A big fat bunch of Buxton Beers

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again; really good, hop-forward beer, is at it’s best if you drink it young.

Generally speaking though, the reason really good beer doesn’t spend too much time in the cupboard before I drink it is because I can’t wait, not because of some higher sense of duty. Hence the reason I’ve drank a fair few Buxton beers recently - Essentially, I couldn’t wait to try them.

Buxton Spa (Pale Ale) 4.1%

With a big, juicy grapefruit aroma and a hazy body, this is a great looking beer.

The taste is a nice tangerine and grapefruit interplay with a slightly lighter body than most Buxton beers, but which perfectly suits the style, and a bitter yet juicy hop finish with loads of grapefruit and orange peel and pith.
Those US and NZ hops give this beer a lovely fruity citrus flavour.

A really good, modern pale ale.

Buxton Best (Amber Ale) 4.3%

I must admit that the fact this is called a “Best” annoys me a little. Buxton make unbelievably good beers that are very modern, very hop forward, and actually pretty unusual. Then they go and call it Buxton Best. Which would be fine if it was a Best, I like best bitter, but this beer is so much more. It's a modern
Amber ale made with American and English hops and rye malt – how good does that sound? Don’t sell yourself short guys!

Moving on. The beer has a great orange/brown/Amber colour and a slightly spicy, citrus hop aroma. The mouth feel is textbook Buxton - big, lush, cask ale like, with full but soft carbonation.

In the flavour you get a tiny bit of sweet toffee before the rye malt kicks that out of the way with some spicy, biscuity flavours and a dry orangey finish which balances between spicy and citrus hops.

Buxton Gold (Golden Ale) 5.3%

This pours a really nice unfiltered, hazy orange with golden orange at the edges. The aroma is oranges, biscuit, and a touch of lemon pith.

Again, for me this is much more than a “Golden Ale”, which for me has had a fair bit of linguistic pejoration over the years. Golden Ales are the drinkable, slightly lemony, perfectly golden beers you give to “lager drinkers” to try and coax them onto good beer. This is not one of those perfectly fine, but unexciting, beers.

Amarillo, Liberty and Nelson Sauvin hops make this a proper, full on, modern, US inspired dry fruit cocktail that’s kept in check by grainy, biscuity malt. It finishes dry ye
t perfectly balanced. Another cracker from the Buxton boys.

Wild Boar (India Pale Ale) 5.7%

This is a great addition to the Buxton range. A 5.7% India pale that’s not too strong to have a pint, but definitely not a session beer.

It's got a great balance between bitter grapefruit and a little sweet tangerine and citrusy orange. It's a great beer, and from the look of this lot, I’m going to have to concede that these guys just don't make a bad beer.

So. If a beer tastes great, does it matter what it’s called?

Big thanks to Buxton for these fantastic beers. Buy them Online here: www.buxtonrealale.co.uk

Bad Weather Requires Good Stouts

Sunday, October 23, 2011
I’ve got a very short memory when it comes to what beers I want to drink. Every year in the middle of summer, when I’m quaffing pale, cold, hoppy beers by the pint I think to myself that beer just couldn’t get any better than this and that no matter how the weather changes, I’ll go on drinking ‘em. But I never do.

The fact is, as soon as the weather turns cold and dreary I slip into that old cliché of craving dark beers, and when it gets really cold, I’ll move on to the warming Barley Wines and Imperial Stouts. As such, the miserable wet weather recently has left me craving regular Stouts – beers I can drink by the pint over an hour or so, and which are best served not too cold.

Here’s a few I’ve enjoyed this week.

Buxton Kinder Stout 4.1%

As is usually the case with Buxton, this pours perfection. Nice and thick with a creamy White head and an impenetrable black body. The aroma is as classic as a dry stout gets. Smokey, slightly ashy and with a slight sweetness lingering in the background.

The taste delivers exactly what the aroma suggests, a classic dry stout. Dry, smokey, and with a really nice roasted malt middle that turns dry and ashy in the finish. “Session Stout” feels like a bit of an injustice because the flavour of this is so good, but it is really drinkable and dry and at that ABV I could happily drink a fair few of these over the course of an evening.

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter 5%

As is often the case with traditional Porters, the aroma is much lighter than it’s heavier Big Brother (or is that younger Brother?) the Stout. You just get a little light coffee and a herbal edge from the hops - It’s not a million miles away from a good Black/Dark Lager in the aroma.

The flavour of this is a balance between roasted hazelnut, filter coffee and a bit of lingering dark chocolate. The mouthfeel is light to medium, as the soft carbonation is quite foamy and cuts acts to cut through what is actually a fairly heavy body.

