Monthly Archives: March 2012

Nøgne Ø

If you mention the words ‘Norway’ and ‘beer’ in the same sentence, someone nearby is bound to take a sharp intake of breath and mutter darkly about how expensive it is to drink beer in that country. ‘Ten quid a pint!’ someone will add, knowingly. Well, yes, Norway is known for its high beer prices – not sure if it’s actually ten quid a pint, but there is now more to Norway and beer than the legendary high price tag.

Recently, a quiet revolution has been unfolding in the Norwegian beer industry. It is, at last, the advent of the microbrewery. Whilst micros are hugely popular and plentiful in the UK and the US, Norway at present can claim only 9. But that’s 9 more than there used to be.

Perhaps the most recognised of the Norwegian micros outside Norway is Nøgne Ø brewery in remote Grimstad, a small town in the south of Norway, 135 miles from Oslo. ‘Nøgne Ø’ is a quotation from Henrik Ibsen and means ‘naked island’, a reference to the many bleak outcroppings of rock off Norway’s southern coast. The company was founded in 2002 by two homebrewers who evidently thought they had what it takes to produce extraordinary, comercially-viable beer. The last decade has proved them right.

Their website lists nearly 30 beers that they produce and (bizarrely, it may seem) 5 different sakes (Japanese rice wines).

Fascinated by this success story, I decided to try two different Nøgne Ø bottled beers available here in the UK. The large ‘Ø’ on the labels is becoming familiar to those who seek out fine beers. Both these beers were bottle conditioned and in excellent form.

Nøgne Ø Saison

Nøgne Ø Saison – A strong saison beer. Saisons are originally from French Belgium and are traditionally rather low-alcohol beers, 3.8% or thereabouts, but Nøgne Ø Saison comes in with a fairly whopping 6.5%. It’s a pale yellow in colour, almost straw-coloured, with a massive, wacky foamy white head that is difficult to control during the pour. The bottle warns that there will be sediment in the bottom of the bottle so to pour carefully if you want the beer in the glass to remain clear and bright. Once I’d seen the clear brightness, I dumped the rest of the beer into the glass. It’s a shame to waste good beer just because it’s got a bit of sediment in it. The taste is very sweet, crisp and citrussy. It tastes a little bit like a wheat beer (and it wasn’t the cloudiness that prompted me to think this, it really does taste that way). There is a dry bitterness, especially at the end. There’s pepper in there and something else, something a bit herbal – coriander, perhaps. The taste also carries a spiciness with it that adds a touch of the exotic. This is wonderful beer. I would especially love to drink it on a hot summer afternoon looking out over some great view somewhere. I’m not fussed where I am, just give me the beer.

Nøgne Ø Porter

Nøgne Ø Porter – Here again, they’ve gone for strength over tradition. 7% is strong for a porter, you’d think they would call it a stout. This strong porter pours a deep black in colour, barely red round the edges even when held up to a bright light. The head is dense and brown. It is incredibly smooth with a velvety, creamy mouthfeel. The flavour is dominated by a sweet roasted maltiness with plum and hints of dark, bitter coffee, which slowly dries in the mouth after the swallow. There are slight spirituous overtones, but not as much as you might expect from a 7% beer. This beer is a real mouthful.

If you want to demonstrate to someone the fabulous range of flavours available from beer, you could do little better than to give them these two beers. Wildly different styles, wildly different flavours. Both hugely complex and utterly wonderful.

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Posted by on 30 March, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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The First Taste of My First Brew

Five weeks ago, I made my first ‘full-mash’ or ‘all-grain’ brew. I followed a recipe that was supposed to emulate Timothy Taylor Landlord, an award-winning pale ale (CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain 1982, 1983, 1994 and 1999). I had two good reasons for selecting this particular recipe. Firstly, the recipe was fairly simple, mostly pale malt with a little black, and easily available hops – Goldings and Styrian Goldings. The description of the brewing can be found in a previous blog. Secondly, Taylor Landlord is an excellent beer.

After fermenting for a week, the specific gravity was steady at 1.014, so I transferred the beer to a pressure barrel, primed with a little (50g) sugar. The book I was following the recipe from (Brew Your Own British Real Ale by Graham Wheeler, CAMRA Books, 2009, 3rd Edition) recommended leaving the beer to mature one week for every 0.01 of original gravity. As the OG of my brew was 1.043, I waited for four weeks, though not without the odd sneaky sip.

