Another IPA: Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn EIPA

I pinched this photo from the web. I hope that's ok!

Yep, that bloody Pete Brown fella is still making me thirsty for IPA. He’s currently engrossed in trawling through HSC facts and figures about alcohol consumption but I, personally, would like to see a graph showing number of copies of Hops & Glory sold, versus number of pints/bottles of IPA bought.

I know my local bars and ale emporiums will have seen a small spike since I started reading this damn book. It is a great book though and something about the way Brown describe drinks makes me thirsty for them in a way most other writers don’t quite manage. What is it about his writing? I don’t know. But it’s bloody good.

But the problem with such a good writer banging on about IPA, is that it makes it pretty pointless for me to give you some half-arsed, 100 word summary of IPA that’d just be pilfered from his book anyway. So, I’m not going to bang on anymore about the history of IPAs. So there.

So, this Brooklyn East India IPA. It’s brewed by those chaps at Brooklyn Brewery, who make reliably good, and often great beers. Their chocolate stout is a real standout stout, and their basic bogstandard bottled beer is actually anything but basic. It’s a treat.

It’s, unsurprisingly, inspired by the recipe for the beers that George Hodgson brewed to send across the world to India in the 1820s (that’s the history lesson done, kids) and uses British malt.

And this EIPA is pretty good. Yep, pretty good, but it fails to be quite great. Why? Well it kind of falls short of having real pizzaz when compared to other IPAS on the market, like Crown Brewery’s stunning Unpronounceable IPA (read more).

It pours a nice slightly golden bronze colour with a slight white head. The nose takes some real gulping before you get beyond them hops that you’d expect with an IPA then, lurking in the background is a slight caramel maltly sweetness.

Drinking though, it’s odd. First it’s hops and hops and hops, all pepper and spice, but perhaps not as many as you might expect (or want). It certainly does haven’t the attack that some other beers can boast. Underlying that, the sweetness on the nose comes back again, it’s deep and caramel and for some reason recalls a Belgian tripel for me. I think maybe my tongue was having an odd day.

Then, lurking somewhere deep down, I swear I could just get a hint of wood, maybe oak. Am I just making this up because real IPAs of the past will have spent ages in barrels? Quite possibly, perception is a funny old thing.

So what’s lacking? Maybe more hops? Maybe a more complex flavour? Or am I just getting so used to fancy experimental beers (I don’t like the term ‘extreme beers’) that I’m getting all snobby about simpler beers (but then I loved a couple of bottles of Kelham Island beers I had recently, and they weren’t odd in any way).

It’s a solid, tasty beer, but, given the choice between EIPA and some of the other IPAs out there in the big wide world, I’ll probably leave the EIPA on the shelf.

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IPA Craving: Thornbridge Jaipur

Jaipur on my mantlepiece

Jaipur on my mantlepiece

I recently started reading Pete Brown‘s Hops & Glory, having already read his previous two books. In the opening chapters, his rhapsodising about the glory that is Indian Pale Ale got my taste buds tingly and my thirst hankering for a taste of the oh-so bitter, peppery, citrusy blast of a good strong IPA.

Now, I’m not talking Deuchars (much as I love the stuff) but proper , strong IPAs, with a real alcoholic punch and packed full of gorgeous hops. Who cares that they were designed to be drunk in the intense heat of India, and therefore aren’t quite as warming as a nice thick stout or a rich, fruity barley wine? It might be bloody cold out, but if you’ve got a thirst for something, there’s no avoiding it.

So, I popped down to my cellar and picked out a bottle of Thornbridge’s Jaipur. Now, blogging about Jaipur seems, in some ways, a bit futile. The bloody thing has won loads of awards, has been a favourite at loads of beer festivals and has had countless words writtem about it already.

But then surely we get into this weird, obsessive world of beer blogging to share experiences of our drinking? It’s not there to show off how obscure and interesting our tastes are (or at least it’s not for me). So, then, Jaipur.

It’s bloody good. Obviously. As much fun as it would be to say, ‘it’s so overrated, blah blah’, this beer is just great. The golden pour, the floral, grape-ish nose and, best of all, that taste as you gulp it down. There’s hops and hops and hops. It’s not all overhwelming bitterness though, far from it. It’s sweet and slighty honeyed. The sweet malt flavours battle it out with the hops, creating a great sensation on the tongue.

