Archive for category England

A night out at Stroud Brewery

 

 

51A fun evening visit to a Cotswold micro brewery near Stroud last Friday enabled us to enjoy pizzas, freshly baked in their wood-fired pizza oven, and the opportunity to taste two of their draught beers,

Stroud Brewery are an old name in Gloucestershire brewing but the current incarnation started in 2006, and focusses on a great selection of organic beer. After winning numerous awards for their beer they have become a regular feature in pubs all over Gloucestershire, with the bottles going well beyond the county borders.

Stroud Brewery Organic Ale 4%

This is a golden colour, fresh tasting and a hoppy pale ale. It went extremely well with our delicious pizzas made from soft light dough. The hoppiness and light carbonation refreshing my palate.IMG_20150406_142917

Stroud Brewery Teasel Organic Best Bitter 4.2%. Most drunk after the meal! This was a full bodied malty bitter with a more powerful taste. It also had a slightly peppery finish.

Stroud Brewery have a great reputation locally and produce outstanding beer that is a staple on the cask line-up of many pubs. The link up with Vélo Bakery to make their sourdough pizzas have really given visiting the brewery bar a whole new meaning and another reason to go and taste their beer!

Thanks to ‘Imbiber’ for this review of the evening!

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Beer for English Devolution

 A beer for every region!

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 00.30.15

 

Talk of English devolution got me thinking. At first beer was, unusually nothing to do with any of thoughts, but memories of history lessons about Anglo-Saxon England and the original divisions of England emerged, before those pesky conquering Normans came along with their Dukes and Doomsday Books. I checked a few blogs and websites on devolution and came up with a modern version that might work today, dividing England up into modern day provinces that represented some historical roots but allowed for modern populations etc. etc…..’but what the hell does this tangent have to do with beer?’ I hear those of you still reading ask.

Well, in states and provinces in other countries, there are state flowers, provincial birds and trees, so if England were to divide up into provinces why not have a representative beer style? Ok so there are probably lots of reasons but this is just a bit of fun!

Capital Idea: London.

There are a couple of nominations for the beer choice of the capital, including IPA, as London was where the forerunner to the modern style was initially developed and exported to India. I felt that the home of IPA in its heyday was not in London but further north, and the real beer of London has to be the one that took its name from those that carried the goods around the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ticket porters (tickets were the metal badges that they wore as a licence to work) were the lifeblood of the worlds most important trading centre 200 years ago, and the beer that slaked their thirst was named after them. This classic was also known as ‘entire butt’ due to the brewing process used by the breweries that were, in effect, mass-producing this beer for the new industrial working classes in London, but it is better known as Porter. This beer lubricated a city and has become synonymous with it. The new wave of craft breweries in London are embracing the style and it has now been given new life and a prominence it deserves.

Beer of London: Porter

porters

Three London porters. A river porter, ticket porter and fellowship porter

 

The Mysterious East: East Anglia & Home Counties.

This may be a bit of fusion of two areas but my main thought here is that it contains the two counties most associated with traditional hop growing: Kent and Sussex. The hop is the ingredient that seems to be most revered by modern brewers, and we are now understanding them in the same way sommeliers understand grape varietals, with soil, terroir and climate all adding to their various flavours and aromas. The style that has showcased the English hop so well over the past 250 years has been Bitter and pale ale. Hoppy pale ale emerged with the development of IPA in the 18th century, and was in contrast to the relatively low-hopped ales that were also sold at the time. These hoppy pale ales were colloquially know as ‘bitter’ by those that drank them and the name stuck. Today bitter can be found around the world in its various guises and New World interpretations, but the home of the hop in Britain lies within this region and I think Bitter should be their official beer!

Beer of East Anglia & Home Counties: Bitter

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

 

The Borderlands: Mercia

Mercia translates as border country in Anglo-Saxon, and referred to the kingdom that sat uncomfortably for many years next to Wales, until King Offa defined a more permanent boundary with his dyke. Nowadays this area roughly translates as the much more prosaically named ‘Midlands’, but as a history enthusiast, I like Mercia a lot more! This was a tough one to decide as the industrial heartland in the ‘Black Country’ consumed many millions of barrels of Mild over the years, so that was my first candidate.

