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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt – the Winners

A recent blog (here) describes how I had the pleasure of taking part in the judging of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Competition, the results of which would determine which beers were to be stocked by Sainsbury’s over the coming year.

The winners have now been announced. As I took part in the North of England Beer Hunt, and I can comment on the results, I’ll show those first.

North of England Beer Hunt Winners

Bateman’s Mocha – no surprise there, I absolutely loved this beer.

JW Lees Manchester Star Ale – big surprise here, I really didn’t like this one. Strong at 7.3%, I found it thick and overly sweet.

Wold Top Scarborough Fair IPA – I didn’t get to taste this one so I can’t comment.

Beartown Wojtek – I didn’t judge this one, but did get a taste of it afterwards in the ‘Meet the Brewer’ room. I only had a small taste, but it was very good. A worthy winner.

The results from the rest of the country were as follows:

Midlands Beer Hunt Winners

Castle Rock Screech Owl

Elgood Indian Summer

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons

Ridgeway Ivanhoe

Scotland Beer Hunt Winners

Traditional Scottish Ales Double Espresso Premio Caffe Birra

Williams Bros. Prodigal Sun

Cairngorm White Lady

Harviestoun Wild Hop Gold

South West Beer Hunt Winners

Wadworth Horizon

Yeovil Posh IPA

Cotleigh Snowy

Brains Willy Nilly

South East Beer Hunt Winners

Wolf Atom Splitter

Wolf Poppy Ale

Ridgeway Bad Elf – reviewed here

Nethergate Lemon Head

Congratulations to all the winners. All these beers will be available in Sainsbury’s stores from 12th September. I for one will be trying to get a bottle of each one!

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Posted by on 24 June, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Garlic?… Beer?

I had a phone call the other day from my mate. He was in a farm shop and was looking at the bottled beers they had for sale. ‘They’ve got one here,’ he said, ‘Garlic Beer.’ Garlic Beer? Garlic?… Beer? I suddenly understood how Peter Kay’s character felt when he first encountered garlic bread. ‘It’s got to be done, hasn’t it?’ my mate asked. ‘Definitely,’ I agreed.

Hmm…

And so it came to pass that on an evening not too long after the aforementioned telephone call, we sat down to sample the Garlic Beer. It’s brewed by Yates’ Brewery on the Isle of Wight (not to be confused with Yates Brewery in Cumbria). The beer is bottle conditioned and pours slightly cloudy. The ABV is 4.1% and if I remember rightly, it was orange in colour, but none of that really matters.

‘Before I pour it out, just have a sniff,’ he says to me, handing over a pint pot with a small puddle in the bottom of it. I have a sniff. WHA…? JEEEEEEEZ….! URGH! PHEEEUW! The smell stabbed up my nostrils like flaming lances, singeing the nose hairs on its way in. Take the smell of garlic and concentrate it 1000 times. That gives a hint of what this smells like. It’s a physical sensation.

I didn’t want to, but I felt that I had to. I took a tiny sip. Now I like garlic, I really do. Love it. But pure concentrated garlic juice? No. Seriously, if I had drunk any more of this it would have made me ill. There is no hint of beer about this at all. It’s pure garlic. It is indescribably foul.

Yoiks!

As the contents of the bottle went down the sink, a huge clove of garlic, which had been sitting at the bottom of the bottle like an evil, toxic slug, got stuck in the neck, and it took some digging to get it out.

Garlic Beer. I’ve tasted it. It’s not the future.

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Posted by on 20 June, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Bir e Fud, Rome

My recent sojourn in Rome has already been mentioned in two previous blogs. One about bottled beers bought in a local  Spar shop and one about the fabulous Ma Che Siete Venuti. In my short trip, another couple of places stood out for me as beer drinking venues. The first is a pub/restaurant literally on the opposite side of the tiny Via Benedetta from Ma Che Siete Venuti. This is Bir e Fud.

Bir & Fud

Bir e Fud is famous for its pizzas and, of course, its beer. Located in a bit of a corner, Bir e Fud has annexed a small part of the street as an outside drinking area. Slightly chill as it was at the time of our visit, we proceeded inside.

Bir & Fud bar

The bar has a long copper pipe all along it, punctuated with taps. This unusual piece of bar furniture is placed at just the right height that you have to duck down under it or stand on tippy toes to order your drinks over it. That doesn’t matter, because the beer is fantastic. Bir & Fud prides itself in serving a wide range of Italian artisanal beer, and the large beer menu on the wall testifies to this.