And then, 10 minutes after your last sip, it’s still there, lurking, a long, long balanced finish. A great beer.

Thornbridge Hall

Thornbridge Hall

On a side note, while we’re here. Thornbridge Brewery must be one of the most pictaresuqe breweries there is, based in the gorgeous Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. Surely worth a visit for the beer and the views?

Thornbridge Brewery’s website is here (careful, mind, it keeps breaking my browser).

Festive Drinking

Things have been quiet round these parts for sometime now. Almost an entire fortnight infact. What with Christmas, traveling around the North of England to visit various friends and relatives and a general laziness that comes from having ages off work, I didn’t get round to any blogging.

I did, however, get round to some mighty fine drinking. Again, it being Christmas and all that, the drinking was largely social and often in the kind of quantities beyond normal responsible levels (especially if the people who inspired Pete Brown’s latest blog are to believed [they really shouldn’t]), means that some beers are remembered just sketchily, others very well, and none have any kind of notes to be taken with them. So I’m going to bash through December and the start of 2010 at pace. Here we go.

Christmas Eve started well. Well, it didn’t, we were meant to go up to Burnley for a party but the never ending bloody snow foiled that. Solution: a trip to North Bar. As we were preparing to order, the splendid manager there, Matt, informed me that Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt – a damson porter – was about to come on tap. I instantly ceased my plan to order a Stille Nacht and waited with baited breath for the recommendation. It was worth the wait, rich in fruit flavours, warming and powerful it’s a perfect winter tipple and it got me all ready to settle down infront of the telly with a DVD of Bugsy Malone.

My Christmas Beers

My Christmas Beers

Next up, inevitably, was Christmas day. Drinking-wise today was all about Bucks Fizz (a bottle of Champagne was polished off between the two of us, before lunch, naturally), loads of muy dulce sherry from Beer Ritz. This stuff, Valdivia Pedro Ximenez, is, as the tag in Beer Ritz says, “nectar of the Gods”. It’s honey and treacle and currents and pudding and all the sweet tastes of Christmas rolled into one. I did, however, break out a Chimay Bleue to accompany our vegetarian Christmas dinner of mushroom pie. A great beer, packed full of complex flavours, it went down a treat.

The real beery treat on Christmas day, though, was two of the presents my thoughtful girlfriend got for me. Having taken advice from Zak at Beer Ritz, she’d been out and bought me corked 75cl bottles of Flying Dog Wild Dog Schwartz and Victory V Saison. I’ve not dared drink these yet – I’m waiting for a special occasion.

Gouden Carolus Noel

Gouden Carolus Noel

Boxing Day meant more of that heavenly sherry, and visits to family, all finished off superbly by Gouden Carolus Noel a special Christmas beer that was just that – special and Christmassy. The dark brown beer was heavy, spicy and figgy and a superb nightcap.

The 27th was another family day and as soon as my driving was over, I indulged in a Dark Star Espresso Stout. For a 4.7% beer it’s surprisingly rich in flavour and manages to pack in a really rich coffee flavour without overwhelming that comforting warmth you’d want from a stout. The beer presents continued here, with my folks getting me a Yorkshire ale box (two Copper Dragon beers and a great Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter) and my brother getting my two beers from Sheffield’s Kelham Island plus a cheese washed in the curds from their Pale Rider, which was interesting. A real taste experience which took some getting used to (cheese and beer work well eaten and drunk side-by-side, but combined in one is a little more acquired) but eventually kept my palate very happy indeed.

From there, it was days in Lancashire centered around the wedding of two friends. I shan’t go into details but it was an amazing do, complete with dancing, surf rock, great food and, most importantly, a lovely couple getting hitched. As an aside they also provided a cask of very local Hen Harrier by the Bowland Brewery. As you’d want for a wedding (and a subsequent NYE party which it lasted for) it was easy drinking, crisp and pale with some nice citrus flavours.

New Year’s Day (aka my birthday) was a day to break out a couple of quality beers, namely the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, really amazingly rich with roasted barley flavours, and even better the BrewDog and Mikkeller Divine Rebel. This beer, a collaboration between two very impressive craft brewers, is partly aged in whiskey barrels and the taste tells you that straight away. It’s full of toffee and caramel flavours and packs a mighty punch.

