Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mmm… Chocolate Beer

Chocolate and beer; two of my favourite things. What better than to put them together into a single glass of scrumptiousness? Chocolate beers, for me at least, provide some of the most blissful moments of beer drinking, but it doesn’t always work…

There is some debate in the beer world about the legitimacy of flavoured beers. I’m not sure where this comes from, but it may have something to do with the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law that was first proposed in 1487, and actually made law in 1516. This originally stated that only water, barley and hops could be used to make beer, though this was later relaxed to allow sugar, wheat and yeast. This of course was never law outside Germany, and beers made from a multitude of ingredients have always been available elsewhere.

Personally, I see no reason why ingredients cannot be added to beer in order to add flavour – fruit is the obvious one, so I have no objection to the adding of chocolate to beer.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

The first chocolate beer I’m going to review is Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I first started drinking this 5.2% ABV beer back in the 1990s, but I don’t know how long it was brewed before that. Let’s just say it’s an old favourite. It pours black, with a good thick brown head. The smell is immediately chocolate, rich and smooth. The mouthfeel is smooth and silky. Dark roasted malt hits the palate first with smooth dark chocolate sneaking in underneath. There’s a pleasant zingy finish with the chocolate flavour growing after the swallow.

Saltaire Triple Chocaholic

Saltaire Triple Chocaholic is another stout, lighter at 4.8% ABV. Again, the colour is black. ‘Triple’ in the beer’s name refers to the three chocolate flavourings added to the brew – chocolate essence, chocolate syrup and cocoa. The first thing to note about this beer is its huge chocolate smell. The smell rises out of the glass whilst being poured. The taste is initially hoppy and slightly bitter. There is then an enormous rush of strong, rich, dark chocolate flavour, which fades to a satisfying dark bitter finish. This beer is dark, bitter and absolutely wonderful.

Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout with Morrison’s labelling

Titanic’s entry into the chocolate stakes comes in the form of Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, which is currently available in bottles labelled for Morrison’s supermarket. The Titanic brew is slightly lighter than the Saltaire at 4.5%. Again it pours black with a brown head, but here the head collapses swiftly. The smell is an exquisite sweet chocolate – fabulous! Very very smooth and creamy. The taste is dry and malty with a superb overlying sweet chocolate taste. Right at the end of the taste there is an excellent hoppy bitter twist. It’s hard to put into words how much I like this beer. I’ve also had it from the cask in Titanic’s part-owned pub the White Star in Stoke-on-Trent. It is simply magic.

Robinson’s Chocolate Tom

Stockport-based brewer Robinson’s have also entered the chocolate stakes with a flavoured version of their famous Old Tom strong ale. Chocolate Tom, like its parent brew, is 6%. It is a deep reddish-orange in colour and forms a close-packed head which is stable and can form itself into weird-shaped sculptures. This beer is velvety smooth in the mouth. The dominant flavours are chocolate and vanilla. The parent beer can be tasted throughout, making a nice fruity contrast to the chocolate and vanilla. The ending is complex with slight spirituous overtones familiar from Old Tom, a smooth bitterness and hints of a rich fruitiness. Beautiful.

Floris Chocolat

Finally, I come to Floris Chocolat. Unfortunately, this is where it all goes wrong for me. The Floris range of beers (all the Floris range are flavoured) is brewed by the Huyghe Brewery in Belgium. This brewery produces a vast amount of beer, including Delirium Tremens and the Mongozo range – flavoured more exotically than the Floris range. Maybe it’s the huge output, maybe it’s the desire to produce a range with many flavours, I don’t know, but somewhere this just doesn’t succeed. Basically, I think, they brew a fairly ordinary beer and then add the flavourings required, be it honey, cherry, mango, chocolate or whatever. Floris Chocolat tastes like an ordinary beer with buckets of sweet chocolate syrup thrown in. It tastes like it’s been fairly haphazardly thrown together, and the result is just unpleasant. It’s oversweet and a bit sickly. I know there will be people (maybe many people) who will disagree with me on this one, but for me – it’s a no, I’m afraid.

