Posts Tagged Review

Gipsy Hill Brewing – A chat with the brewers

GHBC LogoHidden away in a corner of southeast London, within stumbling distance of the famous Crystal Palace mast lies one of the newer additions to the burgeoning craft beer scene. Gipsy Hill Brewing Co. managed to find a street unencumbered by a micro-brewery, so moved in to realise their dream of hosing down coppers and fermenters, wrangling temperamental bottling lines and figuring out a cask storage conundrum.

Predictably another brewery moved in on the other side of the industrial estate moments later, such is the growth of the industry. In fact by the time I publish this there will probably be another one signing their lease and taking delivery of shiny new fermenters!

Starting your own brewery might be the dream of many, but the few that make it a reality know the level of commitment and hard work it takes, and Charlie, Sam and Simon are no exceptions. The whole time I was there  Simon did not stop hosing, cleaning and prepping the brewery equipment; Sam was at his desk, jabbing at a laptop while Charlie volunteered to chat for a while ….a good a reason as any to take a break from the daily toil of the brewery

 

 

 

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Charlie from Gipsy Hill Brewing Co.

I asked Charlie how the brewery got started and how they all met. Charlie had been working as a journalist, and when that path didn’t lead to total fulfilment he got his interest in brewing. After a part time job working at Five Points Brewing in Hackney he met Sam and they set about looking for a place to brew. This led them to my neighbourhood in Gypsy Hill. Simon then joined the crew with a wealth of brewing experience from Dorset’s Piddle Brewery

Charlie showed me the copper and fermenters, explaining that the equipment did not come cheap! Probably a blessing as I recently heard of a brewpub that bought a cheap copper boiler from China, it has now been condemned and the owner is left with a bill for buying a new one!

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The Gipsy Kings – Simon, Charlie and Sam

 

 

The two core beers so far is the Southpaw amber ale – an American style , with a healthy addition of stateside happiness but good malt body and the 3.8% Beatnick pale ale, a very light amber, refreshing hoppy beer, again taking some influence from the North American version, but at a very sessionable strength.

Sessionable is a popular term at this brewery as the original idea for an element of individuality amongst a growing field of new-wave breweries is to make beers of great flavour at the not so great strength of under 4.5% ABV. Charlie hits a note with me with his reasons. Having young children, like myself, drinking high alcohol beers that seem to be popping up everywhere from craft breweries all day, and getting falling down drunk is not an option! Those hangovers of our child-free past could be tended all day with peaceful tv marathons and delivery pizza.

Not any more.

Timmy’s got football at 8.30, It’s Jenny’s best friend’s birthday party, and we have no present yet! The baby is screaming and it’s not even 6 am. It’s a Sunday and, it’s right about now I’m grateful that I could drink a few pints that taste great and not turn me into an unwilling extra for an episode of “The Walking Dead”. There’s another reason too, beers at over 5% ABV enter into a different tax bracket and making session strength beers keeps the cost down.

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Firkin Tetris anyone?

 

There is soon to be an addition to the two brews so far, perhaps a darker style, Charlie hints, but he’s not sure yet. Seasonal beers are mentioned too, but it seems that it is too early commit to a style just now, but keep your eyes open, I’m sure something will be appearing at a pub near you.

That is where the majority of the beer goes; pubs that is. Whether it is near you is another question. I asked where their beer can be found and they are doing well at many local southeast London pubs, especially around Crystal Palace, Dulwich and Norwood. Their bottles are available at a few independent shops too, and they seem to be a favourite of some London beery pop-ups so look out, it’s early days but they’re certainly one local South London brewery to look out for.

All three are now full time and had a desire to turn their enthusiasm for great beer into a full time career and the ups and downs of self employment. The 15 barrel  (25 Hectolitre) brewery often operates at full capacity, and they have the enviable problem of finding enough cooler space for the popular casks,  and the growth of the craft beer market bodes well for those that can survive the first wobbling steps and evermore competitive arena.

Charlie cites influences as diverse as Stone Brewing from San Diego in California to his alma mater Five Points from Hackney in London, but their beers so far are not trying to be copies, but exhibiting the style and flavour that they want to make.

Despite competition from all the freebies that larger traditional real ale breweries hand pubs and the marketing of more established craft breweries, Charlie sees the expansion of quality beer over the mass produced fizzy yellow liquid as a positive for all craft breweries. The success of Camden and Meantime open doors for the smaller breweries in pubs that a couple of years ago would never had given breweries like Gipsy Hill a chance. He feels that there is room for all the new wave of breweries, and I hope so too; the rapid growth of breweries needs to be matched by growth of consumers for all the plethora of  great little breweries like this to succeed.

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‘The Craft Beer Revolution’ by Steve Hindy – Book Review

 

WHITE BOOK

‘The Craft Beer Revolution’ by Steve Hindy

ISBN: 978-1-137-27876-0

Steve Hindy is the founder of Brooklyn Brewery, and is one of the great success stories of the American craft brewing industry. He takes us on a journey from the earliest days of enthusiastic home-brewers, MBA graduates and wealthy businessmen dipping their collective toes into the unknown waters of alternative beers. They were alternative because in the mid 60s there were no real options for the American beer drinker other than a bunch of similar tasting lagers of very little note. Steve Hindy knows all the protagonists, and has some interesting tales to tell!

If your vision of the craft beer revolution is a brotherhood of bearded home-brewers bravely taking the plunge together, helping each other, drinking one another’s beers and stepping forward, challenging the great ‘domestic’ mega breweries as one, then Steve Hindy’s history will be quite the eye-opener. Tales of  jealousy, marketing hi-jinx and raging arguments at beer festivals and various beery organisations are just some of the things that the ‘craft beer revolutionaries’  had to overcome.Together with bully-boy tactics from the large breweries with distribution, legal barriers and financial woes it’s a wonder that craft beer in the USA ever got going.

With stories from defunct pioneers like New Albion Brewing, and craft brewing success stories like Anchor, both who broke trail for many others, to the next batch of brewers like Matt Brewing, Pete’s, Sierra Nevada, Allagash and of course Brooklyn, the reader will enjoy the ups and downs of their favourite breweries. Influences from Britain, Germany and Belgium, as well as trailblazing creativity from the likes of Dogfish Head are all part of the story that will entertain any craft beer geek worth his hops!