An even better beer-related occurrence on that day, however, was another present from my wonderful girlfriend. This time it wasn’t beer, but the ability to make beer (give a child a fish and he’ll be able to feed himself for a day, give the child a net and he’ll be able to… and so on). Yup, she signed me up for a two day homebrew course in February. I will report back on that in good time.

Which brings me to my final subject. My homebrew. I made some back in November. Because my house is cold it took ages, but it’s ready to drink now, and also in hands of numerous friends and family members across the country. What’s it like? Well, it’s from a kit called Old Homewrecker, but it’s only around 4.5%. It’s a darkish winter ale and, like all novice homebrew, it’s just about ok. It’s drinkable, but as it has no hopping to speak of, it likes anything like a real depth of flavour. Plus, it’s got a fair bit of sediment in. We don’t have a name for it yet.

I expect my next brew, post-course, will be far better.

It’s Christmas so: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2009

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

As anyone who’s ever been in a pub, wandered into an off license, or glanced at booze in a supermarket before, knows, Christmas always means loads of special Christmas beers. They’re often slightly red in colour, regularly have a stupid picture of Father Christmas on the pump clip or label and are a godsend to out of work pun writers. They’re also, more often than note, a wee bit stronger than a typical ale (normally English Christmas brews hit somewhere between 5% and 6%).

In other country’s, Christmas beers are something truly spectacular. Give Belgium’s De Dolle brewer’s Stille Nacht a go, or, best of all Gouden Carlous’ Christmas ale, or Bush Noel. In fact, just try some Belgium Christmas ales. They tend to be over 10%, pretty much pitch black and rich, roasty and spicy.

I have a Stille Nacht and Gouden Carlous Christmas in my cellar. But they’re being saved for Christmas day. But, this bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration was looking very tempting one cold December evening when I needed a winter warmer.

It pours (as many other festive beers do) a ruby red colour, with a nice creamy head.  The smell, well, there’s loads of hops in there, but also something Christmassy, it’s hard to put your finger on at first, but yep, this smells of pine, it’s like a Christmas tree in a beer. And that’s a good thing.

At 6.2% it packs the punch you would expect, with the initial hoppy bitterness cleansing the palette and allowing, again, for those piney flavours to lurk in, along with hints of red berries too. It’s a great beer for these cold December evenings, but doesn’t pack those deliciously over-the-top flavours that some Belgian Christmas beers go for – but then this is a very different kind of beer.

Reet Good’s Beer Blogger Awards 2009

Golden Pint Logo 2009That chap Mark Dredge over at Pencil and Spoon thought it would be good to have some kind of end of year poll/awards for beer bloggers (it says so here). I agree, so here are my picks for the year.

Before I begin, I should point out that I’ve only been at this blogging lark for a few months and my knowledge and experience in the game is still somewhat lacking, so I will have to leave a few bits blank and maybe display my ignorance elsewhere. But I’m cool with that.

Best UK Draught Beer I tend to be a drinker of bottles of Belgian stuff more than anything else, but one reliable pint is always Outlaw’s (Rooster’s experimental arm) Wild Mule – packed full of sweet fruity flavours and a great bitter finish.

Best UK Bottled Beer Crown’s Unpronounceable IPA – packed full of hoppy bitterness with a summery hint of blackberries coming through underneath. (read more here)

Best Overseas Draught Beer Tripel De Garre – a rich Belgian tripel from a Bruges bar called De Garre. It’s very strong packed full of fruit, aniseed and licorice flavours and comes with an accompanying cheese. They only let you have three a visit. (read more)

Best Overseas Bottled Beer De Dolle’s Stille Nacht – a special Christmas beer brewed every year by the bonkers Dolle brewers. It’s 12%, dark to the point of blackness and with lingering tastes of plum and citrus.

Best Overall Beer Probably Outlaw’s Wild Mule again. I’ve supped it more than anything else this year. Some of the more extreme Belgians may be more exciting, but an overall beer should be one for any occasion, and Wild Mule does that.

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip I can’t say I’ve been wild about any labels or clips, particularly, but BrewDog’s general branding has been great for them and seems to sum up their attitude and beers very well.

