pale Ale

Hopback Ale: As the name suggests, this is Brewerkz’ take on an English bitter style real ale straight from the cask. Again, Pilgrim, Fuggle and Golding hops give a relative hopiness to the brew and this beer has won a couple of awards in Australia in recent years. Just above session strength at 4.5% it’s a pretty good interpretation of the style.

Honey Apricot Ale: As you’d perhaps expect of a bold brewer based near the equator, Brewerkz experiments with exotic local ingredients in its beer. This includes Thai Wildflower Honey coupled with Oregon Apricots from further afield. This was surprisingly smooth with a sharp late kick.

I’m a sucker for a good brewpub since the first time I entered The Church in Pittsburgh in 1997 and my favourite is probably Little Creatures in Fremantle, Western Australia, but I’ll be back in Singapore a couple of times in the next few weeks hope to pop by Brewerkz again and complete the range.

US Beer Review: Snake Dog IPA by Flying Dog Brewery

Snake Dog IPA review

Snake Dog IPA

It’s Thanksgiving Bank  Holiday over here in the US. Most of the country are powering  up on turkey and pumpkin pie in readiness for the shopping extravaganza of Black Friday, while ex-pats like me are left twiddling our thumbs. It’s the perfect time to try one last India Pale Ale (IPA) before the Christmas season kicks off and I’m back sampling the darker, heavier winter brews.

Enter Snake Dog IPA by Flying Dog Brewery. The artwork on the bottle is enough to get you curious. I knew there was something familiar about the illustrative style of the label. It turns out that Flying Dog Brewery have enlisted Ralph Steadman to provide the artwork. Brits probably recognize him as the artist who illustrated the Oddbins off-license catalogue. (Interestingly he was also commissioned to design four postage stamps back in 1985 to commemorate the passing of Halley’s Comet.)

As for the brewers, Flying Dog Brewery has been brewing since 1990 having started out as a brew pub in Aspen, Colorado. After it built a good reputation the brewery moved to Denver in 1994 and now brew mostly from Frederick, Maryland.

Snake Dog is a year round offering. It pours a decent medium amber with a frothy white head that quickly dissipates. Not much lacing on the glass. A clean whiff of grapefruit notes blended with pine hits your nostrils as you pour.

First sup gives a nice gush of hoppy flavour  right off the bat. The crisp citrus notes are nicely balanced with a subtle bready, caramel and honey malt taste. But it’s the Warrior  and Columbus hops that linger on your tongue and back of the throat. This is one snake that bites the back of your throat and doesn’t let go.

Verdict: A decent IPA that delivers a powerful punch of hoppy flavour that sticks around. At 7.0 % ABV it can also punch you in the head pretty quickly so don’t sup it too fast. Pair it with spicy food. It’s a winner with a Mexican or Thai dish.