Squarely aimed at the enthusiast, you don’t have to live in New York or Portland to ‘get’ this book. This is the story of how a few brave amateurs took inspiration from British, German and Belgian beers, added some American magic and ended up with a billion dollar business that has transformed the brewing industry the world over. The journey was not smooth by any measure and this book documents the bumps and grooves with entertaining style that makes it a great addition to your boozy library!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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The Great Pumpkin beer tasting

 

 

So I decided to try some Pumpkin beers on Hallowe’en while watching some bad horror movies (starting with “The Children”- murderous kids and toddlers go on the rampage!) I had five different beers from four breweries. I started with Parallel  49’s Shadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest. A clever idea marrying the easy, malty marzen style lager of the Oktoberfest with some pumpkin and spices of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

 

 

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Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest

This is the only lager from the group and it certainly is easy drinking. There is some nice sweet pumpkin flavour, a hint of vanilla and some  nutmeg and cinnamon perhaps. The spices are light and match the medium bodied maltiness of the beer. Quite a dry spicy finish that, although stops this from being a sweet beer, can be too dry for some.

All in all a good first effort from this brewery and I would recommend this and buy it again next year for sure!

Wrangler Rating:

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 Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale

This one is a mid amber colour and starts off surprisingly light. There is a mild sweetness from the demerara sugar and a little spice. It finishes very quickly and I felt there was not anything to it. I guess they went for the restrained approach, seeing as some pumpkin ales are cloyingly sweet and spiced out of all proportion, but I feel they were too cautious and missed out on some seasonal flavours.  A rare miss from this reliable brewery!

 

 Wrangler Rating:

 tankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Fair)

 

 

Tree Brewing Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale

Tree brewing have a number of seasonals that are usually well received, so how will  their pumpkin ale stack up against some stiff competition? It pours a dark amber and, weighing in at 7%, promises a fuller tasting beer than the other two. With a malty spicy aroma, it doesn’t taste like it’s as strong as it is. It has an even maltiness, a medium body and well integrated spicy flavours. This was a really well balanced beer with all the flavours combining well! This beer is not overly sweet, and the pie spices match the pleasant malt nicely. An easy 3 almost 4 Tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

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Cannery Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale

The Cannery pumpkin ale comes with a well-dresssed knobbly headed pumpkin gentleman on the label, and pours a bit darker that the others so far. It seems to be based on an amber-brown ale, which leads me to let it warm up a bit, rather than having it straight from the fridge.  It has a slightly smoky note to the spice aroma but the malt seems a bit thin for me.  The spice is definitely dominant, with a touch of black liquorice  but there is almost no sweetness or maltiness, which I like a bit of  in my pumpkin ales. Having said that it went well with my pumpkin BBQ ribs, and the dryness contrasted with the sweetness of the sauce. This one just squeaks a 3 tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

 

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Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter

This is a bit of a departure from the others in that it is a much fuller bodied beer than the others, with dark malts, mocha notes and made with real chocolate. There is some spice and ginger, but they are laid back and the rich chocolate is definitely king! Pumpkin flavour? well I struggle to taste it, let’s face it, the large orange squash is not known for its strong flavour and it gets a bit lost in this beer. On the other hand this is a delicious beer and my favourite of the ones here, but…. I might struggle to put this in the pumpkin ale group if I was tasting blind. Soooo… what does this mean? Well this is the best beer here but as a pumpkin ale?

Wrangler Rating:

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

 

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So to conclude the Great Pumpkin Beer Tasting I feel that there is a split decision! Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter was the best beer out of the five, but … I think Tree Brewing`s Jumpin Jack was the best ‘classic’ pumpkin ale here. On Hallowe’en I want to taste pumpkin pie in a glass but not be overwhelmed by any one element and Tree managed it well.

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Hoyne Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Hoyne Wolf Vine is the first beer I have reviewed from this fairly new brewery. Their IPA is popular as is their version of a dark mild, Dark Matter. This is a limited release due to the availability of the fresh hops and sees Sean Hoyne, formerly of Swans brewpub and Canoe brewpub, and brother of Lighthouse founder and brewer Paul Hoyne, enter the fresh/wet hopped beer fad that is gripping British Columbia at this time of year.

Instead of going for an IPA, Hoyne has gone for the less bitter pale ale, and given it the fresh treatment. It pours a mid amber colour with a bubbley head and leaves heavy lacing around the glass. The aroma is terrific with a big hit of fresh, green leafy notes, lime zest and lime flower. The palate is a bit more restrained but develops more as the beer warms up to cellar temperature. There are less of those aromatics than I expected and it tastes less hoppy than it smells. There is a good balance of bitterness on the finish, leaving a leafy, herbal note in my mouth. Overall a good beer that I enjoyed but it didn’t totally wow me. This would be nice with a (real) mature cheddar ploughman’s lunch.

Serving: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 7-10°C

 

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Benton Brothers Fine Cheese – Cheesemongers Extraordinaire!

Wrangler Rating:

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

I have not yet reviewed a place that does not sell beer, but I have been so impressed with every visit to the Cambie Street location in Vancouver that I felt I had to! The Benton Brothers consist of Jonah and Andrew and their three stores on Granville island, Cambie Village and Kerrisdale. They had been recommended to me by friends who know and understand my love of cheese (there’s more to me than just beer by the way…so much more…).and was impressed by the stellar reports that they had given me; I finally decided to head up one lunchtime a few weeks ago.

I was given a friendly greeting by Jonah and started gazing at an international plethora of delicious cheese. There are examples from small artisanal  producers from all over the world. The great European cheeses are all there, along with Quebec’s finest, as well offerings from local speciality BC cheese makers. They source their British cheeses through the multi-award winning Neal’s Yard Dairy, which (as I’m originally from London) is wonderful to see!  If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer choice, or frightened off from buying something so pungent that it would scare off a starving mouse, do not fear – The Cheesy duo are not only experts, but generous too. They will cut a sliver and let you taste, which is the only way to transform a Cracker Barrel guzzler into a lover and explorer of the world of flavour that artisanal cheese producers have been making for centuries.