The second beer on the list is Burton Ale. Burton-upon-Trent was and the major centre of brewing for the British Empire for many years and this eponymous ale was drunk around the world before falling into obscurity. The town lies in the heart of Mercia, and any beer that represents this region must have an association with this old brewing powerhouse. Today its shadow falls upon many a Winter Warmer and Barley Wine, as Burton ale found itself being re-labelled and developed into these more familiar beers. Although Burton brewed and exported this beer, it was a major producer of porter and stout for export too, but the beer that really put it on the map was IPA. At the height of the British expansion into India through the East India Company as well as through Empire, Burton was the largest producer of what went on to be called IPA, running London into second place and Edinburgh third. This style has now captured the imagination of many a craft brewer around the world and been re-invented and interpreted many times over. The famous Burton water and brewing prowess made this style its own.

Beer of Mercia: IPA

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in 19th C

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in the 19th Century

 

The Summerlands: Wessex

Wessex expanded its borders regularly of the second half of the first millennium, but its heart lies where the West Country meets the South. I tried to think what encapsulates this beautiful part of England, and I kept coming back to summer holidays, beaches, sailing, camping, hiking and sunnier weather that the rest of the UK! The only traditional beer I could place here is the now extinct west country white ale. This was an historic English beer made with wheat flour, little or no hops and wild fermentation. Maybe it was a more wheaty lambic, although some recipes include egg whites, so I’m not going to guess what it tasted like! I did think wheat beer, as a descendant of this curiosity, had a shout but really it’s a bit of a stretch.

In the early 1990s Wessex based Hopback brewery brewed a type of pale ale that appealed to a new generation of drinker. It was paler than the bitters and pale ales at the time, had a light , easy drinking body and just enough hops to give it a crisp, refreshing finish. Lifelong lager drinkers were starting to convert and a new style (or sub-style) was born. The Summer ale or Golden ale is now a mainstay of many breweries and usually finds itself as a summer seasonal, although recently it has become a year-round offering due to its popularity. It chimes perfectly with the sunny disposition of this region, and a pint of golden summer ale is never far from a beer lover’s lips when holidaying or living in this provincial paradise.

Beer of Wessex: Golden Ale

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

 

The Northern Powerhouse: Northumbria

The North of England is a blend of industrial towns and cities, that helped build a nation, and stunning wild mountains, lakes and hills. It’s as diverse as this country gets, but whether sat in a country pub or Manchester restaurant, the atmosphere of an independent spirit with a warm welcome is never far away. The candidates for this region were easy to assemble. Bitter is a mainstay of many a Yorkshire brewery and I’m sure many dissenting voices would be happy to fight the South East for this one, but I had to make the call and Northumbria came off second. Theakston’s Old Peculiar is a classic North Country beer and this modern-ish version of an Old Ale is a must after a long hike in the hills, accompanying a beefy pie and mash in the pub. I felt that Old Ale is a bit obscure for a flagship brew so the winner had to be Brown Ale. The internationally famous Newcastle Brown Ale is drunk in many parts of the world and spawned many, some far superior, brown ales. One is from the other side of the region and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a delicious version of the amber brown style of beer. Sometimes known as ‘Northern English Brown Ale’ by American pigeon-holing types, it is not to be confused with the sweeter dark brown ale, typified by Mann’s. This northern ale is a thirst-quenching pint that can have a nutty malt flavour, and just a hint of hops for balance only and I feel this is a beer the North can be proud of.

Beer of Northumbria: Brown Ale

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

 

I hope you have enjoyed this regional ramble and provincial pontification. Feel free to disagree and stake a claim for an official ale for your area. You never know, we may be going federal in a few years and as beer is the national drink, it can unite us as well divide us, but each Anglo-state may be searching for an identity all of its own, and what better than a local beer to do just that?

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Beer Store Focus: Market Row Wines, Brixton

Dave-Front-ShotWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Having moved from what I consider the centre of Canadian craft brewing, Vancouver, back to my old home in London, I quickly missed the range of cutting edge brews that were available in a number of stores around town. The British supermarket choice is fair at best but can’t compare with the specialist retailer I have been spoilt with for the last 6 years or so.

On a slow day searching for new employment opportunities I took a break and had a stroll around the fantastic Brixton Village and Market Row, the indoor arcade sections of Brixton Market. I came across a tiny wine merchant in the Market Row arcade and saw a number of interesting looking beers in the window.

Market Row Wines is run and owned by Dave Simpson who, like me and what seems like half the British wine trade, used to work for high street chain Oddbins. After having a browse and choosing one of each from the local Brixton Brewery range (reviews later in the week) Dave found time to have a chat. His wine and beer selection are squeezed into an area smaller than many living rooms, and as a former manager of wine and beer stores, I can only imagine how tough it is to shelve and store all that stock!