It’s a massively drinkable, in many ways uncomplicated beer that I could drink again and again.

Marble Chocolate 5.5%

I’ve just realized that out of a roundup of 4 Stouts, 2 of them aren’t strictly Stouts - one’s a Porter and one is this beer, which Marble non-commitally call “Stout(ish)”. It's not going well this is it?

Don’t be fooled though, this is a big, full on beer that for all intents and purposes is a Stout.

This beer pours an opaque browny black with an off white/beige head. The aroma is of malty chocolate, a touch of Espresso, and toasted/roasted grain. The flavour of the beer isn’t as dominated by chocolate as you might expect, it’s got a really upfront coffee flavour and plenty of roasted malt alongside that bitter chocolate. It finishes nice and dry with espresso and more bitter cocoa.

Wensleydale Black Dub (Oat Stout) 4.4%

This is a much sweeter, creamier Stout than the other ones I’ve mentioned down to the inclusion of Oats in the brew which (because of the fats and proteins in them) cause the beer to become much more viscous, which in turn gives the sensation of a creamier flavour.

Alongside that creamy, brown sugar sweet body, you get milk chocolate and subtle, mellow coffee (think latte). It’s a satisfyingly sweet stout if that’s what you’re looking for, but not a beer I could drink a lot of.

That isn’t a criticism though, it’s a beer I really enjoyed and which is well worth a try.

Oyster Stout. As in, Stout with Oysters in it...

Thursday, October 20, 2011
There are some food combinations that everybody knows about - Lamb and Mint, Bangers and Mash, Strawberries and Cream - but then there are others which people might not have tried, those that are a little bit 'out there'. Venison and Chocolate, Stilton and Pear, even Peanut butter and 'Jelly' are all great combos that really shouldn't work, but do.

Which brings me quite nicely to Oysters and Stout. I think it probably lies somewhere between the two groups I mentioned, it isn't exactly a crazy combination, but it might be one that lots of people haven't tried. But you should.

The salty yet sweet creaminess of Oysters clashes and yet somehow matches with a smooth, roasted Stout to create one of my all time favourite food an drink combinations. I suppose in some ways the creaminess of Oysters pairs with the creamy body you get with Stout, but if i'm honest, they are completely different. It's a famously tough one to explain, but the most important thing is that it works.

It's a combination thats been around for hundreds of years, and reputedly dates back to the dingey London dockland pubs that dished out pints of rough Porter and (later) Stout along with bucket loads of cheaper than chips Oysters. They were a cheap food served with a cheap drink, eaten by the masses by the bucketload. And it's no doubt because of their cheapness that brewers started to wonder what a beer made with them would taste like. That's right. They put Oysters in the beer. Those crazy olden days guys. No one would do that anymore though, would they?

The only thing close to Oyster Stout that I've tried is the Marstons beer by the same name, but despite the name, there's not even a minutiae of mollusc in the brew. Nada.

So when I heard about Red Willow producing a real Oyster Stout named Fathomless, with actual real Oyster in it, I was excited to say the least. Obviously I had in the back of my mind that it might be a little, well, fishy, but I was willing to take the risk. Luckily, its a fantastic beer, and there's even plans to bottle it.

Smooth, only slightly sweet, with a nice full roasted malt character and, maybe I'm just imagining this, but a very slight saltiness in the dry finish. The pump clip doesn't give enough information to put the casual drinker off, but the 'just a hint of the sea' is enough of a nod for me, and actually quite accurate. There is definitely something there, curling a finger at your taste buds, lurking at the back of your mind, saying, are you imagining this?

Fuller's Vintage Ale on Cask!?

Friday, October 14, 2011
As a beer lover there's no better feeling than walking into a pub and spotting a fantastic beer on the bar. Maybe something you've been meaning to try and heard good things about, or a beer that you've had before but love. Sometimes I'm expecting it. Pretty much every time I walk in to North Bar in Leeds they've got something that I can't wait to order.

Other times you're not expecting it. The Adelphi is a great pub but their Cask Ale selection doesn't tend to set the World on fire. Always in decent condition and generally a few good beers, but hardly ever surprising. So it was with some surpise that I spotted a Vintage Ale pump clip hiding at the end of the bar. I didn't even realise you could get Vintage Ale on Cask. It's 8.5%, Limited Edition, and massively complex in terms of flavour - not exactly a beer that the "Real Ale Regulars" and "Premium Lager Twentysomethings" would be knocking back by the pint...

