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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%).

www.durhambrewery.co.uk

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Posted by on 16 November, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Guest Blog – Epic Beers

I would like to introduce my first guest blogger. ‘Otto’, or ‘the Otto Dude’ is a familiar figure on the beer scene in the north-west of England and throughout the land. His website, ‘Otto’s Rambles’, mentioned below, is well worth a look if you are planning to visit somewhere on a beer holiday. In this blog, Otto tells us about three beers from the New Zealand Epic Brewery.

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Hi Fellow Beer Drinkers!

Let me introduce myself. I am known as ‘OTTO’ on the UK beer festival scene and I have a web site that I try to keep up to date – www.ottosrambles.co.uk that gives the low down on the best bars and pubs etc. to sup beer in around the world, so if you are looking for somewhere to go on that long awaited beer vacation then you can’t go far wrong by checking out my web site first.

I don’t usually write about the beers I have tried. This is actually my first attempt! Which is pretty poor actually as I have tried over 10,000 beers over the last 12 years. I know it’s a hard job but some one has to do it!

I was recently lucky enough to be sent three ‘Epic’ beers, from a friend on Facebook, whom I have never met in person, but who is also a beer lover and hails from the UK. Don’t you just love beer people?

So let’s begin with the Epic Brewery. Based in Otahuhu, Auckland, founded in November 2005, and one of the new Hop Forward brewers, they have even done a couple of collaboration brews; one with Dogfish Head (USA) where a beer called ‘Portamarillo’ was brewed with Pohutakawa wood-smoked Tamarillo fruit and another with Thornbridge (UK) to brew an Epic version of their Imperial IPA, Halcyon. While at Thornbridge, Kelly Ryan decided to up-sticks and move to NZ and become part of the team, The motto is; You can only drink so many beers in a lifetime, so you’d better make each one count. They also brew some awesome stouts and porters, plus they have won many international awards for their beers.

So I was sent three bottles of Hop Zombie, which I had been waiting a long time to try, plus Message in a Bottle and First Batch NZIPA.

I will start with the Message in a Bottle at 7.5% ABV. This is brewed in the old English style of IPAs that used to be exported by ship around the empire; It pours a copper colour with a fluffy head and lacing that lasted on the glass to the last sip.

This one has a definite British hop character, as it has Fuggles and Challenger in the brew.  The smell is quite fruity with notes such as nectarine, ripe apricots and golden peaches. This is such a great smell that says “drink me now!”   So without more ado let’s get down to the taste which has a good whack of hops upfront, prickly and bitter followed by a touch of marzipan and blackberries, plus a fruity maltiness – but the star is the huge hoppy bitterness.

Overall I would say this beer matches up to any IPA and is really true to style, not over-bitter and with a good malt backbone. I would definitely sup this again given the opportunity.

So now for the First Batch NZ IPA. At 6.8% ABV, it’s not a lightweight. This is the first time ever the newly named Waimea hops have been used in a commercial beer. So new in fact that at the time the beer was brewed they hadn’t even been named. It is also brewed with NZ malts to make this a true NZ beer. On pouring there are aromas of passion fruit, pineapple, gooseberries and toffee lollies. Anyway it pours a clear light golden amber with a large bubble laden head that stays to the end of the glass.

So to the taste: there are notes of mangoes, pineapple, toffee and berries that are finished with good herbal hop that gives a nice tangy bitterness and invites a second taste. This rewards you with more exotic fruits and a tingly mouthfeel going all the way to the back of the throat. If this is what New Zealand tastes like then bring it on down!

Now the one I had been waiting to try for a long time and I was not disappointed. Hop Zombie is a cheeky little 8.5% ABV IPA.  This beer is an apocalyptic psychopath of a beer and I loved it. So let’s try and describe this world-class IPA. This beer has a pale colour when poured. The head isn’t super-retentive, and leaves a light lacing which lasts to the finish. Great aromas of mandarin, passion fruit and zesty citrus that all mingle well. Nice and hoppy, and very well put together.

