Which 'classic' beer has so far passed you by?

Thursday, July 26, 2012
I wrote on twitter a week or so ago that I'd never got around to trying Orval and the response was a chorus of WHAT!?

I've heard pretty much universal praise for this Belgian brew amongst beery buddies (try saying that three times fast) and know more than one who will take any opportunity to wax lyrical about this supposed ambrosia. But I've just never got around to trying it.

As such, when I ended up in North bar recently I was held down and force fed* some Orval by manager Matt, who was not best pleased I'd graced his establishment so many times and never drank his favourite beer.

"I like it, it's nice."

That response didn't go down too well, I was looked at like I'd just called his baby ugly. But the fact is that after already having quite a few beers earlier that night it was all my analytically fatigued palate and brain could muster. It tasted good to me, but not startling, and I'd hammered my tongue with too many hops to give it a fair run.

I've got a bottle in the fridge which will get my full attention some time soon though, I promise. To be honest I'm intrigued to discover what all the fuss is about.

Orval was the beer I was ashamed to say I'd never tried, what is, or was yours?



*Or maybe it was more of a strong suggestion...


Double Joker IPA from Williams Brothers (pre-production)

Monday, July 23, 2012
I was lucky enough to be handed a bottle of pre-production Double Joker IPA from Williams Brothers when at EBBC earlier this year.

As you can see by the state of the label this was a hand bottled version, which had been sat in an ice bucket, so please ignore the bottles aesthetics.

What's important is the beer inside.

I'm reliably informed by one or two beer buddies that if you can find it, the regular Joker IPA is very good indeed on cask, but I must admit I find it a little lack lustre in the bottle. It just doesn't have the level of hop flavour that I look for in an IPA, and despite being a solid, drinkable beer it just misses the mark slightly.

Double Joker however is a whole different story, at 8% and hopped to hell it certainly delivers on the hop front.

The aroma is lightly sweet with orange and sweet pine resin in the fore and a little citrus floating up from the background. The flavour is very classic American IPA in style (in the bittersweet sense, rather than simply a beer with American hops in it).

Sweet candy malt lays the base for hops to run riot, with loads of bitter blood orange and a touch of pine resin in the finish. It's wonderfully clean and balanced and reminds me a little of Odell IPA which is a hefty compliment.

This actually tasted better after a few months in the bottle in my opinion, more complete and rounded than the last time I tasted it at EBBC.

I hope they put this beer into production, it's a little cracker.


Bitches Brewing Co - Graduation IPA (6.5%)

Friday, July 20, 2012
I was propping up the bar in Friends of Ham yesterday, waiting for the missus to come into the train station from York. They had a great selection on and I was in the enviable position of being able to flit between a keg of Kernel Pale Ale (can't remember which, but does it matter?) and the last of the Hawkshead USPA on cask.  

In came the text: "I'm going to be a little bit late"

There's times when that text could be frustrating to receive, but with my just-a-quick-pint-before-meeting-the-missus time extended this was not one of them. As such I was still sat there when the single mysteriously empty keg line was rebadged, and what came on was a beer from a brewery I'd never even heard of, and it was an IPA. Good times.

After talking to Tyler I found out that Bitches Brewing Co is the moniker for beers brewed by Brian Dickson, or "Bri from The Grove" as pretty much everybody in these beery circles refers to him. The brewery name is a riff on the fact he's been lending his time to that many breweries, in an effort to further his knowledge, that he's become a bit of brewers bitch. The name works, and the branding is great. But what about the beer?

Well I'll tell you right away that this is not your run of the mill tropical fruit or citrus bomb. It has a really unusual, very floral hop aroma but also a bit of overripe orange which reminded me a little bit of Sorachi ace (I was wrong, but more on that later) alongside hay, faint citrus, and a very slight dusty yeast note. As your nose acclimatises a little more citrus does come through in the aroma but it remains extremely floral, genuinely like fresh flowers, and very complex.

The flavour is bitter but not in the same way as your average IPA, it seems to build up, even creep up on you after a few sips. My initial reaction was that there's a Belgian influence in this beer thanks to the funky orange, and sweetly bitter finish. It's got a fantastic depth to it, with an array of crazy flavours rearing their head such as dusty hay, palma violets, almond, Turkish delight, that aforementioned funky orange, and just loads of slightly citrusy yet predominantly floral hop character.

It's a completely mental beer, and do you know what is even more surprising than how it tastes? The ingredients that were used: A little Saaz in the mash tun, then loads and loads of Goldings as bittering and late hops. A pretty standard pale malt bill and Safale US:05 yeast.

I'd already made a few tasting notes before I asked Tyler if he knew what hops were used in making this IPA and his response was definitely a surprise. For a start Goldings are predominantly an aroma hop, secondly they are low alpha (I.e. they ain't very bitter), and thirdly they're known for giving a soft, sweetly floral finish to traditional British bitters.

So no crazy yeast, no particularly exotic hops, and a normal pale malt bill.

I don't know how he did it, but the results are extraordinary.