These two fromagers are also well versed in pairing  cheese with wine and beer, so can add a touch of expertise to your next soirée (I won’t tell your guests – you can take all the credit!).  Don’t leave without buying some excellent charcuterie, a nice alternative to all those mass produced cold cuts at the grocery chains, as well as top notch sandwiches made with the same yummy cheese and meats.

Broaden your horizons and leave those blocks of plastic Kraft slices safely on the supermarket shelf, and take a step into a wider world. Don’t be nervous, you will have two expert guides to lead you there.

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Lighthouse Switchback IPA

Wrangler Rating:

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

I keep drinking this beer, so it stands to reason that I

a) like it and b) should write about it.

The problem is that every time I crack one open I just want to relax and enjoy it, rather than actually  open my rather neglected blog and get to it!

Lighthouse Brewing have really upped their game in the last year and a half with some cracking and interesting “big flavour” bombers. They waited a bit to follow up with an addition to their popular if conservative 6-pack range, but it was well worth it. The Switchback IPA is described as  “Pacific Northwest” that promises some big hop notes, and challenging the likes of Central City’s Red Racer IPA and the former Lighthouse brewers at Driftwood with their Fat Tug IPA.

On with the beer! It has a lovely dark golden amber colour with a white fluffy head. Aromas of grapefruit and tangerine zest mix with a sweetish grainy malt note. The flavours follow on with the same citrus zest, a fruity tang and a sweet piney note backed by a solid but definitely subservient malt platform.The trick that is not performed well by many North American or West Coast style IPAs are that a bunch of hops are chucked in, with both eyes firmly on the IBU count, rather than how good it is to actually drink! Lots of hops but highly drinkable is a tough ask, but Lighthouse Switchback IPA manages it extremely well. My palate is given the buzz of a very hoppy brew, but unlike some I could mention, I still want to drink more, which is why this works as a 6-pack rather than a 650ml bomber. Enjoy on your deck, or pub patio this summer, and be grateful there is now another great, hoppy,  BC West Coast IPA to cool yourself down with!

Serving: 355ml bottle

ABV: 6.5%

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

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Driftwood Singularity – 1 year on

Wrangler Rating:

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

I went to some good friends’ house for dinner the other night and had been saving a bottle of Singularity stout from last years release to compare with a bottle of this years, that he had brought to the party. We opened them together and had them side by side to ‘test’  the effects of ageing.

The head on the 1 year-old was a little more restrained, but the aromas and flavours were full on! Dark mocha coffee bean, baked dried fruit, high cocoa content chocolate, rich sweet black molasses, a roasted warmness and a whisky like note on the finish. This beer was long; by that I mean the amazing, complex flavours lingered for an age in my mouth.

By comparison the new Singularity, with the great looking wax seal, was a babe in arms! All the components were there, but they were not yet of age. The flavours had not yet married, they were still separate, youthful singletons waiting for the right time to meld. The patient drinker will reap the benefits of this new classic. Get as many as you can lay your hands on, but crack them  open on their anniversary; keep a few more to see if it improves and develops further.

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 11.8%

Best Served: 10-12°C

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Phillips Garrison Mash-Up Baltic Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

East and West united; Canada going forward as one, whether you are in the Maritimes or the West coast beer is a universal pleasure and one that has united two great Canadian craft breweries on opposite sides of the country.

What is Baltic Porter? It is a relatively modern name used to describe strong Porters brewed in Russia and the Baltic nations that copied strong porters and stouts brewed in Britain for export to those regions. One difference is that many of those breweries now use lager yeasts rather than the warm/top fermenting ale yeasts that brewers in Britain used. Modern craft brewers are now making their version, and bringing this beer to a new audience. Garrison Brewing already produce a good Baltic Porter, and now they’re joining up with Phillips to make a new version; so how does it stack up?

It has a dense black colour with a loose tan head and an aroma of black coffee, baked dried fruit and black molasses. Once sipped it has a full body, but not the intensity I expected. The flavours are full of sweet molasses and burnt mocha. There is a lengthy,  fairly sweet finish and that I find detracts from the balance of the beer, but it is still a good and boozy drop!

Serving type: 650ml bottle

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 8-10 °C

 

 

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Ommegang Three Philosophers

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Ommegang Three Philosophers is a Belgian style quadrupel dark ale, blended with an authentic kriek (cherry lambic). It has a dark reddish brown colour and a loose head that disappears fairly quickly. This beer has a powerful flavour that saturates my mouth as soon as it enters. The thick caramel notes and cooked, dried fruit are the main players, and it overwhelms the subtle (or is it buried?) cherry from the kriek. There are sherry-like armoas and a winey finsh that give this a bitter-sweet note that is good for strong cheeses.

I was a bit disappointed with it as I was expecting a bit more complexity from such a grand beer, and the cherry was just a hint, nothing more. On the whole though it is a very pleasant ale that is best enjoyed on a cold winter`s evening .

Serving: 750ml bottle

ABV: 9.8%

Best served: 10-12°C

 

 

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Lost Coast Winterbraun

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

The Lost Coast Winterbraun is a strong dark brown ale brewed especially for the winter months. The label sports a Picasso-esque snowboarder with skin the colour of this rich and deeply hued brew;  the sweet, dark caramel and rye bread aromas that greet you are a comforting reminder of why we drink different beers when the nights draw in and there is a chill in the air.

The flavours are warming too, a hint of black treacle, roasted malt, baked dried fruit, and sweet caramel are all there and give this beer a cake-like appeal. This can be drunk with a rich beef and ale pie and gravy or on its own, some might enjoy this with desert, such as a steamed sponge pudding made with lots of dried fruit and a caramel flavoured custard.

ABV: 6.5%

Serving type: 650ml bottle

Best Served: 9 – 11 °C

 

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Driftwood Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Driftwood Brewery Twenty Pounder Double IPA comes with trademark fabulous graphic artwork on the label. At the very least they have raised the game when it comes to bottle labels! Happily this is not where the game raising ends. They have produced many of British Columbia’s (and canada’s for that matter) best craft brews. A double IPA (thanks for not using ‘Imperial’) has been keenly awaited by the craft beer fans of the West coast. Since the two IPAs that have been on the shelves – regular IPA Fat Tug and super seasonal Sartori Harvest have proved so popular, a double IPA seemed to be an obvious choice for a seasonal specialty.

