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Showing posts from January, 2012

How Low Can You Go (2)

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Following on from Sunday’s post about low strength beers, there comes the news that they are the saviour and future of the drinks trade. Or so might your conclusion be if the media coverage of the recently released off-trade figures is to be believed. For across the board sales of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers have soared 40% in the last year. The reasons-according to retailers-are that customers are reacting to the improved product quality and range, a desire for more healthy living, and better awareness of drink-driving risks.

Now 40% is indeed an impressive increase in sales, but of course the benchmark is much lower in this category to begin with. For example, Tesco, who are trumpeting a 47% rise in sales across their stores, sold just 15m bottles of non and low-alcohol beer last year. Small beer (ho-hum) in the scale of things. However, they are expecting a further 15% rise this year and remain so enthused about prospects in this area that they are launching no less than 11…

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Caldera Ashland Amber

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First things first. Yes, it’s a can. So? This is 2012. Can is the new bottle. Bottle is the new keg. Keg is the new cask. Get over it. Indeed, Caldera Brewing Company proudly boast that they are actually the first craft brewery in the state of Oregon to brew and can their own beer. So put that in your lightweight, 100% recyclable aluminium pipe and smoke it. It’s 350ml and is 5.6% in alcoholic strength. It poured, as the name might suggest, amber with soft carbonation and an off-white head. The aroma was pleasant and not too dissimilar from a standard American IPA. There was plenty of citrus, some pine and a little sweet malt. The actual taste followed the pattern of the aroma, but with a more restrained hop presence that you might expect. A smooth mouthfeel soon gives way to Cascade hops, but the medium citrus kick is well matched by a good dose of caramel in the finish. Easily suppable for its strength; it has a finish that just veers on the right side of dry. This isn’t really a beer…

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Brewdog There Is No Santa

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I’ve waited till an appropriate time-i.e. after Christmas, to review Brewdog’s most controversial beer to date. Now as every Marx Bros fan knows, there is no sanity clause, but Brewdog may have risked the ire of parents up and down the land with the title of this beer. Imagine your nine year old pops down the offy to stock up for his big night in with the lads and comes across this. You could be paying for their therapy for years.

So what’s the beer actually like? Well it comes in the standard Brewdog 330ml bottle and is 4.7% by alcohol. It purports to be a “spiced Stout”; whatever that is. More of a Brown Ale in colour rather than a regulation Stout, it was lively and was topped with a large tan head.

The aroma was an enticing blend of sweet ginger spices and chocolate. Very Christmasesque and comforting. The body would be considered thin for Stout, but was quite smooth on the tongue. The flavours weren’t overpowering which made for an easy going, slightly spiced session ale. Think …

How Low Can You Go?

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Global brewery giant AB InBev have announced that they are to cut the alcoholic strength of their three main brands from 5% to 4.8%. This reduction of Becks, Budweiser, and Stella Artois may mean little to the likes of you or me, but can be seen as indicative of current drink trends.

Certainly that is the official AB stance; that it is merely reacting to current UK trends and that “most drinkers won’t bat an eyelid as long as the 4.8% brews deliver on taste”. Quite possibly, but there is another explanation. According to industry sources, AB were pushing for yet another price rise-something the big retailers weren’t happy with. This left AB little choice: if its margins were to be maintained, then ABV had to be cut.

Of course, ABVs have been quietly coming down across the board for some time now. Stella itself was once 5.2%-it still is abroad-and I’m sure the estimated duty saving of £8.6m on its new lower strength version will put a smile on some AB executive’s face.

Meanwhile, at …

National Winter Ales Festival: Progress Report

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The National Winter Ales Festival is now well underway. Anyone who is anyone in the beer world, wants to be someone or just knows someone, is there, has been there or is planning to go. Unless, of course, they have something better to do.

How’s it going so far? Well the doors opened on Wednesday afternoon and with potentially around 300 cask available, there certainly seemed a lot to go at. First things first, quality-as you’d hope/expect was good. And there wasn’t a problem with finding a quaffable dark beer. Everything from the overall champion beer-Driftwoods Alfie’s Revenge, to my pick of the speciality beers-Amber’s Orange Chocolate Stout went down well.

There was more of a problem finding something light and hoppy to quench the palate. Despite being a minority at a festival like this, I was hoping to unearth a new gem or two. Sadly, the contenders didn’t really rise much above the mediocre gauge and the Imperial Blonde was distinctly amateur hour. Luckily there were the likes of…

Breakfasst Beer Tasting: De Dolle Oerbier

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I found this oddity stuffed down the sofa this morning. Was it intended as a late Sunday post-pub nightcap? Was the pleasure deferred and replaced with whisky and pizza? With the memory hazy, it’s a mystery that only Ironside could solve.

