Monthly Archives: November 2012

Guest Blog – Rochefort Trappist Beers

Guest blogger Otto Rhoden returns this time with an excellent survey of three of his favourite beers (mine too, as it happens). Enjoy!

After the success of my first venture into blogging here is my second blog and it is about my favourite Trappist Brewery ROCHEFORT. Actually known as Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy, this monastery began brewing in 1595. They brew three beers, “6”, “8” and “10” they are all dark and very moreish ales. First a little bit of “gen” about Trappist Breweries:-

“Trappist” – This term is properly applied only to a brewery in a monastery of the Trappist Order, one of the most severe orders of monks. This order, established at La Trappe, in Normandy, is a stricter observance of the Cistercian rule (from Cîteaux, in Burgundy), itself a breakaway from the Benedictines. Among the dozen or so surviving abbey breweries in Europe, seven are Trappist; six in Belgium and one just across the Dutch border, all established in their present form by Trappists who left France after the turbulence of the Napoleonic period. The Trappists have the only monastic breweries in Belgium, all making strong ales with a re-fermentation in the bottle (bottle conditioned). Some gain a distinctive rummy character from the use of candy-sugar in the brew-kettle. They do not represent a style, but they are very much a family of beers. The breweries are Westmalle,  Achel Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, Westvleteren (the smallest brewery in the order) and La Trappe (which is in the Netherlands). By law, no other breweries are entitled to apply that name to their product. Between these abbeys about 20 beers are brewed. All are top-fermenting, and usually very strong, bottle conditioned ales.

I will be giving my opinion of all three of the Rochefort ales. Note all the beers are from a 330ml bottle, which I poured into a goblet, and all beers were chilled in the fridge for approximately 10 minutes.

We’ll start with Rochefort 6, (Strong Dark Ale) at 7.5% ABV. This is the “weakest” brew by the monks!  It pours a slight hazy brown with an orange amber hue, with a small, light, off-white head that quickly vanishes to some foamy films on top. There is not much lace. Carbonation is actively high which is not a bad thing. The aroma has notes of sweet fruit, bread, a touch of sherry, toffee and slight white raisin notes. The taste is complex and delicious, with notes of sweet apricot, pear and sweet green raisin, and some yeasty spice, finishing dry and slightly sweet. Overall it is harmoniously well rounded with a pleasing hint of chocolate and gentle hop notes, and is very drinkable

On to Rochefort 8, (Dubbel) at 9.2% ABV. This one is not for the faint hearted! It pours a wonderful, dark brown colour into my goblet. This beer has a wonderfully fluffy head with very good retention. Aromas of alcohol, sour cherries, hops, cinnamon, and malt were obvious immediately with hints of chocolate/coffee-like malt. And so to the taste; hints of fig and vanilla, with a big alcohol presence. The second sip, however, is much kinder, with a sweet malty flavour showing up first, followed by dark fruit and finally a lovely bittersweet chocolate finish. A bit spicy throughout as well – perhaps ginger? As the beer warms, the alcohol mellows to a gentle peppery flavour which blends nicely into the overall flavours of the beer. It leaves a malty and plummy finish that is again quite dry. Truly, one of the all-time greats.

Last but not least one of my all-time favourite beers Rochefort 10,(Quadrupel) at 11.3% this is a beer to sip and savour. I like to have it either after a rich dark chocolate dessert or with a big hearty beef stew. Anyway let’s get to my overall view of this truly great beer. This pours a near black colour, but you still can definitely notice that there’s some murkiness about it. Some reddish hints can be seen through the glass if held against a light. Quite a big, dense, off-white head that keeps to the last sips, lacing all the way down the glass. WOW! The aromas give a nasal overload!  Chocolate, raisins, currants, plums, cherries, green pear, cloves and spices all intermingle and fight for a place; every smell provides a subtly different sensation. The taste doesn’t hit the palate as hard as you expect from the nose. Super delish! The flavours ease their way in, starting with sweet plums and some liquorice. Then comes a wave of sweetness in the form of figs and nutmeg. Very rich with a light carbonation that provides just enough punch to offset it. There really isn’t any bitterness present at all. A nice warming beer for a winter’s night. This is a “must-try-beer”. Long live the Trappist Monks of Belgium!