Lady A and I found a table at the back of the dining room and ordered food. The menu is in Italian and has no English translations, so what you get is anybody’s guess if your Italian is as bad as mine. Anyway, when it turned up, it was beautifully prepared and very tasty. Whatever it was. Lady A asked for a fruit juice, but was told, politely, that if she didn’t want beer, she could have water. Those are the only choices.

My first beer from the extensive menu was Borgo Ketoreporter, a wonderfully black 5.2% porter. It is beautifully rich and creamy in the mouth. The flavours are predominantly of dark fruits and liquorice with a clever and distinct overlay of hoppy bitterness. A lovely porter, and bang on what I would expect a good porter to taste like.

Next was another Borgo ale, Hoppy Cat, a 5.8% Black IPA. It’s not quite black, but is a very dark red. It pours with a clean white head. The smell is strongly hoppy with just the right amount of citrus to balance it out. The dominant themes of the smell carry through into the taste, and I was reminded very strongly of Toccalmatto B Space Invader, another artisanal Italian Black IPA that I had tasted over the road in Ma Che Siete Venuti just a couple of nights before. Hops are strong and dominant throughout, with a hint of liquorice at the end.

Feeling confident in the beer menu now, I ordered a Ducato Golden Ale. At 4.5%, this was lighter in every sense of the word than the last two drinks. Sadly, I felt a little let down by this beer. It wasn’t bad, but not up to the standard set by the first two. Golden Ale has a bright white head and is yellow and cloudy. The taste was somewhat ashy. Overall rather thin with not much to it.

I determined to give the Ducato brewery another chance, so next I opted for a Ducato Verdi, and 8.3% Imperial Stout. This beer truly is black, with a dark brown head. From the first sip, Ducato redeemed themselves. I am a great fan of Imperial Stouts, or imps, and this is a proper imp. Dark roasty malt flavours mingle with bitter black coffee and a slightly spirituous overtaste, reminding you of its significant ABV. Verdi is beautiful but very bitter. Superb.

Ducato Verdi

Unfortunately, I was only able to make one trip to Bir e Fud during this trip. Like Ma Che Siete Venuti across the road, it’s a popular haunt with Romans, and once again we were the only non-Italians in the place. The staff, of mostly young people, were friendly and helpful. Certainly the young man who served us was quite proficient in English, and knew a lot about the beers he was serving. It’s odd that probably the two best places for drinking artisanal beer in Rome are within a few yards of each other, but you can easily visit both in an evening. It has to be said though, that both these places deserve more than a flying visit. My next trip to Rome will certainly have good amounts of time allotted to these pubs. Next time, though, I’m going to have learned a little Italian, so I know what I’m ordering.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 15 June, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 4

When we left off last time, I was crawling back to my hotel for our second night in Sheffield. The following morning, we started off, not too early, with breakfast at the Benjamin Huntsman, a city centre Wetherspoons. From there we made our way, in a genteel manner, to the Sheffield Tap, one of Sheffield’s best known pubs.

The Sheffield Tap

Only recently restored, this building was originally the refreshment room on Sheffield Midland Station’s platform 1b. It had been disgracefully neglected by British Rail and was in a state of partial collapse when renovations began in 2008. Today it is a beacon of hope, demonstrating just what can be done with determination and hard work. In a word, the place is beautiful. In the bar room (right onto the station platform) is a superb long wooden bar topped with a very impressive array of taps.

Sheffield Tap bar

There are plenty of Thornbridge beers available at the tap, and I started with Thornbridge Frank as Apollo, a 4.6% bitter. Frank as Apollo was the winner of the Thornbridge Great British Home Brew Challenge, and was brewed by Paul Carruthers. It’s a nice brew, bitter and hoppy, refreshing and easily drinkable. Hops are very evident at the finish and are quite sharp.

I followed up with another Thornbridge brew, Black Harry, a 3.9% mild. Malt is the major taste sensation in this beer, though not strongly so. Not unpleasant.

Spotting a Magic Rock brew, Dark Arts, I couldn’t resist. Magic Rock is currently making waves in the beer world, and the opportunity to try one of their beers cannot be missed. Dark Arts is described as a ‘surreal stout’ and weighs in at a respectable 6.0%. The taste is very dark, bitter and malty. There’s also a touch of smoke deep down in the flavour. The finish adds a pleasant dash of coffee. There’s a good hop character throughout. Very good.

Another Thornbridge beer on the bar was Versa, a 5.0% keg wheat beer. Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m not overfond of this style, but I do keep trying. What can I say about Versa? It’s wheat beery. There is, however, a distinct sherbet taste in there too. Well, I tried.