As the beer was supposed to emulate Taylor Landlord, I drank it side by side with a bottle of Landlord that had been kept at the same temperature as the cask.

Brew 1 to the left, Taylor Landlord to the right

Seen side by side, the Landlord was a shade or two lighter than my brew.The head of my brew was slightly whiter and consisted of slightly larger bubbles, though this could have been a result of the method of dispense.

The Landlord was smooth with a warm malty start, and a burst of hop bitterness at the end. There are slight hints of caramel and it is clean and crisp throughout.

My beer, which in a flash of creative genius I dubbed ‘Brew 1’ also starts with a warmish malty taste, and yes, it’s followed by a touch of hoppy bitterness, but nowhere near as ‘clean’ as the Landlord. I thought the hops were far more noticeable about three weeks ago, at my first crafty sip. They seem to have faded a little now, though a distinctly hoppy bitterness continues in the mouth long after the swallow. Also present in the taste are occasional hints of acetaldehyde, though this is by no means as prominent as it has been in previous kit beers that I’ve brewed.

Overall, my biggest disappointment in this beer is that it still tastes rather like homebrew. It’s a subtle flavour complex that I can’t describe, but I’m sure all homebrewers are familiar with. I don’t know what it is. I wish I did.

Having said the above, the beer is tasty and really quite drinkable. It presents well with a bright white head, which lasts well, and only a very slight protein haze. I’m drinking some as I write this.

So, winner? Loser? I’m going to withhold a judgement for now. On the pro side, I’m happy to drink it and happy to offer it to any guests who may visit Alebagger Towers and Brewery. It does taste like beer, it does have a nice malt/hop balance and it slides down quite easily. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, after all, this is my first brew, and young Timmy’s been at it for 164 years.

On the con side, it’s still a bit ‘homebrewy’.

Colour comparison

Next, I’m going for a darker, stronger brew. I’ll report back in due course.

For those interested in the technicalities, here’s the recipe I followed:

The brew is 19 litres.

3510g Pale Malt 25g Black Malt

Mashed at 66C for 90 minutes

Start of boil – 25g Golding hops, 25g Styrian goldings.

Boiled for 90 minutes.

Last 10 minutes of boil – 16g Styrian goldings plus 3g Irish Moss

Mash liquor 8.8l

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Posted by on 23 March, 2012 in Home Brewing


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A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 1

Recently, some good friends and I went on a three-day pub crawl around the city of Sheffield. They were familiar with the city and its plentiful watering holes, but this was a new experience for me. And what an eye-opener it turned out to be. In the three-day long weekend, we managed to visit twenty fine pubs, and got to taste a lot of very good beer. Now a review of twenty pubs and all the beers contained therein would be unimaginably dull, so I’m just going to concentrate on the first three we visited.


We arrived in Sheffield at lunchtime on Friday, and our first target was Henry’s, a converted cafe that sits on a prominent corner of Cambridge Street. The pub is large, open-plan and spacious, with the bar filling one side. The two walls facing onto the street are glass, giving the place a very light and airy feel. The wooden floor and unfussy decor add to the feel of spaciousness. It still feels like a cafe, in a way.

Henry’s Bar

The beer options are impressive, with eleven handpumps in operation that day. Unfortunately, we only had time for one, and I settled for an Elland Eden, a pale yellow 4.2% bitter. For a first beer of a session, this served very well. It’s light and refreshing with a sweetish start and a good hoppy follow through. The finish is long, bitter and satisfying.

The Devonshire Cat

We then moved on the area of the city dominated by student accommodation. The students here are served very well with many fine pubs in and around their lodgings, and the first one of these we visited was the Devonshire Cat on Wellington Street. Although clearly serving the student community, the ‘Dev Cat’ does not look like a student pub. It’s far too clean and tidy for that. The bar is impressive, with up to twelve handpumps in operation. We decided to stop here for our lunch. There is a good menu of honest pub food. Whilst waiting for my food to arrive, I ordered a pint of Thornbridge McConnells, a 5% vanilla stout. I found it to be smooth with a dark, malty flavour and a subtle underlying vanilla taste. It’s very nice, though I found the vanilla to be less obvious than I expected.

Inside the Devonshire Cat

The food was very good, and duly fortified, we had another round. This time I picked Thorne Pale Ale, attracted by the fact that Thorne is a relatively local brewer. The beer looks great, a very pale yellow in colour. At 4.2%, it would pass as a session beer, and I would certainly be happy to drink it all night. It is light and refreshing with a distinct caramel flavour. The finish is clean and hoppy, but not bitter.