Oerbier means original and De Dolle Brouwers are based in Esen. That’s the small village of Esen in Belgium and not Essen the city in Germany. Of course, Essen is famous, amongst other things, for the heavy damage done by Allied bombing in WW11 and for the notorious murder of 3 British airmen by civilians in 1944. For which Hauptmann Heyer and Johann Braschoss were sentenced to hang. But I digress.

This 33cl bottle is 9% and is unfiltered and unpasteurised. It was very lively and poured a murky red/brown with a very large beige head. The aroma was dark fruits-cherries and plums with a slight yeast tone. The beer itself is very vinous and more of the slow, warming type than refreshing and sessionable.

Flavour wise; you’ve got what was hinted at in th…

London Review: Duchess of Cambridge

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This is on the corner of Goldhawk Road which is somewhat out of central London and is the sister pub of the Bree Louise. Now the Bree tends to divide opinion; while some people warm to its esoteric charm, others won’t enter the place without a fumigation suit. The DOC is very different to its sister pub in some ways, but similar enough in others to keep most people happy.

Split into two areas, the first thing you notice on entering here is that you aren’t in Euston anymore. Gone are the sticky carpets and basic furniture. Instead you have sofas and booths and an open fire. Very nice. The menu went untried but, in keeping with the area, the quality looked a cut above the Bree. What did go down well were the monster pork scratchings which were a talking point in themselves.

Now I’ve always found the service good in the Bree and so it proved in the DOC. The staff were friendly and helpful and proactive in asking if you wanted the CAMRA discount. Beer wise, there is a choice of 15 real al…

London Review: Tap East

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This is a newish (open 4 months, I think) bar based in the Westfield Shopping City retail outlet. Getting there is great fun. You just hop on the high speed train from Kings Cross/St Pancras and 143kph and 9km later, you’re in Stratford. Meaning that, within 10 minutes, you can go from supping in the John Betjeman to supping in Tap East. No valuable drinking time wasted.

Again it’s very contemporary and reminds one of an American brewpub. But much smaller; it doesn’t take many people to fill it. Interestingly there is no partition between the pub and the rest of the shopping centre which is slightly surreal, but fun.
Beer wise, there are six handpumps serving a mixture of their own beers and guests. Both of their own beers I tried were very good. The John Edwin Bitter was crisp and dry with a sharp bitter edge. The IPA was just what you would hope from a classic IPA and had plenty of hop bite. Quality here certainly isn’t an issue. If the cask doesn’t float your boat, then there are n…

London Review: Camden Brewdog

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This is the naughty Scottish brewer’s first venture outside of Alex Salmond land and is considered their best yet. It also might hold some clues as to the style of their forthcoming (even larger) Manchester bar. Situated on Bayham St, it makes good use of light and is a seriously contemporary affair. Funky, I think the groovy kids would call it.

Upstairs is the main bar and seating area. Downstairs there is another bar area which has, dare I say it, a Manchester vibe to it. This being London, though, it also has the de rigueur sex dungeon. Drinks wise, there is a good selection of draught and bottled beers. Although, this being the age of drink little, but strong, keg, the selection is heavily tilted towards the 5% and over. Pro: Friendly, enthusiastic staff. Funky. Con: Surprisingly wheelchair unfriendly access.

No Sale?

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Every year pub chain Wetherspoons holds its January Sale. Cleverly conceived to match the post Christmas sales period, it’s gathered some notable publicity over the years. Who can forget the furore over their 99p a pint promotion? Certainly judging by the comments on social media sites, there are significant numbers of people who can’t wait for it.

However, all is not well in Spoons sale land this month. My first clue was meeting a disgruntled early morning customer who left the staff with this parting shot: “Call this a facking sale! I’m facking off to the Peel!”* The problem, judging by web reaction, is the lack of sale items compared to previous years.

In its promotional material for the sale, Spoons have made much of the fact that they are selling drinks at 1992 prices. And indeed, you can get a pint of Ruddles or a bottle of Becks for £1.29 And Carling is £1.99.  But that’s your lot. Apart from coffee at 79p a cup. No wine or spirits offer and, in what seems to be the main rub, n…

Return of the Mat

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The time has come to talk of many things, but first let us ponder the humble beer mat. Now I’m no excitable tegestologist, hands all-a-tremble as they caress a Georges Glucose Stout specimen, but there is something to be said for them. They stand for something particularly British; like roast beef and Sid James. So their gradual decline over many years has been something of a disappointment to me.

My thoughts were brought to bear the other day-it’s strange where the mind wanders after a 10 hour bender-on the past and future prospects of these little beauts. A day’s drinking had seen scant evidence of these practical aids, aside from a scattering of what purists would dismiss as keg beer mats. And, by that, I don’t mean they advertise keg although, of course, some do.

No, the purists hanker after proper beer mats that advertise ales of some sort or gild the lily of some brewery or other. But even keg mats, unappealing as they may be aesthetically, will do in a pinch. However, pub chai…