Hope you enjoyed my second beer blog, ‘Op uw gezondheid.’


Rochefort Brewery

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

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Posted by on 30 November, 2012 in Beer Styles, Bottled Beer, Breweries


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Two Pubs on Railway Platforms

In the past few months, I have had two occasions on which I have been on Real Ale Rail Trails. The first was a birthday celebration of a young lady, very active in the local CAMRA scene and shameless promoter of real cider, who for reasons probably best left to herself, wishes to be referred to as Madame Hoplash. The second was a stag do, certainly amongst the best-behaved and least-wild that I have ever been on.

More about those in later blogs. For now I’m going to concentrate on the first pub we went in on each occasion. This is not as random as it seems, because both are pubs which actually stand on railway platforms.

Stalybridge Buffet Bar

In the case of Madame Hoplash’s crawl, this was the Stalybridge Station Refreshment Rooms (also known as the Buffet Bar). This is a fabulous pub, converted, as the name suggests, from the station’s buffet bar. The bar runs the length of the building. Drinking is not allowed on the actual railway platform here, but there is a spacious seating area to the side of the bar – sort of in the car park, really. When I was there, there were seven handpulls on, including beers from George Wright, Millstone, Timothy Taylor, Partners, Greenfield and Hornbeam. A quick review of some of the beers on offer –

Inside the Stalybridge Buffet Bar

Millstone Tiger Rut, a golden ale with an ABV of 4.0%. It is a pale yellow in colour, and my pint, it must be admitted, was somewhat murky. Nevertheless, there was nothing at all wrong with it. It’s very smooth with distinct citrus and hops notes and a hint of pithiness. It’s very good and somehow manages to be sweetish and yet bitter at the same time.

Partners Ghost. Another golden ale, slightly stronger at 4.5%. The colour can only be described as yellow, at least by me. Another smooth beer with an interesting underlying graininess. There’s a nice hop finish to this one, and I found myself enjoying it.

Hornbeam Galaxy Pale Ale is a pale ale (it’s a very pale yellow, so the description is accurate!) with an ABV of 4.1%. This beer was highly carbonated, so I assume it’s had a good old secondary fermentation in the barrel. The taste starts in a slightly pissy way (sorry to be indelicate, but you probably know what I mean) but develops quickly to be very hoppy and very bitter. Despite the unpromising start (which fades after a while anyway), this beer is very enjoyable and worthy of your attention.

Greenfield Four Hop One – a 4.1% golden. Unfortunately there were very distinct chlorophenol flavours in this beer, so I didn’t progress beyond the first couple of sips. This disinfectant or TCP taste is usually caused either by cleaning fluid being left in a pipe somewhere (either in the brewery or in the pub), or the brew could have been infected by a wild yeast. Either way, it’s unlikely to recur, so I’ll be trying this one again.

Millstone True Grit is a strong ale at 5.0%, again yellow (no dark beers were on at this time). The first thing you notice about this beer is its excellent mouthfeel. Full, smooth and a little chewy. There’s something wonderfully mellow about True Grit, in the way that only stronger beers can manage. Whilst remaining smooth and mellow, there is also plenty in the way of hops and bitterness.

The Trackside

The platform pub visited on the stag do was the Trackside on Bolton Street Station in Bury. This station is on the East Lancashire Railway, a track run by rail enthusiasts from the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society. They have some magnificent old engines (diesel and steam) and carriages, and a dedicated Rail Ale Trail.

The Trackside is a very similar dimensioned building to the Buffet Bar, buildings on railway stations tend to be long and thin. The bar in this case is along one of the short walls, but still bristles with nine ever-changing handpumps. The bar gets a little more crowded here simply because it is shorter. Unlike the Stalybridge Buffet Bar, the outside seating area is actually on the platform.

The Trackside bar

The bar featured beers from local and local-ish brewers; Timothy Taylor Landlord, York Minster Ale, Phoenix Flash Flood amongst others. I started with a Riverside Green & Black, a 4.5% stout. It’s a lovely deep red in colour with a stable head. The mouthfeel is smooth. There are flavours of smoke and a very slight hint of soap. Perfectly drinkable but not terribly flavoursome.