Moving on, we next stopped at the Sheffield Waterworks, a Wetherspoon’s pub in a converted… er… waterworks. A slightly unusual layout inside, but given the familiar ‘Spoons treatment.

The Waterworks

I started here with a Grafton Lady Mary. Grafton is a relatively new brewery, having started production in 2007 in Worksop in Nottinghamshire. The Lady Mary is a 5% mid-orange coloured bitter. I have to admit that for a 5% ale, I found this rather disappointing. There simply isn’t very much flavour. It isn’t unpleasant, but just rather insipid.

My next jar was a Milestone Colonial Stout. A very dark red, Colonial weighs in at a respectable 6%. There’s a tempting caramel smell which carries through into the taste where coffee also appears. It’s very smooth and very nice.

So that’s the first three pubs on my mega-three-day pub crawl. Only seventeen more to go. Keep tuned!

Go straight to Part 2

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Posted by on 16 March, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping


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The Joy of Ticking

About eight years ago, I found myself in a pub with four or five handpumps on the bar. I recognised the names on three of them, but couldn’t remember what any was like. I jumped in and ordered a pint of one of them.

When I got back to my seat and took a swig, I instantly remembered the beer that I had just bought. It was the one that tasted of mouldy weasel piss. I remember thinking to myself that as I was getting properly into this real ale stuff, I really should start making a note of what I have had, so that I can choose the best on the bar (from my own personal point of view), and avoid the nasty stuff.

I had a Palm Pilot PDA, so I designed a little database to store my list of beers with my own tasting  notes and scores. I had inadvertently become a ticker.

Now already, I can hear groans coming from some quarters, with words like ‘nerd’, ‘geek’, ‘anorak’ and ‘trainspotter’ being muttered. Those same mutterers could probably list every goal scored by their favourite football team back to the 1920s. That’s not nerdy is it? No, that’s football. So before you start grumbling about nerdy tickers, take a quick reality-check on yourself.

The thing is, as in any pursuit (I particularly like comparing ticking to twitching) there are degrees of obsessiveness. I’m a casual ticker. If there’s a beer I am particularly keen on on the bar, I will have a pint of that. And I always know how well I like a beer if I’ve had it before, because I made a note at the time. I do not single-mindedly go for ‘new’ beers to increase my tick count.

To make the comparison with twitchers, consider this: There are casual twitchers who will enjoy watching birds and noting (maybe only mentally) which species they can identify on their country walks. Then there are more serious twitchers who keep a record of each species they encounter; they may have a garden list, a country list and a world list. They keep lists. Then there are the even more serious ones who travel the world to see more exotic species. And finally there are the ones I just don’t get. The ones who hear a message on the twitch-vine that a lesser-spotit wotsit bird has been seen in Penzance, only the second time one has ever been seen in Britain. ‘Ah!’ says the uber-twitcher in Newcastle, ‘that’s only 500 miles away. If I call in sick this morning, I could be in Penzance by teatime!’

The same sort of gradation occurs in ticking. Me – I tick as I go along, not forsaking known great beers for unknown ones, but enjoying trying many different beers, and definitely not sticking to one or two beers only, as some people do. A level of obsessiveness up from me sees those who will not drink a known beer (even if they love it) if there’s an unknown one on the bar. And finally, there’s the guy who sees that a new beer is on at a beer festival 500 miles away, and will go to the festival for that one beer, or more specifically, that one tick. Because this is the point. This is where the line is crossed; when it stops being about the beer, and becomes about the list.

A friend of mine frequently says, ‘The trouble with ticking is that you have to drink a whole load of rubbish beer,’ and to an extent he’s right, but my response to him is that I’m not tasting these beers for the sake of a list, I’m searching for the next really great beer. How can you possibly find exciting and wonderful new beers if you won’t try the new beer on the bar?

My personal beer list now has well over 2,000 beers on it. I can’t possibly remember them all, so to have the list in a handy portable format (now on an iPhone) guarantees that I won’t drink a nasty one if I’ve had it before. If there’s something on the bar that scores 9/10 or over on my list, then that’s what I’ll drink in preference to anything else. Over 8/10 and I know that I could happily drink this beer all night.