I'm a massive fan of Vintage Ale. Give it some sipping time and drink it at just-a-touch cooler than room temperature and it's a beer unlike anything else you'll ever try, a true classic. I've got a 1999 saved at the back of the cupboard which I keep meaning to crack open and a 2009 which I'm going to age for a good few more years yet.

The Cask Vintage Ale was this years batch as it had been left as a gift by Fullers after a meet the brewer event. They were selling it at £3.30 a pint. You read that right. Not a half, a PINT. Although I was told later on that they had only been allowing people to buy a half of the stuff at a time - very sensible.

So it was very fresh, I knew that before I drank it, but what
would the other flavours be like when served on CASK?

In short, it was fantastic. It didn't have that aged beer tang or mustyness that adds so much to really old Vintage Ales but it was still chocka full of flavour. It had a really big initial taste of raisin, that moved aside for sherry booziness, and a bit of smokey bourbon, as well as glacé cherry, brown sugar, bitter orange, ginger cake, cherry syrup and a finish that balances between sweet redcurrant jam, and bitter orange hops. A depth of flavour belying it's spritely years.

Thanks to
Fuller's for being such massively good guys to leave a Cask of this wonderful beer for me to stumble upon, and MASSIVE thanks to the manager who upon hearing me chatting with the barman about this fantastic beer produced two bottles of Fuller's 1845 from behind the bar and said "they left some of these too, you can have these for free mate if you think you'll enjoy them" (and no I didn't mention my blog and I didn't know him. He was just being nice). 1845 is a bit like Vintage Ale's little brother in taste terms, and a great beer in it's own right. What a result.

Life's all about the little treats isn't it?

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout... from Mauritius

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I’ve written about Guinness Foreign Extra before, it fascinates me. I won't go over it in too much detail again but basically it's brewed using a dehydrated base beer made in Ireland, which is then flown all over the world and mixed with a local beer. In Nigeria it’s a local beer made with sorghum which gives the beer an odd banana taste and unusual aroma. I always enjoy trying a new one and was intrigued to see how the Mauritian version compared.

I was expecting Mauritian FES to taste a little like the Nigerian FES for some reason - Sweet, a bit funky, and with loads of banana character alongside the roasted malt and herbal hop dryness - But it isn't. It's another beast altogether.

Initially it's got a fruity chocolate character, then a touch of that almost stale beer flavour FES always has, but it's not overly sour like the Nigerian version, there's just a slight fruitiness and a bit of tang. It's familiar yet different. I never tire of trying the different FES beers from around the world, how they differ this much is beyond me.

This Mauritian version has sweet coffee, bittersweet reduced redcurrant, fruity dark chocolate, burnt honey roast parsnip (I know that sounds poncy, but trust me). It's all so concentrated and muddled though that it's a tough job pulling out the separate flavours. I don't mean that as a bad thing though. The flavours roll together and make a really drinkable whole.

FES has more hops than any other Guinness and this beer doesn't disappoint on that front. Maybe it's down to the fact I'd been quaffing perfectly decent but distinctly un hoppy beer for more than a week when I drank this, but this beer smacked me round the head with that hoppy finish.

P.s. Very fresh bottle this. Manufacture date is the 6th of September. So less than 3 weeks old when I drank it. Obviously a popular beer and I can see why.

Anchovy Niçoise with Hoegaarden Wit Beer

Thursday, October 06, 2011
Just in time for this dreary wet weather we're having at the moment, a nice summer salad! In my defence I made this over that red hot late September weekend, when all I wanted was cold, tasty, easy drinking beer and something a little lighter on my plate.

In my opinion a Niçoise salad has to have slightly crunchy blanched green beans, crunchy gem lettuce, boiled new potatoes, only-just-set boiled eggs, black olives and most importantly anchovies. Tuna is a no go I'm afraid despite it's prevalence, and other accompaniments such as red onion and tomato are great, but not a deal breaker as such.

So surely with a crisp, fresh, vibrant salad a White Wine is the only thing that will do? Well no. But a beer match is a little tricky. It's got to be refreshing, slightly citrussy and crisp, yet essentially uncomplicated - Anything too boisterous on the flavour front will smack out any subtlety from the salad. That said, this dish has some big salty flavours too meaning anything too wimpy like a pale lager might get lost in the mix and not really add anything flavourwise.

I'd been toying with the idea of a Wheat beer but didn't want anything too thick, orangey or, well, wheatie. As usual I was thinking too outside the box, trying to go for an obscure beer geeks brew when actually the answer was sat their in the fridge at Tescos on my way home... Hoegaarden. It's a great beer that I hardly ever drink, yet it's absolutely perfect for this sort of dish as it's easy drinking, not overly wheatie, fresh and lemony with just a hint of orange and yeastyness.