On with the review! It pours a rich mid-amber colour and has a small foamy head. The aromas are full of dried fruit and candied orange peel. There is some pink grapefruit there too and it promises to be a big mouthful of a beer, full of richness and power. There are obvious notes of sweetness, from the malt, but not a giant amount of depth. The hop notes are still king and a real pithiness is present on the tip of my tongue.  There is, however a slight cloying note and a bit of a metallic taste on the lengthy finish which tempers my total enjoyment.

I can’t help thinking that Driftwood’s real skill has been some of the farmhouse ales like Spring Rite and the great ESB Naughty Hildegard and that’s where their passion lies. The plethora of Double IPAs from many North American breweries have made the style a “standard” and perhaps this hasn’t showed off their indisputable talents at their best.

Having said all that I still like this beer, but I can’t help thinking that it will improve with a bit of age. I will put one down for six months and I’m sure it will show better. I did this with the Lighthouse Shipwrecked Triple IPA and it’s disjointed flavours greatly harmonised after a few months in the Beer Wrangler’s cellar.

I also feel that this would would work better with some food – perhaps a blue cheese to temper the sweetness or on the other hand a funky but creamy Limberger might just be perfect!

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 9 – 11°C

 

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Brewdog Trashy Blonde

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

What makes a great Summer ale? Whether you call it a Blonde, a Golden or a Summer ale, the style has to refresh, not be too heavily flavoured, but definitely not bland. There also has to be a good level of (here I go – a word I hate!) drinkability. (I feel soooo dirty!)  However a drinkable balanced golden coloured ale would only get a 3 tankard rating. A great beer has a certain something that inspires and delights, and as all beer connoisseurs know, when you come across it, you mark it down in your mind and make sure you revisit that beer at a future date. Brewdog comes with a lot of hype, and are well known for their super strong and heavily hopped ales, but can they pull off a great session style summer seasonal without overdoing it or being too cautious?

It has a nice pale golden colour, and crisp slightly hoppy, almost lagery nose. There is a hint of grainy malt but no real sweetness, and a good dose of dry herbal hops on the finish. The hop notes linger for a bit, almost drying my mouth, which in turn makes it start to water!

This is a nicely made Summer blonde ale and I could sink quite a few on a hot day on the deck!

Seving type: 330ml bottle

ABV: 4.1%

Best Served: 5-7°C

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Kona Brewing Oceanic Belgian Style Saison

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Kona Brewing’s Oceanic Organic Belgian Style Saison is brewed on the Big Island using Belgian yeast and organic ingredients. It has a medium gold colour and if you tip the whole bottle out, the small amount of yeast inside will give it a slightly cloudy appearance, with an aroma of spice and citrus. The flavour is a touch one dimensional, but has a nice crisp refreshing flavour with a citrus note. There is a hint of the coriander and dry spice on the finish and is pleasantly drinkable. This seemed to get better as it warmed up, so if you don’t want to miss the subtle spiciness, don’t drink it too cold!

ABV: 6%

Serving type: 650ml Bottle

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

 

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Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat is sold by the brewery as a ‘Belgian Wit’  but this is no ordinary Hoegaarden imitation that some breweries, large and small churn out in the summer. This could be the fruitiest wheat beer on the market with the vibrant orange colour of the liquid echoed by the flavour. Sweet tangerine dominates the palate with juicy blueberry notes there as well. With a touch of sweet spice and a balancing note of bitterness, this beer is a great summer refresher.

Although simple, I really enjoyed this beer and would definitely have this again on a hot afternoon.

Best Served: 5-7°C

ABV: 4.9%

Serving Type: 355ml Bottle

 

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Abbatiale Triple (Brasserie des Sources)

Wrangler Rating:

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

Abbatiale Triple is brewed by Brasserie des Sources in St-Amand les Eaux in northern France, and scored gold medals at the Paris beer competition in 2006 and 2008; now let’s see how it scores with me!

The cool packaging is the first thing you notice when you approach the beer shelf at your favourite local specialty ‘beertique’.  With a white ceramic bottle, cork and a cage it makes me want to investigate further. As I draw nearer the bright golden label reads ‘Abbatiale Triple Blonde, 7% ABV 50cl 6-12°c, refermented in bottle, delicately flavoured with juniper berries, a genuine recipe from the middle ages. A true Abbaye style blonde.’ – My drinking cloak and chalice await!

As I pour it into my chalice (the recommended glass) this brew exhibits vigorous carbonation, a light golden blonde colour, and bright white foamy head that lasts and leaves lacing down the inside of the glass. The aroma has a fresh mild yeastiness, a fragrance of juniper berries, roasted corn and gentle earth. The first sip hits the back of my throat and I feel like I’m standing in ankle deep water with the sun on my smiling face and an ocean breeze that takes me away. Refreshing is not an expressive enough word to describe this excellent french beer! Zingy herbal notes on the front palate give way to a subtle creamy nuance, with a buttery and  tart finish that lingers.

As for food pairing – I want fish and chips; I want southern fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. Plank my salmon and serve it with a side of coleslaw or potato salad, and while you’re at it, I’ll have another beer please. Abbatiale is easy drinking, good refreshment, smooth and quaffable, it’s easy to taste why this little jug of deliciousness has been around for a few centuries.

Serving: 500ml Bottle

ABV: 7%

Best Served 6-10°C
-By Brewlord

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Estrella Damm Inedit

Wrangler Rating:

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

The Spanish term ‘Inedit’ which means ‘Never Been Done Before’ is the given name that graces the label of this delicious brew from Estrella Damm Brewery of Barcelona, Spain. A collaboration between the team at the critically acclaimed elBulli Restaurant and the Brewmasters at Estrella Damm, this beer claims to be the first crafted specifically to be served with food. A skillful blend of lager and wheat ale styles, it uses 100% natural ingredients with a combination of water, hops, wheat, and spices that has yielded a fantastically refreshing and drinkable beer.