Finally, I spotted a Redwillow brew (one of my top new breweries). Faithless XI is a 7.4% Strong Ale, dark red in colour. There are bags full of flavour in here. The smell is very fruity and this carries on into the taste along with vanilla and toffee and plenty of bitter hops. A massive mouthful of complex flavours.

The Harlequin in its industrial context

We considered that we had dawdled long enough in the Sheffield Tap (it’s easy to do), so we set off again, this time to The Harlequin, quite a hike from the Tap. The Harlequin is a lovely, comfortable Victorian street corner pub with up to 14 real ales on the bar at a time. It also serves very good food and we settled in here for our lunch. The Brew Company, a nearby brewer, provides a monthly special exclusively for the Harlequin.

The bar in the Harlequin

I had three beers here, with mixed results. Firstly, I went for an Ascot Penguin Porter, 4.5% and quite black. The taste is dark with a good deal of bitterness – malty bitterness, not hoppy. There’s also a hint of smoke. Lady Alebagger tasted chocolate biscuits in the flavour, but I couldn’t find them.

Secondly, I plumped for a Black Iris Great Eastern Transatlantic Porter. 4.6% and quite black, I reckon it was made from Atlantic water. Salty, salty, salty! Eew!

Finally, I had to try one of the Brew Company’s brews – Atomic, a 4% golden ale. An attractive bright yellow colour with a distinctly orange smell, the taste is pithy and hoppy. Cleaned my mouth out nicely. Refreshing and bitter.

Kelham Island Brewery

Lunch finished, we strode purposefully out into the cold Sheffield air, crossing the stinky River Don and on towards the area of Sheffield called Kelham Island. We couldn’t resist stopping in at the Kelham Island Brewery Shop, where I bought a nifty Fat Cat tee-shirt. Handy, as that was our next destination.

The Fat Cat

The Fat Cat opened as a real ale pub in 1981 and really kick started the real ale scene in Sheffield. 11 real ale pumps were on the bar at the time of our visit. The main bar area is small and somewhat cramped, but there is another, spacier room next door. Our itinerary didn’t leave us much time here, so I just had two beers.

The Fat Cat bar

My first was the excellent Newsome Trial Porter, 4.9% and very black. Very smooth, dark roasted malt flavour with hints of bitterish smoke towards the end. A fine porter.

My second choice disappointed. From the Kelham Island brewery, which we passed on our walk here, I had their Best, a 3.8% bitter. Frankly, it’s not terribly nice, but I don’t condemn a beer on a single tasting. I’ll have to try it again some time.

Kelham Island Tavern

Our next choice of pub was obvious, twice CAMRA champion pub of Britain, the Kelham Island Tavern was just a stone’s throw away. The Kelham Island Tavern sits in a rather sterile area of town, little around it and facing a large car park. Inside, it is pleasant, with tiled floors and a carved wooden bar, on which were eight handpumps, though not all in use when I was there. At the back is a small but attractive beer garden, where we sat to drink our beer. It’s sheltered, and despite it being only the 3rd March, it was warm enough to sit out, with coats on. There was only time for two here, but it seems I chose well. Derby Penny’s Porter is a very dark red, 4.7% porter which is smooth and sweet and extremely drinkable.

Kelham Island Tavern bar

Castle Rock Urban Fox is a seasonal ruby ale at 4.5%. It is smooth and has a lovely caramel taste. It’s quite sweetish.

The afternoon was drawing to a close, so we left the Kelham Island Tavern behind as we continued our exploration of the pubs of Sheffield. Thanks for sticking with me, more to follow…

To continue with the pub crawl, click here.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 8 June, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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The Best Little Pub in Rome, Probably

Rome is not a hugely pubby town. There are pubs, mostly of the type that serve both types of beer – Moretti and Peroni, but hidden away in quiet corners there are also a few that are real oases for the discerning beer drinker.

And so it was that on my first night in Rome, I followed my nose down the Via di Torre Argentina, the Via Arenula, and zigzagging a bit to cross the Tiber at the Ponte Sisto. Over the river and you’re into the cobbled mediaeval streets of the Trastavere, a bit of a nightlife centre. On reaching the Via Benedetta I spotted my target. It looks like nothing from outside, a door through a scruffy, graffitti-laden wall.

The sign over the door reads ‘Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’, a curious phrase that defies sensible translation. The words literally mean ‘but that makes you come to’, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ve seen it translated into ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ but that can’t be right. I am informed by one of my contacts (thank you) that the phrase is a chant used by supporters of Lazio. The pub’s other name is the Football Pub, so this makes some sort of sense. Beneath the main sign is another, which I fully understand – ‘Domus Birrae’, house of beer.