Follow Bitches Brewing Co on twitter: @BitchesBrewCo







Hardknott Rhetoric - Limited batch #1

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
At the European Beer Bloggers Conference I was lucky enough to be given one of the 24 bottles of Hardknott Rhetoric #1 up for grabs. Essentially a pre-production sample of the first Rhetoric Beer, this bottle makes up part of a new line of experimental, limited edition, boundary pushing beers being put out by Hardknott.

Personally I think it's a great idea, I've drank some stunning beers from BrewDog's similar Abstrakt range and definitely think there's a place in the market for mental beers, so hopefully this endeavour will be a success for Hardknott.

As you can see, the beer pours a beautiful glowing, deep red-amber with a foamy white head which stuck around pretty well for a beer tipping the scales at 10.2% abv. The carbonation was quite low for a quad, if we're marking to style, but actually to my tastes pretty spot on.

The aroma is sweet, sticky malt, cola and a touch of liquorice. In the flavour the star anise comes through straight away but certainly doesn't overpower, I hate aniseed so I was a little worried the flavour would dominate. Alongside the star anise there is loads of rich sweet orange and red berry fruit alongside a dark rum booziness. The mouthfeel is full, slick and slightly chewy, but cut through by that perfect carbonation.

There's a really great bittersweetness in the finish, telling me that they've used enough hops to keep the sweetness in check and balance out the beer. It's a big beer but there's also a deftness of touch in the hopping which helps to keep the malt sweetness in check, and the star anise adds a layer and depth of flavour rather than dominating like it so easily could have.

I really enjoyed it, and can't wait to see what comes next in this exciting range of beers.


Hawkshead Well Hopped range - NZPA, Windermere Pale and Cumbrian Five Hop

Monday, July 16, 2012
About a month ago Tandleman threw down a gauntlet by asking "If there is a brewery in the UK more on top of its game than Hawkshead, name it."

There were plenty of responses, and calls for other breweries that were on level pegging, but very few people disagreeing outright. Personally I'd argue that in terms of consistency combined with great tasting, interesting beers (which is surely as good a measure of a brewery as any) that Magic Rock and Summer Wine are both up there too.

Hawkshead's "Well Hopped" range is probably their most beer geek focused output to date, and yet remains hugely drinkable and well structured. Here's what I thought to the three bottles Hawkshead sent me through to try (thanks guys):


The aroma is tangerine, lime, zest, pith, orange booze. Lighter than I expected though.

The beer itself has a sweet piney backbone with layers of pithy hops on top, bitterness in the finish, but then a lasting hop depth. It's unbelievably layered in its hop flavour - Orange, mango, lime, pine, tangerine pith, grapefruit, sweet gooseberry.

Complex and deep yet instantly gratifying.

Windermere Pale

The aroma is actually lighter than I expected. I was expecting an IPA but this is a funny one, and has much more in common with the regular windy pale than I was expecting. The aroma is a mix of grapefruit, citrus, orangey fruit salad, but there's a little hay in there too.

The flavour is lightly sweet, dry and grainy with a bitter, fruity finish. It's good, but is it better than the classic windy pale? I'm not sure. Is the extra hop hit a success? On the whole, yes, it makes a nice alternative to the original Windermere Pale - but it's not a superior beer in my opinion.

Cumbrian Five Hop

The aroma is tangerine, grapefruit, lime with a lingering sweetness. The flavour is initially a big waft of mixed citrus and grapefruit before a malty sweetness breezes through, very swiftly followed by a resinous, puckering dryness with lots of pine and more bitter grapefruit.

That bitter dryness really kicks your arse at a point when you almost think the beer has shown all it's cards. It pulls you in for the next sip though, which is just as good as the last.

All in all, these are fantastic beers. I think I'd find it hard to choose a favourite between the Cumbrian 5 Hop and the NZPA, but I'm struggling to think when I would choose this version of the Windermere Pale over the other two. It's still a very, very good beer. But just misses the mark by comparison in my opinion.

But maybe I'm a little biased as the original Windy Pale is a personal favourite.


On top of their game? I'd certainly say so.




Grand opening: Friends of Ham, Leeds' most exciting new bar

Sunday, July 08, 2012
Last night I got the chance to have a sneak peek inside Friends of Ham, a charcuterie and craft beer bar which opens its doors to the public tomorrow (Monday 9th July) and looks set to be a huge asset to the Leeds beer scene.

The idea behind the bar is a simple yet unique one: Artisan hams, charcuterie, cheese and posh bar snacks, served alongside a great range of draft and bottled craft beer. A British take on European tapas and Cafe culture.

But an idea is one thing and reality is very much another, so I was genuinely happy to see that all Claire and Kitch's hard work had been put to good use. Friends of Ham rocks.

It's a place I can't wait to go back and spend some time in, if only to gorge myself on more of my new favourite thing, lardo. (On the right, skewered atop some bread, next to ricotta with sweet chilli)

For those that have never sampled this food of the Gods, it's essentially a very thin layer of meat with a very thick layer of white fat atop it, that is cured with herbs. Sliced very thinly it melts in your mouth like herb and ham flavoured butter, and was my favourite of many delicious things I sampled at Friends of Ham.