Essentially a perfect match for this crisp, vinegary, salty salad.

To make my 'proper' Niçoise you need:
Serves 2
  • A large handful of green beans, cooked for 4-5 mins until barely soft
  • 2 Eggs, boiled for 5 and a 1/2 to 6mins (depending on size) then left to cool, shelled and quartered.
  • 1 Tin of anchovies in olive oil
  • 1 Large gem lettuce, base cut off and leaves roughly torn
  • About 8 new potatoes, halved, cooked, cooled
  • Small pot of black or purple kalamata olives, stones removed and halved
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tomatoes cut into wedges

Mix 2 parts White wine vinegar with 1 part Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a dash of dijon, a bit of the Anchovy oil, and a good twist of salt and pepper. It should be sharp and vinegary to cut through the saltiness of the anchovies and olives.

Once everything is cooked and cooled it's really just an assembly job. Dress the salad leaves and green beans then assemble everything else on top and drizzle with a little more dressing.


Now all we need is a little sunshine......

Summer Wine Brewery in a bottle

Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Summer Wine Brewery are one of my favourite breweries in the UK, and thanks to Mr Foleys in Leeds are a brewery I've drank a hell of a lot of beer from.

My first taste of a Black IPA was Nerotype #1 brewed by SWB, which was followed by three other single hop Black IPA's, all of which were good and two of which I thought were stunning. One of my top beers of the year so far from anywhere in the World is 7C's - a big, tropical, pithy IPA thats perfect on Cask and Keg and far too drinkable for it's strength. Diablo is a stone cold classic of a beer that I drink whenever I see it.

In other words, SWB are a brewery I come back to again, and again, and again. They're brave, innovative and exciting but up until recently only brewed Cask beer, and outside of Yorkshire were much harder to get a hold of. That's all changed with the introduction of their bottled range.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one each of their newly bottled beers, and decided to crack two of them almost straight away. I started with the two IPA's because, as I've said before, you gota' drink them hops fresh people!

Diablo IPA

This knocked me for six. I thought I knew what this was going to taste like from the many, many times I've had it on cask. In the bottle the bitterness is huge - it reminded me a little bit of old Punk, but with a deeper flavour and thicker body.

It's got that big grapefruit juice flavour of the cask version and there's a fair bit of tropical fruitiness in the flavour but it's all bowled over by this huge punishing bitterness. Don't get me wrong though, I love it. In fact it was a little too good to over analyse and as such the bottle was seen off pretty sharpish. Really, really good.

Kahuna NZ IPA

This has a nice sweet aroma of tangerine and lemon, with just a hint of mango. The taste is quenching and juicy with a hint of the grapefruit of the Diablo but also some bitter orange, tropical fruit juice, and a slightly herbal edge like under ripe woody mango.

Much more forgiving than the Diablo with a bit of sweetness and a dry but not hugely bitter finish. Lovely stuff.

So that's a very, very promising start sampling this fantastic breweries bottled wares. Two down, two to go.....

Keep an eye out for Rouge-Hop, a hoppy red ale, and Barista, an espresso stout, in a review coming soon.

You can buy Summer Wine Brewery beers at their online shop.

Mauritian Street Food

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mauritius is a crazy, beautiful, diverse, amazing place before you even get to the food - Which just happens to be fantastic too.

It's a former French Colony (the first language is a colloquial French referred to as Creole locally) that has a completely unique cuisine which is an unusual mix of Indian, Chinese and French - there's hints of New Orleans style Creole but with Indian and Chinese elements too. Fish curries and stews, fantastic Indian and Chinese derived street food and main dishes, spicy Mauritian tomato and ginger sauces, and 'piment' (chilli) served with every meal.

People have got this image of Mauritius as a honeymoon destination, and I can see why, it's stunning - Great beaches and a wonderful tropical climate. But those that stay in their hotel and don't explore the island are missing a trick. There's so much good stuff out there to find - live a little for Gods sake! Rent a car (about £15-£20 a day) and get into the less touristy places to find some great food. The Port Louis indoor market is also well worth a visit, and has a specific hall dedicated to local street food. Just look for the busiest stalls, and order what everyone else is having, and you won't go far wrong.