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Posted by on 27 January, 2012 in Beer Styles, Bottled Beer


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Christmas Leftovers

My beer cellar is still full of bottles that I bought optimistically before Christmas, imagining that the festive period would be far more fun than it actually was. So I’m now in a drinking-up phase. Here are four of them :-

Shepherd Neame Tins’ Ale certainly wins the prize for the most random use of an apostrophe. Shepherd Neame regularly produce seasonals (Spooks and Warlock’s Broth for Hallowe’en, Up and Under Ale for the rugby last year) . I’m a bit ambivalent about them. Spooks was good, but Warlock’s Broth and Up and Under failed to impress. To be honest, I wasn’t really holding my breath for the 4.0% Tins’ Ale, but it was by no means as ordinary as I had feared it might be. It pours reddish-orange with a thinnish head of medium-sized bubbles. The smell had hops, but was also slightly plasticky. When I was a little lad, I had an Action Man, and the smell of this beer brought the smell of that old toy to mind – plastic, you see. The taste is hoppy and bitter, but only gently so. There is a pleasant malty undertaste. The taste was nice on the burp. Not an outstanding ale,  but a pleasant enough experience.

Next up was Wold Top Shepherd’s Watch, coming in at a respectable 6.0%, this ale is described on the bottle as a ‘Natural Winter Warmer’. It’s a nice dark red colour with a nice lightly brown head. The taste is dark, too. Strongly malty with a hop bitterness that was really quite heavy. The finish is long-lasting and bitter.

I finished off with a couple of bottles from Ridgeway. Bought at the same time as the Wicked Elves, these were clearly marked up for export to the US.

The inelegantly named Santa’s Butt is a 5.0% porter (described as a ‘Winter porter’, whatever that is). The blurb on the label makes light of the fact that a ‘butt’ in English is a large barrel whilst in American English it apparently means ‘bottom’. What larks! The beer is a very dark red with a lovely brown head of tightly compressed bubbles. It is smooth and slightly creamy. The flavour is of roasted dark malt and whilst it isn’t sweet, it just stays shy of being bitter. I would have preferred a little more bitterness here, and overall, I found it slightly low on flavour.

My final Ridgeway leftover was Warm Welcome, described on the bottle as a ‘Nut Browned Ale’. Again, I’m not quite sure what that means. It’s a reddy-brown in colour with a good head. The flavour is strong – perhaps not surprising as this beer has a 6% ABV. It predominantly tastes nutty, but sharp-edged, somehow. There is also plenty of hops in here and hints of autumn berries. And yes, it does actually have the taste of a traditional brown ale. Nuts and brown. Got it.

Beer drunk. Christmas over.

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Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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The Port Street Beer House, Manchester

It would be little exaggeration to say that the Port Street Beer House is a hidden gem. On the edge of Manchester’s slightly worn-out Northern Quarter, Port Street is 200 yards or so long. Not the wealthiest or poshest end of town at the best of times, on the wet and chilly day that I tramped the run-down streets of Northern Manchester it was positively grey and dismal. I knew it was here somewhere. I had read reviews about it. The reviewers raved, said it was one of the best bars not just in Manchester, but in the country. It had to be here. I tramped down to the end of the street, where it meets Great Ancoats Street. It wasn’t there. I splashed back the way I had come. There’s only one lit window on the street, but that can’t be it… Hang on… discreet lettering above a window reads ‘Port Street Beer House’. Knew it had to be here. I walked in and turned right into the main bar. Cool.