What Market Row Wines lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality. The fairly modest selection of 40 to 50  beer focuses on London craft breweries with a few other interesting choices from further afield.  Apart from the local Brixton Brewery beers, there are selections from the Bermondsy based Partizan Brewing, Camden Town, Wild Beer, Pressure Drop and the darlings of British craft brewing The Kernel Brewery amongst others.  Dave certainly knows his beer and gives honest and friendly advice and recommendations. I asked him how the craft beer selection is selling, and he enthusiastically explained that it just keeps growing and the only problem is keeping on top of new breweries and new beers that the ever demanding current generation of customer desires. The world of new wave brewing moves quickly and the retailer has to be one step ahead of the game to keep the eager “latest thing” obsessed consumer satiated.

If you live in the area or find yourself visiting the fabulous Brixton Market, then make your way to Market Row Wines for nice break from the norm, as they offer not only a nice selection of interesting beer but some hard to find wines too. If you find you don’t know what to get, don’t be shy and ask for some advice – it’ll be well worth it.

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Winter Beer Showdown

Seasonal beers are filling the shelves right about now, and go well beyond any single type. The basic style is the classic Winter Warmer. This is not usually spiced but brewed to a slightly stronger alcohol volume (6% – 7% is typical for this warming malty style). Specialty Christmas beers take their cues from the old Wassail Ales – spiced, sometimes fortified, mulled beer given to carol singers in Medieval England. Although no longer fortified or served warm, it is usually strong and spiced, rich and filling. There are other winter seasonal ales brewed in the Belgium style.  They tend to be strong and dark with a super-rich malt profile.

Lagers get a make over too with the German, and now Canadian specialty, Ice-Bock, giving fans of strong and malty dark amber lagers something to enjoy. Of course breweries the world over make all sorts of beers for the festive season and often they don’t fit easily into any specific style, but that’s what makes it fun – beer can be full of surprises!

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Duchy Old Ruby Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Duchy Originals Organic Old Ruby Ale is made with a historic malt called Plumage Archer which gives this beer a deeply pleasant roasty malt flavour. The bright amber-ruby colour sparkles, and the gentle nose of biscuity and fruity malt make this a great session ale. The slightly tea-leafy and floral hops break through enough to make this a nicely well balanced beer.

This is not a flavour bomb by any stretch of the imagination, and it falls into a cross between a Best Bitter and an Amber Ale in style, but don’t be put off. This is a well-crafted traditional style ale that makes it a breeze to drink three or four in an evening – perhaps accompanied by a steak and ale pie!

ABV: 5%

Best Served 10-12°C

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Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo is a classic in the British beer scene. It’s an Old Ale which means that it has had some time well spent in very old seasoned oak casks, many of which date back more than a century. Each year adds to the beer-soaked wood and helps them give more complexity to the finished product.  This ale spends over a year conditioning in the oak and is bottled with yeast, so can condition further in the bottle.  It pours a deep amber colour with a thick and lively tan head. The aromas are fruity and almost Madeira-like. The taste follows on and delivers more. Dates and brandy-soaked orange peel hit your tongue followed by  treacle and vanilla notes. There is a subtle oaky finish that keeps the sweet flavours in check. This is a Christmas Pudding of a beer that allows  you to keep on eating! Stingo proves that British beer can have as much flavour and intensity as a Belgian ale if the desire by the brewer is there. Serve on its own after a meal or with a blue cheese such as Stilton.

ABV 9%

Best Served 14-16° C

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Bath Ales Dark Hare

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Dark Hare, the latest offering from Bath Ales , with their beautiful hare themed labels, is absolutely delicious. As it pours into the glass you notice the deep ruddy brown colour, and the notes of toasted malt and dark chocolate on the nose. The very creamy mouthfeel is punctuated with molasses, which gives way to burnt chocolate as the fuggles hops leave their distinct taste on the finish.

A great Sunday afternoon brew, Dark Hare would also be fabulous with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, créme brûlée or a not overly syrupy sticky toffee pudding.

ABV: 4%

Best Served: 11°C

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Wychwood Bah Humbug Christmas Ale

Bah_HumbugWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Bah Humbug is Wychwood Brewery’s offering at Christmas time to warm up those cold toes on a winter’s night. This is a very mildly spiced amber ale that is not quite malty enough to be a classic winter warmer, but it doesn’t pretend to be, as it is labelled ‘Christmas Ale’ and implies a more general festive beer, made with the addition of some seasonal flavour. This ale has a pleasant medium-bodied feel to it, with subtle notes of banana and clove; the hops are just detectable too, though mainly on the finish and aftertaste. The solitary added spice is cinnamon, and this is done with a frugal hand, as it certainly doesn’t overwhelm the caramelly malt. This beer is an easily quaffable Christmas pint with a hint of seasonal pep to give it a bit of festive flair.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 12°C