The scotch eggs are also really excellent, particularly the black pudding ones. Yum.

There was some great beer on the taps and in the newly stocked fridges too. The sparkling new pumps and hand pulls served up the likes of Kernel Pale Ale, Magic Rock Clown Juice, Hawkshead Lakeland Lager, Red Willow Smokeless, RedChurch Brewery Hackney Gold, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and a delicious Fruit beer I've never even heard of before from Delirium Tremens.

The place looks great too, here are some more photos.

Your friendly neighbourhood beer pourers! From left behind the bar: Tyler (previously of Mr Foleys), Kitch and Claire.

The cavernous yet cosy downstairs area and truly addictive (and free) shuffle board table.

Black pudding scotch egg and Red Church India Pale Ale.

Hanging hams and Lakeland Lager.












I'll probably be back there this week I liked the place so much.

Seriously, go.


Friends of Ham, 4 New Station Street, Leeds.



North Bar - 15 years on going strong

Wednesday, July 04, 2012
So it was North Bar's official 15th birthday celebration this Sunday, and on offer were 15 amazing draft beers either brewed with help from the guys at North or chosen by them as being something a little bit special - as well as a BBQ, DJ and general carnival atmosphere.

It was a really fun event that genuinely felt like a party thanks to the hordes of people who came along; testament to the fondness that this little bar is held in by Leeds folk.

As I already mentioned there were 15 beers on draft, many of which were one off beers brought in especially for the event. One of the advantages of being a front runner on the UK craft beer scene is that North Bar have made a lot of beery friends along the way, and the favours had clearly been pulled in if this line-up was anything to go by.

The problem with such an amazing selection was the old kid in a candy shop syndrome, where you want to try everything, all in one go. My liver certainly wouldn't have thanked me for that though, the beers ranged from around 5% to 11% and the majority were around the 7/8% mark. But in true journalistic fashion I put my body on the line and managed a very respectable 9 - though all were 1/2 or 1/3 pint measures I might add.

Cantillon - Gueuze 5% (Cask)

What a treat to try Cantillon on cask. This was surprisingly drinkable with a manageable sourness, low bitterness and a really refreshing interplay between sour lemon and a savoury, almost salty, sunflower seed character from the pale malt and yeast.

Thornbridge - General Sherman Imperial Red Ale 8.3% (Keg)

This was a great beer. Probably the most rounded and balanced beer I drank all night. Big, sweet, fruity malt character punctuated by tropical and slightly piney hops. It drank much easier than that abv would suggest.

Flying dog - Wildeman Farmhouse IPA 7.5% (Keg)

Unsurprisingly this reminded me of the very fresh tasting keg of Raging Bitch (Flying Dog's Belgian Style IPA) I had in PIN a few days ago. Big citrusy American hop character on top of a funky, yeasty, grainy base, this was rather like a super hopped saison, and again was very drinkable for it's strength.

Sierra Nevada - Solar Storm 5.8% (Keg)

This tasted really fresh but didn't quite have the punch that some of the other IPAs did. But perhaps that's not a negative; Sierra Nevada make balanced, drinkable beers and this was no different. Sierra Nevada beers never batter you with hops, but they are on the whole hugely satisfying.

Nogne O - Oak Aged Sunturnbrew Smoked Barley Wine 11% (Keg)

This smoked beer is insane. As somebody who loves smoked beers I can safely say this is the best one I've tried. The big abv gives depth and sweetness behind the smoke and phenols, creating a really complex BBQ like flavour. I think it's stunning, but I imagine others would disagree.

The Kernel - Double SSCANS IIPA 10%? (Keg)

The smell of the kernel beer was phenomenal. Mango, grapefruit, passion fruit, tropical fruit salad. The Citra and Nelson Sauvin jump out like a jack in the box from this beer. As I've come to expect from Kernel the taste is unbelievably drinkable, clean, yet very well hopped. It's a hop lovers dream and pretty much faultless.

Odell - Milk stout 5%? (Keg)

This was nice but not really a milk stout by my reckoning. It just didn't have that classic creamy milk stout flavour or sweetness. Hints of coffee, hints of chocolate, nice roasted backbone, but no lactic quality. Fine but not great.

Flying Dog - Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout 8.9% (Keg)

Again this one didn't blow me away but I preferred it to the Odell (though they are vastly different beers). It's a really smooth, drinkable beer that is more like an imperial porter than stout thanks to a lightness of body and good clean bitterness in the finish. The coffee flavour is roasted filter rather than the bitter, fruity espresso I'd expected.

Marble - Aged Little Jim 6.9% (Cask)

Little Jim is a lovely beer and this aged version was just as good, perhaps even better, than I remember it. Smooth, rich, deep and complex. It's classically British yet simultaneously modern and interesting - which is Marble to a T. Worth seeking out.


Many of the beers will still be on in North Bar this week, particularly the stronger ones, so I'd suggest you get down there and try them before they're gone.