The complex aroma with hints of coriander, clove, fennel, ginger, and sweet citrus reminds me of Mom’s fresh baked gingersnap cookies. It has a slightly misty appearance with a great mouthfeel, mild carbonation and a slight creaminess. The well balanced array of flavours flow over the palate, leaving a lingering finish that begs for more. This beer is excellent with oysters, grilled scallops, mixed greens, and balsamic dressings and glazes. It also has the right acidity to enjoy, as a foil, butter and cream sauces or mild cheeses. In fact this well designed beer is very approachable with many foods!

To enjoy at its best, serve in a 300ml (10 oz) white wine glass, fill to just over half way, and leave the bottle on ice after serving. An inexpensive, expert creation that would do Bacchus proud – Magnificent!

Serving:  750ml black glass bottle

ABV: 4.8%

Best Served: 4-8° C

-By Brewlord

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It’s Hammer Time -Phillips Style

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Phillips Brewing make a highly regarded Imperial Stout every year in limited amounts which usually sells out fairly quickly. This year they released a bourbon whiskey barrel aged version in even smaller numbers. But is all that extra effort and cost worth it? I decided to gather the Wranglerette and have a taste off. Is the barrel aged pure gold bullion, or is it full of bull? I always like to start with the original so here goes:

In the Blue corner….

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

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

It pours as dark as beer gets, with a dark, creamy tan head. There are aromas of black molasses and burnt caramel with sweet roasted coffee beans. The palate follows on and adds hints of sweet dark cocoa and a hint of cooked dried fruit. It has a creamy and silky texture, so doesn’t lie too heavily, and remains very drinkable. The finish is fairly long with the creaminess of this beer lingering.

In the Red corner….

Phillips Hammer Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Despite the previous description of colour – I swear this is actually darker and even denser, but with the same creamy, dark tan head. The aroma is much more different than I had imagined with a lot of the burnt characteristics smoothed out with a touch of vanilla-like sweetness.  The notes of whiskey are there too, but not overpowering, lending some richness to this big stout. The flavours echo the aromas and feel more integrated than the non-aged version. I don’t know how long this block-buster gets in barrel, but it certainly gives it a smooth rich evenness. But…. the bourbon aged stout seems to have lost something along the way, the bite of those heavily roasted malts have been reigned in and replaced by a simpler sweetness. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good beer but it’s not as drinkable as the original, and a small glass is enough before my palate needs refreshing. It gets a lower score than the original, which is totally against my preconceptions, as I generally like barrel aged beer, but this time it only added a sweetness which smoothed out those peaks of flavour I rather enjoyed!

Phillips should be applauded for trying this out as it keeps BC’s breweries right up there with all the current trending on craft brewing, and I’d like to see them try it again next year with different barrels. If they could buy some of the Samuel Smith Stingo barrels – now that would be interesting!

Both Stouts:

ABV: 8.3%

Best Served: 14 – 16°C

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The Noble Pig Brewhouse – Kamloops

The Noble Pig Brewhouse was mentioned to me by my father-in-law a while back, and I made a point to get there next time we were up at their house for a visit. Kamloops might not seem like an obvious place for a brewpub, so the Wranglerette and I entered with an open mind! We were joined by the youngest member of my beer-loving brood, my 17 month old daughter, and I wondered if they might let her in. We were pleasantly surprised to be shown to a booth that had a great view of the rest of the pub, given a booster seat and some crayons for my daughter! As a parent as well as beer lover/writer, I am always grateful when independent establishments can cater for a (well-behaved) family.

The atmosphere was welcoming and had a traditional ‘pubby’ feel about it. Although there were the usual screens showing a range of sports, there were not invasive or ‘in your face’  if you were there to chat and not watch the game. There is a restaurant side as well as the the bar,  which had attractive dark wooden floorboards throughout. A large bar with numerous taps stretched out in front of us and the excellent waitress gave us our beer and food menu. She happily answered my questions about the brewmaster (David Beardsell) and a few of the beers,  so I decided to go for the ESB and the Wranglerette had the Porter. We were both really impressed with our beers and agreed that they were well made, had the right level of carbonation and most importantly were delicious! There were a number of options including a peppered Belgian ale as well as the marvellously named ‘Fascist Pig Pilsner’. Our food came next and my ‘Cubano Sandwich’ of pulled pork,  slow roasted beef, honey ham, beer caramelised onions and ale cheddar really hit the spot! My daughter Maisy had a kids menu mac and cheese with pancetta – she was lucky daddy didn’t steal it all as I had a taste and it was superb! There are usually seven pub-brewed beers on tap and if you can’t decide what to have, then just go for the paddle of tasters.

I will definitely be going here again and highly recommend you all to do the same!

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Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Pretty Things make beer with some interest, as opposed to just brewing standard styles to fill their portfolio. This time out they have used three Dwarf Hop varietals from England, Sovereign, Pioneer and First Gold, and made a well hopped British Best Bitter.  The hoppy flavours may not be familiar to those used to drinking North American IPAs, but these fairly new varieties give it a distinctly wild herbaceous twang.

This is certainly reminiscent of Bitters I’ve drunk in the UK but with an extra helping of hops. The Dwarf hops taste fresh and vibrant and leave a lingering dry aftertaste on the palate. This is an interesting, refreshing and drinkable beer if a bit one dimensional. This is great on its own or perhaps with a traditional fish and chips; the hops will cut through the grease and revitalise the palate.

ABV: 5.4%

Best Served: 8-10°C

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Nogne O God Jul (Winter Ale)

Wrangler Rating:

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

Nogne O is a craft brewery from Norway, and judging from my first experience of their beer, is going to take the craft brewing world by storm!  Their Strong Winter Warmer is an absolute must for any fan of dark rich warming ales.

It pours a deep, dark mahogany amber, that needs to be held up to the light to appreciate its colour. The aromas that hit you are ones of spice, dates, madeira and caramel. As you drink this luxurious ale the tan head slowly dissipates, but the flavour does not. Notes of Christmas pudding and fruitcake persist and are joined by more sweet fortified wine flavours with hints of coffee bean, molasses and  spice.  Sweet liquorice can be found on the lengthy finish with some almost oaky tones.

The amazing thing is that this is not a spiced Christmas ale according to the brewery, but the flavours are complex, integrated and definitely festive!  This is truly an outstanding beer, and I can’t wait to taste this after one or two years aging – the complexity and integration can only improve – if that’s possible!