There were two beers from Sheffield brewer Bradfield. I tried their Farmer’s Stout first. Again, the beer has a nice deep red colour. The flavour is non-smoky with a spicy undertaste that I’m afraid isn’t too successful, at least not for me.

Bradfield Farmer’s Blonde, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A 4.0% blonde beer (quelle surprise), it pours a pale yellow colour with a white head of tightly packed tiny bubbles. This one is very smooth, with a luscious mouthfeel that is almost creamy. There’s something of cream in the taste, too, and there’s a delightful bready aftertaste.

In conclusion, both these pubs are worth going out of your way to visit. Both feature a good wide range of beers, often from smaller and less well known brewers. The Trackside is not on the national railway system, but is an excellent starting point for the East Lancashire Rail Ale Trail, about which more later. The Stalybridge Buffet Bar is on a national station, and you can hop off here and straight into the pub. You won’t even mind if you miss your connecting train.

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 27 November, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs


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Three Bottled Beers from Durham Brewery

Durham Brewery is one of the more established micros of the northeast. Brewing commenced in 1994, and they now have a beer list of over 40 beers. This includes occasional and seasonal brews, so don’t expect to find them all at once! Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to sample just nine of these ales from cask, so when I recently came across a small flowering of Durham bottles on a supermarket shelf, I took one of each. As usual, I will review them in order of increasing ABV.

The bottles are attractively presented with uniform labels each bearing a St Cuthbert Cross. St Cuthbert, one of England’s all-time favourite saints, was finally laid to rest in a tomb behind the high altar of Durham Cathedral in 1104, over 400 years after his death. The shrine is still visited by pilgrims today, and must surely be one of the holiest spots in England. It is a space of profound stillness, as will be testified by the many visitors it receives each year. The head of St Oswald (king of Northumbria, 634 – 642) lies with Cuthbert in his tomb. There’s a lot for a brewery that has adopted his symbol to live up to.

These beers are all bottle-conditioned, and yet each poured bright and clear.

First up was Durham Cloister, described as a ‘Premium Bitter’ (there’s that buzzword again – would any brewer ever describe their beer as ‘non-premium’?). At 4.5, I would class this as a best bitter. In this case, the word ‘best’ does actually mean something. Bitters below 4% ABV are simply ‘bitters’, those of 4% and above are ‘best bitters’, and tend to be a bit richer and fuller than their lighter cousins. Cloister pours a clear, bright pale orange with a firm head of close-packed bubbles. The principal note in the aroma is hops. The taste is hoppy and dry with some distinct citrus pith and a touch of spice. Although classed as a bitter, this really tastes like an IPA, and a really good one at that. Excellent.

My second bottle was Durham Evensong, a 5.0% ruby ale. It is a lovely, deep plum colour with a rich, off-white head. The smell contains clear notes of cherry. This is a beautifully smooth ale, the main flavour being cherry, though it’s not overwhelming. That’s good for me – I don’t particularly like cherry, but here it’s subtle and really adds something. Other flavours include toffee and a satisfying bitter hops undertaste. This is very nice beer.

Lastly in this liturgically themed threesome, is Durham St Cuthbert, named after the man himself. It weighs in at a respectable 6.5% and is described as a ‘Special IPA’. The smell is largely sweet citrus with hints of hops. The taste presents a strong, dry, hoppy flavour which is quite bitter but not overpoweringly so. There’s plenty of citrus pith with touches of sweet nectarine just  round the edges to tantalise the tastebuds. I can happily place this beer amongst my very favourite examples of the new breed of proper IPAs. It’s got everything you need, high ABV, bitter hops and citrus pith. Truly superb.

I was very impressed by each of these offerings from Durham. I’ll be on the lookout for some of their extra strong beers (which seem to be a speciality) – Benedictus (8.4%), Bede’s Chalice (9.0%), Redemption (10%) and Temptation (10%).

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Posted by on 16 November, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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