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Wells IPA

Wells-IPAWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Mediocre)

Wells IPA suffers from a common British problem: mislabeling. During the First World War, breweries (with the government!) decreased alcohol in beers to conserve resources (barley) as well as limit drunkenness among essential workers and the military. Hop levels were also reduced, so the traditionally strong and hoppy IPAs were the first in line to be emasculated. Breweries continued using the term though, but it described a pale ale or a bitter rather than the full-on flavour of an IPA. Wells IPA is a very pleasant and drinkable British pale ale that would have been awarded 3 tankards and recommended, but unfortunately the use of the term IPA in this day and age is erroneous, and so must be marked in the category in which it is presented. The pale amber beer is restrained, but has a nice malty flavour with a simple bitter finish, but not so dry it extinguishes the malt. The carbonation is suitably low, which makes this a cinch to drink and an enjoyable session ale. A word of warning though- don’t drink this too cold, or you’ll miss out on its subtle flavours, have it at cellar temperature, as it was designed to be drunk.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 11°C

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Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout

st-patricks-beer-sam-smith-oatmeal-stout-ssWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Excellent)

Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout definitely deserves the adage ‘an oldie but a goodie’. This deliciously creamy beer pours near black with a fluffy tan head while the aroma mingles chocolate, roasted coffee and dark malt. The flavour is delightful. At first sip you can taste the creamy oats, velvety dark molasses as well as the aforementioned chocolate and burnt coffee which gives way to an enjoyably bitter after-taste on the finish. Brewed in England at Yorkshire’s oldest brewery (founded in 1758) this is a gorgeous, easy drinking beer and a great first choice if you’re new to stouts. This would be fantastic paired with a creamy coffee dessert like a mocha mousse or some fresh oysters.

ABV: 5.0%

Best Served: 12°C

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Fuller’s ESB

Fullers-esb1

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Outstanding)

Fuller’s ESB lays claim to be the original Extra Special Bitter and its popularity across the world has made this one of Britain’s best known ales. It has a lovely medium amber colour with a loose head (typical for Southern English Bitters); the aroma is full of rich malt with some notes of yeasty bread flavours. The hops are far more noticeable on the palate, and are beautifully balanced with the strong maltiness that typifies the ESB style. They are present with a subtle spiciness that makes this a very drinkable and thirst-quenching beer. There are plenty of fruit flavours there as well, with a touch of pear and some nice orange zest on the finish. This is a great benchmark for the style and I for one could drink this ’til the cows come home! Have this with a steak and ale pie and mashed potato – preferably in a good pub!

ABV: 5.9%

Best Served: 10°C

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Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew Ale

fullers-Honey_Dew

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(excellent)

Fuller’s Honey Dew is a Golden / Summer Ale that is brewed with organic honey; don’t think that this is a sweet beer though, as the honey is subtle and beautifully balanced. There is a touch of the pale malt, a spritz of hops and the honey note that finishes it all off with a thirst quenching roundness. A nicely chilled pint of this on a hot summer’s afternoon is where it’s best. It is light enough to drink on its own all day, or matched with a summer salad or grilled chicken dish. It has a pale golden colour and light carbonation that complements the refreshing style of this ale from one of London’s best independent brewers.

ABV: 5%

Best served: 7°C

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Fiddler’s Elbow (Wychwood Brewery)

wychwood_fiddler_s_elbow-400-400

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Excellent)

Wychwood’s Fiddler’s Elbow is an extremely drinkable Pale Ale, golden amber in colour and brewed with a touch of wheat, which is unusual for modern British Bitters and Pale Ales. This gives it a light refreshing feel, that makes it ideal as a summer session beer. The attack is bright, citrus-y and floral, followed by some nice medium malt flavours. The mid palate gives you a slight banana bread taste, balancing Fiddler’s Elbow rather nicely!  The hops are still front and centre though, leaving you with a refreshing dry finish, and those notes of flowery citrus linger in your mouth, inviting the next sip. This could be paired with all sorts of things without any trouble, but I would recommend a nice pork chop, grilled and served with sautéed new potatoes and fresh veggies. – Enjoy!

ABV:5.2 %

Best Served: 10°C

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Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

Double_Chocolate_StoutWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Excellent)

This deep opaque black stout truly is a modern classic. Brewed in England with real dark chocolate as well as chocolate malt it has a rich, creamy bittersweet flavour which creates a smoothness that feels like velvet on your tongue. The notes of the bitter dark malt come through but are well balanced by the sweetness of the dark chocolate. You may also detect faint notes of sweet spice on the palate, making this an excellent dessert beer.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 13°C

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