ABV: 8.5%

Best Served 12°C

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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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Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

Wrangler Rating:

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

Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA is the long awaited addition to the brewery’s regular line up that filled in the gaping hole of a classic Pacific Northwest IPA. A hefty 7% ABV and 80 IBUs sees this beer punching in the heavyweight category for a ‘standard’ IPA. The hit of hops is fresh, fruity and sharp, and will please the hop-heads out there. On the palate the hops retain their power and vibrancy, and cover the alcohol admirably. The malt is there too, but it is in a supporting role, and props up the hop flavours nicely. This is a great example of a well hopped IPA,  as it is more than just a load of hops in glass though, as ever, Driftwood make a rounded, drinkable and flavoursome beer that is sure to become a staple in the fridge of many a craft beer fan.

ABV: 7%

Best Served: 7 – 9°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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Spinnakers Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Spinnakers Blue Bridge used to be labelled a Double IPA, but they have renamed it a Double Pale Ale, perhaps because it is not as much a hop explosion as some Double IPAs. It still has a good dose of hoppiness though, but seems to be carefully balanced with the malt, which makes this beer a refreshing change from the wealth of similar double or imperial IPAs on the market.

Spinnakers is one of those breweries that are hard to find outside of its local neighbourhood (Victoria, British Columbia) but are well worth the effort as the line-up includes some great Canadian takes on some classic British Ales.

This is a very enjoyable strong pale ale that hides its alcohol well, has some grainy sweetness and a good herbal hoppy finish. Although this won’t blast your taste buds away, it may well tickle your fancy, especially if you serve it at the correct temperature – too cold and you’ll miss half the flavour!

ABV: 8.2%

Best Served: 10°C

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Driftwood Belle Royale

Wrangler Rating:

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

Driftwood Brewery Belle Royale is described as a Strong Belgian Cherry Ale, and seems to be based on a Tripel or strong golden ale  recipe, with “900 pounds of cherries” added. They don’t specify how much beer gets the 900 pounds but we get the idea – there’s  a lot, and they’re real cherries, not cherry flavour or syrup. It has a lovely pink amber colour, a thinnish head, with a spicy, fruity aroma.  The flavour has a hit of sweet spice and sour red cherries that lingers on the palate and develops into a long finish with sweet herbal notes.

Not only do Driftwood excel at making beer, but they design some of the best labels on beer bottles anywhere in the world, and this ode to Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin-Rouge paintings is no exception. It’s sexy and sassy – a bit like the Belle Royale  itself!

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 8°C

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Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Les trois Mousquetaires is a small but dedicated brewery from Quebec, Canada, and it produces a range of European style and seasonal specialties. Sticke Alt is not a common style of beer, least of all outside its home nation of Germany, and is an Altbier on steroids. Many Alts are a well rounded malty beer with a nice hit of herbal hops on the finish, making a good session ale.

A Sticke Alt is a far more serious affair, and this Canadian version is no exception. It has a deep red-amber colour with a creamy head, that leaves plenty of attractive lacing around the glass. The first thing that hits you is the body; this is a very full beer, with a rich maltiness and a viscous feel to it. There are notes of dried fruit and black molasses, but without too much sweetness. It is counter-balanced by a strong herbal bitterness on the finish from a good dose of hops, with some woody touches that sometimes feels a bit drying. Over all this is well worth a go, and would pair well some rich, fatty meats as the bitterness would be a good foil for the fat, and the body can match the strong flavours too!

ABV: 6%

Best Served: 10°C

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Archiduc Belgian Beer (Brasserie d’Ecaussinnes)

Wrangler Rating:

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

Archiduc is an unassuming beer that doesn’t give too many clues as to what it is on the bottle (the Belgians obviously don’t have the same predilection for categorising as we do in North America). It is in fact a strongish Belgian Amber Ale with bags of flavour. It comes in a 750ml bottle that is corked and the beer has a deposit of yeast from the re-fermentation. It pours a rich amber hue with a medium tight head that slowly disappears. The aromas are spicy, rich and fruity, and the taste doesn’t disappoint after such an inviting whiff. This beer is rounded, balanced and delicious. There are notes of marmalade, allspice, citrus peel with a sweet herbaceous finish. This fantastic Belgian ale is rich in flavour but totally drinkable in every way. This is a real gem that sits silently in the beer store, but definitely is worth shouting about!

ABV: 6.2%

Best Served: 9°C

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Russell Black Death Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Russell Black Death Porter is a terrific offering from a brewery that is best known for a rather mediocre cream ale. With their range of 650 ml ‘Brewmaster series’ they have definitely shown that they are more serious about beer than their 6-pack selections, sometimes suggest. This is a really rich and malty porter with a ton of black molasses , and a subtle note of hop, but it plays second fiddle to the delicious sweet, roasted flavours that dominate. The finish isn’t cloying though as there is just enough bitterness to balance it all out. All in all a very nice porter!

ABV: 6.5%

Best Served: 10°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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Phillips Double Dragon Imperial Red Ale

Wrangler Rating:

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

Phillips Double Dragon Imperial Red Ale is this British Columbian craft brewer’s pumped up version of an American Red Ale, which is a hoppier version of the Irish Red Ales. The Imperialisation of this fairly modern style of beer gives it a big punch in both the flavour and strength departments, so is not to be taken lightly!

This deep red ruby ale has a fairly hoppy aroma, with a robust full-bodied flavour. The rich roasted malt features heavily on the palate and is quite sweet, with notes of caramel, molasses and malty bread, but there is just the right amount of hops to balance it all out. The citrussy grapefruit taste of the healthy hoppy addition, gives the finish a nice bitterness that makes this a very easy drinking beer for one so potent.  This might go well with a large plate of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, served with a rich gravy; but be careful, as this powerhouse may go down too quickly for you to get up too quickly!

ABV: 8.2%

Best Served: 10°C

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Maredsous Abbaye Triple

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Maredsous Triple is golden amber in  colour, a touch darker than many triples, and has a strong, spicy, alcoholic aroma, which is not surprising when you see the 10% ABV on the traditionally styled label.  The palate gives off a strong hit of the solvent-like alcohol at first, and is followed up by grainy dried fruit, with over ripe pineapple and boozy marmalade oranges leading the way. The finish is dry, with a hint of orange peel and herbiness. This powerful triple is not as refreshing as some and struggles to balance its flavour with its alcoholic strength; having said that, it is still a worthwhile beer to try, and if you are comfortable with the warming mouthfeel, then savour the notes of fried fruit and spice with pleasure.