I ate some great food in restaurants and at family meals (my girlfriend has family out there) - things such as sizzling black bean beef with ginger and seaweed, tender, spicy Cari Ourite (Octopus curry), and Poisson Vindaye (a slightly pickled tasting spicy fish dish with mustard seeds) were amongst my favorites and are pretty typical of Mauritian Cuisine. But it's the street food that I want to talk about most because some of it is really unusual and unique, and all of it is exciting, tasty, and consistently great. It's also readily available all over the island and really cheap - I'm talking under a pound for a filling and tasty lunch in some cases.

Here are some of my favourites:

Gateaux Piment

These are my favorite street snack, and are something you'd have between meals rather than as a lunch - although they're nice crammed into a bread roll with a little extra piment sauce (pronounced pee'maa) as well if you want something a little more substantial.

The name translates literally as ‘Chilli Cake’ but theseare actually really mild, with only a hint of fresh chilli. They're essentially deep fried balls of ground up lentil with spring onion, fresh coriander, spices and a little chilli. They come out crisp and golden on the outside but with a rough, open texture on the inside which reminds me a little bit of onion Bhaji batter, but rougher and with a wholesome lentil flavour.

They're available on pretty much every street corner or market place in Mauritius and are cheaper than chips. A bag of 10 will set you back about 20 Mauritian Rupees (about 50p).

Mine Frit Poulet Oeuf

Mine Frit (pronounced Min Free) is essentially fried noodles, which usually come with vegetables or meat. My favorite is with chicken and egg, alongside the obligatory spring onions, carrot, spices and other such lovely stuff. It doesn't taste quite like the fried noodles you'd get from a Chinese, or Japanese restaurant, it's something different. How it's different I can't quite put my finger on, all I know is it's delicious.

As with nearly everything in Mauritius, even sliced Pineapple, you'll be asked whether you want this with piment or not - Generally it'll be in the form of a thick green homemade chilli sauce served on the side, so my advice would be to get it 'avec piment' and give it a try, if you don't like it then just don't dip into it.

Expect to pay between 50 and 90 rupees (£1-£2), the portions are always generous and this will make a filling lunch or cheap evening meal.


Ok so this a drink not a food, but it's so unusual and tasty it deserves a quick mention. It’s a sort of milkshake made with really cold iced milk, crushed ice, and vanilla and almond essence, plus...

What makes Alouda so unique though are the tiny jelly balls floating around in the milk, they taste great but look a little like frogspawn! Don’t worry though, these strange looking little blobs are actually Basil Seeds (from Thai or Sweet Basil) which expand and become soft and jellylike when soaked in water.

They taste sweet and soft and are the quintessential ingredient in Alouda. It’s creamy, cold, refreshing and sweet with vanilla and almond – delicious.

Port Louis market is your best bet for finding Alouda.

Dholl Puri
Lentils, tomato based chilli salsa and some other bits and pieces I couldn't work out are deftly spooned into super thin, slightly powdery pancakes (the pile on the left) that have a really nice savoury corn flavour. This is rolled up and wrapped in paper then passed over. Again you can request these 'avec piment' or 'sans piment' depending on if you're a chilli fan or not but even the spicy ones won’t blow you’re head off.

Two will set you back a whopping 10 rupees (about 25p) and they are actually quite filling, and utterly delicious. If you're visiting the Port Louis market then head for the busiest stall selling these and you can't go wrong.

Roti Chaud

These are are a more substantial flat bread style pancake thats closer to a chapatti than the thinner type Dholl Puri is served in. They're on the right in the picture above and rolled up in the picture to the left.

Unlike Dholl Puri, Roti Chaud can come with meat, fish or vegetable fillings along with some other tasty sauces and dhall thrown in for good measure. I like the fish Roti's, and have grabbed a couple from the most run down shacks up and down the country and lived to tell the tale. Its all good, so get out there and try it.


Boulette is probably my favorite thing to eat in Mauritius. It's definitely on the Chinese side of the Mauritian culinary scale but like all Mauritian dishes has a Creole name. Boulette are a kind of steamed dumpling made with fish, pork, prawn, or beef, a bit like Dim Sum but served in a flavorsome broth (bouillon) usually made with proper chicken or fish stock and a flourish of accompaniments usually including spring onions, a sweet, spicy finishing sauce, and (if you want it) even more piment!

Each type of boulette has a very distinct
flavour, my reccomendation being the dark brown beef and ginger variety, but they're all worth a try. The picture below shows a few of the different varieties.

bowl of 10 in a bath of tasty broth is a really filling meal, and along with a bottle of coke will set you back under £2.

If you want to read more about Mauritian Cuisine and Street Food then this website is pretty good, although the photos aren’t great.