What was it about this little, two-roomed pub three-quarters of a mile away from my apartment that drew me, tired and weary as I was, through the dark, rainy streets of an unfamiliar city? Well, it’s probably the best pub in Rome. The bar room opens directly onto the street, so much so that bar stools spill out onto the road. The whole interior is wood-panelled, and the walls are covered with the sort of eclectic ephemera that line the walls of pubs all over the world. There’s a football shirt signed by the team members of Sheffield United, and four football scarves, a number of framed awards and a large beer menu.

The bar area has seating for maybe a dozen people, and through a door opposite the main entrance is another room with seating for perhaps a dozen more. On a busy night, this place can be very cheek-by-jowl.

The back room

On the bar are thirteen uniform beer pumps dispensing artisanal beer from all over Europe. You can only drink beer here, there are no other options. I stood at the bar and surveyed the pumps. I didn’t know any of the beers. Excellent! The pub has two storage rooms, one at 12°C and the other at 6°C, so you can be sure of getting your beer at the right temperature.

The barman walked over to me and addressed me in English (how did he know?). ‘Hello, how are you?’ he asked. I replied that I was well, and had travelled a very long way to sample his beer. His face broke into a broad grin and he offered his hand ‘Hi,’ he said, ‘I’m Fabio.’

It’s quite something to see the barstaff here pour beer. You are warned that it may take several minutes to get your beer. They are careful not to overfill the glass with foam, and have special little scrapers to scrape foam from the top of the glass. Beer is served in two sizes, 200ml and 400ml. The 400ml glass they call a pint, though a pint is actually 568ml, so beware. 400ml generally costs 5 or 6 euros, so it’s not cheap.

Gaenstaller Affumicator

My first beer was an Italian Black IPA, Toccalmatto B Space Invader at 6.3%. There’s a very strong hop smell. The taste is massive hops with underlying black treacle and some smoke. There is also bitter espresso coffee. This is a massive mouthful and a great start to my Roman beer drinking experience.

Along with the B Space Invader, I ordered a Rurale Seta, a 5.0% Italian wheat beer. There’s a slightly unpleasant urinal-type smell to this one. Not too terrible, and the taste is better. The start has frankfurters, the middle citrus and a growing spiciness towards the end. It’s complex and warming, and well worth getting over the initial smell.

Next I had a beer which was brewed as a collaborative effort of the Toccalmatto and Extraomnes breweries. Called Tainted Love, it’s a 4.7% dark saison. Really dark, it’s quite black. The taste is also very dark. This is a really unusual beer. There are definitely malt and hops, but there is also a certain sourness that somehow contrives to be almost sweet. There is also smoke in the smell, but not so much in the taste. A fascinating beer.

Reinaert Grand Cru and Rurale Seta

I visited Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa three times during my eight days in Rome. Other beers drunk there were:

Brewfist Fear, a 5.2% milk stout, also from Italy. I found it to be smooth and sweet. Very drinkable and remarkably light tasting for a 5.2% beer. There actually is a milky flavour to it, which I presume comes from lactose.

Another Italian, Elav Belfast Blues, a 4.1% bitter. It’s dark orange in colour and is nice and smooth with an upfront orangey flavour. Bitter, but not too much so. Back home this would make a nice session ale.

Gaenstaller Affumicator, a 9.0% rauchbier from Germany. OK, this was pretty horrible. Smoked beers are all right if there’s something else besides smoke. In this beer, there’s darkness, bitterness (lots of it) and smoke (bucketsful of it). Too smoky, didn’t like it.

Reinart Grand Cru, a Belgian Tripel weighing in at 8.0%. Dark brown in colour, this was one of those beers that I had to wait for. It was extremely foamy. It is sweet, fruity and rich with thick spirituous overtones. It is very smooth and pleasant, and the presence of bittering hops is evident.

Back to Italian beers, Birrificio Tipopils is a 5.2% Pils. Typically yellow, it has a bright, clean, hoppy taste. There is a slight hint of soap. Very good and very refreshing. It was served quite cold, evidently from the 6°C room.

Birrifico Tripopils

Despite its small size, this is a very comfortable place to be. The staff and the customers are friendly and forgiving of poor Italian. Lady A and I were the only non-Italians in the place, but we felt right at home. It’s no wonder this little gem of a pub has won so many awards. If I had awards to give, I’d give one to them!

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 1 June, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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