ABV: 10%

Best Served: 7°C

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Krusovice Imperial

Wrangler Rating:

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

Krusovice Imperial is a Czech Pilsner lager, that is eminently drinkable, and a great benchmark for this classic style of beer. It has a pale golden colour and fluffy head, with a nice level of carbonation that is a little less than many lagers, but makes this beer an easy one to drink. It is still refreshing though, as it relies on a great balance of sweet malt and bitterness rather than mere fizz. Although clean and crisp, it has a good dose of pale malt on the palate that leads into a dry, slightly citrus and herbal finish, that is derived from the delicious Saaz hops. This is a great example of a well made and balanced lager that manages to hit all the right notes, and is a pleasure to drink.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 6°C

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3 Monts (Brasserie de Saint Sylvestre)

Wrangler Rating:

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

3 Monts is a strong Biere de Garde from the Flanders region of France, which is a style that can be hard to find outside of its native country, but is well worth the hunt especially if you are a fan of the more familiar Belgian Saison beer, which this is a close relative of. This beer gets a maturation period after fermentation at very cold temperatures to further enhance and integrate the complex flavours of this refreshing ale.

It has a bright, pale golden colour, with a long lasting, tightly knit head that genuinely stays with the beer, right down to the bottom of the glass. There is loads of spicy notes appearing front and centre with flavours of clove and ripe banana esters. The malt is there too, giving a grainy fruitiness that balances the Belgian hops at work that nicely bitter the finish. There’s more there too, but in the background, with herbal flavours, a touch of caramel and a pleasant solvent note. This is a multi-faceted beer that can be drunk on its own, with a strong nutty cheese or a good quality, full flavoured pork sausage.

ABV: 8.5%

Best Served: 8°C

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The Beer Book – Tim Hampson (Ed)

Wrangler Rating

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

The Beer Book is more than just a coffee table decoration, it’s a really enjoyable voyage through a world of ales, lagers, brewing traditions and beery nations!  It has a myriad of must try beers of all styles from around the globe. There are travel ideas for beer trails in some of the classic places making the brews that feature in the book, like Oregon, Brussels or Bamburg. There are also brewery features, from the big names like Guinness to great craft producers like Thornbridge in the UK. The book boasts over 1700 beer reviews so you won’t get bored browsing through, planning your next beer trip. A must buy for any beer aficionado’s library

Published by: Dorling Kindersley

ISBN: 978-0-7566-3982-2

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Beers of the World – By David Kenning

Wrangler Rating

tankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Mediocre)

Beers of the World promises to be a journey around the world via 350 classic beers. ‘Classic or popular’ I ask myself. Any book that devotes a large one page spread to Fosters Lager, and also adds Tennent’s Super to the list (The choice of the discerning homeless man in the UK) is struggling to fulfill the promise of ‘Classic’. Sadly the photographs are not great, with some strange choices for glasses and head size. This has the feel of a book that was hastily and cheaply put together. But why the second tankard I hear you ask… Well it’s not all bad, there are some interesting beers from countries that don’t often get a mention elsewhere, and also some obscure beers which will pique your interest. Despite alot of mainstream lagers that get included, there are many wonderful brews, so it’s far from a complete loss. The other factor is that this is not an expensive book. For a fully colour, large format hardback book, I paid the same as a new release paperback, so I don’t feel cheated whatsoever. This would be a fine buy for someone who has taken their first step away from drab domestic lager and wants an easy book to browse and look at some other beer labels, not a serious book for a beer geek; there are much better ‘beer list’ reads out there, like ‘The Great Beer Guide’ by Michael Jackson for example.

Published by: Parragon

ISBN: 978-1405450508

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Swan’s ESB (Buckerfield’s Brewery)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Swan’s ESB is brewed by Buckerfield’s Brewery on Vancouver Island in a popular hotel and brewpub in Victoria, that tends to brew British style ales and German style lagers. The ESB has a nice dark amber colour and is gently carbonated, in the tradition of ales from the other side of The Atlantic, but has a slightly more robust hop aroma than some. There is a nice malty body to this beer, with plenty of sweet caramel notes; these lead to a bitter hoppy finish that seem to envelop the initial malt sweetness.

Although I really enjoyed drinking this one, the flavours are not that well integrated, and the hops on the finish seem strangely separate fom the mid-palate. Never the less, it’s definitely one to try for fans of the style, as it goes down easily, and as it is lower in alcohol than most ESBs, makes a good session beer.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 9°C

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Howe Sound Total Eclipse Of The Hop

Wrangler Rating:

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

Howe Sound’s Imperial IPA has a nice name that some of its younger drinkers might not get. I am not sure if Bonnie Tyler is a fan of this beer, but she should be. Imperial or double IPAs are usually a mouthful of hops with a hit of alcohol, but the brewers at Howe Sound have managed to brew in a style that the original creators of the IPA in the 18th Century would recognise and hopefully approve of.

This is a supremely well balanced beer that has 9o IBUs and 8% alcohol, but manages to be so drinkable, you could have two or three pints without any effort – quite an achievement for such a well flavoured and strong beer! The hops are very noticeable on the nose, and as there are six varieties it’s not surprising; the flavours that follow are a nice relief for those palates that are tired of naked hop explosions. The rich malt is there supporting all those hop flavours giving a balanced and very enjoyable beer. This is what a traditional IPA becomes when it is ‘Imperialised’, and for me achieves a great benchmark for the style.

*

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 9°C

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Maredsous Abbey Brune

Wrangler Rating:

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

Maredsous is a true Abbey beer, which means that it was originally brewed in the Benetictine Abbey at Maredsous in Wallonia, Southern Belgium, but now has been transferred to a  brewery outside of the monastic grounds, but is still overseen by the monks themselves. Many beers that claim to be “abbey” beers do not have that distinction, and the name just describes a style.