Best UK Brewery Having picked one of Crown Brewery’s brews earlier on, I’m going to plump for them here. Especially as it’s a small, one man set up, well done them!

Best Overseas Brewery Sierra Nevada, just for their consistently brilliant beers.

Pub/Bar of the Year In England, North Bar, easily. It’s where I consume most of my beers and the team their are great. Further afield, Kulminator in Antwerp, t’Velootje in Ghent and the Bruges Beertje in Bruges are all outstanding. (read more)

Beer Festival of the Year I only went to the Wakefield CAMRA festival this year. It was alright.

Supermarket of the Year Sainsbury’s was pretty good for their range of beers and good offers.

Independent Retailer of the Year Beer Ritz in Leeds. Great range, lovely staff, good prices, what more could you want?

Online Retailer of the Year Not used any.

Best Beer Book I’ve not read one this year, but I’ve been reading Pete Brown‘s back catalogue and have Hops and Glory lined up next.

Best Beer Blog Zak ‘The Beer Boy‘ Avery probably just edges ahead of  competition from Pete Brown, Real Ale Reviews and Pencil and Spoon.

Best Beer Twitterer Anyone from: http://twitter.com/#/list/tomas311/beerbloggers

Best Online Interactive Brewery BrewDog are the only brewery I’ve really seen use the web well this year, although they’ve made some big misjudgements too…

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year Maybe Sierra Nevade Porter and osyters at the North Bar Sierra Nevada event at Cross Keys.

A Tale of Two Cities: Drinking in Leeds & Sheffield

A pictureless, detail-scant blog (I made no notes while drinking, I feel odd doing that in bars, with friends – it’d just be rude) from me to sum up my drinking experiences fron the last few days – in Leeds and Sheffield (hence the witty name of the blog).

We begin on Thursday night, in Leeds. A friend comes up to visit and we have an invite to the first birthday of Veuve Bar de Champagne in Chapel Allerton, Leeds. On our way to the bus, we pass North Bar and just can’t resist popping in (it being the favourite bar of me and my girlfriend).

It’s Christmas time, which means North Bar are doing their advent calendar beer. So, for each day of Christmas the first person into the bar gets a free beer from the calendar. Then for the rest of the day that bottle is available for cheap. I’m lucky, for when I go in the beer of the day is Goose Island Matilda – an American craft beer brewed with a heavy nod to Belgium.

It rich, dark gold in colour dry and very easy drinking for a 7% beer with slight wild, spicy notes that recall that king of beers that is Orval.

We went on from there to Chapel Allerton and Veuve, where we enjoyed a free glass of prosecco and more than our fair share of canapes (we’d had no dinner, see) but left when we saw that no more sparkle was going to be offered.

Luckily, just up the road is North Bar’s tiny sister bar Further North (cleverly named because is pretty much exactly in line with North Bar, but further north, see). What to order was a no-brainer when I spied that they had Marble Brewery‘s Ginger on tap. It’s light in colour and, surprisingly very gingery to taste. But, unlike a lot of ginger beers, Marble’s offering doesn’t allow the sweet spice to overwhelm their beer. While it’s very definitely there, the bitterness and alcoholic kick still packs a punch in the background. I finished my night with a half of Roosters Outlaw Stout that I don’t remember a great deal about, it was nice though.

Friday night was Sheffield (after a half of Elland‘s powerfully hoppy Nettle Trasher at The Reliance [which has some link to North and Further North]) and firstly Richard Hawley live at The Crucible. It was good, slow, sonorous and powerful – with some good Northern wit from the one-time Pulp man. But this ain’t a music blog, so I will move on.

I was up in Sheffield with my brother, a friend of his and my brother’s girlfriend (who lives in Sheffield). Post-gig it was decided that we’d go to Champs. It sold, I was told, real ale at amazing prices (with several Kelham Island brews for as little as £1) but it was a sports bar and a regular pre-club bar. Sounds odd, I thought, and I was right.

Champs does not look like a place that should be selling great real ales. Its walls are full of sporting memorabilia, the clientele are mainly enjoying lagers and spirits and the staff seem positively pissed off that they have to spare you (they’re much more interested in creatively stacking shot glasses in interesting patterns). When we finally get served, I get excited by spotting Thornbridge‘s Jaipur on tap, and persuade two of my companions to join me in a pint. I’m shocked as our bartender yanks it out of the pumps with no grace or care at all and passes it up far too cold.