So next time you see someone checking out a handheld device whilst standing at the bar, remember that he may not be a geeky nerdy anorak after all, he might just be attempting to give himself the best possible drinking experience in that place and at that time. And if he is obsessively list building, what does it matter? That’s his problem, not yours.


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Posted by on 9 March, 2012 in Cask Ale, Scooping


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Quantum Brewery, Stockport

On my Christmas pub crawl round Manchester last year, I visited the excellent Port Street Beer House. Whilst there, I sampled an Imperial Russian Stout (with cranberries) from a brewery I had not heard of before – Quantum.

I posted my review of the Port Street Beer House and the beers I drank there – including the Quantum Impy (I loved it, but couldn’t taste the cranberries) – here on my blog. Shortly afterwards, I received a tweet from Jay Krause, owner and head brewer of Quantum brewery promising to add more cranberries next time he brewed it. During the following few days, we passed messages back and forth and Jay revealed that the recipe for the impy was one that he had adapted from a homebrew recipe. Growing more curious by the minute, I arranged to meet Jay in the brewery the following week.

Inconspicuous – apart from the smell

The Quantum Brewery is located in a single unit of a very small industrial estate in Stockport. There are no big ‘Welcome to Quantum Brewery’ signs, but as I climbed out of my car in the tiny courtyard, my nose told me I was in the right place. The alluring aroma of mashing malt led me straight to the right door.

I had arrived at the end of the mash, and the grains were being sparged. Although normally a solo brewer, today Jay had an assistant, a young lad employed by a local pub and being trained in the art of brewing.

Jay and I sat down with a cup of coffee – from a cafetière, no less, and let the obviously more than capable young chap get on with it. Jay is late-twenties, long-haired and gentle voiced, and he told me about how he bought Dukinfield’s Shaw’s Brewery when it came up for sale. It was run down, and little more than a hobby brewery by the time. Unfortunately the premises did not come as part of the deal, and he had to search around to find suitable premises to set up his new brewery. He got the keys to his current premises on the 1st April, 2011. The brewery’s key words are ‘local’ and ‘quality’. Everything is sourced as locally as possible, and to as high a quality as possible.

Quantum produces three regular beers – Bitter (3.8%), Stout (4.8%) and American Amber Ale (5.3%), plus a number of one-off beers, seasonal specials and a couple of series beers – Fleur series (using different flowers in each brew) and a single-hop IPA series which so far has included Motueka hops (New Zealand), Super Alpha hops (New Zealand), Nelson Sauvin hops (New Zealand), Willamette hops (United States), Summit hops (United States) and Aramis hops (France).

As you can probably tell, Jay is an experimenter. He’s been home brewing for eight years, and clearly has a talent for coming up with exciting and great tasting beer. His enthusiasm for brewing is infectious. ‘Look here,’ he says at one point. We squeeze between the brewery’s two fermenters and he points out a bucket of homebrew tucked in behind them.

‘Try this,’ he says, pouring a little beer out of another homebrew barrel. The beer was not fully ready for presentation, it was pretty cloudy, but the taste was incredible. Rich, thick, exceptionally smooth malt flavours present at the start, and just as you’re thinking ‘Oh, that’s nice!’ the hops leap out of nowhere and smack you in the taste buds. Quite sensational. He looks ruefully at the beer. ‘I can’t afford to make that one commercially – the hops are far too expensive, and as it runs to about 8.5%, the duty would be crippling.’

Quantum currently runs a 5 barrel plant, supplying 50 or 60 outlets, and sells everything that it produces. He’s running at full capacity and needs to expand. Demand is understandably high for the amazing beers produced by this tiny little start-up brewery.

As I take my leave, Jay presents me with an unlabelled bottle. ‘It’s SK1,’ he says. This is Quantum’s 7.4% barley wine. The labels for the bottles are still at the (local) printers.

I drank the SK1 (Stockport’s premier postcode) a couple of weeks later. It’s a deep ruby red in colour and has a rich fruity smell. The fruit carries through into the taste, but with an added bitterness. As the wonderful mouthful of fruit fades, it is replaced by hops, leading to a long, bitter finish. Absolutely cracking stuff, and I for one will be heading to the Stockport beer festival in June, where a barrel of SK1 will be available.

Quantum SK1 Barley wine

As I’m leaving, I mention to Jay that he just seems like a home brewer with bigger buckets than most of us. He nods, ‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘it’s really a hobby that just got out of control’.

So, if you spot an interesting beer on the bar, and see that it’s from Quantum Brewery, take a tip from me – buy with confidence!

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