The bottle I had this beer in was a corked 75 cl variety, still resting on the yeast, which would help explain the bready nature of this enjoyable ale, and served in a genuine Maredsous chalice. There are notes of dark, malty rye bread, with a touch of dried fruit and caramel.  This beer seems to go down all too easily while still maintaining its richness, which is a testament to the easy integration of all the flavours, and the crisp, slightly earthy, but lengthy finish.

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 10°C

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New Glarus Black Wheat

Wrangler Rating:

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

New Glarus Brewing is to be found in Wisconsin in the U.S., and is owned by the Brewmaster Dan Carey, who has spent a lifetime perfecting his craft, and oversees a brewery that makes lots of limited release seasonal beers that keep their fans on their toes and interested with an ever-changing line-up.

Their version of the traditional German Dunkelweizen is simply called ‘Black Wheat’, but this beer is far from simple. The deep brown-black liquid, topped by a foamy caramel tan head is a delightfully complex beer, that exhibits lots of nuances, and  never dominate one another. Notes of light molasses. cocoa bean, caramel, nutmeg, banana and prune combine and balance well, to leave a bitter-sweet finish that contains a touch of orange peel.

Try this beer with a well flavoured Mexican chili, it’s light enough to refresh your palate, but has enough strength to stand up to, and compliment all those rich and spicy flavours.

*

ABV: 5.7%

Best Served: 7°C

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Pyramid Breweries Snow Cap Winter Warmer

Wrangler Rating:

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

Pyramid Snow Cap is the Winter seasonal offering from this popular Seattle brewery, and claims to be made in the “spirit of the British Winter ales”. At 7% alcohol, it certainly has the strength to warm the cockles, but does the flavour keep up? The combination of  English and Pacific North West hops give this Winter warmer a nice bitterness, but unlike many other North American versions of this classic Christmas brew, it has copious amounts of delicious malt to back it up and keep them in check. There are notes of cocoa bean and dark caramel on the palate, which leads onto the hoppy flavours; a touch of citrus, spice and a light floral taste give way to a rounded, balanced and smooth finish. This beer is a joy to drink and is a fantastic interpretation of a Winter Warmer, keeping true to the tradition, while maintaining its own Northwest identity. Drink this one with a beer-battered fish and chips, at Pike Place Market in Seattle, or in a London Chippy, it’ll feel right at home at either!

ABV: 7%

Best Served: 12°C

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Driftwood Brewery Blackstone Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Driftwood’s Blackstone Porter is a very dark version of this classic beer that has its origins in 18th Century London. It is a completely opaque black in the glass, looking like a stout, and is made with a partial sour mash, similar to the method used for some Tennessee whiskies. This imparts a subtle tartness to the beer, making it less sweet than many Porters. The main flavours that come through are cocoa and coffee bean, and is followed by a smokey finish. There are vague notes of hop in the background, but they are bit part players, (a welcome break for some!) supporting the dark bitter-sweet malt that dominates. This would be great with smoked meats, or flame grilled pork.

ABV: 5.1%

Best Served: 12°C

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Rogue Mogul Madness Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Rogue Mogul Madness Ale is a  Winter warmer with bite. It has a dark ruby-brown colour and a fairly creamy tan head that stays with the beer. There are some caramel flavours with some faint notes of banana bread. The unusual thing for a winter warmer, but not unusual for Rogue, are the obvious handfuls of hops used in the brew. They offer a pleasant bitterness on the finish that tastes a little grapefruity, and tends to last for a while after the beer has been swallowed. This is an enjoyable beer, but tastes like a good ESB to me. Rogue don’t seem to want to make a beer that has been lightly hopped, and perhaps are now victims of their own dogma, producing a lot of excellent but similar tasting products. I would love to see them do a really rich malty winter warmer, as they are brilliant brewers but are in danger of becoming just a bit one-dimensional.

ABV: 6.5% (approx)

Best Served: 12°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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Anchor Brewing ‘Our Special Ale’ 2009 (Christmas Ale)

anchor2009Wrangler Rating:

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

Anchor Brewing famously change the recipe for their Special Ale every year, as well choose a different tree, a symbol of the Winter Solstice, to adorn the label. This version (2009), when held up to the light, has a gorgeously dense ruby colour and an almost creamy pale tan head. The aroma is full of malty molasses with a definite hoppy highlight. The flavours that follow fill the mouth, but don’t overwhelm it; the main taste that starts off is a strong malty one, that develops into a black molasses backbone to the beer. There are some laid-back spicy notes layered into the malt, perhaps nutmeg or a hint of cardamon, but the hit of a citrus hop gives this sweetish beer an assertive and refreshing finish. This Winter seasonal ale is a real pleasure to drink, and is not too heavy or laden with spices, so is good for  those who find the ‘big’ spiced warmers a bit too much!

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 10°C

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Swans Coconut Porter

coconut porterWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Recommended)

I have to admit that I’m bit torn about Swans Coconut Porter. I love a good porter and really enjoy porters that are layered with other flavours (Kona’s Pipeline Porter with coffee is my personal favourite) so when I saw this coconut porter I became very excited. This beer is very dark in colour with a frothy cappuccino colour head and a strong caramel malt nose with a hint of roasted coffee bean.  The flavour of dark bitter chocolate fills the mouth and slowly gives way to a toasted coffee aftertaste. Unfortunately (for me anyway) I don’t taste any coconut which, considering the reason I bought the beer was to try the coconut, is disappointing. That said, I think this beer stands well on its own as a porter and would taste great with some strong English cheddar

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 11°C

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Tree Brewing Black Tree Dark Ale

tree-dark

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Recommended)

Tree Brewing are based in The Okanagan, where this summer (2009) there were large scale wild fires that destroyed thousands of trees. This beer was released in aid of the BC Fire ReLeaf Fund that aims to replace all the trees lost in the fire. This is described as a dark ale but is in fact a blend of two beers, probably the Cutthroat pale ale and the Spy porter. This makes up a well appointed version of a Black and Tan beer. The dark mahogany ale has a roasted malt note throughout that serves as its backbone. There are pleasant hop notes on the nose as well as the palate that continue through to the finish along with a dry, toasty flavour. This is a simple yet effective beer, whose smoothness and balance make it really drinkable and can be enjoyed with a grilled steak in the knowledge that it all goes to help a good cause.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 9°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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