It didn’t stop the beer tasting great though, powerfully hoppy but with an underlying honey-d sweetness, and very suppable, despite being 5.9%. Where it weaker, I would have had another half, but I stopped myself and went for a pale ale from Thornbridge whose name escapes me, it was light, a little sweet and with a nice hoppy finish, mind. Then midnight came along and we were swiftly kicked out with little grace. Suffice to say that, if it weren’t for its great beer selection, I wouldn’t darken Champs’ door again. If I do go back it will be during the day when, so I’m told, it’s much quieter and the staff are nicer.

So then, Saturday. The day starts well with a trip to Elland Road for Leeds v Huddersfield. We draw 2-2, but it’s a good game, even if Town are dirty buggers. This bears no relevance to anything else in this blog.

That evening, my girlfriend and I decide to head out to Cross Keys (thus making it four out of four of the North Bar-associated drinking holes in three days) for a slap up dinner. It’s a great pub, all roaring fires, exposed brickwork, beams and brilliant service. The food, traditional English grub done to an astonishingly high standard, was superb, as always. I had a great smoked haddock fish cake with a poached egg and tartar sauce followed by duck breast with chesnut stuffing. I washed that all done with a couple of pint of Saltaire‘s Winter Ale a slightly toffee-flavoured dark winter ale, a real warmer for this time of year. My girlfriend enjoyed a couple of bottle s of the splendid Flemish red Duchesse de Bourgogne – it comes with a sour kick at first, then a sweet, strawberry-esque finish.

In related news, I decided to use the NHS iPhone app for tracking your drink intake. Suffice to say that if I want to stay averaging 4 units per day (the recommended amount for me) I’m going to have to have a relatively sober week.

Find out about North, Further North, Cross Keys and The Reliance here. I’m sure you can find out about Champs somewhere if you want, but I don’t really recommend it.

Meantime London Stout: An old fashioned stout

Meantime London Stout

Meantime London Stout

I had to try this beer tonight. Tomorrow night is bottling the home brew night (all being well), which means I’ll be too busy that night for proper sampling. And Friday night I’m jumping in my car, a small number of bottles of Meantime London Stout in my boot, and heading straight off to a stag do. In Shropshire. On a barge.

Part of the stag do will be a beer tasting, where the eight of us each bring a beer to test, rate and, inevitably, make us a bit merry. I opted for this London Stout because I thought it would be a) good and b) interesting. I decided though that I must try a bottle first just incase it’s crap.

Of course, it’s not crap. Head brewer Alastair Hook won the Best Brewer award from the British Guild of Beer Writers in 2008. That means that people who know and write a lot a beer think his beers are good. They’re hardly likely to be wrong. In fact, I know from past experience that Meantime is very good.

So, yes, Meantime London Stout. Yes. London Stout. Because there was stout before Guinness. And that stout came from the UK, and of course because London is the bloody capital and therefore home to bloody everything that’s bloody good, it was in London where most of the brewing went on.

This beer is made using the original recipe for stout. With just malt and no barley, unlike most stouts these day, which mix the two.  Meantime (so called before they’re based in Greenwich) claim that the use of malt gives it “a more velvet mouthfeel and greater vanilla notes than Irish alternatives”.

Velvety sure is right. It tastes rich, creamy, almost soft it the mouth, with a substantial, almost sooty bitterness (that makes it sound horrible, I know, but it’s great, trust me) and even a hint of roasted nuts – hey, it’s Christmas. It’s rich, ballsy and gentle too. It’s got a lot more about it than the 4.5% abv would have you believe. Plus, it goes very nicely indeed with this slice of coffee cake I’m munching on.

Unless anyone brings something really rich and fiery, I’d imagine we’ll be saving this for the final tasting (good luck tasting a light summer ale after this one). I just hope my fellow stags appreciate the all-enveloping smoothness. If not, I know someone who can finish their bottles off!

I’ve still got a bottle of Meantime’s London Porter in the cellar. I’ll be comparing these two when I break that one out.

Click here for more Meantime