And so to the long-awaited taste test, WOW! tangy hop flavours shine out easily over the malt base. The malt is there to provide sweetness to balance out the hop profile. It’s just lovely how easy drinking it is for an 8.5% beer (beware). There are tropical fruit flavours all over and then your tongue is wrung out with bitterness followed by shockwaves of citrus, tangerine and Turkish Delight! This is not the atomic hop-bomb I was expecting at all. This is a gorgeous beer that leaves the mouth full of tropical fruit flavours.

Hop Zombie is definitely up there as one of my all-time top beers.

Anyway, hoped you liked my first beer blog and maybe I will be asked / tempted to do another one at some point!

Prost Otto

The images and words in this post are Otto’s copyright. If you want to reproduce any of it, just drop me a line. Thanks.

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Posted by on 12 October, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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India Pale Ale

India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are experiencing an explosion of popularity at the moment. It seems no brewery’s standard list is complete without at least one IPA.

Pale ales require the use of pale malts, and the technology for producing pale malts in any commercial quantity became available during the 18th century. Pale ales had been brewed before then, the earliest known example dates to 1675, but large, commercially viable production of Pale Ale had to wait a little longer. The normal malting process is a smoky affair, leading to dark, roasty malts, but pale malts require smokeless malting, using smokeless fuels such as coke. This paler malt naturally produces a paler beer, quite different to the brown ales that were the staple of the time.

Pale Malt

The original IPAs were of high alcohol content (typically 6.5%, occasionally even higher) and were heavily hopped. Both these features helped to preserve the beer in the non-regulated temperatures of rolling sailing ships as they undertook the long journey to India, where there was a huge demand for fine quality beer.

It’s an old tale that George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery ‘invented’ India Pale Ale in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s a nice tale, but there is actually no evidence for it whatsoever, it’s just been repeated so often that it has become a factoid.* All we can say for sure is that the style developed in the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The name ‘India Pale Ale’ is first recorded in an advert in the Liverpool Mercury dated the 30th January 1835 – though that is no indication of how long the term had been used.

The experience you can expect from an IPA begins with the smell, which should be rich with hop aromas. The head should generally be white and persistent. The taste should be good and hoppy, but balanced by a sweet maltiness. Other flavours often present include citrus fruits, particularly a grapefruit pithiness.

Here are a few IPAs that I have enjoyed recently:

Acorn Conquest (5.7%) Light yellow in colour, this beer starts with a smooth opening to the taste that hints at fruit without being overtly fruity. There’s a spike of flavour in the midtaste that is slightly soapy and there’s a lingering quinine-like bitter end. Unusual and very good.

Blakemere Cosmic (6.0%) This’ll knock your socks off if you’re not careful. The smell is pure grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nice and smooth and the taste has a lot of citrus zing, particularly grapefruit. It’s very moreish, and at 6%, that’s its danger!

Redwillow Endless (3.8%) There’s that brewery again! This beer is way down the strength scale, probably too far down to be considered a true traditional IPA, but the taste is spot on. It’s bright and cheerful with lots of that grapefruit pith and bags of hops. All expertly balanced with sweet malt to provide an excellent taste sensation.

Whim Hartington IPA (4.5%) Not a standard IPA taste by any means. The hops are far less apparent here than in any of the previous beers. Overall I found this to be dominated by the sweet malt. It is smooth and refreshing with a tiny hint of cream. Very tasty.

Swale Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2%) This beer is brewed under licence by Archers. Another very smooth ale but this time with a lasting aftertaste that dries in the mouth. Very refreshing.

BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0%) BrewDog have gone off on their own with this one. A massive hop bomb that delivers a very strong hoppy flavour and heaps of citrus pith. The mouthfeel is quite thick with a rush of thick sweetness. The aftertaste develops slowly and is really quite bitter.

BrewDog Punk IPA – one of the new breed of IPAs

BrewDog Proto Punk IPA (2011) (5.4%) The smell delivers tons of very aromatic hops (I don’t know, but I suspect these are American hops – Cascade?). The taste is much smoother than the Punk, and less abrasive, though still strongly hopped.

York IPA (5.0%) This is just as an IPA should be. It’s smooth, hoppy, zesty and refreshing.

*Factoid – a piece of information that has every attribute of a fact apart from truth.

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Posted by on 10 February, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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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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