Port Street Beer House

This is one of those places that in the 1980s would have been described as ‘bijou’.. The main bar is downstairs but there is further seating upstairs, but you have to come down for your beer. The furnishings are minimalist, but comfortable. The room is small, and the amount of space available is reduced even further by large square columns holding the ceiling up. The floor is wooden and polished to within an inch of its life – no rough floorboards here. The rafters are boxed in, plastered and decorated with pumpclips. Despite this not being a new building, the interior decor suggests brand new and shiny, a deliberate statement. I approached the bar, which sported seven traditional handpumps and a couple of modern keg dispensers. Not being much of a keg man (but see below), I didn’t pay huge attention to what was on offer from them, but did note that there were several foreign beers with which I was unfamiliar.

Behind the bar was a young man with a full beard, not a common sight these days. He smiled at my bedraggled, slightly soggy appearance.

‘I’ve had a bit of a job finding you,’ I said.

‘A lot of people say that,’ he replied.

‘Have you ever considered making your sign a little larger?’ I wondered.

‘No,’ he said, ‘We like it like that.’

I knew what he meant. They like their customers to be people who actually want to be there, less so the passing trade. A little search does no harm.

I ordered a Little Valley Stoodly Stout, a new one on me. It’s black in colour and has an ABV of 4.8%. The initial taste is strangely of sweaty socks, but thankfully this settles down quite quickly. It’s rich and smooth with slightly smoky citrus notes. Roasted malt predominates, with something else, which I couldn’t quite place, but I think may have been the wheat that is also present in this beer. There’s also a distinct hop bite that makes a nice foil for the tastebuds.

For a complete contrast, I next opted for a Redwillow Endless, a 3.8% IPA. I’ve been very impressed with the Redwillow beers I have tasted so far. It’s a new brewery, only opened in 2010 and is producing some really excellent beers. I may well dedicate a blog to this brewery in the near future. The beer is a bright, pale yellow, the brightness evident even in the subdued lighting conditions in the PSBH. The taste, too, is bright – cheerful almost. Lots of grapefruit pith in here with lovely swirling hops. A tad low in alcohol for a true IPA but nevertheless excellent.

The barman had told me that beer could be served in thirds, halves, two-thirds or full pints. Very modern, but useful, especially for the more top-end alcoholic brews. My next choice was Quantum Imperial Stout with Cranberry, which I ordered in a third-pint glass. Weighing in at a hefty 8.6%, this beer clearly deserved some respect, as does a beer house that is prepared to serve it. Quantum is an even newer brewer than Redwillow, having started brewing in Stockport (just south of Manchester) in the Summer of 2011. This Imp is superb, beautifully rounded and bitter. The dark, roasted taste is capped by a mist of alcoholic vapour, tickling the back of the nose as well as the roof of the mouth. A lovely beer, though I struggled to find cranberries in there.

Quantum Imperial Stout

Intrigued by the fancy keg dispensers, I was encouraged to try something from them. I chose to go for Stone Levitation, a 4.4% IPA from across the pond, where they do things differently. This beer is no exception. At 4.4%, it isn’t really strong enough to be classed as an IPA. Nor even is it pale, being a deep, rich red colour. Putting labelling aside, this beer has a wonderfully complex taste. Behind the massive hops I could also detect coffee and something a bit dry, that made itself known especially at the end. It’s a fine beer, despite it being keg. Yes! KEG!

Stone Levitation

I found the Port Street Beer House to be almost instantly comfortable. I knew that this was my sort of place almost the moment I settled into the little settee in the back corner. It is cool, subdued, mild-mannered. Not hip and trendy in some crass way, but truly a place for those in the know who want an eclectic choice of beers and the chance to drink them in a slightly better class of establishment. Simply wonderful.

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Posted by on 13 January, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs


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Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout

In a previous blog (An Imp is Born), I described the early stages of the production of a home-brewed Imperial Russian Stout, and I mentioned that I had a bottle of a previous version of this beer, Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout, which I was saving until Christmas. On Boxing Day, I finally opened it. It had been maturing for over two years and the bottle opened with a pleasing hiss. The beer poured black and smooth with a light brown head of tightly packed bubbles.

Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout

The aroma was rich dark chocolate, which followed through into the taste. Strong spirituous overtones were felt right from the start. The taste was very dark and bitter, with notes of alcoholic fruit and a hint of spice. Very warming with a real alcoholic punch. It’s fantastic. There is simply no way that this tastes like a home-brewed beer.

I wondered how strong it was, so I left a tiny drop of it to go flat overnight and dribbled it into a small vinometer which I use to get approximate ABV readings. Now it’s not a scientific instrument, and the values it gives can only be treated as approximate, but the level settled at around 11%.

I will be starting brewing my own beer in a couple of weeks, and I think I’ve just seen what I am ultimately aiming at.

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Posted by on 11 January, 2012 in Bottled Beer, Home Brewing


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Marble Brewery and the Marble Arch Inn, Manchester

Five minutes walk up Rochdale Road out of the centre of Manchester will bring you to a wonderful looking marbled Victorian street corner pub with an impressive columned entrance. Although the houses that defined the street corner have now long gone, along with the pub’s original clientele – the occupiers of those houses – the Marble Arch now casts a wider net, gaining appreciative customers from far and wide.

The Marble Arch Inn

Walking through the impressive columns, you enter a superb, high vaulted room, lined with glazed brick, topped with a frieze of glazed tile describing the drinks on offer. This is a spectacular piece of surviving Victoriana. The roof is also of yellow glazed bricks, gently vaulted. The floor quickly grabs your attention. It has been laid level with the side street outside, which as you can see from the picture above, is on a slope, so if you have any difficulty finding the bar, don’t worry – gravity will help. The bar fills a corner opposite the door at the far end (i.e. the bottom) of the room.

The Marble Arch is, of course, home of the Marble brewery, which opened here in 1997, though the actual brewing now takes place in Marble’s new, larger brewery a couple of streets away. Marble brewery has an emphasis on the natural, brewing organic and vegan beers as part of its mainstay.

On my visit there between Christmas and the New Year, seven of Marble’s brews were available – Bitter, Chocolate Marble, Stout, Ginger Marble, Dobber, Lagonda and Utility IPA.

I started with a Chocolate Marble. This is a wonderful, warming beer, black in colour with a comforting 5.5% of alcohol. It has a dark, coffeish flavour with a smooth chocolate undertaste plus a generous dash of smoke. A perfect start to the session.

Marble Bitter is a pale yellow, 4.2% beer. The ABV is typical of best bitters and the colour is more in tune with a modern golden ale, highlighting the difficulty with pigeonholing beers these day, a state of affairs that you may regret or rejoice in. When does a golden become a bitter? A bitter a best? A mild a porter? A porter a stout? Marble Bitter not only looks like a golden ale, it tastes like one, too. There’s a distinctly hoppy smell, and the taste contains a lot of light, upfront hops. It’s very drinkable and goes down very easily.

Dobber is a stronger ale, one of those that defies pigeonholing. It’s quite strong at 5.9% and has a very pale orange colour. The taste starts with tart grapefruit and leads to a bitter middle and finish. The aftertaste is long and bitter. If you like your beers strong flavoured and bitter, then this is for you.

Stout is clearly within the traditional classification. It’s 4.7% and an impenetrable black in colour. Smooth and malty with tantalising bitter notes, this warming beer has a long finish, which introduces a growing smokiness. Superb.

Finally for this session, I tried the 6.5% Utility IPA. Mid yellow with a thick creamy head, Utility has an unusual peach or nectarine aroma, which invites further investigation. This beer is astonishingly smooth, the dominant flavours being citrus pith and hops. The flavour is very rounded and ends with a good bitter finish. Be warned – this strong ale goes down somewhat too easily, belying its high ABV!

To conclude then, the Marble Brewery and the Marble Arch Inn make a terrific combination. Wonderful ale served in wonderful surroundings. If you’re sampling the inns of Manchester, this one should be high on your list of must-visits.

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Posted by on 6 January, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs


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